Friday, July 30, 2010

Constructing/Erecting An Altar

First, I should define what I mean by "altar": an altar for me is roughly a "place" (or better some sort of furniture like a small table or a natural construct like a flat rock) where active religious and other spiritual practices take place (or if you wish, the centre of the place those practices take part in). An altar is a construct that holds symbols appropriate to the practice and its theme at hand and/or where offerings and sacrifices are placed. An altar is traditionally dedicated to a deity or a group of closely associated deities and is used for specific purposes. Some altars are "catch-alls" in the sense that they are used for a multitude of purposes, although even then there's a common, underlying theme (such as various practices that all fall under "Witchcraft" or "worship").

Now, I'll get into constructing (or erecting if you wish) an altar. Before one does so, they should consider a few things: What is the purpose of the altar? What will it mostly be used for? Which deity or deities will it be dedicated to? How do that deity or deities tie in with the aforementioned?

After those are answered adequately, one should begin the actual construction. This has two parts: 1. physical construction (finding an appropriate piece of furniture or natural construct to use as an altar, accumulation of the necessary objects etc) and 2. spiritual construction (cleansing, consecration, dedication etc).

Part 1 - Physical Construction

First, one needs to find an appropriate object to act as an altar. A small table, a cupboard, a large, solid box, a flat rock, any of these will do. Then, one needs to gather the appropriate material. I will use "making an altar to Artemis" as an example throughout this blog.

Let's say, you picked a cupboard to use as an altar. Then you will gather the material you need to make it appropriate for Artemis. Things sacred to her will be necessary. For instance, oak leaves and acorns, (wild)flowers, fruits or animal figures/statuettes, a small statue of Artemis, a cloth to cover the cupboard (altar cloth) in green, orange or light blue (colours associated with Artemis), (gem)stones etc. The ritual tools can also be placed on the altar (e.g. athame, chalice, bell, wand, pentacle etc)

Before you place all those things on the altar, you need to place it in the room. Traditionally, North or East are the preferred locations, although if the alignment and organization of the room (especially if it's a room already used for something such as living room or bedroom) do not allow the altar to be positioned in either places or if perhaps the space is limited, one can place it elsewhere. What matters is that you should be able to access the altar freely and with ease and should have adequate space to either move it for rituals (such as in the centre of the room) or be able to encompass it in the ritual/circle by default.

The altar should be kept clean and organized and any offerings/placements renewed/replaced regularly. Especially if you have things that can rot or attract insects (fruits, flowers or food and drink offerings), keeping it clean and tidy is a must if you don't wish to honour your Gods with your altar crawling with ants, flies and bees.

If the altar is outdoors (such as a flat rock), the ornaments and objects can be removed when the work is done (you may even have to do so if it's in public place like a park) and insects etc are a necessary downside.

Now that all physical requirements are met, I'll proceed to spiritual construction.

Part 2 - Spiritual Construction

First, you need to arrange the altar and its items in a manner that is helpful (meaning you won't have trouble reaching for the necessary items nor will they hide or obstruct each other) and if possible, symbolic. Do so in a sketch or plan first and not literally (meaning don't place them yet, just plan how you'll do so). Before you place any items on it you need to cleanse and consecrate them. I'll provide a simple consecration (which can be found anywhere on the Net or in books in a multitude of versions and variations) with salt water.

Note that some items can be destroyed or damaged by salt water. If there's such a possibility or you're unsure whether something can be damaged, use a different method for that item (e.g. something made of paper won't tolerate water, some gemstones can be corroded by salt etc).

The cleansing should take place before the consecration (even if it is in a single ritual, it should preceed it). I cleanse items by sprinkling salt water and saying a small prayer to the appropriate deity (Artemis in this example).

