Streamlining Altar Space

Until recently, I had a separate and distinct altar for almost every spirit or deity I work with. Unfortunately for me, that arrangement left me feeling literally pulled in multiple directions. Some were the tops of chests, of bookcases, or of dressers, others were TV tray tables, all spread across three rooms. So, I decided to streamline my devotional space in the hopes that it would also help me to streamline my practice. I went from about six altars to just one five-foot table flanked by two TV tray tables all located in my living room. The altar is very loosely and abstractly divided into sections. Each of the gods have their own areas and they are roughly grouped by pantheon. The animal spirits that walk with me have their own space. Also, the orishas, lwa, and dead with whom I work have their own section, roughly subdivided. Based on my initial intuitive read on things, everyone seems happily installed in their new space. I will continue to check in with them though. Don’t want to piss anyone off.

Thus far, about two or three weeks into this new arrangement, consolidation has made it much easier to physically clean and care for the space. Things like dusting, changing candles, clearing ashes, replacing incense, and the like take about 10 minutes now, instead of 20. Consolidation has also helped to minimize my feeling of being overwhelmed by the multiple deity and spirit relationships that I maintain! Now, everyone is “gathered” in one place, so I can say my prayers, sing my hymns, and give honor in a more organized and relaxed way. There is no longer a need to go from room to room, try to remember where I left the lighter, transferring various oils from one altar to another, or similar mundane considerations while I should be focusing and contemplating the mysteries of the gods and spirits. So far, consolidation has been a logistical dream come true.

The one challenge I have encountered thus far is the location of the altar. With it being in the living room there is the potential for the altar space to devolve into a curiosity for my guests. I also found early on that I sometimes felt like I should have been honoring the gods instead of watching TV, or honoring the spirits instead of beading bracelets, or honoring the ancestors instead of insert “non-sacred” activity here. So, in order to respect temple space while simultaneously appreciating the host of “mundane” activities that I do in that space, I decided to veil the altar when it is not being actively engaged for clearly stated spiritual purposes. Thus far, the veil has been a success. I can acknowledge the gods, spirits, and dead without feeling like I am somehow bad for not actively burning incense or whispering hymns 24/7.

As I work more with the new altar arrangement, I will share my experiences here.

7 thoughts on “Streamlining Altar Space

  1. Pingback: Zoning and Buffering: Keeping Shrines in Close Quarters | Wandering Woman Wondering

  2. While I have a ritual room, my shrines to individual Powers are all outside that room. The ritual room contains: 1) my main altar (ContraryWise Craft); and 2) my shrine to the Three Kindreds (the land spirits, the ancestors and orisa, and the gods), where I do much of my evening practice. But the shrines to Esu, Gwydion, Jesus, Dionysos, and Mathonwy are scattered throughout the apartment. My solution to streamlining altar space is to integrate the shrines as much as possible into the everyday of my apartment, especially those in public space. For example, the shrine to Mathonwy is located on the back of the toilet and is focused on the oil candle that I light when I take a bath. That’s because my bath is a time for purification, reflection, and seeking serenity, all of which I associate with Mathonwy. If a guest uses my bathroom, they will see an oil candle sitting in a decorative piece that happens to have multiple fleurs-de-lis, with an eggcup holding sand and ashes from joss stick incense. All that shows is that I like to take relaxing baths by candlelight with pretty smells. And it only takes up about a quarter of the toilet top. On the large side, I was just given a wooden table to hold plants under the windows in my bedroom. I moved Dionysos’ shrine object to the center of the table, and am now planning on surrounding him completely with plants. He will have his only little jungle. 🙂 From my point of view, everything on that table is part of the shrine, so watering the plants is a form of honoring Dionysos.

    But I don’t attempt to honor all of them all the time. On my weekly “shrine night”–which is usually Monday because that day is associated with Esu in Santeria–I make new offerings at the shrine to the Three Kindreds, then light whatever spell/prayer candles I have going. (The spell/prayer candles are kept on the shelf below the Three Kindreds shrine, so I can easily include them in my evening practice.) After the Three Kindreds shrine, I’ll make some offering at Esu’s shrine. Each week, I’ll pick one shrine for devotion. If I feel like focusing on Esu that week, the offerings will be multiple and I’ll usually play music for him on my computer. If, on the other hand, I want to focus on one of the other shrines, I’ll just toss Esu three pennies and maybe light a candle or incense, then give time and attention to the shrine of Gwydion, Dionysos, or Mathonwy. (The Jesus shrine gets attention when I read Morning Prayer or Evening Prayer at home, which usually happens on Sundays that I don’t make it to church. So he isn’t part of my shrine night practice.)

    • Thanks for sharing about your devotional practices! It’s always great to swap info on how we honor the various spirits and powers. Even with all of my altars now streamlined, I honor one deity or spirit at a given time, except during major festivals/high days. At those times, I usually honor them all simultaneously with individual prayers and a series of (more elaborate than usual) offerings. I will also honor more than one at a time if intuition or need dictates that I should.

  3. I currently have a myriad of altars spread throughout the house: one for Dionysos, one for Hermes, one for Apollo, one for Poseidon, one for Brigid, one for the Morrigan, one for Lilith, one for Cernunnos, one for the ancestors, one for the spirits/wights, one for the rest of the Dodekatheon, one for the…well, you get the idea. Unfortunately, there isn’t anywhere in my house (at present) big enough to streamline everything down into one spot.

    However, when my teenage daughter (almost 19) finally gets her own place and moves out of the house next year, her bedroom is fair game/up for grabs.


    • The fact that you may be able to create a sanctuary is super exciting! Perhaps when I graduate from my doctorate program I will be able to diffuse my altars back into the various nooks and crannies of my space to allow for the permeation that Dver mentioned in her reply (and/or create a fantabulous temple room!) but for right now with my body, mind, and spirit being pulled in multiple directions, I enjoy being able to tend my singular altar space, commune with one spirit or more in one place at a particular time, and then center myself for whatever comes next in my day.

  4. Interesting how these things work different for each individual… I had the opposite experience – I went from having one big altar divided into sections earlier on in my practice, to separating them out into several, and now I have about eight separate shrine areas spread throughout my house, which works much better for me and my practice. Though there are occasionally times it would be nice to have them together (such as when I want to honor more than one god simultaneously), in general I like focusing all my attention on one at a time, and having Them permeate every part of my living space. However, I can totally understand how the opposite could work for you – the most important thing, I think, for all of us is to regularly re-evaluate our set-up and make sure it’s working for us and for Them.

    • I definitely agree with your point about regularly reevaluating the situation because it is very important to make sure that altar set-up and other aspects of one’s practice are effective for both the person and the Powers. I have been feeling very pulled apart and overwhelmed in many areas of my life, and altar consolidation helped to alleviate some of that feeling. I will note those that although my many altars are now one altar in one place, I still give praise to each power separately/one at any given time. In addition the set up also does allow for simultaneous reverence at major festivals and high days throughout the year. It’s been great for me so far because I get many of my needs met at once (i.e., having one location to maintain, not feeling as overwhelmed, etc.) without curtailing what I do for each individual Spirit or the Spirits as a group.

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