Paganistan: Notes from the Secret Commonwealth

In Which One Midwest Man-in-Black Confers, Converses & Otherwise Hob-Nobs with his Fellow Hob-Men (& -Women) Concerning the Sundry Ways of the Famed but Ill-Starred Tribe of Witches.

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An Altar Should Be How High?

“So how high is the altar?” I ask.

I'm talking long-distance with the director of our regional pagan land sanctuary, planning the upcoming Midwest Grand Sabbat. I've never been there, but I know that there's a standing altar in the grove.

At Old Style sabbats, the altar is a throne, where the Horned sits to receive His people. So it needs to be of at least a certain height.

The answer was readily forthcoming.

“It's high enough so that someone laying on the altar can have sex with the priest standing in front of it,” he tells me.

I can remember thinking a number of things in rapid succession.

  1. I really like this guy.

  2. Suits our needs just fine.

  3. Of course: that's exactly how high an altar should be.

  4. Why don't they teach us these things in Witch School?

How high should an altar be?

Pragmatics aside, I'd never really given the question much thought. Altars are used for different purposes across the pagan landscape, and obviously need to be tailored to individual circumstances. The only discussions of the matter that I can recall having seen go on about cubes and cubits, like something from the book of Deuteronomy.

But now I know at least one good, pagan answer to the question. Like most good ideas, it seems completely obvious.

Once someone thinks of it, that is.


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Poet, scholar and storyteller Steven Posch was raised in the hardwood forests of western Pennsylvania by white-tailed deer. (That's the story, anyway.) He emigrated to Paganistan in 1979 and by sheer dint of personality has become one of Lake Country's foremost men-in-black. He is current keeper of the Minnesota Ooser.


  • Ian Phanes
    Ian Phanes Tuesday, 26 May 2015

    FYI, you're right that all discussions of altars being cubes and cubits are derived from Torah (via the Golden Dawn and their descendents):

    Exodus 37:25-26 King James Version (KJV)

    25 And he made the incense altar of shittim wood: the length of it was a cubit, and the breadth of it a cubit; it was foursquare; and two cubits was the height of it; the horns thereof were of the same.

    26 And he overlaid it with pure gold, both the top of it, and the sides thereof round about, and the horns of it: also he made unto it a crown of gold round about.

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Wednesday, 27 May 2015

    Exodus, right. Lest anyone cavil, scholars are pretty much agreed that the architecture, furniture, cultus, and vocabulary of the Jerusalem temple all come directly from Canaanite practice. I love those little horned incense-altars of the ancient Middle East. What's better than an altar with horns?

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Wednesday, 27 May 2015

    I once heard a rabbi call the Exodus description of the Mishkan (tent-shrine) and its furniture as the "most boring Torah portion." He got the good laugh he deserved, but personally, I beg to differ. Personally, I find cultic minutiae far more interesting than behavioral minutiae.

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