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Author Topic: How do you make and keep altars and shrines?  (Read 1252 times)

Eastling

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How do you make and keep altars and shrines?
« on: May 06, 2018, 12:10:16 am »
We've had a thread for showing off our altars and shrines for a while, and we've had several threads asking for help with altars and shrines. How about a thread digging into the specifics of how you use these magical/ritual concepts in your practice?

I recently set up a new desk that has a separate platform off to the side from the main one; I've been using it as an altar, on which I keep a few specific things. One is a speaker for playing music; another is a fountain through which I make water libations to my gods; and the rest are tools and magical items. It's been satisfying to keep it clean and perform a simple cleansing ritual before it. I've also noticed that it serves a distinctly different purpose than my shrine, which is simply to house beautiful things and idols in honor of my Powers.

But the process of setting up this altar and starting to practice at it has gotten me thinking about just what purpose altars and shrines serve for modern pagans. For me at the moment, my altar is serving the purpose of helping me organize my changing practice and anchor it in simple rules and rituals at all times. As such, I have clear rules about what I keep on it versus what I keep on the shrine, and I make sure to perform a daily ritual of cleansing and offering there.

But I know that other people have different experiences, and I'm interested in learning about them. If you keep altars or shrines in your practice--what purpose do they serve? On what principles do you construct them? What rituals do you perform at them regularly? How do you take care of them? Do you merge them into one altar/shrine, or keep multiple separate spaces for different purposes and Powers?
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Re: How do you make and keep altars and shrines?
« Reply #1 on: May 06, 2018, 10:16:16 pm »
... If you keep altars or shrines in your practice--what purpose do they serve?
... On what principles do you construct them?
... What rituals do you perform at them regularly?
... How do you take care of them?
... Do you merge them into one altar/shrine, or keep multiple separate spaces for different purposes and Powers?

Nice questions Eastling - I've been wondering about this as well. Thanks for posting this :-)

My "area" has two levels: upper and lower formed by a combination of a window sill, and radiator, respectively. The upper level (window sill) is the shrine aspect, where I have my print of Dionysos, and physical representations of the Elements on a seasonal shrine cloth (right now, red and yellow). For the Elements, I use a candle (Fire), two stones that have meaning to me (Earth), a small jam mason jar with blue stones (Lapis Lazuli, Blue agate, Rutiliated Quartz, & Sodalite) usually filled with Water; and an incense burner tray for Air (that also secures the Dionysos print). To the left and right of that, there are other things - to the left, A Dragon statue, some mini Buddha statues, and more crystals in jars, and an unused candle (that used to be my main candle); and to the right, there's incense, crystals, and a cauldron for garbage (like spent matches, ash, etc). It seems cluttered, but I live in NYC, with little to no space currently to store extra things unfortunately. Plan is once we move, we'll be able to go through our stuff, give everything a home, and keep the ritual area clutter free.

The lower level - the top of the radiator - is the altar. The surface is a piece of wood (can't remember if it's white ash, maple, or birch) that was planked off a trunk; I did that in a teacher workshop a few years ago and it just spoke to me as a shelf and currently resides on top of the radiator as such. On top of that are two candles that I made myself: both are tall and slender, but the one for Dionysos/God has shades of green and is a Rectangular Prism, while the other is a Cylinder, with Red, Orange, Yellow, White in it and for the Goddess. To the left of the God candle is a shot glass for libations. I went through so many damn wine glasses that I said eff it and have since just used the shot glass. And it has not broken since (a sign, I'm sure, from Dionysos). In between the two candles are a Copper Celtic Knot ring (again, special to me), with an obsidian stone inside it for grounding. In front of the candles, there is my "athame"/Letter opener, and my apple wood wand. And to the right of all that is another, albeit, smaller, cast iron cauldron that I use for my powder incense.

In front of this set up, I usually meditate, and give thanks to Dionysos, the Goddess, and the Elements. I've tried to do my reading/research there as well but my rabbits are in that area as well and distract me a lot  ::) That and with work, I haven't done a libation of wine for thanks in a while, but seeing as the New Moon is coming up soon, I'm planning a few magic spells for growth, prosperity and finances. Besides meditation, and magic - this space serves as a visual reminder of who I am, with whom I work with, and more. In fact, with the new print up, I'm now saying good night to not only my rabbits, but also Dionysos, and the Elements as part of my sleeping routine.

