The creation of altars in public spaces, as places to connect with Spirit in the now and reconnect with Spirits past, is a practice common to many belief systems as far back as the Greek and Norse traditions. The tradition of having public altars at all Gay Spirit Visions gatherings came directly from The Radical Faerie and Native American traditions from which GSV emerged.
Individuals who identify with any of these traditions frequently have personal altars in their homes as a way to be with Spirit regularly. The items on these altars, and their meaning to those who placed them there, can be very personal and intimate.
We are blessed that the five men who wrote about their personal altars in Visionaries past were willing to share their stories then. And, again now in the present.
— Gary Kaupman, Visionary Cooordinator
This is the first in a series of articles about altars republished from the Visionary archives. It was originally published in the December 1995 issue of GSV’s Visionary journal.
Altars: A Place to Worship
The first step in spiritual practice is choosing a path, or tradition, to follow. Next one must make a place to worship. For most of us an altar is an appropriate focus for our spiritual rituals. Altars may be temporary or may have a permanent place in your home. They need not be large or elaborate but I think it is important, if possible, to make room for a permanent ritual space. As the saying goes: Out of sight, out of mind; having a permanent altar makes regular spiritual practice easier and more convenient and just the existence and sight of an altar can bring more spiritual mindfulness into your life.
An altar could be as small as part of a shelf in a book case or as large as a small cabinet. Generally a small end table or bedside table is a nice size, especially if it has drawers or a cabinet underneath to hold supplies and ritual tools that are not going to remain on display. My own altar is a small occasional table, I keep a rosewood chest underneath it for storage. This is also convenient for transporting my altar to other places. The size of your altar may be partially dependent on the implements required for your chosen form of worship.
The type of objects on your altar will largely be determined by your spiritual path while their form and design should be determined by your own taste and aesthetic sensibility.
A good place to begin is with a cloth. An altar cloth can be made of any material you choose, though most traditions prefer natural fibers. You might want to have a number of different cloths, in a variety of colors or designs, each appropriate to certain seasons or ritual uses. The main cloth on my altar is a square of Point de Files lace. The hundreds of tiny hand-tied knots remind me of the many interwoven experiences that make up my life; we are each an individual tapestry of experience and, at the same time, threads in a larger tapestry of community.
The hundreds of tiny hand-tied knots remind me of the many interwoven experiences that make up my life; we are each an individual tapestry of experience and, at the same time, threads in a larger tapestry of community.
A pair of candle sticks is also appropriate to most traditions and if you pursue ritual candle magic you will need about half a dozen smaller candle holders in addition to the larger main pair for the altar. A container for burning incense is also good. This may range from a simple joss stick holder to an abalone shell with a turkey feather fan for burning sage in a Native American ritual, or a brass filigree holder for the charcoal briquettes used to burn traditional powdered incense, perhaps with chains attached so that it can be lifted up and swung to disperse the smoke as in Catholic or Anglican worship. You might also include such things a chalice for ritual offerings of wine or water, crystals and stones with personal or ritual significance, a brazier or cauldron for burning, icons or votive figures, a vase for flowers, or a plate for offerings of food, among other things.
As mentioned before, the design of ritual objects and tools should be carefully considered for any symbolic significance they might have and for their ability to aide you in finding a spiritual frame of mind. One person’s altar might be a simple stone slab with plain glass candle holders, an abalone shell and few crystals, while another might be a baroque collection of painted figurines and elaborate metal work. Being an eclectic Faerie spirit my altar varies from an ornate cloisonné enamel brazier from India, to a Zuni fox fetish, to a small well worn plastic toy dog whose personal significance could be the subject of a whole column.
Reserve your ritual objects exclusive for ritual use, and treat them reverently. However, don’t forget that they are only symbolic. Whatever power exists in your spiritual practice comes from your own heart and the Mind of the Divine. The ritual objects you use are merely physical manifestations of your spiritual intent, but carefully chosen and properly used they can be a great help in focusing your mind and inspiring your worship.
This article was originally published in the December 1995 issue of GSV’s Visionary journal.
Read the original article in the Visionary >>