Consecration

Take each of the items (things such as leaves, flowers, fruits etc don't really need consecration, unless they are offerings - of course, if you wish, you can consecrate them), place them in a small plate (or other container they'll fit in), sprinkle with salt water you have previously blessed and say while visualizing light (of your colour of choice, though appropriate to Artemis) descending from the sky and bathing the item:

"I now consecrate you, oh _____ (name of item), in the name of Artemis (as per the example), Goddess of the wilderness and of nature and protectress of the females of all species. May She, the Wild Maiden of the Crescent Moon, the Radiant Flame of the Olympian Gods, pour Her energy and blessings and power over you, oh ______ (name of item), and may you be dedicated to Her honour and service. May you be a fitting symbol of Artemis. So mote it be!"

Repeat until all items are properly consecrated.

After the cleansing and consecration of all items have been completed, you need to do so for the altar. Ideally, the cleansing should take place alongside the physical cleaning of the altar (perhaps as a small prayer accompanying the cleaning). If not, you can sprinkle salt water or smudge with a sage-stick, the altar and say a small prayer.

The consecration and dedication of the altar ought to be a bit more elabourate, since the altar is the centre of the sacred space and of the dedicated area. I will provide a full such ritual. Note, though, that this is made up right now, and has neither been tried nor used. Therefore, I'd advice against using it as it is and instead change at least a portion.

Altar Consecration and Dedication

Ingredients/Tools:
Three candles (white, orange, light blue or green)
A small branch with green leaves, a single large leaf or a flower
A bowl with twice blessed salt water

Place the three candles on the altar (which must be completely empty, without even the altar cloth) in a way so that they form an inverted triangle (the point should be towards you - make sure it is large enough and has adequate space between the candles)). Light the candles slowly, while visualizing light of the appropriate colour (same as the candles) appear and emit from them as you light them. Visualize that light "filling up" the whole altar, enshrouding it. Hold on to that for as long as you can. Then take the bowl of salt water and sprinkle some in the centre of the triangle and all around it, as if forming a circle. Say:

"Hail Artemis Goddess! To this altar may you descend, the circle of divinity that holds Earth. May you step unto this and make it part of your sacred domain. Hail Artemis Goddess, you I call upon, glorious Goddess, Wild Maiden of the Crescent Moon, Daughter of Leto and Zeus, Apollo's twin sister, midwife and child-nurturing Goddess."

Proceed to gently touch the centre of the triangle with the tree branch or the large leaf, continuing to do so in a sweeping motion, so as the branch/leaf will start at the centre, "exit" from the upper opening (the one on the base of the triangle), turn clockwise, continue and "enter" from the right opening, continue in a straight line and "exit" from the opposing, left opening and go anti-clockwise, ending the sweeping at the left opening again, tracing a full circle. The say:

"Your pace and dance makes sacred the land you touch upon Artemis, Great Goddess. May this altar be dedicated to you and your honour and your service from now and until you choose to undo it, gracious Goddess, Gaea's companion. So mote it be!"

Slowly extinguish the candles in what way you see fit, starting from the lower one (the one closer to you) and moving counter-clockwise (meaning the second candle you extinguish is the right one and then the left one).

Remove the candles, clean the waters and any other remains on the altar, place the altar cloth and the consecrated items, in the way you chose to arrange them beforehand.

The tree branch/leaf should either remain on the altar for a chosen amount of time (I'd say a week or six days since six is a sacred to Artemis number), placed in front of the statuette or main symbol representing Artemis or it should be respectfully disposed of (don't throw it away - it would be better to leave it at a garden or park or other place in the countryside). The salt water can be kept for future rituals and other methods that require it or you may pour it at your sink (not in a plant pot or other such place, salt is hazardous for most plants).

Hopefully, this completes the construction of an effective, dedicated altar. From this point on this altar oughts to be used in any working related to Artemis or her spheres of effect (it won't be appropriate to use it in irrelevant things, unless Artemis is your patron deity or you feel comfortable doing so or if the purpose of the altar is more broad and not "deity-specific" even if it is dedicated to a specific deity).

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