Date: 22nd September 2021
Today’s Tarot card: The high priestess (Druid craft deck)
Weather: Cool and breezy.
Note: Full moon yesterday, autumn equinox today.
Today I am gazing upon my altar and thinking about all of the beautiful complexities of it.
My altar is not just a place where I go to perform workings (or spells);
I can perform magickal workings anywhere. In fact, quite often workings occur in my kitchen, garden or out in the wilds of the woods, moors, hills, rivers and flashes of Lancashire, and occasionally North Wales.
Nor is my altar a place where I sit only to mumble prayers to Gods and Ancestors.
My altar is my place of power.
A place of creative chaos, beauty, art and expression.
A space where I gather many of my tools, trinkets, and power objects.
A place I sit beside every day to get away from the world and think- something that is needed a lot at the moment. The world and society feels as though it is in a bigger mess than usual at present.
My altar is an area of inspiration and connection. A space where I make offerings and sprinkle sweet scented herbs, or drip wax and oils.
An Altar is many things to a Witch, and perhaps you will get different answers on what an altar is, depending on who you ask.
But for me, this is what my altar is… my place of power, connection, focus, retreat, art and expression.
I remember back to when I first started out on my path of openly practicing Witchcraft; my point of spiritual connection was just my bedside table. Upon which sat a blackberry hoop, some holy water, my rosary, tarot cards, a piece of quartz and a hag stone that I had found on a beach, along with whatever occult book I was reading at the time. For a young person finding their feet and learning about folk magick and Witchcraft, this is not an uncommon set up. Just as was the case for me, when I was a young girl, some twenty years ago, I am sure there are still many a teen or student setting up points of spiritual connection on bedside tables, bedroom shelves or even discreetly in wardrobes and closets.
When I was a student in my twenties, I had the opportunity to use the top of chest of drawers as my altar space. Upon which I would put pretty cloths that were changed depending on the season, Sabbat, or, if I had accidentally burnt holes in it from clumsily dropping incense or wax…(Yes, I’m one of those Witches. Lol).
I think for many practitioners, especially those who are just starting out on their journey into Witchcraft, there is an unspoken expectation to have a picture perfect “Insta-good” set up for your practice.
But in reality, this is far from true. An altar is what you make it, it isn’t about what others may think of it, or how they may interpret it. It is purely down to your own practice, self expression and needs. In fact, I often find it is the picture perfect or pristine altars that not only lack the most character and individuality, but also personal power…
An altar should sing and vibe as an extension of the self. Not as an extension of what others will appreciate. Some of the best altars I have seen are absolutely full of items, often haphazardly leaning and brushing against each other. Cobwebs, smoke or ash adorning alongside the more recent additions of fresh herbs and flowers. This isn’t to say that your altar should be untidy! On the contrary, it should be loved, nurtured and regularly cleaned and energetically cleansed. It should be updated not only (ideally, in my personal practice) with the changing of the seasons, but also with the changing of individual needs and when personal growth and transition occurs.
I think the first time I ever had a large enough space to be considered a full Witch’s altar was when I was twenty six years old. I had just married my first husband (now ex- thank the Gods) and had moved from London to Suffolk to live in army marriage quarters. While my then husband was away serving in Afghanistan, I was able to freely express myself, and so used the entire surface of a living room unit as an altar. Unfortunately I was coerced into taking it down upon my then husbands return.
However, after my divorce and living independently as a single mother, I had the opportunity once again to set up a beautiful space for connection and worship.
I remember when I met my second husband (we married last year, Imbolc 2020) and I visited his home for the first time, I was in awe at his altar space! Mark had made from scratch a cupboard come shelving unit, painted it white and decorated it with everything from statues and animal bones, to shells and current workings. I knew very early on we were a match made in heaven (so to speak). The first time we met in person he presented me with Corinne Boyer’s book, “Under the Witching tree” because he had noted it was on my ‘to-read” list. I think he had sussed out very early on that the way to my heart was via books! He also complimented me on some of my blogs he had read, saying that my writing on “Hedge-riding” was very similar to his own experiences.
Together we now have a new home here in the Lancashire/Greater Manchester area, four children and about four altars dotted around the house!
- The main family altar in which everyone uses.
- My Cerridwen altar as part of my Priestess of Cerridwen training.
- The Ancestor altar.
- And something that looks suspiciously Pagan-Altar like in my eldest daughters room. Complete with Crystal’s, hagstone, fossils and a willow branch coloured with felt pens to resemble a rainbow for a wand. Bless her.
At present, the main altar in the house is a gorgeous Welsh dresser that my husband and I managed to pick up for £10 from Facebook market last year. What a steal! And it is perfect! Mark has a shelf, I have a shelf and the central shelf serves as a communal shelf that anyone in the house can add too. Which is ideal, because I’m often finding dandelion heads left by the statue of the Goddess Brigid from my daughter…
Now that we have moved to a bigger property and are blessed with a larger garden, I look forward to assembling an outside altar next month for Samhain! When my eldest daughter and I used to live in Suffolk, we would set up a seasonal altar in the far corner of the garden, close to the pear and apple trees. The Altar would be adorned in carved pumpkins, food offerings, any pretty stones, shells, hag stones and natural quartz we had found on one of our nature walks, and any pictures, or written down prayers or wishes we had for the coming year. Being completely biodegradable, the altar was left for the land, nature spirits, and wild critters of the earth, and over the winter it would eventually rot away and return to the earth. By February, the pumpkin, other food bits and paper had created a wonderful compost! In February 2017, I planted a rose bush in the spot that once held the seasonal altar and by summer it had grown twice in size and displayed the most gorgeous pink roses I have ever grown. There is true magick in the cyclical nature and connection to the land. The earth grows our food from seed and sapling, we then harvest it and celebrate! From celebration, we ritualistically thank the land by leaving offerings or creating temporary altars. Those offerings then re-fertilise the earth and make it ready for new life! in my case, beautiful roses.
