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Three Bowls and a Stick,
or: Creating a Home Shrine on a Budget

-Michael J Dangler
Three Cranes Grove, ADF

I started work on my Dedicant Program as soon as I joined ADF. At the time, I was a college student living in an apartment with two people who did not share my religious beliefs. Since we all know that "college student" = "poor", I won't try to describe my economic situation too much.

I didn't set up an altar immediately. In the original DP, there was no order to the whole thing, and the Home Shrine was actually near the back of the material. It wasn't until I heard Skip Ellison speak at Summerland on daily worship rites that I started constructing my own Home Shrine.

Skip's workshop wasn't really on altars, but he did mention sacred spaces in the home, and he described his altar quite thoroughly. Immediately after his workshop, I started to take notes on what I wanted in an altar.

I'm a firm believer that an altar should reflect the practicalities of your situation. Since I hadn't told my parents I was Pagan, if they came by, they'd see my altar, so I wanted something I could put away, which is in pretty direct defiance of what the DP tells you to do. I had the added worry of two white cats, which means that I couldn't set up a permanent altar anywhere within their reach, and I couldn't use a black altar cloth (or any other colour) due to their fantastic ability to fling the hair they shed to the oddest corners of the room.

My absolute poverty as a college student was another thing to overcome. Skip had shown us his traveling altar, and he had some nice things. There is also the section about the Home Shrine in the DP material that suggested many, many things for the altar: a cauldron for the well, a triple-wick candle for the fire, and a carved piece of wood for the tree. "The home shrine is a sacred grove in miniature," the DP said. Representations of the deities could be added, as could symbols for land, sea, and sky. That's a lot to purchase on a budget. I didn't even have a table to put this stuff on!

Well, I shopped for days to find a triple-wick candle that was unscented, and I couldn't find one in my town, anywhere. I gave up on that and decided to grab three votive candles and use those. I was too poor to buy a cauldron, so I found an old Tupperware bowl and used that as my well. Instead of a real altarcloth, I used a white dishcloth (still in use, I might add!). I used some Dixie cups that I had cut in half for offering cups, until I found a couple more Tupperware bowls. As the finishing touch, I took a stick and stood it upright on the altar, and this became the tree. My altar was, simply put, three bowls and a stick.

I initially had the altar set up on a set of drawers, too low for me to stand in front. The top drawer was reserved for my altar stuff, and everything had its place in there. It has since been moved to be permanently visible, set into the top shelf of a bookshelf, due mainly to relaxed relationship issues and one less roommate.

As time progressed, I have replaced things. At an after-Christmas sale at Target, I picked up a greeting card holder shaped like a Christmas tree that I use as my tree ($4). I bought a small cauldron at a local Pagan shop for $9 to replace my first Tupperware bowl. I've bought some statues from Sacred Source, which represent the only serious monetary investment into this altar so far. My first votive candles lasted a year and a half before they needed replacing.

In short, the Home Shrine doesn't need to be perfect, nor does it need to be expensive, pretty, or any other adjective. While it would be ideal if it were permanent, certain living situations might cause problems with this. I would suggest that if it cannot be permanent, you at least set it up in the same place each time you use it, with the same altar configuration. If you're living in temporary housing of any sort, something as simple as three bowls and a stick might be ideal. Take your life into consideration, and consider the impact this altar will have on it: do your parents come over often, and if so, do they know/care that you're Pagan? Do you have children or cats that might knock things off the altar? This is your altar, so do what you will with it.

As food for thought, remember that nothing limits you to only one altar, either!

Pictures of my altar (past and present) can be found at my website,

Go back to my DP page.

Content © 2003, Michael J Dangler
Updated on 06/20/2003. Site Credits / Email Me!
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