How to Create a Wiccan Shrine

The idea of the Wiccan shrine/ altar is to give yourself a real, physical connection to your spirituality and beliefs. Something you can reach out and touch, see, hear, taste and even smell. A Wiccan altar should appeal to your senses, be something you enjoy and give you a feeling of being connected to the Earth, nature, any deities you choose, and life itself.

A Wiccan shrine is commonly known as an altar. The origin of the word shrine was ‘a case for holy papers’. The Wiccan altar we create isn’t usually a case containing papers. It’s more likely a Wiccan, Witch or Pagan would keep any papers and notes in their Book of Shadows. Probably a good idea to keep your papers away from your altar in case of mess from the elements: fire, water, air and earth. None of those are especially good for paper, even air will turn it yellow over time.

One important thing to consider when you create an altar is that you are going public with it. Unless you live a hermit-like existence, someone is going to see your altar at some point in time. If you are secretive (and there are all kinds of reasons for keeping your beliefs a secret) you will want to keep your altar inconspicuous. This isn’t hard to do, with a little imagination and ingenuity. No, you don’t have to hide it in a drawer or closet. Just use common every day things which are typically in most homes but place them together. You will be the only one who knows this is your Wiccan altar.

A Base for your Altar

Your altar can be a collection of things but find a way to group them or collect them together. There are traditional ways like drawing a circle around them, using a pentacle, etc. But, there’s no reason you can’t get creative.

Place everything on a tray – like a vintage wooden tray or something made of an old metal like tin. Watch for something in thrift shops and antique stores.

Embroider (or draw using permanent marker) a pentacle on a handkerchief and use it under everything, as a liner. The bonus about using something made of fabric is how easy it is to wash it and reuse it.

If you can, build a terrarium which can include so many elements and generate oxygen too. Put the terrarium in a safe place with the altar cloth under it. No doubt you can think up other great ideas which can create an altar, incorporating some or all of the elements, the centrepiece and a base.

The Centrepiece for your Altar

Yes, there should be a centrepiece. This is something personal to you which connects you to the altar on a real level. Place it in the centre of the other objects. When you do add the objects for each element to your altar find the right directions to place them in north, west, south and east.

If you include deities in your Wiccan beliefs you might choose something which gives you a connection to your deity as the centre of your altar.

Add the Elements to your Altar

These are just possibilities for your altar. Each person should find a way to bring each element to your altar in a way that has real, personal meaning to themselves. The idea of the altar is to give yourself a real, physical connection to your spirituality and beliefs. You just can’t do that if you copy ideas from someone else just because you read it in a book. Take these ideas and use them in your own individual way. (If an idea really suits you – do it!)

Fire

  • candles (make sure they won’t tip over -short and squat candles are a good plan)
  • matches (unlit) because they bring the possibility of fire without the smell or danger.
  • steel tools – they’ve been through a lot of fire
  • a little bit of ash from a fire
  • cinnamon sticks or hot peppers

Air

  • a paper fan, decorate it yourself
  • a fancy (clear glass) jar with ‘nothing’ in it
  • a bell because sound is carried on the air
  • leaves which have been blown from trees
  • a balloon, inflated or deflated

Water

  • a tiny container of water.
  • a fish – a living goldfish or a wooden toy fish
  • a snowglobe – any time of year
  • a shell picked up from a beach
  • an umbrella or rain hat

Earth

  • a tiny sample of dirt from outside your own home.
  • fresh fruit – eat it then add fresh fruit again
  • a growing plant – it can even be seasonal, like a poinsettia at Christmas time.
  • garden tools, like a small trowel or garden gloves
  • a rock or pebble you found somewhere outdoors

Bless Your Altar

Once you have pulled everything together for your altar give it a first time use with a blessing – like a statement of purpose.

Sprinkle salt over everything (go easy on any living things, like plants) then speak aloud your blessing. The blessing can be something you wrote yourself or something you found from an outside source. (Even something you have re-written or paraphrased for your personal use). The blessing is your way of making this altar something different, something important to you, outside of the everyday stuff which may be upon it.

The salt is only there to purify or refresh the altar. It’s traditional and a good idea for the first time you use the altar, but not so essential that you can’t skip it if you have to. Remember, the real purpose of the altar is to connect you to the beliefs you hold. The keyword there being you. Anything you read it a book is just a guideline. Anything you actually choose to do should be for and about you and your feelings, beliefs, ideals.

Now that you Have your Altar…

Now that you have your altar what do you do with it?

Keep it refreshed, tidy and don’t let it get dusty. (Unless you really want to add dust bunnies as an element to your altar).

Use your altar in your rituals, create a ritual for your altar or use your altar as part of your rituals.

