Altars: A Showcase

I’ve created many altars, shrines and ritual spaces over the years. Each expressed the unique needs and aspirations of who I was at the time of its creation, and each balanced the limits of my living space with the potential for aesthetic and spiritual engagement. For these have all been living spaces — spaces that were alive with their own energies and moods, spaces that shaped my understanding of myself and sculpted me into new forms even as I organized and cleansed and decorated and invariably made a mess of them in an ever-repeating cycle.

House-hunting in Seattle has put me in mind of these many different sacred spaces, and what new altars I will craft as I make a home for myself on the shores of a new ocean. So, while I’m nursing my jet lag and scrambling to pack, I thought this week might be a good opportunity to take a look back at some of those altars of old as I dream of inspiration for new ones yet to come.

Household Altars

These are the altars I create as permanent fixtures throughout my home. Some of them are indistinguishable from your typical home décor, while others have a more obvious purpose.

This one, for instance:

Three Realms Meditation Altar

A simple meditation altar nestled in the corner of the bedroom, minimalist but with a certain gentle elegance. I used this space as a focus for my meditative work on the Three Realms — land, sea and sky — here represented by a small cairn of stones, a bowl of water and a candle in a sun-etched jar.

Here is another all-purpose altar:

Late Summer Altar

Late Summer Altar

Right outside our front door, we keep this altar fresh with seasonal offerings (here, you can see late summer wildflowers and a small bowl of summer squash harvested from the garden) and whisper a prayer of blessing and gratitude as we ring the chimes each time we pass.

Another permanent altar is this wall-mounted shrine:

Cleansing Altar

Cleansing Altar

Enlisting the help of a spiny aloe plant, a sage candle and a small bottle of sea salt, this shrine honors cleansing and health in one of the messiest rooms of the house: the kids’ bathroom! After a difficult winter of constant sniffles and head colds when we first moved in, we set up this small shrine to welcome cleansing and cleanliness into our lives. Our regular care for the aloe plant reminds us to regularly care for our physical as well as our spiritual and emotional health.

Children’s Altars

Speaking of kids, we also have a few altars dedicated for kid-friendly purposes.

This is the Great Mother goddess altar that sits atop the bureau in the kids’ room:

Children's Altar

They helped us bless and consecrate this statue of mother and child with a story about the Modron and the Mabon from Welsh mythology, part of the work we did as a family to help them heal from their parents’ divorce and reaffirm their relationship with their mother while welcoming me into their lives as a not-so-evil stepmom. They also regularly collect offerings — everything from flowers, to colorful leaves, to acorns and chestnuts and cool looking rocks — to place in the small offering bowl to show their gratitude and appreciation for Mother Earth.

As my oldest stepdaughter becomes a teenager, my husband and I have begun to teach her a bit about what it means to be a Druid, and we’ve helped her begin to think about how she can create an altar of her own:

Her First Altar

Here, you can see a few of the objects she’s picked out to start crafting an altar in her bedroom at her mom’s house. A candle, an oyster shell, a volcanic rock and an acorn cap (that she can use as a whistle) represent the four elements of fire, water, earth and air, placed on top of a journal her grandmother gave her.

Altars on the Go

Because my husband and I both do a fair bit of traveling for work, I’ve also crafted a small travel altar that fits snuggly in a suitcase or carry-on luggage:

Travel Altar

Travel Altar Travel Altar

Travel Altar

Included in my travel altar are wooden plaques representing the Three Realms, a set of offering dishes, a small candle, some mini-sticks of incense and small incense holder, a book of matches, a small sachet of dried herbs, a handkerchief altar cloth and a bag containing a set of prayer beads, a compass and a few stones and clay amulets. Packed away inside the travel altar box, the whole thing fits snugly in a small hemp bag along with my tarot deck and a pocket-sized journal and pen set.

Altars for All Occasions

I also sometimes construct temporary altars for particular tasks — holidays, spellcastings and other special occasions and celebrations.

Here, you can see a simple altar set up for a home blessing spell:

Home Blessing Alar

Set up initially on the coffee table in the living room, for this spell I lit the three candles (including the central “house warming” pillar candle) and proceeded around the house, blessing each doorway and entrance with a sprig of fresh rosemary dipped into sea salt water. There’s nothing like a good house cleansing to clear out the cobwebs and invite in the warmth, joy and light of a happy home!

Another spell, somewhat embarrassing now to admit though it was incredibly effective, was this Valentine’s Day Love Spell, which involved a ritual bath and a toilet-top altar:

Love Spell Alar

Love Spell Alar

Yes, that’s right. An altar complete with candles, incense, rose petals and even a small glass chalice of mead — on top of the toilet. But hey, effective and convenient!

I’ve also created altars for holiday celebrations, such as this one:

Brighid's Cross - Imbolc Altar

Imbolc Candle

A Brighid’s Cross woven from the dried stems of crocuses, and a small golden candle floating amongst glitter like star dust in a dark bowl of water. Simple but powerful ways of honoring my goddess, Brighid, on her sacred day.

And of course, I can’t forget about my god, Manannan mac Lir, and the simple altar I set up during my ritual devotions to honor him:

Sea Altar

And finally, this showcase wouldn’t be complete without a few pictures of the altar from our Druidic wedding ceremony down on the beach:

Wedding Details - The Altar with Flowers
Photograph by Matt Lusk Photography

A very special occasion, indeed! You can see in the photograph below symbols of the four elements, a lovely little dish with our offerings to the three Kindreds (the gods, the ancestors and the spirits of the land), the heart-shaped wooden bowl that holds our handfasting cord and the shell that held our wedding bands.

Wedding Details - The Altar
Photograph by Matt Lusk Photography

And here’s my youngest stepdaughter, our Flowergirl and Earth-bearer, walking in procession carrying her bowl of dried herbs and flower petals to sprinkle around the sacred circle as the ceremony begins.

Wedding Ceremony - Fiona with Earth
Photograph by Matt Lusk Photography






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Alison Leigh Lilly nurtures the earth-rooted, sea-soaked, mist-and-mystic spiritual heritage of her Celtic ancestors, exploring themes of peace, poesis and wilderness through essays, articles, poetry and podcasting. You can learn more about her work here.

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