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My Wiccan Altar

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Of all things I looked forward to this month, I probably geeked out over the altar the most.

While Wiccan’s of a particular tradition might have similar features in their altars, this sacred space is much like a Wiccan’s spiritual fingerprint: No two are ever exactly the same. A Dianic Wiccan is one who places a higher or even exclusive focus on the female aspect of the divine, while a Solitary Witch or Wiccan will practice alone, having no official tradition or coven (group of Witches or Wiccans), and will often use methods from many paths.

Although my practice centers around the Fey tradition (because my Mentor is a Fey Wiccan), I will practice this month as a solitary and so will explore Shamanism as well.

As I mentioned, each Wiccan’s altar is unique and highly personal. Wicca is a faith/path based on experience and feeling. While there are common elements to an altar, if it doesn’t feel right or work, don’t use it! Please note that all altar items should be properly dedicated and purified before use.  Here’s a good article about these techniques. Some of these common features include:

A Pentacle:  The cirlce upon which a five-pointed pentagram rests. These carry multiple meanings, depending on the individual. In many cases, the pentagram represents the union of the four physical elements (Air, Fire, Water,Earth) as well as Spirit. Spirit is recognized at the top point of the pentacle, while Air and Fire might occupy the right hand points (often the side of the God), and Water and Earth occupy the left (often the side of the Goddess). 

 

 

 

The Goddess: Often represented by the moon and its waning, full, and waxing phases, the Goddess represents the female aspects of reality. She may also be represented by a pregnant image or a simple white candle. Her elements are water and earth. She is the source and sustainer of life, the deep ocean of wisdom, fertile, a wondrous mystery, and the mother of all.

 

 

The Horned God: The consort of the Goddess, he represents the spark of life. He is the hunter and the hunted, the sun and the stag. Represented by the elements fire and air, the male aspect of the divine is often passionate and intense, he occupies the transitional space between life and death as well as the seasons. His place on the altar is represented by many items, including a red candle, a statue of a horned man, or other symbols.

 

 

These are the major elements one may find in a typical Wiccan altar, however each is free to represent the elements and divinity as they wish. Because this personal aspect is so important to the faith, some Wiccans like to purchase unique, hard-to-find items for their sacred space. This is cool, but I had another idea…One that my Mentor loved.

I decided to make everything on my altar by hand.

My current Wiccan altar

This is my altar as it currently exists. Some features may change as I find new items in nature or discover new aspects of my personal craft. You’ll notice the pentagram (a pentacle has the circle around the points as shown above) in the center, hand-made from maple twigs and waxed thread. The upper right point, the element Air, is represented by a pigeon feather I found in “the warehouse” (a personal place of meditation). The lower right point, Fire, is represented by a votive candle. To the right of Fire you’ll notice incense. Incense is often a symbol of Spirit, however I often lite it (at this point) as a sort of initiatory sequence to begin each ritual. On the lower left, we have Water, represented by a glass bowl of, well, water! Above that we have Earth, represented by a bowl of sea salt. Some may offer fruit or flowers to the deities. Again, the representations associated with the five points of the pentagram vary among different practitioners.

Now for a closer look at the other hand-made items:

The Athame: A symbol of the element Fire, and the God himself, the athame usually occupies the right-hand side of the altar (East) and is used for various tasks. One of the most important uses is to “cast a circle,” or created the sacred space of one’s ritual. This may be performed by using the double-edged athame to “draw” a circle around oneself and the altar items either in the air or on the ground itself. As a channel for energy, it is also used for “calling the quarters,” or invoking the elemental guardians of the four directions within one’s circle or altar. I constructed my athame out of oak, slate stone (only rock I could find), and waxed thread. It also symbolizes cutting to the truth or choice.

My Mentor explained that the great thing about creating my own altar pieces is that my own energy flows into each piece via the act of creating itself. As I spent hours grinding, cutting, and sanding however, I ended up putting more than just creativity into each piece…

 For the Goddess, I decided on the symbol illustrating the three main phases of the moon. It doesn’t look like much, but I spent a lot of time carving the grooves of this piece. I literally colored this representation of the Goddess with paint, sweat, and blood through an injury where the drill bit slipped and cut my finger.

 Here is the God figure. Cut from the same branch as the Goddess, we have the round sun disc in red with the horns on top. He occupies the right side of the altar while the Goddess sits on the left.

