Altars are a beautiful way to express devotion, focus our attention on the sacred and begin to create magic. If you are planning to work with a deity, creating an altar can help to make a space for them, in your awareness. As with all altars it may be set up for a specific time or its nature or focus may grow and change over time. Instead of creating a whole new altar you might make room on an existing altar, or maybe the altar you create will be very informal and transient, such as one built on the beach or hanging from a tree in your garden.
Altars can be worked with for many different purposes and easily might accompany dedication, aspecting or researching, as well as presencing a goddess. The distinctions we draw between these things are only guidelines, with no hard-and-fast rules; they allow us to think more clearly about our purpose when we approach a relationship with a deity. I have placed altars in this section as, by their very nature, they presence; they create a space or home for the deity even in our own absence, often in our house. An altar is an invitation for a deity to be present, with or without your immediate attention, once it is set up.
In some ways creating an altar is similar to making an attribute. Both involve physical construction and benefit by some thought, attention or research. I think one of the differences is that we make the attribute of a deity (but for ourselves) whereas the altar is actually for the deity. There is also the potential of continual – or periodic – change that exists with an altar; it is likely that an altar will be added to, change and develop over time. Perhaps you regularly create altars and need no instruction, or perhaps this will be your first one. There is not really a wrong way to make an altar, so let your instinct and creativity flow. The basic idea of an altar to a deity is that it is a way of communicating, a home place or touchstone for your relationship with them, so each altar will be unique, as that relationship is unique.
How to make an altar for a deity:
Find a place for your altar. This might be based on practical considerations, aesthetics, or your understanding of who you are working with. For example I might build an altar in the corner of the living space if I live in a small flat, I might make an altar on a beautiful rock in my garden or I might create Aphrodite’s altar on the beach.
For the initial set-up of the altar bring the items you think you will need – these will be dependent on the goddess the altar is intended for and the location of your altar. For my outside altars I would be sensitive to what materials I was bringing, so although I might leave a crystal on the rock in my garden, I would not leave one on the beach. A picture or photo or precious piece of jewelry I would only leave on an indoor altar. The items you place on your altar may be associated with the goddess; for example grain for Demeter, grapes for Geshtinanna, maybe a stack of books for Athena.
You might like to set the altar up in sacred space, which may involve grounding, casting a circle and offering a prayer or making an invocation before you begin, or perhaps to you it feels more appropriate to do those things once the altar is set up. At some point invite the deity to her altar, in a way that feels good to you. You may have written a poem, you might chant or sing or make an invocation. You might also like to perform devotional acts such as lighting a candle, meditating or dancing. You may like to journal after you have set up your altar, or take a photo, or just spend some time there. Remember to never leave unattended candles burning.
The presence of the goddess at, within or around your altar may be something you feel strongly, occasionally or not very much. You can cultivate this if you wish, as we would cultivate any relationship, with your attention and focus. Or for you simply having the altar may be the main point of it, that when you see it your thoughts are drawn towards the one it was set up for.
Over the next few days or weeks continue relating to the altar. This might take the form of refreshing flowers kept there, of lighting a candle regularly, meditating, creating ritual next to it or some other form. Transient altars – for example one set up at the beach – are not necessarily less powerful and important for having their whole time of existence concentrated into one event.
Closing your altar:
- Sometimes an altar has been set up for a specific purpose or a specific length of time and other times it just falls into disuse, inattention or changes form into another altar. A formal completion of this space can be an acknowledgement that your focus has shifted for now, as well as an opportunity to thank the goddess for her presence.
Experimenting with altars:
- You might like to try different forms of altars, to find what works for you. Making an outside, transient altar if you have always worked with indoor, formal altars, or experimenting with an altar dedicated to a single deity if you have never done that before can teach us entirely new things.