I have had many altars and shrines in my 18 years of practicing Paganism. Altars in boxes for storability or in a roll-out knitting carry case for portablity, shrines in wall-niches and in bowls, and both on tables and shelves, inside and out. I can say that nearly every room in our home has had an altar, including the bathroom and excepting the closets.
In the bedroom, there is usually a blessing bowl that functions as an altar on our dresser, in the kitchen is my personal altar, the family altar changes with the seasons, an outdoor shrine hangs in the corner of the balcony, and there is even a shrine in the bathroom. I happen to think that while all space is sacred, having a sacred space for meditative moments and as a reminder of that space’s purpose helps keep the energy in that space anchored in a way to maintain the good vibes necessary for peaceful living.
Many Pagan 101 type books and websites will offer instructions of what an altar should look like and what tools one should place on it and where they should be put. For new comers, something like this is probably helpful, but outside of specific paths, unnecessary. My first altar was pretty standard–straight out of Buckland’s Big Blue with the god on the left and goddess on the right, athame, bell, etc. 18 years later our household altars are fairly well deconstructed to whatever the heck inspires us. Either way, it really doesn’t matter as long as it suits its user–at the end of the day, an altar can be anything from a place to store your stuff to the place that anchors the sacred in your space…and just about anything you need it to be inbetween.
- The best place to get altar tools are thrift stores, yard sales, flea markets, etc. Also nature is a great place to find things, as is the Dollar Store and craft stores for DIY projects.
- An excellent resource for making/recognizing one’s kitchen as a sacred space is Cooking Like a Goddess: Bringing Seasonal Magic into the Kitchen, by Cait Johnson, which also discusses the ways to have that space, and the food you prepare reflect the seasons.
- Seasonal (holiday) shrines can be made out of blank wreaths for the door, decorated appropriately (the dollar store has some AWESOME supplies), and placed on a wall. A few Ostaras ago, I took a wicker wreath, wrapped it with sphagnum moss and soaked it with water, and then planted it with grass seed (which sprouted) and decorated it with eggs…we recycled or gave to a friends compost pile all of it when we were done.
- Unconventional containers make cool shrines. An antique (or modern reproduction) pitcher and basin set (used in the days before people had personal bathrooms to wash up in) makes a great elemental shrine for water, and a terrarium can be turned into an awesome earth shrine, with just a big jar, a garden trowel and some outdoor exploration.
- Craft stores like Michael’s and JoAnn’s have $10 wooden slat crates which can be nailed or screwed directly into the studs in the wall for the perfect wall nook for an altar (also good stuffed animal shelves for kids)…or you might be able to find one at a thrift store or flea market.
- Don’t be confined to “traditional” altar items–feel free to DIY, or just step completely off the beaten path and find something else. A couple of weeping willow branches can be bent and woven into a beautiful pentacle, leaves or flowers can be sewn into garland (both can be seen in the above pic), wax from old candles can be recycled into new ones, etc.