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Thread: Question(s) on Worshipping at Altars

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    Question(s) on Worshipping at Altars

    OK, So I'm not sure if this question is phrased well but I think I need to ask it. If anyone can help me out or give their thoughts and experiences it would be appreciated.

    I'm relatively new and inexperienced with Paganism and the only things I have read about altars and altar worship have been the Wiccan calling of the elements and casting a circle before doing any spiritual work and the associated requirement to have a symbol of the 4 elements, the God and Goddess, a pentacle, wand/chalice etc on the altar.

    I was wondering if there are any other ways of worshipping at an altar - do you need to have a representation of all of the above symbols or visualise them? Do you need to call the elements/cast a circle before doing any spiritual work? If not, then what else could you do instead or do you just get on with meditating, praying, spellwork etc.? If there are other ways, can anyone describe them or point me to a text that I can read myself?

    Currently i'm doing it the Wiccan way that i've read about, but something doesn't seem quite right with that and it seems to take a lot of time to prepare and do - or is that the point? I'm tending to move away from Wicca with my other beliefs but I have yet to properly define my path.

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    Silver Member monsno_leedra's Avatar
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    Re: Question(s) on Worshipping at Altars

    Quote Originally Posted by SilverSerenity View Post
    .. I was wondering if there are any other ways of worshipping at an altar - do you need to have a representation of all of the above symbols or visualise them? Do you need to call the elements/cast a circle before doing any spiritual work? If not, then what else could you do instead or do you just get on with meditating, praying, spellwork etc.? If there are other ways, can anyone describe them or point me to a text that I can read myself?

    Currently i'm doing it the Wiccan way that i've read about, but something doesn't seem quite right with that and it seems to take a lot of time to prepare and do - or is that the point? I'm tending to move away from Wicca with my other beliefs but I have yet to properly define my path.
    For me personally I think the notion of an altar is something personal and defined against that. I have a strong hellenic influence in my practice so I have a raised altar to the celestial or Olympian gods / goddess where I pour libations, burn offerings or make observances. I use a shallow depression or pit to make offerings, libations or observances to the chthonic gods / goddesses who dwell beneath the earths surface. Sometimes I will use statuary of the god(s) / goddess(es) I wish to honor and make offerings / libations / etc to. Might even make offerings of clothes, jewells, coins, etc to them that I place upon the altar but that is more so when I feel compelled to do so not as a general rule. Other times I have their statuary located around my desk or on shelves and will simply sit and talk to them.

    I do not use a chalice, wand, pentacle, etc as they hold no meaning to my spirituality or beliefs so have no meaning at all to me. I am sworn and honor bound to Hecate for instance but I'd never disgrace my altar with the supposed Hecate's Wheel image that so many cling to but I might use a Jynx near my altar or sacred area.

    Having a lot of shamanic type influences I see the whole of the world as an altar or sacred place so any place I am moved to pray at or simply sit and meditate is an altar. I add no extra things and in most instances only have present what ever is found along the path to the place that calls to me. Thus it might be a rock or stone offered by the stone people, a feather from the winged ones or bone from any of the peoples, perhaps some offering from the green people or standing ones that I pick up from the ground such as an acorn, pine cone, berry, etc.

    If I call anything it is the four winds and the 9 sacred directions (N, S, E, W, Above, Below, Before, Behind, Centered) I do invite the spirits of my ancestors to attend, the spirits of the local land spirits whether they be greater or lessor spirits, Invite not summon or command my gods / goddesses to attend. Normally doing so where three paths meet though my paths are usually water, land and air with a fire making the fourth junction that is static in its location.

    The rest is sort of hard to explain due to the fact it is things that I feel compelled to do one instance but not at another so it is not a key element.

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    Re: Question(s) on Worshipping at Altars

    There are a lot of ways to set up an altar/shrine, and it depends on what tradition you're part of. If you feel uncomfortable with the way your current setup and method, feel free to move things around a bit. Try different things, discarding those that don't work.

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    Sr. Member Vigdisdotter's Avatar
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    Re: Question(s) on Worshipping at Altars

    What you have as/on your altar and what you do it it is entirely up to your needs. Your path may have specific practices/requirements which go under the category of "needs" for me. But mostly what I would ask is: What do you WANT to do at your altar? Because if it's not serving a purpose there isn't much point to having one.

