Setting up my altar—and seeing it evolve over time—has been one of my favorite parts of the Dedicant Path. Perhaps it’s my magpie tendency, as my husband calls it, or perhaps it’s just an artistic way of expressing my spirituality, but my altar has become a physical reflection of my spiritual journey.
I keep it in my bedroom, where it is the first thing I see in the morning and the last thing I see at night. In my current apartment, it’s also fairly central to the layout without being the blatant center of my home, which I share with my non-pagan husband. Here is my altar, circa March 2011 and in late-July 2012:
On the older altar (left), you see just the basics (and pretty much what I started with): well and fire with the tree in the middle to bridge the realms, plus three candles for the Kindred and an incense burner. The pinecone was a seasonal nature decoration, taken from outside our back door, and the tall, unadorned stick was meant to be an apple-branch, representing Manannán mac Lir. This altar is bare-basics, and (to my eyes now), refreshingly utilitarian.
The new altar (right), while far more cluttered, is a functioning altar. This is my magical workspace, and it shows. I snapped this photo on an average day and didn’t clean it up to get it picture-perfect. In this photo, you can see the same well, fire, tree, and Kindreds’ candles, plus a representation of the Earth Mother (which I made), a new Green Man incense burner, the oil lamp I use for a burn-ban-friendly outdoor fire, the cauldron I use for making offerings, and my “blessing bowl,” which is on the altar to get charged and functional. Not shown are three wall shelves above the altar, which hold my pagan prayer books, representations of the ancestors (a ring my great-grandfather made, my grandmother’s engagement ring and a rose from her funeral), representations of Brigid and the Morrigan, and a few stones that speak to me of the earth. Below the altar table is a basket containing my incense, lighters, a flask of whiskey, and other offering-paraphernalia. The newest addition in this photo is the altar cloth for Lughnasadh, which I made as part of my ongoing effort to honor the High Days in more tangible ways.
While I love my altar, there are a number of changes I’d like to make. First, I need more space to fix the clutter. This table is small, so I end up stowing things in the nooks and crannies above and below it. Even a small nightstand with a drawer would help fix the problem—though the more practical solution would be to just have less stuff! Secondly, I’d like a real representation of Manannán mac Lir, who is present only in his “props,” and something permanent for the Nature Spirits. Finally, I’d like to replace some of the chain-store-purchased products with more natural, earth-friendly pieces, like a table made of actual wood or handmade candleholders.
That said, this little table represents my heart and my spiritual hearth, and I love it.