With two principle Gods as patrons, Esus and Eris, I decided to make my home shrine/altar representative of as many of the Gods and Goddesses in my pantheon as possible. It's been a long road to get it fixed up, and I'll take you through the process my altar has gone through.
1. Getting Started:
When I attended my first Summerland Gathering (6th Night Grove's festival), the Arch Druid, Skip Eillison (website), gave a presentation on daily devotionals. From this I took two things: a) the notes that would eventually become my own ritual outline for daily devotionals, and b) ideas on how to set up a home altar.
When I got home, I made up a list of things to get, as well as a list of things to think about. Among those things were the following:
I have 2 white cats. Need to get a white altar cloth.
As you can see, I had some limited ideas for what I wanted.
At the time, I was poor, though. I didn't want to buy expensive things
for my altar, but I needed three central things: an unscented 3-wick candle, a
representation of a tree, and a well. I also needed something to hold
offerings in. Here's what I ended up with:
The altar could be moved or put away if I so desired, and I had placed a rug in front of it so I could kneel in front of it. The altar cloth is a simple dishcloth. Unscented 3-wick candles don't exist, I think, so I opted for 3 votive candles which lasted me until 12/28/02 - a good year and a half. The well is represented by a plastic bowl made by Ziploc, and the tree is a stick I had been using for a wand for years. The offering cups are made of dixie cups chopped in two.
I always put the altar away after finishing a devotional (I didn't want the cats to knock the candles off or run off with the tree).
I used this particular altar (in this form) until Yule 2001. At that point, I had a real job and could afford nicer things. It is also one of the incarnations of this altar that inspired my essay for the Dedicant Program booklet two years later, "Three Bowls and a Stick".
2. Evolution begins:
I was wandering through Target a couple of days after Christmas in 2001, browsing the after-Christmas sales, looking for a deal on a tree for my altar. While doing so, I came across a nice little brass business card holder that looked like a tree. I snatched that for 4 dollars. I also found a pair of golden apples, one of which I use on my altar to represent Eris and one which was sacrificed during my Dedicant's Oath.
Later that day I also purchased a cauldron for a well, a necklace with a
representation of Cernunnos on it, and a censor for incense from Psyche at Fly
By Night, and placed those on my altar as well. I
also decided to go from a temporary altar to a permanent one, and cleared off a
shelf on my bookshelf in my room. The result looked like this:
My sacrifices also started improving at this point. You'll see the bottle of beer above the altar, which is called "Dead Guy Ale". I love to use it for Outdwellers offerings, and they seem to enjoy it. Also, the mortar and pestle are new in this picture.
3. Continuing Evolution:
I recently moved my altar from the second shelf to the top shelf of my bookshelf. Having a permanent altar helps to keep me in the swing of daily devotionals, and keeping it on the top shelf also keeps away the cats (who I think still like to hang out up there when I'm gone). New on the altar, you'll immediately see the following items are new: the statuary, the candles, the torc, and the second shelf.
The statues are from the Gaulish pantheon, and each has a meaning to me. From left to right, they are Sequinna, Brigantia, Cernunnos, Epona, the Matres, and Taranis. The statues all come from Sacred Source, an excellent source for deity statues, but it seems they've been cutting back recently on Celtic things (thus why I can't link to all of them). Each statue has a candle with it, and on Wednesdays, when I pay homage to the entire pantheon, I light those candles.
Eris is still represented by the golden apple, but no representation of Esus is yet evident. I don't know when one will be, for I'll probably have to create it myself.
The torc was a gift from 6th Night Grove, given when I gave my Dedicant's Oath at Summerland. It forms the centerpiece of my altar now.
Below, you'll see a few pictures of the altar Dec. 26th, 2002 (some sections
are clickable so you can view a close up of that section or see around corners):
The shelf below my altar includes some items that I don't use every day,
including some other God/Goddess statues:
On the second shelf, you can see (from L to R): a Barbie doll from a McDonald's Happy Meal (represents Eris sometimes), a black candle for banishing, a representation of Mithras, Merlin from The Sword in the Stone (also a happy meal toy), a wizard statue, a statue of a raven (The raven is used as a gatekeeper for Three Cranes Protogrove, ADF), one of the Dagda, the censer that used to be on my altar proper, and my pocketwatch, which is probably there because I didn't have anywhere else to put it (I had just moved everything). In front of those, you'll find an axe (representative of Esus), a ceramic bowl given by one of my friends from 6th Night, and my bonsi book (I hope to replace the business card holder with a real bonsi which I am currently growing).
Finally we have the third shelf that really isn't part of my altar:
The two blue jars are where I keep my grain sacrifices (the one on the left is where I keep unsacrificed grain and the right is the bin the grain goes into until I can take it outside and give it to the earth). I have some spare candles and candle holders on this shelf in case I need them, as well as the nuts and bolts of an altar (candle "glue" to keep the candles standing, a water pistol to keep the cats off the altar, a flashlight for those dark rituals when candles just aren't enough, and a woodburner for carving runes). Yes, that is a copy of the Necronomicon right next to The Satanic Bible, The Gnostic Gospels, and the Book of Mormon. This particular shelf started out as the shelf for books I had little respect for or that had little relevance to my own practices (you'll find the shelf of books I have no respect for or that had no relevance to my practices below it), and I did little to change the books on my shelves.