Maintaining this space is pretty straight forward: I simply dust and keep it clean when necessary (though my hectic life schedule does tend for me to be a more deep cleaner, than a maintenance kind of person). When I'm feeling that the space is REALLY grungy in terms of energy, I cleanse it with eucalyptus, rosemary, cedarwood, and a few other essential oils, and air out the room/area. Then it feels fine again.

That's just one space in our apartment. I have another two - my plant area, and my mini kitchen altar - that I'll describe later when I have the time.
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Re: How do you make and keep altars and shrines?
« Reply #2 on: May 07, 2018, 11:29:43 am »
But I know that other people have different experiences, and I'm interested in learning about them. If you keep altars or shrines in your practice--what purpose do they serve? On what principles do you construct them? What rituals do you perform at them regularly? How do you take care of them? Do you merge them into one altar/shrine, or keep multiple separate spaces for different purposes and Powers?

For me, an altar serves a different purpose from a shrine (and while I might well have multiple shrines, I'm going to have only one altar).

In my practice, an altar is a ritual tool in its own right: it serves to connect the tools placed on it to the earth, and provides an anchoring space in ritual in various ways, as well as having the practical purpose of having the tools for ritual in an accessible, safe, and ritually appropriate location.

This affects material (natural materials are preferred: my ideal would be a stone top and wood or metal legs), but my current is a solid wood 2-shelf bookshelf painted white that has been kicking around my family since before I was born) and structure (I would ideally prefer some drawers or cabinet space.)

Of course, there's the challenge of finding something of a suitable size: the bookshelf doesn't have enough depth for all the things I'd like to have on it, which presents some logistical challenges. And yet on the other hand, one does not want to acquire large furniture if one is moving regularly. (Though I've finally invested in enough - a futon, a proper bed frame and bed, significant bookshelves - that an altar table is not the make or break in moving that it was even last move.)

Which is to say, most of the time I don't have an altar set up, because I don't have all the tools out.

I should expand ritually appropriate location: my tradition (as a lot of other witchcraft trads do, though certainly not all) has a specific layout for altar items, in terms of which things go on which side, and which in the center, though there's usually some variation for practical reasons.

Shrines:
Shrines, on the other hand, are a lot more flexible in my practice. I might have several up (right now, I have sort of two and a half.)

The principle location is that bookshelf, which is where things are set up unless I actively need an altar, because it's the one space I can see easily from where I spend 90% of my time at home. (my computer is at the end of my bed, it is on the wall I can see if I look to the right of the computer.

What's on it depends a lot on what I'm doing: it usually has my Hypatia statue (made by me, because Hypatia statues, not easy to come by) for ancestor-of-profession work, my athame, and then a mix of things depending on current practice. Right now, it's a Venus shrine for an ongoing class/working I'm doing through mid-June.

I also sometimes have other shrines in other spaces: I recently moved the prosperity one to the top of a bookshelf in the living room, and I would really like to add a plant of some kind up there, and I'll move the Venus one to a bookshelf slot when I'm done with the significant focus part.

What actual ritual stuff I do varies: I've mentioned before I usually find 'do this ritual action every day' distancing (though currently playing with it for the Venus thing) and most of my daily practices do not actually require the shrine or objects on it, but I do tend to them routinely, and I do keep a selection of perfume (periodic daily practice) and such there.
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Re: How do you make and keep altars and shrines?
« Reply #3 on: May 07, 2018, 02:43:43 pm »
If you keep altars or shrines in your practice--what purpose do they serve? On what principles do you construct them? What rituals do you perform at them regularly? How do you take care of them? Do you merge them into one altar/shrine, or keep multiple separate spaces for different purposes and Powers?

So, I don't typically have a hard line difference between altars and shrines.  If I were to get very technical, I now have two shrines and three (or four...) altars, if I were to define shrines as 'places to hold space to honor beings' and altars as 'places I do work'.

