Sunday, June 27, 2010

Altars and Shrines

Due to realizing that I need to study ancient Greek Magic further as well as having a writer's block on that particular subject, I chose to put it on hold for now and make some posts on other topics instead of leaving this blog go inactive for too long.

In this post, I'll try and explain the meaning and use of altars and shrines in regards to one's path and workings as well as how dedicating either to a deity works.

Some things need to be cleared first. There are two types of votive/working places: altars and shrines. Altars are mostly for active workings (such as offerings, rituals etc or for religious Witches we may include spells and other magical methods) while shrines are mostly for passive workings (such as prayers, devotionals, honouring etc).

An altar dedicated to a deity means that said deity will preside over and influence the work done with the altar. If for example, I were to dedicate an altar to Artemis, that altar would have to be used in workings with a theme relating to one or more of Artemis' spheres of influence. It wouldn't be appropriate (and possibly less successful) to use it for something irrelevant to Artemis. Altars in antiquity were dedicated to a deity or deities with the intent of providing sacrifices and offerings and conducting rituals for those specific deities alone. A case that may differ somewhat for a solitary practitioner (though not only for solitaries) is that of a patron deity. If the one you dedicate the altar to, is your patron, then the "range" of the activities that altar is appropriate for, can expand (because a patron deity affects a far greater portion of your path, or even all of it, therefore all workings are, at least partially, to his/her honour).

A shrine dedicated to a deity means that said "place" is sacred to said deity and effectively a temple of his/hers. Offerings can take part there but usually what a shrine aims for is to create a more permanent sacred space, a small corner for your deity, where their presence and power is felt constantly (as opposed to the altar or circle, that goes "inactive" after the work is done).

Altars and shrines can combine, although, in my opinion, you're then overcharging it and possibly creating a "crowded" space. Too many intents and energies in one place and that can prove counter-productive.

Before you dedicate anything to anyone, you need to consider and decide what the purpose of the item/place is, what it is used for mostly, how will that change or be strengthened after the dedication, and how the deity chosen will tie with the aforementioned. If, for instance, you wish to only worship that deity there and not perform other workings (such as magical ones), then a shrine might be the way to go. On the other hand, if you wish to include your deity in your active workings, an altar is appropriate.

If you wish to simply have something representing your deity on your already existing and working altar, in order to effectively honour her during ritual or other workings and/or to have a visual of sorts or symbol of hers to remind of her presence, a statuette or picture or something sacred to her, is appropriate. In that case, you need to research (or reference to your notes/books/journal) what the associations and sacred symbols of that deity are. For instance, if I intended honouring Hekate on my altar, I would either acquire a statuette of hers or a picture or something sacred to her such as a cypress branch or a dark coloured (gem)stone such as onyx or black tourmaline. The same sort of research and accumulation of sacred symbols is part of erecting a shrine as well (albeit you will need more than one or two such symbols).

In any case, one can erect both an altar and a shrine separately. Some workings can be performed in either place (such as offerings and rituals) while others are specific to one of the two only (such as spells for the altar and prayers for the shrine). In the end, what matters is that what you do works and feels right for you and that the Gods accept it. It would be meaningless to erect a shrine you like only for it to end up useless because the deity/deities do not accept it (usually that happens due to conflict between the purpose/aspects/symbols/use of the shrine or altar and the deity/deities involved).