Carving the God

 So there’s a brief overview of this Wiccan’s altar. As I said, each one is highly personal and unique to the individual. This is a sacred space that should be respected and treated with great care. What I noticed in crafting my altar is that in a very real way, the entire space is a representation of the universe itself. You have all the elements as well as spirit and the divinity all in one, humble space. When I meditate on the God and the Goddess as well as the elements, I hold all the world and the cosmos in my mind and in the energy flowing through me.

Very cool.

Keep in mind that my altar will change as I grow in Wicca this month. That’s okay! Wicca is a creative tradition and highly adaptive to one’s personal tastes. There are no hard, fast rules here other than personal responsibility and/or the nuances of the tradition one follows. I will certainly enjoy this freedom of expression as I explore my world with Wiccan eyes.

What sort of personal implements occupy your spiritual space? Are any hand-crafted? Perhaps you have some that were passed down, generation to generation? I’d love to hear about you honor the Divine and the elements! 

 



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abowen

posted October 10, 2011 at 12:22 pm


Anne Johnson,

That is just too cool!



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Anne Johnson

posted October 7, 2011 at 10:27 pm


I have a plastic California Raisin on my altar. Symbolism is important in this tradition. I applaud you for making everything by hand. Bought magic wands are for Harry Potter.



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abowen

posted October 5, 2011 at 11:54 pm


kilmrnock,

Thanks for stopping by. 30 days certainly isn’t enough time to fully cover any faith. Good thing I never claimed it was ; ) This is an introduction only, to inspire others to look into these traditions for themselves. I will treat your faith as carefully and respectfully as I have every other. Blessed be.



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kilmrnock

posted October 5, 2011 at 10:37 pm


A month is hardy enuf time to learn about wiccan or any other religion. Most of us have been on this journey for the best part of our lifetime . I personaly started out w/ sorta celtic wicca , my path over the yrs has morphed into Sinnsreachd . This path is a polythiestic pure celtic belief system . This journey for me , has taken over 25 yrs.With a more than a fair amount of pain and stumbling along to way. Many of us , myself included, have settled into the true ways of our ethnic ancestors. I have Celtic ancestry and was drawn to what we call ” The Old Ways”.We use Sclorly and Historicaly accurate material of the Ancient Celts ,Adapted to our modern times and sensibilities.This is what is known as a reconstructed or recon path. Please be careful to present an accurate depiction of what pagans actualy do w/o the sensational nonsence. thank you Kilm



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abowen

posted October 5, 2011 at 9:23 pm


Dana,

Good catch! The terms are so close. I’ll make the edit. Thanks!



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Dana Corby

posted October 5, 2011 at 8:54 pm


@Dee — blood magic is not categorically bad. It’s powerful and intimate and difficult to control, but no magic (with the exception rites of death) is in and of itself bad.



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Dana Corby

posted October 5, 2011 at 8:51 pm


@JHS: Back when I was new to the Craft, it was often referred-to as “the Tantra of the West.” That aspect has, sadly, been forgotten or abandoned by most who today call themselves Wicca.



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Dana Corby

posted October 5, 2011 at 8:48 pm


MM !

This is an interesting project that I plan on following for at least the month you’re ‘playing Wiccan.’

I have to tell you, though, that you have _completely_ misunderstood the pentacle and its role on your altar. What you have there is a pentagram, not the same thing.

A pentacle is a disk on which a pentagram or other sigil is painted or engraved. As used by Wiccans, it represents the earthly plane of physical manifestation. Traditionally, it’s made of oak or of wax, but I made my altar pentacle from a marble cheese plate, as stone seemed to me much more symbolic of Earth. It’s used not only to represent the element of Earth in circle casting (when the salt is placed upon it) but as the ‘material basis’ for conjurations and often as the dish from which the moon cakes are served.

Otherwise — so far, so good.

Blessings,
Dana Corby
HPS Moon Tree Coven, Mohsian Tradition



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abowen

posted October 5, 2011 at 2:54 pm


Emily,

Thanks for that! I don’t think a lot of folks outside the Pagan world knew abou that difference in terms. It was certainly new to me!



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abowen

posted October 5, 2011 at 2:53 pm


Freeman,

Thanks for commenting! Yeah, I think the disclaimer might help, though I try to mention the distinction when/where I can.



