When I drove across three states to go to college, almost a fifth of what I brought pertained either to my altar, or my magical library. I set up my altar even before I set up my bookshelves or unpacked my clothes. Since them, I have spent hours poking and prodding at it, trying to tune it properly to the new space and my new needs.
When I took it apart back in Kansas City, I had high ideals of putting it together so that the symbolism was clear and consistent, with cosmic forces at the heart, building outward to symbols of the mortal world. Unfortunately, the gods whose idols make up my altar would have no part of that.
This evening, at last, I think we have reached a compromise: an arrangement that displays them as they wish to be displayed and fits my need for a pattern of some sort, all while still leaving me the space I’ll need to work. It’s somewhat unbalanced at the moment. There are gods who need spaces, but for whom I have not yet found or made adequate icons or idols.
The topmost level consists of a candle rack where I have anchored protective spells for almost twenty years. Behind it is a slice of blue geode, given to me by my grandmother when I was a child – it has been a part of my altar for as long as I can remember. In front are a pair of quartz crystals, mined and cleaned by Pasiphae and Aidan in Arkansas; and a dragon-bell given to me by a neighbor in St.Louis.
The next level is divided into three sections. You can see Dionysos clearly on the left, and at his feet is a Maenad. Sharing that shelf are a paper skull, representing mortality; and an anvil marked with a fire glyph, which I work with when honoring Hephaestos. You cannot quite see my ritual blade. In the center section are the God and Goddess statues I have been working with as I struggle to reconcile my fundamental queerness with heavily gendered archetypes that seem to work so well for others. In between them is the altar-box Aradia made me as an Initiation-gift, a world tree painted on one side; the other bearing six small drawers, each filled with an elemental power. On the right is my ritual chalice; a rubber purple Ostara egg from a ritual several years ago; a copper bracelet and ring in the shape of serpents, which I used to channel the spirits at the Farmhouse Séance. My cauldron completes the set, but that section needs a great deal more attention.
The lower level is divided into five sections: three along the wall, an elemental circle in the center, and a working surface. The back left section contains a variety of tools – my jeweler’s hammers, saw, and and bench pin; a gong and striker; a sickle-shaped ritual knife, and several cloths. The central recess contains my sun-god maks and a piece of driftwood found in Chicago. The back right section contains my visionary mask, my Orb (long story), the statue wherein lives a spirit I work with (though I haven’t seen her since Heartland), and a rose and candle from my Phi Theta Kappa induction which will be incorporated in my altar to Athena as soon as I find or make an appropriate idol.
The elemental circle is fairly straightforward: candle nubs saved from the altar where I worked with Aradia, Pasiphae, Aidan, Chriotus, and D; a quartz crystal, a flame-shaped stone and a clay censer, a stone, a blue bowl and a sea shell, each accompanying their respective elements; in the center is a clay pentacle I made.
The rest is all working space: a mad collection of tools and spells and memories and works-in-progress. The five stones – one beside each element, one atop the pentacle – are for a project I’m working on, as are all the stones lined up in the front: blending the hot-stone massage I’m learning with the ceremonial magic; the four will be marked with elemental sigils, others will be marked with zodiac and planetary seals. There’s a money spell in the back left, and a bottle in which I dump excess lust (that one never worked right – it overfilled almost immediately and I always had more … still handy from time to time, though). The giant sage wand was a gift from a shamanic practioner at Heartland 2009, who took Aradia and I on very interesting inward journeys. The pile of quartz are also from Pasiphae and Aidan. There’s a green soapstone container full of all the hematite rings I broke in highschool, which I’ve kept for spell components. And more. And more. There’s even more below and inside the altar table.
This is where I work. By the way, I’m crazy.