If you keep and/ or use Wiccan tools like an athame, wand, chalice, pentacle you wear, and so on you can keep them on or near your Wiccan altar. It’s practical in it’s way – you will know where everything is. Also, it keeps everything in tune, balanced and they can lend and store energy from each other. Your altar is such a personal thing it will imprint something of yourself and your spirituality on the things you keep on or near it.

Bless your altar and use it as a focus for your beliefs, your spirituality and a focal point as you learn more about Wiccan and Paganism. As you learn and grow and develop your beliefs you will change how you feel and think about various aspects of Wicca. Your altar is like a grounded place which you can come back to no matter how far and wide you explore and discover.

 

Other Ideas and Methods for Creating an Altar

What’s a Grimoire?

The Book of Shadows (BOS, for short) are the notes Pagans/ Witches/ Wiccans have made along their journey of life and learning.

A Grimoire is a book of magic, spells and techniques.

People don’t always know there is a difference. It’s a pretty slight difference. The Book of Shadows would be less scientific and contain personal thoughts. However, both would have the facts and information about techniques for magic and spells.

Being a Solitary Witch (or Wiccan)

Black Hat Society

The solitary Witch, Wiccan or Pagan is alone by choice. There are many reasons for making this choice to be a Witch or Wiccan on your own. There are also lots of ways solitary Witches can share notes, talk and get new ideas from other Witches, when they want to.

Solitary Witches tend to be eclectic, they have their own vision and ideals for the path they follow. They don’t fit in with a standard coven based faith and beliefs. This is one reason they choose to strike out on their own and do things as they feel right to themselves rather than the larger group.

Some solitary Witches also like the privacy of keeping their spirituality personal. Once you start keeping a journal of your beliefs, your ideas, your thoughts and experiences, you may find yourself not wanting to share all of it. Some of our thoughts are too personal. If you share your Book of Shadows you begin to edit it while you write, instead of just writing from your heart knowing everything you write is just for your eyes only.

Of course, some solitary Witches just don’t like joining groups and prefer working alone.

How to be a Solitary Witch

Explore other paths, beliefs and ideas. I’ve read about Sea Witches, Garden Witches, Christian Witches, Druids, and so many others. I continue to read, research and explore. Look at other cultures and other religions too. Don’t close your mind; you might miss something great while you’re so sure you’re right.

Enjoy and appreciate nature, wildlife, wildflowers, gardens, trees and think green. Wicca is a religion about nature and Witches celebrate nature and the natural world. Find your love for it and celebrate what we have.

Keep a journal (Book of Shadows). Write about your discoveries, explorations and research. Most of all, write about your feelings, everything you’re thinking about – both positive and negative. Don’t be intimidated and think you aren’t ready for a real Book of Shadows. Any journal you keep is a Book of Shadows – there isn’t a rule that says you have to write about Witchcraft and Wicca alone or in any certain way.

Build an altar. It can be very private, small and personal or you can go forth and build something right on your front lawn. A garden is a great place to have an altar, an easy place to bring the four elements into. Earth, water, air and fire are routine in a garden, at various times. You can create an indoor alter and have it right on your desk or kitchen counter if that is your best space. Some feathers for air, some rocks for earth, salt for water and a candle to light for fire – that’s all you need for a start. Add personal touches as you grow into it.

Begin paying attention to the Wiccan/ Witch holidays and events. Honour them in your own way. Read more about what each of them means and their history. Pick a favourite, one that has extra meaning to you and make a real event out of it.

Become more aware of the Wiccan Reade, the three-fold law and the concept of harms none.They are all connected, saying the same basic idea in different ways. The idea is simple on the surface. As you consider it from more aspects it begins to get complicated. For instance, is it harmful to work against the free will of another, even if you are helping them? (This is why I don’t get into any spells. It’s a personal choice).

Don’t Set Yourself in Stone

Being a solitary Witch gives you endless options to explore. While coven Witches have to maintain a set of core beliefs to be part of the group, a solitary Witch can always be learning and trying new ideas, looking into fresh concepts and reinventing his/ her path. As a solitary Witch you can always do what feels right to you, without getting the approval from anyone else.

This does not mean there are no guidelines at all.

Being a solitary Witch does not mean you are free to reinterpret the Wiccan Reade. Harm none is pretty clear.

Don’t Buy Like a Witch Tourist

Don’t fall into the idea that you have to buy books, jewellery, tools, special clothes or anything else.

Look for what you want and often enough you will find it, at no cost or very minimal cost.

You can find Pagan books at thrift stores, second-hand book stores and the library. You an also find a lot of information online. Contact the authors of any books you find valuable, some will write back a real reply and even recommend fresh resources to you.