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Emily

posted October 5, 2011 at 6:06 am


I just want to clarify that the words “witch” and “Wiccan” are not really interchangeable. There are many schools of thought on this, but many of the people I highly respect in this religion agree with me that not all Wiccans are witches, and we pretty much all agree that not all witches are Wiccan. Wicca is a religion that encourages the incorporation of the magical practice of witchcraft, but not all Wiccans choose to do so. Witchcraft is completely separate from any religion and can be incorporated into all religions (with the right mindset anyway).



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Freeman Presson

posted October 5, 2011 at 5:39 am


Handcrafting is a great way to go, and it is of course traditional. The old grimoires that laid the foundations of both Wicca and Ceremonial Magic as they are practiced today all assumed the aspirant would go find the right branch for a wand at the right astrological time, and shape it himself, engrave his own pentacle (which may or may not be based on a pentagram, as the star shape itself is properly called), etc.

We’re also very familiar with the way a certain few of one’s tools seem to call for blood.

Of course, one would be very careful to what or whom one offered blood intentionally.

In my Temple, we have various altars devoted to particular Deities or left as working space for whoever has something to do. Our statuary is mostly purchased, as are candles and incense, but quite a few other items are our own handwork.

(We’re not Wiccan, but magic-using polytheists tend to have a lot in common under whatever name).

You probably need a big old honking disclaimer that the tradition you’re following is only one of many within Wicca, that only about half of Pagans are Wiccan (that’s based on the best survey I could find, at adherents.com, but it’s also old), and that there are no trads out there in which one can expect to become proficient in 30 days: the standard for trad Wicca being a “year and a day” as a dedicant before initiation is considered.



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Dee

posted October 4, 2011 at 1:38 pm


An incidental drop of blood would be an entirely different thing. I was thinking “blood magick” and not wouunds.. lol. Thanks for the clarification. ~ Blessings



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abowen

posted October 4, 2011 at 12:27 pm


Erik,

Thanks for posting those! My Mentor has the same feeling, that it actually makes the connection and power of the item stronger because of my intent in the process and dedication.



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abowen

posted October 4, 2011 at 12:26 pm


JSH,

Honest questions should never annoy anyone and certainly don’t here.



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Editor B

posted October 3, 2011 at 4:28 pm


Beautiful work. I was surprised when I saw “building an altar” listed on the Tree of Contemplative Practices http://www.contemplativemind.org/practices/tree.html but you clearly demonstrate how well it fits.

Oh, and to JSH: Yes.



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Erik

posted October 3, 2011 at 1:35 pm


I have a number of shrines scattered about the house… I’ve posted photos of some of them: here, here, here and here

Regarding the blood question, I’d go with whatever your mentor advises, but IMO a drop of blood in and of itself does nothing more than possibly infuse the item with a bit more of your energy than was already going into it from the intentionality you were putting into its creation. Focused blood magic is an entirely different thing, but that’s clearly not what you were doing.

Besides, as most any craftsperson will tell you, it’s not a “real” project until you’ve bled on it. :D



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JSH

posted October 3, 2011 at 1:32 pm


I’m sorry I didn’t want to annoy anyone here, but isn’t this very close to Tantra? (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tantra)



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abowen

posted October 3, 2011 at 12:39 pm


Dee,

I’ll be sure to ask about that. The speck of blood that ended up on the carved piece was an accident when the drill bit slipped and cut my finger.



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abowen

posted October 3, 2011 at 12:37 pm


JSH,

What about Tantra?



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Dee

posted October 3, 2011 at 12:32 pm


Ask your mentor about working with blood. I have been taught that it creates a tie to the item that is permanent… withstanding lifetimes. The lesson: Blood Magic is BAD. NEVER use blood.



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JSH

posted October 3, 2011 at 11:46 am


Tantra?



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Niki Whiting

posted October 3, 2011 at 11:24 am


I have a picture of my altar here: http://myownashram.wordpress.com/2011/09/30/new-quarter-new-altar/

I am really rubbish at handmaking things. It’s partially laziness and partially that intricate details with my fingers has never been my strong suit. Some of the items hold especial meaning for me. The chalice is a goblet my mother got from Israel in 1970. She passed the pair on to me, but oddly…. the second one has gone missing over the years. The pitcher is a symbol of Alaska to me. People from Juneau will likely recognize the glaze and know exactly where I got it! It was given to me as a gift by someone very special. One of the votive holders was another gift.

I just love altars!



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