On February 16th, 2020, two of our members, Eva and Paco, presented a workshop on basic altar construction. The practical example for an altar they shared with the collective was an altar to the Yoruba Orisha Oya, Warrior-queen and Goddess of Storms. The workshop and ritual fittingly culminated at the end of a day of rain and storms.

The second half of the workshop on Oya is here.

What is an altar?

Altars are structures, usually raised, upon which offerings are made for religious or spiritual purposes.They can be found across time, in different religions and practices.They can be ornate or extremely simple. Natural or man-made. They can be found in places or worship, as well as in homes, or out in nature.

Why use an altar?

A personal altar is essentially a sacred space in your home that serves as a center where you can focus on your spiritual growth and connect to your higher self. It also consists of specific items meant to invite positive energy into your life, depending on your goal(s). Altars can be used to call on or commune with your ancestors/spiritual guides/archetypes/saints, to meditate, to pray, and more. Altars have an effect on your mood and energy. They are often used in ritual/magick work/spellcrafting. Nancy B. Watson discusses the concept of magic as being constructed on four different planes. The physical (elements and everything on your altar), emotional (visualization, clearing, magical feeling), mental (goals, affirmations, chants, etc.), and spiritual planes (choosing archetypes, prayer, etc.). The altar serves as a vehicle for interconnecting work on all of those planes.

Setting your Altar

What you put on your altar is a personal choice. Common items placed on altars include sacred items (items that carry special significance for you), items that represent elements of nature (stones, flowers, water, candles, incense, etc.), items that feed your senses (foods, essential oils, images, fabrics, cushions, wraps, prayer beads, etc.), representations of aspects of our humanity or qualities that we’d like to cultivate from spiritual/religious/mythological beings (deities, ancestors, historical figures, mythological characters, etc.), divination tools (tarot cards, runes, pendulums), art, photos, and sacred texts/journals/books of shadow.

Types of Altars

Elements

  • Water is associated with the west & emotions.
  • Earth is associated with the North and the material.
  • Air is associated with the East and intellect.
  • Fire is associated with the South and passion/creativity.
     
Source: Magical Recipes Online

Types of Ancestors

Familial (aka blood ancestors)l-the people you are related to and whom pass down genetic and cellular memories
Ideological/Spiritual (ancestors of spirit)-those who pass on their creations in the form of ideas, innovations, and inventions. They leave a mark on your thinking and way of walking through the world. Historical figures, mentors, teachers, writers, artists.
Relational-Affinity based relationships. Belonging to a particular group . Church, ethnicity, sorority,
Environmental/Place (aka ancestors of place)-the indigenous people of a place, the trees, animals, bodies of water.

Remember the acronym F.I.R.E. By Leesa Renee Hall

Deities

Building a relationship with an archetype/deity is very personal. Sometimes we are drawn to specific deities while at other times they may simply show up in our lives.

A word of caution regarding the difference between working with a particular deity and claiming the culture that deity comes from.

“ You can follow a religion that is part of a living little-p pagan culture – but that doesn’t give you rights to the culture itself, the tribes, the families or the community.  Because the religion is only one facet of their culture and their whole, it is not the whole. Worshipping some Gods doesn’t give one the right to bathe in the sacred spring where a specific persons grandmother bathed.  Worshipping the same Gods as a particular community doesn’t magically give you the right to invade that community’s rituals and homes and shrines.

It also doesn’t give you the right to state that you are part of that tribe or community or culture.  Practicing a Native American or Aus Aboriginal religion doesn’t give you the right to call yourself Native American or Aboriginal or even specifically Cherokee or Arrernte.  Because the religion of the Arrernte people is not what defines an Arrernte person – being Arrernte, with Arrernte ancestors is what makes one part of that tribe.” BEKAH EVIE BEL

Deity Types 

While these are not hard and fast rules/guidelines beginners could benefit from thinking of deity practices through the following lenses.

  1. Culture
    What are the deities/mythologies/archetypes of your own historical people?
  2. Personality Type
    Aiming for an initial personality match and working toward personal growth and balance through your work with deities/archetypes.
    In her book, Nancy B. Watson discusses deities as:
    • Thinking/Rational Types: Christian, Greek, and Roman deities/saints tend to appeal to intellectuals who could start here as novice practitioners and would benefit from moving on to Feeling Types/Sensate for balance.
    • Feeling Types: Tend to be drawn to Celtic deities and could find balance working with Thinking/Sensate type deities.
    • Sensate types: Earthy, practical people do well with Norse and Hindu deities. As they gain experience Egyptian/Sumarian deities would elevate practice.
  3. Goals
    Are you looking at building a business? Finding love? Healing? There’s a deity for that!

Word of caution: Just because you want to work with a deity, doesn’t mean that deity will show up for you. The old adage about not looking a gift horse in the mouth applies here. If a deity “shows” up for you, even unexpectedly, be gracious and appreciative. Work with what you have.

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