Fuck the Altar

I think I'm like a lot of witches out there, that when I say I like to collect items for my altar, I mean it. I have baskets and baskets of stuff that I change out with other items as the seasons change and progress, some items are specifically for certain sabbats, or for certain seasons, while others may grace the altar practically all year round. I'm a magpie for cauldrons, crystals, candles, and more. My altars are never stripped down, simple, or bare. There is always a need while I'm setting a new one up to consciously pull a few items off and make sure that there is actually room to work at it. I'm pretty sure that as you're reading this, you're glancing over, or mentally sizing up your own altar, perhaps a slight guilty look on your face, and do I detect that your face has gone a few shades pinker?

And then again, you might not be like that at all. You may be stripped down, simple, and uncluttered, your altar neat as a pin, and a reflection of how you like to work with magick. You may have a color scheme that is monochromatic, or natural, neutral, or vibrant. Your items may be few, but precious, each piece having deep symbolism and meaning for you.

But no matter which version you find yourself identifying with, I'm certain that the majority of people reading this blog will have an altar of some kind, whether it be a permanent set up, or something dashed together for ritual, or a small travel altar that you can take anywhere with you. Well, I have big news. Right now, I don't have one. As in, at all. And I will be working without an altar or central place of focus and worship for probably at least a couple of weeks. Why, you ask? Well, because we are moving into my mother-in-law's house. Yes, that's right, we're about to enter into the long, drawn out, and complicated process of having her will probated and getting a mortgage to purchase it.

We will have the luxury of moving things over slowly, getting rooms slowly cleaned out both at her house, and then at ours, and to prepare our home for staging to sell. And because we are going to have to stage our place, that means I need to remove any and all traces of religious iconography and witchy, woo-woo stuff from the home. I spent a couple of hours today cleaning all the witchy books off my bookshelves and packing them over to the new place, and rearranging them to be far less cluttered, and more neutral. I packed about 90% of my altar items today too and brought them over. Only a few decks remain at my house to hand, and I'll keep a small bag of crystals with me too, and of course, I set the box of Nag Champa stick incense aside, since it's my favorite.

For a little while I will pretty well be altar-less. I may have a couple odds and ends to throw together on my window sill or by a river side if I feel called to do so, but I really want to explore what working as a witch, stripped down just to what's around me or already in my environment, looks and feels like. Even though I don't hold to any specific altar construction style or set up, I've wondered recently if the reason I haven't felt called to work at my altar much lately is because there is too much on it. That even though all those objects look and feel precious, beautiful, and witchy, that they may be distracting me from my inner power and magick. It's a line that I have constantly needed to walk as I've decorated throughout my life. I constantly need to cull, and pull just one more item off. I'm an over-decorator, and it's only been since I've had young children that I've been able to easily fight the urge to pile every surface in my home with knick knacks and bobbles.

As I was packing up my altar things I looked at the amount, and I was amazed. I really, truly, for the first time ever, questioned what I was doing with all this stuff . I look at all the Instagram witches and their gorgeously cluttered and mystical looking altars, and my eyes practically bug out of my head. I absolutely love that aesthetic. But then I also love those clean, uncluttered, artistically set up, simple altars too. I looked at all my items, spread around the room, and it occurred to me, that maybe, just maybe, I may need to do a cull of my decorations soon, and learn how to work a little more rustically.

So, as I put all my bits and bobs off to the side in the new place today, I reminded myself that witches of old, during the burning times and more ancient Celtic days, before the Romans conquered Britannia, that altars probably weren't used much, if at all. They may have been constructed by priests and priestesses for sabbats or rites, but if there was an altar in the home, it was probably small, understated, and simple. The real purpose of their faith was to carry it with them in their hearts. That they believed in something, sought and received comfort from forces outside themselves, not necessarily including a collection of objects. Yes, some cultures, like the pagan Greeks and Romans, had home altars, and a lot of cultures, like Egypt, had temples where the public could gather, but for me, my "temple" has always been, for the most part, nature. My home altar is a place to do focused magickal work when I don't want my neighbors to see me, or when the weather outside isn't conducive to what I want to do, and as a peaceful place to meditate (when my kids are in bed, usually). Not having that focal point in my home is going to take some adjusting, but I'm confident that not only can I do it, I can make it work to my advantage. I imagine myself getting outside more often, or using some smaller items nearby to create the type of space or moment that I want.

So, fuck the altar. Fuck the bits and bobs. Fuck the trappings, material things, and the dust collecting clutter. I'm stripping my spiritual practice to it's bare bones for a little while. Interacting with deity in a non-representational way, and minimizing the amount of crystals and incense that I use. Sometimes, you just have to strip it back to get to the heart of it. Sometimes, you need less in order to get more.

Happy summer my lovelies. Tell me a bit about your own practice in the comments if you feel called to do so. Or share photos of your altar or sacred space. Tell me what makes your corner of spirituality sacred, and how it works for you. I'm a spiritual voyeur, and I love to read about that kind of shizzle.

<3 Jess


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