    In my case, my altar is a workstation for spell casting. For religious communion, I go out to find green space and hallow the area for the duration of my rite.

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    Re: Question(s) on Worshipping at Altars

    Thanks for the replies Keep them coming.

    Quote Originally Posted by Satu View Post
    There are a lot of ways to set up an altar/shrine, and it depends on what tradition you're part of. If you feel uncomfortable with the way your current setup and method, feel free to move things around a bit. Try different things, discarding those that don't work.
    I think the big thing here is that I have never experienced or read about any other paths other than Wiccan and don't really know where to start doing that. I must be looking in the wrong places but all I ever seem to find is stuff about Wicca and nothing about anything else. Nor do I feel generally informed enough about e.g. associations of things to feel I can just improvise.

    I don't know what I *want* or need at my altar yet either or exactly what my needs are, other than that I need some kind of focus, like a candle or an image of the deity I worship. However I want more than that or it doesn't feel like i'm setting aside time and preparation or thought to my worship. I live in a small apartment in the centre of a big city and don't drive so I can't always just go out and find a green space to give me inspiration or where I can be undisturbed easily - even though i'd like to.

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    Member Erika's Avatar
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    Re: Question(s) on Worshipping at Altars

    Well, what are the first things that come to mind when you think of what's wrong with your current setup? What would you prefer? You've mostly stuck to doing things by rote, from what I gather, so have you tried free-forming? What about just setting up an altar based around a single idea? What about instead of having a working altar, just one to sit at and meditate/pray/etc?

    Experiment and find what works best. It can be a little nerve wracking, trying to pinpoint what exactly you're fixing, but it's worth it. :-)

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    Re: Question(s) on Worshipping at Altars

    Quote Originally Posted by SilverSerenity View Post
    I don't know what I *want* or need at my altar yet either or exactly what my needs are, other than that I need some kind of focus, like a candle or an image of the deity I worship. However I want more than that or it doesn't feel like i'm setting aside time and preparation or thought to my worship. I live in a small apartment in the centre of a big city and don't drive so I can't always just go out and find a green space to give me inspiration or where I can be undisturbed easily - even though i'd like to.

    Personally, I think that an altar has a three-fold purpose...practically, its a stuff holder. Depending on what I'm doing, my altar also acts as a focus for meditation, and/or as a sort of 'anchor' for spiritual workings (often as a...tie...between sacred space and myself).

    I think the most effective way to figure out what you "need" is to start practicing. If you think "hey __________ might be helpful" (something you see, hear, read, etc), then try it out. If its something that is expensive or not easily obtained, try to find something that can act as a "stand in" until you decide if it works and is worth the acquisition. The only way you'll know what to have on your altar is to try stuff out!
    “You have never answered but you did not need to. If I stand at the ocean I can hear you with your thousand voices. Sometimes you shout, hilarious laughter that taunts all questions. Other nights you are silent as death, a mirror in which the stars show themselves. Then I think you want to tell me something, but you never do. Of course I know I have written letters to no-one. But what if I find a trident tomorrow?" ~~Letters to Poseidon, Cees Nooteboom

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    Silver Member monsno_leedra's Avatar
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    Re: Question(s) on Worshipping at Altars

    Just remember to though that one doesn't have to have an altar to practice. Sometimes you may discover that trying to have all the bells and whistles makes practice harder than it has to be.

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    Re: Question(s) on Worshipping at Altars

    Quote Originally Posted by SilverSerenity View Post
    I think the big thing here is that I have never experienced or read about any other paths other than Wiccan and don't really know where to start doing that. I must be looking in the wrong places but all I ever seem to find is stuff about Wicca and nothing about anything else. Nor do I feel generally informed enough about e.g. associations of things to feel I can just improvise.
    Wicca is pretty much ubiquitous. It can be challenging to find other traditions. Have you searched for Recon traditions such as Kemetic Reconstructionism (ancient Egyptian religion), Hellenismos (ancient Greek religion), etc? Your religion tag says you're leaning toward some kind of Celtic paganism. You might look into Celtic Reconstructionism and its various flavors. Or you might research the culture(s) people normally think of as Celtic.