For Shrines, I have the top shelf of a bookshelf which has some pretty candles (which aren't lit, but the outsides of the glass are decorated) and the box containing my cat's ashes.  There are some other decorative things there, and I need to move my ancestor pictures there (I have a few portable picture holders that I take every year to our Day of the Dead ritual to put on the ancestor altar).  My second Shrine is a small wall shelf that holds some small figures, including three Goddess statues.  This one is sort of incidental, it was created when I got a new desk and had to rehome some things, but I put the three Goddesses there on their own shelf with a few other spiritual items, and now I do sort of think of it as a shrine.

Altar wise, I have what I consider my main altar, which is the top of a small bookshelf in the bedroom.  This is where I decorate for the Sabbats, it has a little shelf on the wall above it with extra tools, and it is where I do my nightly prayers.

I also have a sort of overflow altar in the bedroom:  the top of our dresser.  It has loads of candles, so when I do ritual in the bedroom, it becomes the main working altar (as my 'main' altar is too small to hold really anything besides the seasonal stuff that is on it already). 

Then, I have an altar on the top of my desk, which is definitely a shrine/altar type combo.  It has a lot of devotional stuff that is just there as 'things in my spiritual practice which I honor and like to have where I can see them to remind me to be mindful'.  I actually have a secondary, smaller shelf set up on my desk that would be more like a mini-shrine, with several deity statues, that sets separate from where I keep things I am working with.  My desk altar holds my rune dice and WomanRune cards (which I do a daily draw from both every day).  It is where I do most of my little things, the stuff I would do throughout the day as part of my day.  It is also where I work when hubby is on nightshift and sleeping in the bedroom during the day (so I can't access my main altar)

My altars/shrines are very multipurpose.  They are very much a mix/fusion of things that makeup my practice, and stuff I am working on in different areas of my life. 

As far as caring for them, they get regular dusting (with the housecleaning), and my main altar gets redone every Sabbat, which includes a full wipedown, proper dusting/cleaning of the things on it, and decorating to fit the season/theme of the Sabbat.  My other shrines and altars get full cleaning when I feel they need them (which often means when I notice they are accumulating dust around the edges of things...we have three cats, so we get lots of dust even with cleaning 2x a week)  And anytime I feel they just aren't working well for me at the moment, I'll update them, move stuff around them or take things away (I remove or rehome things a couple of times a year, when I notice they are starting to look more cluttered than usual as things have slowly accumulated on them)
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Re: How do you make and keep altars and shrines?
« Reply #4 on: May 08, 2018, 04:09:59 am »
But I know that other people have different experiences, and I'm interested in learning about them. If you keep altars or shrines in your practice--what purpose do they serve? On what principles do you construct them? What rituals do you perform at them regularly? How do you take care of them? Do you merge them into one altar/shrine, or keep multiple separate spaces for different purposes and Powers?

I use my shrine as the focal point of my mediation and supplication. That is to say, I pray toward it and use it when I meditate. It houses my sacred items; my holy books, my Yantra, my Kukri (NO, I don't perform sacrifices, it's purely symbolic) and anything else I deem ritualistically important is kept in the shrine. I perform basic daily prayers and mediation at my shrine.

I only have one shrine, but I wouldn't say that it's merged. Rather, it's dedicated to a specific deity, my Ista Devata, but she shares space with the other Gods I venerate, since I can't reasonably have an altar for each and every God (I'm not running a temple!). Some of the other Gods I work with a lot might get their own altars eventually, but for the time being, they all run their business through Kali's altar. That doesn't change the fact that it's still fundamentally *her* altar, and not Ganesha's or Shivas, let alone Indra's or Agni's, or even Durgas. The iconography and design is meant to evoke her powers specifically, and if and when I design an altar for another deity, it would be designed differently to reflect that specific individual.

"The worshippers of the gods go to them; to the manes go the ancestor-worshippers; to the Deities who preside over the elements go their worshippers; My devotees come to Me." ... "Whichever devotee desires to adore whatever such Deity with faith, in all such votaries I make that particular faith unshakable. Endowed with that faith, a votary performs the worship of that particular deity and obtains the fruits thereof, these being granted by Me alone." - Sri Krishna

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Re: How do you make and keep altars and shrines?
« Reply #5 on: May 08, 2018, 10:35:25 am »
If you keep altars or shrines in your practice--what purpose do they serve? On what principles do you construct them? What rituals do you perform at them regularly? How do you take care of them? Do you merge them into one altar/shrine, or keep multiple separate spaces for different purposes and Powers?