You don’t need to start buying tools, jeweled pentacles or custom clothing until you really know what you want and what will have real meaning to you. Don’t buy anything just because you think you should have it. That’s acting like a Witch tourist, someone who just wants to look like they fit in. Be true to yourself and only buy or collect the things you want for your own personal choice and your own needs.

 

Where the Wild Things Are: The Whole Circle

Originally posted to ‘BackWash: Where the Wild Things Are’ newsletter, March, 1, 2004.

The magic circle, sounds so mystical… But it’s like many things in Witchcraft, it’s adaptable to your own style, your whims and personal needs of the moment.

Witch/ Wiccan rituals take place in a circle. Not always, it’s not written in stone with blood or anything really dramatic. But, it does make things tidy in it’s own way. You draw in power and you keep it to yourself, out of the way of others. Then, when you’re done you release it. It goes back to nature and the powerful parts of yourself.

We draw the circle and then we close it. Some people cast the circle and banish it at the end of the ritual. I tend to think of it as drawing and closing the circle. When you draw your circle take a moment to bless each of the elements at each of the 4 directions. Yes, you might need a map to know where north, south, west and east are in relation to your location. If you choose, bless the goddess and god too. Then bless the Earth and life, those are most important to me. When you close your circle just do the steps in reverse order. Gather your pebbles, erase your chalk, whatever you used as you go around in the 4 directions again. Sounds too simple? Why shouldn’t it be simple. You’re welcome to make a bigger production out of it. I like it simple.

You can use chalk, hemp rope, embroidery thread, pebbles, sand, dust bunnies, anything really. Consider a circle of jack o lanterns for Samhain, wouldn’t that be fun! It depends on how fancy you want to be or how close to natural elements. My personal choice are pebbles. I love them. I collected them from a beach here in Ontario. Took my time to find stones I especially liked for their shape, colour or some markings on them.

The circle represents wholeness, the cycles of life and the seasons, the wheel of life to make it simple. In theory it is without beginning or ending and perfect in it’s completeness.

To draw the circle is to make a place set apart and sacred. Where ever you are- living room, backyard, beach, clearing in the woods – the circle becomes a place where we focus on magick in ourselves and the Earth around us. The circle is a pure place where we can think, make notes in our Book of Shadows, create and practice rituals, anything. It doesn’t have to be dramatic and you don’t have to feel you must do something special. It’s your circle, your dime.

This summer when I have a road trip out to the beach I want to cast a circle on the beach. Using a piece of driftwood to draw my circle and some stones to point to the directions. I don’t even know what ritual I might do. I just want to sit in a circle of my own creation and enjoy the world, life and being alive.

“In wilderness I sense the miracle of life, and behind it our scientific accomplishments fade to trivia.” -Charles Lindbergh

I take thee, herb, to cure my ills
or perhaps while dancing pon the hill.
I’ll dip you in the cauldron fine
Then asperge a circle in the pines.
I’ll make you into teas and brews
when picked from ‘neath the morning dews,
or hide you in a pillow seam
to guard me close, come night and dreams.

– Marian Loresinger

Where the Wild Things Are: Spilling the Pagan Beans

Originally posted to ‘BackWash: Where the Wild Things Are’ newsletter, April, 2, 2004.

If you read my general blabberings around BackWash you will have heard of Eric, my boyfriend. He is still pretty new but we are getting along great.

Anyway, I haven’t really talked with him about Pagan ideas and what it means for me to be an Earth Witch. That is some sort of limbo in everything. I don’t mind leaving it there, for awhile. But, I have wondered what he really thinks.

We went for a walk on the frozen beach and while he was testing the thickness of the frozen lake (testing his luck I thought at the time) I was drawing a pentacle in the sand. I used a piece of driftwood and 6 smooth stones from along the beach. I placed the stones around my drawn pentacle. It was something special for the day, for my Grandmothers and for St. Patrick’s Day.

Eric noticed it when he came back, not drowned luckily. He said something about it, nothing much. I think just noting that I had drawn it or used stones, something easy going. But I wondered what he was thinking. Anyway, I left it at that. I didn’t push it or go into lengthy explanations. It was something personal to me and though I didn’t feel I needed to hide it I still wonder what he thinks about this element of me.

How do you begin to share this with someone you care about? Is it something you leave lying on a coffee table for him to find? Is it something you bring up right away and make into a big issue? Or do you let it simmer on a back jet, there and yet not getting in the way? I’m not exactly sure how I want to handle it. So, I will do what I usually do when I’m not sure, I will ask him. Not quite yet though. There is time and space, too much of both right now. We will see.

