Where Gods Dwell – Creating Altars and Shrines

Where Gods Dwell

Creating Altars and Shrines

by Amanda Silvers

An altar is, customarily, an area set aside for meditation or worship, or for working magick. A shrine is ordinarily an altar, specifically dedicated to a particular energy or deity. What is the purpose of an altar or shrine, besides creating a special place for your ritual or worship to take place? There are many answers, and I offer this as a guide for beginners and more experienced people as well.

When you transform a physical area or location to focus on a divine spirit, it is then possible for that spirit to manifest in the material world. Whether it is a god or goddess, an elemental or one of the fey, it has a space and energy to create from. The idea is to cause this to be a special and sacred place of honor and adoration of the deity or spirit, so put plenty of desire and effort into your creation.

To build an altar or shrine, begin on the correct day and hour for your chosen purpose. You may determine the day and hour by looking it up in a table of correspondences, in one of Scott Cunningham’s books or in The Spiral Dance. Start fashioning a place by contemplating how much space you have to devote, where you might like it, how accessible the area is to you and how secluded it is. Importantly, if you do not wish people to ask a bazillion questions, situate your shrines where they will be private. When you think about the purpose of the altar or shrine, the deity will help guide you where best to build it; just follow your feeling or instinct.

Next, clean the space, both physically and energetically. Do a clearing or banishing with water, incense or whatever you usually use, and at the same time clean the area well. Wipe it down and take away anything that was there before. (If you wish to replace an item on the altar, cleanse and bless it first.) Once you have accomplished this, purify and bless each item for the altar and place it in its correct position. Each piece is like an ingredient in a dish; it adds to the final product. There is a distinctive energy that is produced by an altar once it is blessed, and you will come to enjoy sharing the energy there.

If what you want to create is a shrine, say a prayer of dedication to the specific deity, and with your intention and desire affect the space to be sacred to that deity. Also, as you bring in each item you may anoint and dedicate them one by one, for more power, or you may wait until the whole shrine is set up and dedicate it at the end, as a whole. Chant, sing, play appropriate background music, burn incense, do whatever helps you be in the energy of the deity you wish to venerate. Put as much energy into anointing, placing and praying over the items as you can to make the shrine very powerful indeed.

Once you have accomplished this, it’s time to invoke the deity and ask that deity to lend his or her presence and power to your shrine. Be respectful, be sincere, be reverent, but do not forget that the gods do have a sense of humor. So do not be totally surprised if something unusual happens. When you are finished, spend some time communing with your chosen deity, and hearken to the small (or not so small) voice that will speak to you.

You might try creating small altars or shrines around your house and yard. Even the workplace can become an area of worship if you are discreet and use your symbology wisely.

I have a main altar that contains my ritual working tools, a couple statues of the god and goddess I traditionally work with, offerings and some other magickal items that are special to me. I create other shrines depending on what energies I am currently working with. I have had in the past and know several people who have a shrine blessed to each god or goddess they work with. A shrine can be a nice focus for bringing in more of the energy of a specific deity.

It’s a valuable idea to keep a journal of your communications with the gods, so that over time you can look back and see how you have grown and changed in your approach. Be conscientious; keep your altars and shrines clean and well-organized (unless they’re to Eris!). Spend time engaged at your shrines every day, and you will come to have a very close relationship with the gods. Raise energy for them, and offer gifts…. remember the gods and they will remember you!

Items that you might want to place on your altar or shrine

For a working altar, you will want a number of magickal tools including, but not limited to:

  • Athamé (sacred to the God)
  • Bell (air)
  • Bowl of water (water)
  • Candles (fire)
  • Cauldron (earth)
  • Chalice (Goddess)
  • Incense burner and incense (air)
  • Oil lamp (fire)
  • Representations of the God and Goddess
  • Rocks or crystals (earth)
  • Salt (earth)
  • Shells (water)
  • Wand (air)

For a shrine, you will want:

  • Representations of the deity; these may be pictures, statues or other things that represent the god or goddess in question to you
  • Altar cloth
  • Anointing oil
  • Athamé
  • Bells
  • Candles
  • Crystals
  • Earth
  • Feathers
  • Flowers (alive or dead)
  • Fruit
  • Herbs or greens
  • Incense and burner (the fire of consumption)
  • Meat or animal parts
  • Metal
  • Money
  • Oil lamp (the fire of illumination)
  • Poetry
  • Salt or sand
  • Shells
  • Stones
  • Wand
  • Water
  • Wine
  • Other offerings as appropriate

The suggestions following, regarding shrines to specific deities, will aid you in starting shrines, but use your personal preferences and the colors and items associated with your particular deities.

For Aphrodite, I recommend a rose-colored altar cloth, rose quartz, a statue or picture of a beautiful woman or sexually explicit photos, some Aphrodite incense, red candles, shells, pink or red flowers, water and a condom or two. Her colors are rose, red, orange, white and pink.

For Pan, think green! Provide a green or brown altar cloth. Pinecones, greenery, wildflowers, phallic-shaped stones, statues or pictures of the god, goats or a beautiful man are good, as well as animal skins (especially goatskins), Pan incense, green or brown candles, earth, mushrooms and phalluses (dildos). His  colors are brown, tan, forest green, leaf green and teal blue.

For Hecate, remember she is the goddess of magick and witches as well as the goddess of death and transformation (destruction). For her, I have a black altar cloth, a crystal ball, Tarot cards, crystals, dead and living flowers, animal skulls and bones, Hecate oil and incense, black candles, an oil lamp and a threefold statue of Hecate. She likes her devotees to write poetry and songs to her, and she is somewhat jealous. Her color is black.

Altar Setup

Altar Setup

I’m a big supporter of Keep It Simple. Altar setups that are overflowing with magical goodies seem to collect a ton of dust, and dust is a magnet for negativity. If you’re a busy person , with friends staying over, siblings or children running through your room, and the cat jumping on and off your altar surface at will, collecting a bunch of stuff to set on your altar may not be such a good idea. If you are in college, especially in a dorm room, there’s no telling what might happen to your magical items. We tend to form an attachment to our magical tools, and a missing wand or cauldron can send anyone into a tizzy. If a magical tool of yours could decide to “walk off,” don’t despair. If it’s gone, it’s suppose to be gone. Sometimes magical things leave us for a good reason. Perhaps something better is coming your way.

In the last few years, the idea of having a personal altar has gained popularity outside of the Craft environment. However, often what people are calling “altars” are actually shrines dedicated to a deity or a particular energy the person would like to bring into the home. The altar, for a Crafter, is a working magical surface, where a shrine is more of representation of your spirituality and a place for daily, weekly or monthly offerings. In some Craft traditions the shrine is called the high altar, and the separate, working surface is called the low altar. Where prayers and petitions are given at the high altar, the messy work (such as grinding herbs, working with wax or spell work that required you to make and then put together a particular object) is done on the low altar.

A basic altar setup requires only the four elements. The beginning Craft altar adds a statue of deity; two illuminator candles (one for the God and one for the Goddess); a flat centerpiece for focus (usually a geometric symbol: pentacle, hexagram, lunar crescent, the zodiac ring, and so on); the wand; and if your family environment supports it, the athame.

If you have more space and plenty of privacy, you may wish to use the traditional altar setup use by most Wiccan practitioners when they first learn about the tools of the Craft of the Wise.