My shrine has grown and shrunk and been reworked over the years. Currently it is a small table with a couple of wall shelves above it. It's in a corner of the dining room, but I really would prefer it in a room by itself. Unfortunately I don't live in such a house. The shelves are where my images (printed and statues) of my deities are. On the table I keep two oil lamps, an incense holder, and hand bells. One lamp stays in place and is lit with a prayer. The lamp is kept lit in the evening and usually allowed to burn out. The 2nd smaller lamp is used for aarati, the circular waving of the lamp in front of the deities.

My activity at the shrine is a daily puja ritual: prayers and offerings of flowers, fruit, water, fruits and nuts, etc., as well as lighting the oil lamp in the morning and/or evening. The idea is to dispel the darkness of ignorance. Almost all Hindu households light a diya or deepa, the oil lamp.  The prayers (short hymns, actually) are almost always in Sanskrit, though it's not required. There's a very, very basic puja "template", but everyone is free to make it as simple or elaborate as they want. The important thing in worship of the gods is devotion and intention. In fact, it can all be done mentally, visualizing the puja.
śivāya vishnu rūpaya śivaḥ rūpaya vishnave
śivasya hridayam viṣṇur viṣṇoscha hridayam śivaḥ
Vishnu's appearance is Shiva; Shiva's appearance is Vishnu
Vishnu is the heart of Shiva; Shiva is the heart of Vishnu - Skandopanishad
 

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Re: How do you make and keep altars and shrines?
« Reply #6 on: May 08, 2018, 11:36:55 pm »
But I know that other people have different experiences, and I'm interested in learning about them. If you keep altars or shrines in your practice--what purpose do they serve? On what principles do you construct them? What rituals do you perform at them regularly? How do you take care of them? Do you merge them into one altar/shrine, or keep multiple separate spaces for different purposes and Powers?

I would say I have... at least 6? shrines floating around the house.  (Question mark because I'm not barging into the bedroom where SO is asleep to double check and I keep remembering more as I write this).  Spaces set up and dedicated to specific entities, that I keep clean, stop and give my daily nod to, add varying items to, etc.  I fully admit I don't do a whole lot more than that with these.  It is more so home base for each of these entities energies to be in my house.

Most of my Greeks are very pleased with their shrine spaces.  I enjoy having statuary around, and I managed to fanagle a set of FABULOUS lamps from my parents, one of Apollo and one of Athena, that took care of both of them on that front.  While I think they might be a little dismayed if I suddenly took the statuary and spaces away suddenly, they did not mandate their shrine space.  I created them happily, on my own initiative.

Altars... ah.  I actually wouldn't say I have one.  I have a work space where I do all my work, but I go around to the *many* various areas and surfaces in my house covered in crystals to get who I want, grab what deck I want off the shelf they all live on, grab a candle out of the giant box in my closet, and grab the BOS, and just... go at it there.  When it's done, everything goes back to where it usually lives.  I have never been one for a lot of ritual tools in my workings, so it suits me well.  Most of my work carried out in this space is usually divination, where I need a space to set up.

If I'm going to go abstract, thinking it over, perhaps I am my own walking altar?  Every piece of jewelry (something I'm big on) has a purpose and/or entity associated with it.  They are meticulously cleaned and energetically maintained, worked with every day in almost every working I do, so much more so than any dedicated space in my home.  I do most of my working through myself using my jewelry as focal points, energies to set my space, etc.  Hm.

An interesting thing to think about (so thank you for getting me thinking on it!). 
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Re: How do you make and keep altars and shrines?
« Reply #7 on: May 10, 2018, 11:02:06 pm »
But I know that other people have different experiences, and I'm interested in learning about them. If you keep altars or shrines in your practice--what purpose do they serve? On what principles do you construct them? What rituals do you perform at them regularly? How do you take care of them? Do you merge them into one altar/shrine, or keep multiple separate spaces for different purposes and Powers?

I was kinda debating about if I wanted to respond to this or not, and I do have a few thoughts I'll share if you find it interesting.