I rarely set up altars outside of the perimeter of my home, and when I do, they are extremely short lived because I adhere to the guidance of “leave no trace”. Prior to 2020’s lockdown, I had begun to set up an open circle for Witches in the Liverpool area. When we would meet, the altar and working space would come and go with us so that, when we left the park, no sign could be seen that we were ever there.
There were two reasons for this:
The first being secrecy and privacy, there is great power and protection in the ability to work quietly and say nothing once a circle has disbanded.
But more importantly, as a Druid and Folk Witch, I acknowledge that the world is not just my home, but my life giving parent. As a member of the human race, I am all too aware that both my fate, and that of all living beings collectively, are intrinsically tied to the fate of the land. If we abuse her, pour our litter upon her and leave chaos in our footsteps, we loose our connection to the earth, thus making any Pagan spirituality pointless.
It is for this reason that I rarely ever partake in such acts as the tieing of clouties to trees, and on the rare occasion that I do partake in this practice, I am careful to only use organic cloth cut into ribbons that will biodegrade. I also ensure that I do not tie the ribbon so tightly that it chokes the branch of the tree, preventing it from growing and thriving.
A blog like this would be missing something if it didn’t talk about shared altars in the wider landscape and the interactions that we have with them.
I get so frustrated and heartsore when I see supposedly “Earth loving” Pagan’s tying nylon or other plastic based ribbons to trees around places such as Glastonbury and Avebury. If it is not this, it is leaving paraffin based candles and plastic trinkets at the base of standing stones and holy wells. I often wonder what these “Spiritual people” think happens to their offering to the land once they have gone…
In most cases, these items will not biodegrade and bless the earth. Nor are they safe for local wildlife. I assume that some kind and responsible locals or site caretakers end up clearing up the areas on quieter days.
I don’t judge those who leave inappropriate offerings to the land, I think half of the problem is not necessarily laziness or complacency, but a lack of understanding and awareness of what blesses the land and what poisons her or chokes her trees. We live in a time where it is “trendy” to be green minded, but with that comes an awful lot of greenwashing from capitalist companies who want to earn quick money. Consequently, this can leave many people confused as to what is an eco friendly option and what is not.
For the last ten years or so, my practice has adopted a careful green and leave no trace practice. If it can’t feed the land, nourish it, biodegrade safely or be safely consumed by local wildlife, it is not used in an outside altar or offering. My most recent example would probably be the bread poppet I left as a gift to the spirits of a local Lancashire woodlands (you will find the photo of this on my Instagram page). The poppet was made entirely of safe and edible ingredients that would quickly return to the earth or be eaten by local wildlife. I suspect the latter happened, as when I checked on the poppet a few days later, it was gone! I do not think human hands moved it as it was deposited on the bank of a brook that was not easily accessed.
At home, I have a bit more flexibility in what I place upon my altar, and of course not everything will be biodegradable. Many items are crystals, bells, statues, cords etc. I keep a box elsewhere in my home where I keep things that are not currently housed upon any of my altars. This means that when they are wanted, they are easily retrievable and I can rotate, depending on the season, what sits upon my sacred space. Mark and I try to collect wax candle drippings in order to re-melt and create new candles or firelighters for future use. “Waste not want not!” and things that are not wasted do not end up in landfill. I feel there is a cyclical nature here too… that even as the candle burns down and sputters out, the remains of it’s wax can be melted down and reborn anew!
I hope you have enjoyed reading my blog today. If you did, please follow my work here on WordPress or over on my Instagram and Facebook pages, both titled “Diary of a folk witch”
Through time, mists and the distance between us, blessing’s from me to you.
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2 responses to “The Witch’s Altar- Musings Of A Modern Folk Witch.”
Thank you for such a lovely insightful view of your alters and family. I must say that on reading of your organic offerings it reminded of a news story that has appeared in my part of the land, Poole in Dorset. It would appear that some person/people (I really can’t think of the right words to describe them) have actually drilled holes in two beautiful oak trees which were obscuring the view from their multimillion £ new build, and pumped poison into them thus slowly killing these two precious beauties. I have tears in my eyes writing this. I tell you because I too live in a wonderful new home, I think it will be my last one (I am getting on in years and my health is failing somewhat) but oh, what a joy it is. As I look out my window I am surrounded by the wonders of our precious earth with trees and greenery all around me. I have a garden for the first time in my life, which although I am not well enough to do much, is growing and becoming a wild habitat for all. I thank the gods and goddesses for this wonderful tapestry and the precious air we breathe thanks in part to our green giants and pray silently for those that do not or don’t want to know, are given the chance to change their ways. Wishing you a wonderful day and many blessings to you and your family. Blessed Be sister 💚
Thank you so much for your kind feedback! It means so much. I’m saddened to read about the Oak trees. That makes me so heart sore that someone would do that 🙁 I’m glad you’re home allows you to see such wonders from your window! Im also glad you have a garden! Even if you’re not presently well enough to tend it, it can still offer so much peace and healing.What a blessing 💚 I Know Poole quite well. I used to holiday in Swanage on the isle of Purbeck 2 or 3 times a year and would always visit Poole. I love Dorset. Blessings to you and yours Gayle. Many many blessings x