    Your best bet is to spread your reading out over multiple topics and sources. Don't be in any great hurry to do it. Just a couple hours a week--more, if you're okay with it--until you start getting a better idea of where to go or what to do. Read blogs from various pagans, too. Read forums. Pretty much anything you can get your hands on. If you're lucky, as you're researching, your intuition will point you in the right direction, or a deity will knock you over the head and show you the way. Don't feel bad if that doesn't happen, though.

    Also be aware that you may not find any one tradition that fits you perfectly. In that case, you'll have to pick the one that is closest to what you're looking for and then, as you go along, add to it. It can be a long process. I've met people who've been at it for 10+ years and still feel like they've barely scratched the surface of everything they need/want to do.

    I still recommend you experiment a bit. Unless you go out of your way to be disrespectful or audaciously stupid, you'll be okay. Many gods tend to be pretty lenient on people who are just learning, too, and as long as you really make an effort not to tick them off, you'll probably do just fine. And it's not like the gods are shy about saying what they like or want. If you irritate someone, you'll know.

    What might help is to start with the recommended layout your current sources give you. Ask yourself what rings true to you and what doesn't. There's generally no right way to lay out an altar (shrines might be a different story, depending on the tradition) other than the way that works best for you. What speaks to you? What feels more effective to you? Your intuition isn't always right, of course. It is, however, a reasonable guide in cases like this.

    I don't know what I *want* or need at my altar yet either or exactly what my needs are, other than that I need some kind of focus, like a candle or an image of the deity I worship. However I want more than that or it doesn't feel like i'm setting aside time and preparation or thought to my worship. I live in a small apartment in the centre of a big city and don't drive so I can't always just go out and find a green space to give me inspiration or where I can be undisturbed easily - even though i'd like to.
    At this point, then, I would recommend getting an image of your deity(ies). Printed from the internet is fine, or hand drawn if you have that particular skill. Get a candle, maybe some incense if your living situation allows, then a dish for offerings, and a bowl for libations. Make sure you put all of this on a big enough surface so that you can expand as needed. As you practice, what you need will become clearer. These kinds of things tend not to come all at once.

    You need to ask yourself what the primary purpose of your shrine/altar is going to be. A place meant for worship will be set up and used differently compared to a place meant for magic workings or a mixture of both. This also brings to mind who the space primarily belongs to. A shrine belongs to the deity(ies) to which it is dedicated. An altar is more your personal space. A mixture is. . . well, a mixture.

    Personally, my space is a shrine--ie: a place of worship. I go there to pray, talk to, or honor my gods. It's set up in a way particular to Kemeticism. You're not going to find the concept of God and Goddess there. You won't find representations of the elements or anything like that. I might do divination or heka (Kemetic magic) before the shrine, but not on the shrine proper.

    You sound really nervous. Try not to be. Enjoy the ride. Have a little fun with it. It's better to make mistakes now, when you're a newbie, than later when you're expected to have some idea of what you're doing. And you don't necessarily have to get out into green space all the time. Try getting some house plants. You can put them on your altar/shrine and taking care of them can be a form of devotion. You'll bring a bit of green into your space without having to find a way out of the city.

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    Re: Question(s) on Worshipping at Altars

    Thank you Satu for the detailed response. It was really helpful

    I haven't read anything on the Kemetic or Hellenismos paths - this is the first time i've heard of them. The reason I say I'm leaning towards Celtic is because I enjoy the Celtic histories (such as we know of them), Celtic folk stories and I am heavily into in traditional scottish dance. For me it seems completely natural and I'd like to take this to a more spiritual or religious level. However, I'll try reading about some of the other paths you mentioned and things like druidism.

    Quote Originally Posted by Satu View Post
    You sound really nervous. Try not to be.

    Quote Originally Posted by Erika View Post
    What would you prefer? You've mostly stuck to doing things by rote, from what I gather, so have you tried free-forming?
    Experiment and find what works best. It can be a little nerve wracking, trying to pinpoint what exactly you're fixing, but it's worth it. :-)
    Story of my life - being nervous or doing a lot of things by rote or from books. I'll try and relax and discover how to just "be" or draw inspiration from my surroundings - maybe that's the first "need" I have, although it will be a steep learning curve.

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