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Altars - A ritual in the making

Posted by on in Paths Blogs

I recently wrote a piece about Pagan tattoos. Hundreds of people posted pictures of their artwork and many more folks told the stories of how those designs came about and why they were so compelled to etch them indelibly into their skin.

And this got me thinking - Tattoos are altars, of a kind. They are permanent representations of a moment or a belief or a particular rite of passage. These permanent, personal altars are like touchstones to those important times. In most cases, they are carefully thought out. They are planned. The placement, the design, the colours, the images and the symbols are all considered. Then there's the actual "building of the altar" itself.

Part of my devotional practice is altar building. Part of the fun, part of the devotion is in the planning and the consideration of how I want the altar to look. Picking the materials and the personal artifacts that will ultimately comprise the altar becomes an act of devotion all by itself. Will I use that lovely, crushed, red velvet fabric for a Passion altar? What photographs might I include? What can I forage for from the natural world to adorn this altar?. I ask myself why am I building this altar? What purpose does it serve? For whom am I building it?

I truly enjoy creating a piece of art that exists for a specific piece of magic. Some of my altars are temporary, they are built for one ritual only. They enhance the space, help create the magical mood and then when the magic is done, so is the altar. Others are more permanent fixtures around my home like the Ancestor altar, the Goddess altar and the Seasonal altar. There are four altars in my bedroom, one celebrating my journey as a Pagan, another to Love and Passion, one that my partner created for her own magic and one connecting me to a Raven deity I work with.

Of course altars are nothing new to Pagans and non-pagans alike - There are beautiful examples of altars in almost every religious tradition. Megalithic standing stone circles often had an altar stone. Several ancient and reconstructed altars from Greece can be seen in museums around the world


But I'm most interested in personal altars, the ones you and I create for our own magical purposes or celebrations.

What Altars have you created and why?





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I've been a practicing witch and ritualist within the Reclaiming Tradition since 2003. I love being in service with this community of witches and world changers.   My own practice, my own way of changing the world is through devotional practice. It's my belief that we can re-enchant our lives by re-framing the so-called "mundane" as sacred and divine. By imbuing the familiar with a sense of wonder and infusing daily life with acts of magic, we choose to consciously make all of life devotion. Whether we engage in large, public rituals or sink sumptuously into the pure ecstasy of eating a delicious meal by ourselves or meditating at sunrise, our daily rituals can draw us back into harmony with the world and each other.  


  • Lizann Bassham
    Lizann Bassham Tuesday, 02 December 2014

    Little altars everywhere in my house, in my car, in my backyard - some of my own making, others a lovely collaboration with the blackberry bushes and spiders among others.

  • Elizabeth Creely
    Elizabeth Creely Tuesday, 02 December 2014

    I have a year-round altar to family. Most of the people in my alcove altar are people I knew and grew up with.
    t's a fairly simple space, which I clean and de-clutter every month or so. The focus for me is the large mirror that my Great Grandmother Mable Holmes owned. She had it...and then her sister had it..and then my grandmother.
    Which means all these ladies stopped before it, to fix their hair, or to adjust their hat or to touch up their lipstick. That I am looking in the same mirror is powerful to me and I have done ritual work with it.
    I have to say that sometimes, late at night when all the lights are off, my childhood fears about the bogey man keep me from looking into it. I may be a witch, but I'm also the adult version of the six year old girl who was convinced there was a "dead ghost" in my closet. :D (My mother very kindly got rid of it for me) My childish fear is, I think , a reflection of the ritual investment I've made in it, (if that makes any sense.)

  • Lizann Bassham
    Lizann Bassham Thursday, 04 December 2014

    Elizabeth - I have an ancestral mirror hanging in my living room as well, and have similar delights and challenges with it!

  • Gwion Raven
    Gwion Raven Tuesday, 02 December 2014

    Lizann - Indeed, I think I'd lose count if I tried counting all of the altars in my house and in the yard. "some of my own making..." for sure.

  • Gwion Raven
    Gwion Raven Tuesday, 02 December 2014

    Oh Elizabeth, it makes a great deal of sense!
    What a treasure that altar is and such a brilliant way to highlight that altars are what we make of them, not what they are made of. A mirror and a connection to past generations of your family. How beautiful.

  • Asa West
    Asa West Thursday, 04 December 2014

    This post is lovely. Thank you!

    When I first read it, I thought, "well, I only have one altar in my house--my working altar." But then I thought of the little altar I'd made to the Morrigan. And the collection of ancestors' photographs with a candle and flowers in front of them. And my Goddess statue on the mantle that I've surrounded with artifacts from nature. Sometimes you set out to create an altar, and sometimes they seem to just happen.

  • Gwion Raven
    Gwion Raven Thursday, 04 December 2014

    Hello Asa,

    I think that's it exactly. I realized that I have even more altars than I thought. There are several in the front and back yards too!

  • Linette
    Linette Thursday, 04 December 2014

    A number of years ago I taught a class on altars. Many of the participants said they had no idea where to begin with an altar, or what the purpose was etc. I assured them that they already have altars in their life, because it's part of human nature to create altars.

    My definition of altar is a collection of things that call us to our best idea of ourself. Many of us have altars on our car dashboard, window sill, refrigerator, desk, dresser, around the mirror in our room, etc etc. We collect things that are meaningful and remind us of who we are when we are at our best, and what matters to us.

    Altars happen.

    I have two specific spiritual altars in our home, and it's always been a special preparation time for me when I dress the altar for the new season or holy day. The time I take to collect the elements, arrange them, and sometimes to create new art for the altar are like a gift I give myself, of intentionality...calling me back to my best idea of myself, and to what matters to me

  • Gwion Raven
    Gwion Raven Thursday, 04 December 2014

    Linette - Yes. So much this. I love the simple, everyday altars that we all instinctively create.

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