Out of the Broomcloset
Running around as though one’s hair was on fire, while filled with dudgeon, was originally the trajectory of this month’s column. Frankly, it was just too exhausting to proceed. Even stalwart revolutionaries came down from the ramparts occasionally to unwind and so shall you and I.
Let’s allow ourselves a few small pleasures this summer. This left open the question, what to write about, this not being a script for “Seinfeld,” after all. The best course of action seemed to be asking the “bright young things” what they were interested in. They were lost in the miasma of the internet amongst all those voices of authority, many of whom have product to shovel out the back door. The conversation turned towards altars, as in, “I am interested in putting together an altar, that I don’t have /haven’t bought…Yet.” Be not afraid.
There’s a lot of ground to cover but it really all boils down to two simple concepts: intention and attention. Think of the space an altar occupies in the same way you thought about your room, when finally permitted to make it your own, and the responsibility of keeping it in order.
The “standard” Wiccan/Pagan layout for this sacred space generally contains objects for the four directions/elements, statuary/representations of Deities, water, salt, incense and holder, ritual implements, and so forth. All of this is just lovely if that’s your dedicated path. And, if that’s not your inclination, most of it is meaningless, especially if you’re not planning on involving yourself in ritual work that requires creating a classic magical circle within which to operate.
Another thing to keep in mind is that up until fairly recently the average person, magic worker or not, was not possessed with a great deal of physical property, certainly not enough to be holding the equivalent of every day and “good” china, held aside and dedicated to spell work. If the Inquisition is knocking at your door or a nosy neighbor has come to borrow a bit of flour, a knife is just a knife, a cauldron is just a cauldron, etc., etc., and so on. As I’ve taught classes in the past, you can set up a perfectly functional, though not aesthetically pleasing, magical tool kit with the leftover accoutrement from a fast-food restaurant.
So, back to intention; if your desire to create an altar space is to explore, to meditate, connect to and utilize say, a greater connection to the natural world around you, you might start with a map, and use that as an altar cloth.
Over time, during our rambles and travels, many of us have picked up a shell, or rock, some dirt from the childhood home, pressed a leaf, that sort of thing. To the conscious mind, this is an essentially worthless, and somewhat inexplicable human activity. To the mind magically inclined, this is the stuff that worlds can be created from, or, at least, the beginnings of a sacred ritual space within which you can work and play. There’s no “wrong” way to start this exploration, but some study is needed to get it right. Plopping a big cauldron fire into an altar dedicated to say, investigating water nymphs, should not be very helpful. Learn about the associations and correspondences which those who have gone before you have worked out.
Magic requires the sense of wonder and empathy and the utilization of feelings and emotions that you may find difficult to put down in concrete terms. It’s associative, not linear, and comes from the same spring of creativity of which we are all possessed, though perhaps ignore, or let atrophy.
Or you can go all high Episcopalian smells and bells; when it comes to constructing a personal altar, too big to be just the right size, and fabulous might be the only way to get the job done. All those crafty types with Etsy bills to pay will appreciate your support. Whatever makes you happy, darling.