Candles flicker, their light glinting off of ceremonial knives and offering bowls, casting strange shadows on solemn statues. The heavy scent of smoldering incense fills the air. The altar is set and at the ready.
But what is the true point of the altar. More than just a place to store tools, books, and magickal paraphernalia, an altar is meant as the focal point within a ritual or working. Set at the center of a Circle, it embodies the element of Spirit and its use is dedicated to the reverence and worship of that element, most often in the form of one’s God(s.)
Though not crucial to the practice of Magick and Witchcraft, the use of an Altar can prove beneficial to one’s spiritual practice as the altar becomes a trigger point, aiding in slipping into the proper mindset, both for magick and for proper worship of the Gods.
Many things may or may not be present upon an altar. Common through numerous religions is the presence of an effigy (symbol) of that which is being worshipped, such as statues, pictures/paintings, or even a simple candle. Also common, are containers for libation and offerings, such as shallow bowls, cups, and plates (allowing worshippers to partake in the offering as well.) The burning of herbs, often in the form of incense, and other items, such as food and oil, is another common component of worship and so a container for such or even a full fire pit may also be present.
Within the practice of Wicca, there are a few standbys for how an altar is setup, and although what is present varies from Tradition to Tradition, there are few, if any, constraints for the solitary practitioner.
The altar itself may be placed so that it faces any direction, though common placement is facing the North (the realm of all that is physical, where we are at the start of a ritual, for a cast Circle is seen as being “between-the-worlds,”) or the East (as the place where the Sun rises, it is seen as the direction from which all things come, it is also the realm of travel: a necessary component of ritual, be it for magick or worship.)
NOTE: As you stand/sit before your altar, the direction you are facing is the direction your altar is facing, so technically it is the back of the altar, not the front, which is closest to the direction it is “facing.”
Generally, altar space is divided into three sections: the left being dedicated to a female form of the Divine (i.e. a Goddess) and the right to a male form (i.e. a God,) with the center space being reserved for the Divine in its true state: as the One-Unknowable-All, genderless and encompassing everything.
In each section, then, are placed items for that form of the Divine, such as a candle or statue, an offering bowl, and various tools. Exact placement may also vary depending upon elemental association of the items (e.g. incense may be placed at center so that it is offered to the Divine in its pure form, or it may be placed to the right side of the altar, as it is masculine and this would also be the direction of East if the altar is facing North.)
However, the creation of an altar is in no way a requirement spiritual or magickal practice. All that is truly needed to work magick is focus and will; all that is truly needed to honor one’s Gods is focus and sincerity. These are things that you carry with you always and can access at any time.
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