Where the Wild Things Are: Talking About Being Pagan

Originally posted to ‘BackWash: Where the Wild Things Are’ newsletter, January, 16, 2003.

Staying safe, in your own safe little world. Is that where you are? Many of us choose our adventures, how far we will go depends on where we have our safety nets.

For instance, have you told anyone you’re Pagan? Have you told your family, friends, co-workers, boss? I’m not suggesting you rush out and do it. I’m certainly not daring you to tell them either. It’s a personal thing. Being Pagan is a personal thing in itself. A personal choice and something just for you.

It should not, however, be some dark secret. Something deep, dangerous and naughty. That’s not what Paganism should be. It’s not something you should have to hide from your family. Being Pagan is about caring for life, the Earth and old traditions. How can they really object to that? Still, you can find the safety zone. You can let them know you’re into nature, environmental issues and historical traditions. You can be Pagan without saying the word Pagan to them.

People don’t always get that. They think they have to hide being Pagan because others won’t like it or will be shocked by it. They turn it into a deep, dark secret. By doing that they make it become something dark, secret. No wonder so many people still think of Pagans as devil worshippers.

You have the power to find where your safe world is, set the boundaries and set the record straight if you choose to. Let people know you’re Pagan, if you can or if you choose to. But, don’t make it some dark mystery. Don’t let them find an altar, a book or a pentacle in your room without explanation. If you make being Pagan something to be ashamed of or fear you hurt all of us.

Instead be proud of who you are and be as honest about it as you can. For me, the only person I couldn’t talk to about being Pagan was my Grandmother. It scared her. She couldn’t think of it as anything but dangerous for me. She didn’t understand that it’s not something dark, but something light. She didn’t know what I made of being Pagan, for me. She only knew the stereotypes she had heard all her life.

Book of Shadows

Originally written for The Crying Clown Zine (c. 1998)

The Book of Shadows could be called The Book of Life. Just the opposite of the Egyptian Book of the Dead (A series of spells to help the dead travel to and exist in the afterlife.) The Book of Shadows (BOS, for short) contains notes Wiccans have made along their journey of life and learning. Grimoire (A book of magickal spells and techniques) is more Medieval than Book of Shadows but they serve the same basic purpose.

Essentially, the Book of Shadows is a workbook containing ritual patterns, rules governing magick, instructions for circle casting and banishing, religious rituals, the consecration of tools, herbal lore, herbal recipes, dreams, divination results and personal thoughts and experiences. It is the Book of Shadows, which keeps the traditions of a solitary or coven alive. Without the Book, everything would be passed on from word of mouth with the chance of being forgotten, lost or misinterpreted.

A coven will keep a Book of Shadows so members can record and memorize the coven’s rituals in their own Books of Shadows. Some contain lists of the pantheon, training exercises and initiation ceremonies. Books can be passed from one Wiccan to another, usually on initiation. Often each individual Wiccan creates their Book and keeps it to themselves.

Until recently, a Book of Shadows was always hand written. With all the advances in multi-media today a Book of Shadows can be a Disk of Shadows. Some Books (or parts of them) are published on the Internet. Typed and photocopied Books are also common. You may choose to have more than one copy or form of your Book. One can be hand written, the other can be preserved on a disk or photocopied for safe keeping.

To make your own Book of Shadows begin with any blank book. It does not have to be something antique or beautiful, a notebook from the dollar store will do. The Book of Shadows gains its value from the amount of energy and effort used to create it and the positive energy surrounding it each time the book is used for magick and rituals. A binder with loose sheets will let you move your pages around and add new ones in the middle if you need to.

Simply write in this book any rituals and magickal information you have worked on, learned about or just read somewhere and want to remember. Keep it organized into sections for rituals, divination, herbs, and etc. Add your own personal touch with some poetry, a few pressed leaves from your first ritual, a drawing which inspired you, or anything else bookable (able to fit into a book, one way or another). Also, because this is your Book you can write any thoughts you are having at the time. You don’t have to write to impress anyone. Keep track of your feelings (both negative and positive), questions you want to find answers to, and any other personal information you would write into a journal or diary.

Keep your Book of Shadows in good repair. Some rituals may call for placing herbs in or on your Book of Shadows. Prepare for this by giving your book a fabric cover or tissue paper between its pages. Keep this in mind when or if you want to decorate your Book of Shadows. Watch for decorations that might damage your pages or make your ink run. Put some thought into your decorations of choice. Though macaroni art may have seemed “funky” at the time, it might not feel the same when the lumpy noodles won’t let you keep your book open on your altar. Remember, your Book of Shadows serves a purpose. Make sure its usable when you are trying to read it half way into a ritual and you just can’t remember the line you wanted to say as you sprinkle eye of newt into your cauldron.