The above three photos and explanations deal with my altar format on Dec. 26, 2002.
On June 23, 2003, I bought a new house. My first order of business was to set up my altar. My ritual supplies were the first things into the house, along with my Dedicant Program certificate.
What you are going to see is a temporary altar. I must apologize for the
scary wallpaper; it came with the house:
This altar meant a lot to me. I am looking to make a permanent altar (you'll
see my first failed attempt later). Here are some more pictures:
You can see that my Dedicant Certificate is hanging (crookedly) very close to my altar. It's an important thing for me, and it is currently the only thing on any wall. Even my college diploma isn't framed.
You can see I have the altar set atop a set of drawers. I keep my necklace on the drawers, along with some of my more important and sentimental items from different rituals on the other knob. The altar doesn't list. That's me leaning a bit to the right.
A final view of this altar. Note that I have almost no space on this, and I had to keep spent matches on the altar top, which really bothered me.
I was helping my friend Brian move one night, and he had several things that didn't fit in his new apartment. Several things we just tossed, but one thing in particular caught my eye. He had a roll-away countertop with a knife holder on the side and a pair of lower shelves. Well, I thought this was perfect, so I took it and made it my new permanent altar. For a few days, it worked great. See the pictures below:
You can see that the altar space is arranged in a much more roomy and open feel. It's fairly symmetrical. I took a picture with candles burning, mainly because I could and partially so you could see how they look.
Well, I admit, the picture is cooler underexposed and dark (and most of my rituals are done in darkness, anyway):
Again, you can see the symmetry in the statues, the fact that they all face out (a very welcome change from the deities facing in when they were in the bookshelf).
Here they are with nifty flames:
Again, because it looks cooler in the darkness (I really like this picture):
Of course, I've mentioned that I needed to keep in mind that I have two cats. I've also alluded to the fact that this first attempt at setting up a permanent altar was a total failure. Well, here's why:
Above, you'll notice that someone (the cats aren't telling who) got onto the altar and had some fun playing "Godzilla Among the Gods." I found Taranis lying on the floor (he was the lightest of the Gods and probably the most fun to play with), his lightning bolt broken off at the top and a stray tooth mark or two on his legs. The Matronae and the other deities who could be knocked down took a good hit, too, but stayed on the altar. The candles were hopeless. But note what light object is still standing? Eris' Golden Apple. Imagine that. The above picture is, unfortunately, the current state of my altar. I have learned much from the experience, though.
Above, you'll see Mithras. This is my first attempt at moving deities throughout the house to new altars. This is down in the basement (given the Mithraic Cult's predisposition to worship in caves), and He stands along with many heroes in my video collection. One of these days, I'll get Him a real altar, but for now I hope He's content.
4. A New Chapter:
After I finally painted my room and got the god-awful wallpaper down, I began to look for a good way to set up the altar that was both out of reach of the cats and still a good place for me to meditate. What I eventually decided on was this (click on the different items in the picture for a closer view):
Because my idea of "meditation" long ago became one of "daily ritual", I needed the altar at a comfortable height for me to work. the bottom shelf sits around the middle of my torso, and the two side shelves are about shoulder-height. You'll note that the order of deities from left to right hasn't changed since I started working with these representations: that has helped give me a consistency (and symmetry) throughout my work at these altars.
Each deity still has his or her own candle, but a new addition is an offering bowl for each one. The bowls are glass and hold just about anything I might want to put in them.
When I was picking up the offering bowls, I also picked up a new cauldron. I was having issues with the iron cauldron rusting, and stopping that rust was becoming impossible. Instead, I purchased a nifty-looking black plastic salsa bowl that just happens to look exactly like a cauldron. I got two for $.75, and I couldn't be happier with the purchase.
The most striking new thing, though, is obviously the representation of the tree. I had seen it in a store and immediately fell in love with it over two years earlier, but had been unable to purchase it due to its hefty price-tag. Fortunately, my girlfriend watched me gazing longingly at it every time we were in the store, and for Christmas in 2003, it was sitting under our tree for me.
The tree is actually a casting of a 19th Century church altar, and has a companion piece somewhere. The companion piece shows the same oak tree, but fully in bloom with beautiful flowers everywhere. My piece was on the left side of the altar, and the companion was on the right side. Together, they represent a bit of Christian mythology that says that when the messiah returns, the oak tree will burst into bloom. When I read this, I was even happier with the tree, and found the symbolism attached made the representation of the tree all that much more impressive in my eyes.
On a side note, I figured the entire cost of this altar up one day in my head, and it came to around $400.
And with the completion of this altar, I have begun to consecrate a pair of altars outside, but money has run out, and thus the projects are temporarily in limbo.