So I kind of have an anti-shrine, in that I don't really have a dedicated shrine or altar.  In a lot of ways, my whole house is an altar.  I might be doing stuff in the kitchen, or in the study.  Or like last week with E in the backyard, that whole area was my ritual space.  Then I suppose my work space is sort of like a shrine, at least, a working shrine.  It's not a dedicated space devoted to Anubis, no, but it is where I feel most connected with him.  It seems some how fitting that the place I have the best connection to Anubis is in a morgue. 
For he who has truly lived never truly dies.

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Re: How do you make and keep altars and shrines?
« Reply #8 on: May 12, 2018, 06:51:11 pm »
We've had a thread for showing off our altars and shrines for a while, and we've had several threads asking for help with altars and shrines. How about a thread digging into the specifics of how you use these magical/ritual concepts in your practice?
Like the others on here, I have a differentiation between shrine and altar. Ancient polytheists had a similar distinction made in practice. In the broad sense, a shrine is a "home" for the gods in your household, and an altar is a religious workspace. In some cases, they can and do overlap. As my religion is primarily Roman, my main fixture is a lararium, a shrine for the household gods with enough space to do religious work, making it also a kind of small altar. Mine is a waist-high bookshelf with a rock on it, decorated with statuettes of the gods as well as incense burners, candles, and an offering cup for libations.
I installed a hanging shelf with a candle holder and oil warmer, onto which I plan on moving the statuettes of the 12 di consentes. So I plan on using that as a shrine to those gods.
My wife put up another corner-wall shelf with another candle and oil warmer, as a shrine to Hekate, her tutelary goddess.
I recently set up a rough altar outside, on our patio, using stone pavers set up in a trilithon arrangement. On it I have an offering bowl for burning things outside, things that would set the smoke alarm off if I burned them at the lararium.

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Re: How do you make and keep altars and shrines?
« Reply #9 on: June 10, 2018, 01:01:24 pm »
We've had a thread for showing off our altars and shrines for a while, and we've had several threads asking for help with altars and shrines. How about a thread digging into the specifics of how you use these magical/ritual concepts in your practice?

Currently, I have 2 shrines and no set working space, though space, privacy, and gods permitting, I've had more in the past, as well as fewer.

My largest shrine has been, for several years, in dedication to my storm god. I painted my own icon, which I think is in the 9x12" ballpark, and that sits on a very small raised platform above his other offerings and paraphernalia, which is traditional. Before it I have an offering dish, large incense burner, candle, and a few other things that are permanent offerings/meditation objects. I give offerings there, perform autosacrifice, pray, meditate, petition. The usual.

Below it i have a shrine for my other spirits, as well as my new icon for Miro and Mano. I have some spirit houses there as well: a fox skull, and a ritual paintbrush made from fox hair. The other spirit house is currently in jewelry form. Magic is usually done with these spirits, though.

I'm moving in another week or so and going on a road trip for it, so I'll have to pack everything up. Not especially looking forward to all the cleansing I'm going to have to do, but it is what it is. Where I'm going I'll be able to actually have my shrines out in the open, and I'll be able to have more of them. A change/keys jar by the door for Hermes, something in the car for Ares, an ancestor shrine for Professor Tolkien, and proper dedicated houses for my other spirits. My journey with Miro and Mano has been a strange and colorful one - especially strange in that they wanted nothing in the form of iconography, prayer, or ritual from me for many years; I only JUST was given the inspiration for their icon like, 2 months ago, so I expect it to be some time before they ask for a dedicated shrine. In which case it'll probably be on my desk, as they're the gods of both my work and my Work.

For the storm god, I someday hope to have a cabinet type thing dedicated to him, with doors that can close. More immediately, though, I'll need another shrine for him in our outdoor area, so I can burn resin incense without setting off the fire suppression system lol. As transporting his icon and objects between the two spaces would be inappropriate, I'd have to make a new icon for that space as well. Which I already have ideas for!
« Last Edit: June 10, 2018, 01:05:09 pm by keen »
rotwork: on devotion to lesser-known and un-known gods, transplanting genus loci, art, and modernity

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Emma-Eldritch, Everfool, Jubes, Kelly, Koi, Melamphoros, Ocelot, Phouka, Sashapablo, Star

Cauldron Assistants
[Non-Staff Positions]

Site Assistants
[Non-Staff Positions]
Webmaster:
Randall