Altared States

What exactly is an altar?

Well, basically it is a surface on which to place both symbolic and functional items for the purpose of worship, spell casting or prayer.  It can be a table, a chest, a shelf, even a large flat stone or a tree trunk.  Some altars are permanent, left up all the time, and some altars are set up for a particular purpose and then taken down.  Wiccans use altars to honor the Goddess and/or the God,  for working magick, for regular worship, and for performing ritual.  It’s pretty common to have several altars for different purposes.  Some may be shrines to honor a particular Goddess, and others may be working altars used regularly for worship.  Usually for a ritual, like a Full Moon or Sabbat, the altar will be set up specifically for the ritual and taken down afterward.

Wiccan altars will have some sort of representation of the Divine, such as candles, statues, or even a seashell to represent the Goddess and a pine cone to represent the God.  There are also representations of the four elements – Earth, Air, Fire, and Water.  These may be working tools or items from nature.  The left side of the altar is the Goddess area and the right side is the God area.  The altar may be covered with a cloth to protect the surface from candle wax, ash from incense, and spills.

Here is a picture of an altar I set up for Yule.

The red cloth respresents the return of the warmth of the sun. The candleholders are actually statues of the Goddess and the God.  A silver candle is used for the Goddess and a gold candle for the God.  The cauldron represents the womb of the Goddess from which the light is reborn, and the red candle inside represents the spark of light that is always within Her womb.  The pine tree stands for prosperity and purification.  There is also holly for protection, mistletoe for fertility and love, and ivy to represent our friends and family and to remind us to hold them close.  The yule log with its three red candles represents the newborn Sun and the return of warmth and light to the world.  The bowl of salt represents Earth, the shell full of water is, of course, for Water, the small cauldron holding a disc of lit charcoal stands for Fire, and the bowl of incense represents Air.  The pentacle in front represents all four elements with the upper point representing Spirit.  The bell was used for cleansing the circle with sound.  The red candles on either side of the altar are for illumination and also represent the light of the newborn Sun.  The chalice represents the Goddess and the athame (ritual knife which is used for directing energy, NOT for cutting anything!) represents the God.

I had fun setting this one up!

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