Friday, January 4, 2013

PBP: A is for Altar

My first altar was a cardboard box in a closet.

It was a painted cardboard box, thankyewverymuch. Black, of course, with a silver pentagram painted on the top. I had a dollar store incense burner and dollar store incense to go with it, and that went on the box along with a candle or two and my athame. (By which I mean a letter opener.)

I was sixteen years old, living in the Bible Belt, and I habitually wore fishnets and combat boots*. I'd just finished Bucky's Big Blue, and it said you needed an altar. A cardboard box seemed better than nothing.

Except even at sixteen, I knew it was pretty ghetto.

Now. I'm sure there are a lot of people out there for whom a cardboard box with a badly drawn star on it is perfectly serviceable. Hey, I did use mine... it was just that the entire time I did I couldn't help but think, "holy shit I want better." Maybe it's because I'm a Libra. We like things to look pretty.

In the first apartment my sister and I lived in in Vancouver, we had a HUGE altar. It was an old dresser, painted black (sensing a theme, here?) with pretty much every witchy thing we owned piled on it. This monstrosity was kept in the living room. There were also a bigass Celtic wall hanging on the wall behind it. At the time, it all seemed very romantic and gothic. In retrospect... well. We were in our twenties! The whole apartment was ugly! The couch was velvet and the bathroom sink fell off the wall!

I've had several altars since then, most of them quite small. Not cardboard boxes, but generally very small tables or the tops of old radiators. The apartment I currently live in has ample space, but with the exception of the ancestral altar, I have moved all my various magical spaces to my bedroom.

I no longer have a hardon for Celtic knotwork. I've expanded my decor to something besides 'black' and I'm at a point where I can afford to buy myself decent quality supplies.

Hilariously, my altar is back to being a dresser. My working altar anyway - the space that I use for magic and for the bulk of ritual and offerings. It's kept quite clean both because it is my dresser, and because I like things to look tidy. I keep most of my supplies put away, but certain things are left out: my mortar and pestle, the slate pentacle I bought years ago in Aldergrove, my Morrigan candle, and a cigar box full of sigils.

A good number of my supplies are kept in a cabinet in the corner. More pertinent to this topic is the top of the cabinet, which is used as another space for ongoing spellwork.

The top of my bookshelf, behind the door, holds more devotional objects: a statue of Ganesh, the crow skulls my grandfather Jimmy carved, and on the shelf below a statue of Thoth. (By the Tarot books, natch.)

My bedside table functions as an altar of a sort... it's where I keep my journal, and whatever I happen to be reading. It also has Dream of the Endless in the corner, keeping an eye on all my nocturnal wanderings. He and the little Wicked Witch were gifts - from my sister and mother respectively. Maybe not magical in the occult sense, but special to me.

Pictures and more after the jump:

Got the lantern at HomeSense. Fuck yeah.

Not pictured: the messy drawer below.

So there you have it. When in use, the pentacle tends to get hauled to the middle of the dresser along with whatever else I'm working with, but these are my spaces for communing with the Divine and the spirits, the places in which I work magic. 

I poked fun at my old penchant for Celtic knotwork and black furniture, but the truth is that 'fugly' is in the eye of the beholder. There are as many altar set-ups as there are witches, and if you prefer god-and-goddess candles, or brass pentacles, or Waterhouse prints? That's perfectly cool. 

After all... even if it's ghetto, it's what you use the space for that really matters.

* - Over the holidays, I watched The Craft with my best friend, and I said, "you know, I'm pretty sure I had Nancy's jacket." Diana looked at me kindly and replied, "you were kinda rocking a LOT of Nancy's look, dear."


  1. I love altar pictures! And your's are great! I love what you've done with your spaces! Beautiful! (I also love your little footnote there! LOL)

    1. Thank you!

      Yes, it's a sad story, but true. XD

  2. My first altar was inside my sock drawer! It was a BIG sock drawer though...

  3. As I read your post I was suddenly reminded that way back in high school when I first became interested in paganism, I made myself a cardboard pentacle. I painted it with gold and black acrylics and decorated it with gold glitter. I hadn't thought about that in ages. I don't remember using it, at least not more than once or twice, and as it turns out I don't use a pentacle at all today, but it's a good memory! Thanks for that.