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Ellinas

Altars

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Ellinas

On an ex-Christian forum, a question was raised recently by someone wanting to know how far people who had moved to a pagan spirituality use altars - basically in the sense of a shelf, cupboard top or whatever.

 

My initial reaction was that I don't know whether I use an altar, but probably not. I have a couple of displays - a shelf with a bust of Athena on it, and the top of a small cabinet with figurines of the Minoan Snake Goddess, labrys and a bull's head based on an ancient Minoan rhyton, but engage in no ritual activity.

 

The person who raised the question suggested that whether a display is or is not an altar is a matter purely of intent. That set me thinking, and I am unsure:

  1. That it is possible to link the definition of altar purely to intent, as that would suggest there is no such thing as that which is objectively an altar;
  2. That it is correct to define a personal area as an "altar" at all.

Regarding the first, earlier this year I was standing at the remains of a row of altars at Kamiros - I very much doubt that anyone sees them as other than historical curiosities, but they are still "altars".

 

Regarding the second, I realize that it is something of a habit in modern paganism, but I wonder if the word is better used to describe something that has wider - public certainly, familial or in some way communal at least - significance. Perhaps the personal altar is better termed a shrine?

 

Any thoughts?

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Earthdragon

When I take part in ritual we mostly use an alter though not always. I also personally use a portable style of alter which I have constructed for anything up to week at a time depending on what I am using it for. It is usually for solo work though can be for shared work too.

 

The alter is an externalised representation of (some of) the relationships that are involved in the ritual or stream of intention that is being worked with. With the way I have used alters they can be a conduit for the actual energy which flows during the use of it or be a tool to focus my and my colleague's intent.

 

Shrine is a term I tend to link with communal and more public use than my use of what I refer to as alters, above.

 

ED

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Ellinas

Which suggests your view of the public/personal nature of altar -v- shrine is the precise opposite of my reaction.

 

My phone screensaver is a photo of a small, portable Minoan shrine from Heraklion Archaeological Museum. I suppose it is objects like that which lead me to see shrines as the more "personal".

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Veggie dancer

I dont particularly think i have an alter or shrine. But then there are a couple of places i tend to leave things of significance depending. Sometimes a little ledge in the kitchen that has a mirror on it. I tend to leave an extra sprig of herbs there. Sometimes burn a candle there as a kind of offering/gesture. There is a hook in the kitchen i always have a corn dolly hanging from. Sometimes i leave/ burn things in the hearth. I have a wall with quite a few green men faces in my garden. Once in a while i leave something on or beneath one of those.

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Amethyst

I don't have an alter but I do like to decorate our fire surround according to the seasons. I do always have candles on there too. I don't worship any dieties and don't use it for anything specific, just to keep in time with nature and sort of honour it in a way I guess. :)

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Ellinas

Hmm - I hadn't bargained on having to add fixtures and fittings generally into the equation. It's a serious point, though. When does the symbolism of decoration turn something into a shrine or altar?

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Nomis

I don't use an altar as I don't worship anyone. Work with, yes. I do decorate trees though with ribbons and offer wine made from their fruits as a thanks giving for their crop or I shall leave a 'gift' in a place that has special meaning to my goddess.

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Ellinas

Is an altar necessarily a matter of worship?

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Maeve

For me. an altar is created for a purpose: I have three:

1) is my dressing table and the paraphernalia I collect around it - some stuff used in ritual but also bits and pieces I gather from time to time and place there and then discard when no longer pertinent, replaced by others ...

2) A tray on the dresser near my desk where I keep incense, joss-sticks and in the cupboard underneath, candles. The candle I use for sending out energy stands there too. It is quite a small space and relatively unobtrusive and undecorated apart from the items I keep there.

3) The sideboard in the room we use for the temple and ritual for which, long ago, I made tailored-to-fit covers. The items which will decorate this altar and be placed there for practical purposes, are stored out of sight in a cupboard. To all other intents and purposes, the sideboard is just a sideboard!

 

I see these three spaces as places in my home where certain items are placed and can be used for magical/ritual or just because they reflect the things in nature that are important to me. The pieces of furniture are not "altars" but those spaces become altars as and when I use them.

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Nerys

I have two small altars one upstairs and one downstairs for practical reasons. And a house/home shrine in a little windowsill. I have items on them for the elements and some stones and sprigs of herbs, and candles. My altars are small in size. Whilst I do like viewing altars online at places like Reddit/r/altars I have never posted pictures of my altars/shrine as I think it is private for myself.

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