This is easily one of the most common questions that I get asked on this site. Those who are just beginning the pursuit of their Heathen faith especially are often VERY interested in learning about preparing a “proper” altar, but are often concerned about how to fit one into their home in a practical way. In this article I will be addressing that why, where, what, and how of building an altar that will fit in a limited space!
Why should I build an Altar?
First of all, let me just point out that plenty of people have practiced for decades and never bothered to build a permanent altar in their home. While building an altar is a common practice, it is by no means universal or required. Now if you’re invested in the idea of building an altar, there are a couple of basic ideas that you’ll need to keep in mind.
The PRIMARY function of any altar is to designate a “sacred space”. This will be a place that holds all of your spiritual paraphernalia, and any supplies you need for your regular practice. NOTHING ELSE. This is a space that will be totally devoted to religious observations. This is not the bedside table where you put your wallet and keys at the end of the day, it is a separate, special place. What tools and supplies you keep there is entirely up to you and the gods, but it should only be things with a sacred significance to you. The reason for this is two fold. If you want a place where you can honor the gods as guests, it should be clean. (You wouldn’t invite company over for dinner and then not bother to clean you stuff off the table!) In addition, the point of having a designated altar space is to consolidate things you see as spiritual, and separate them from the more mundane objects of everyday life. This allows you to focus on the spiritual when you’re at your altar, without many of the distractions of the modern world.
The SECONDARY function of a Heathen altar, is a place to make offerings. One of the core foundations of our faith is reciprocity. A gift for a gift. Some offer food, others offer alcohol, some still offer livestock; though for practical reasons, you probably don’t want to try that one in your bedroom! At the end of the day, the backbone of divine interaction as defined by the Lore is one of sacrifice, and this should be reflected in your altar. Leave a nice open space where you can set an offering of whatever type you choose. I personally keep a clean glass dish on my altar, where I can pour alcohol when I make an offering. It doesn’t need to be much, and neither do the offerings you make there, but for most Heathens it’s an important part of the ritual interaction.
Where should I build an Altar?
In a perfect world, we would all have the resources, time, and space to build our own altar tables. (We would also ride unicorns and live off of lottery winnings!) Unfortunately, those are three things that many of us have in very short supply, so we’ll need to adapt. Most of us have a few bookcases around the house, and that can be a GREAT place to start. For years my altar was 3 shelves on a bookcase in my bedroom! Two shelves held my seax, candles, runes, (etc.) while the final shelf held a glass dish for offerings, and a decorated cloth mat for casting runes. That was it. Small, simple, and it got the job done. Most Heathens I know who keep permanent altars in their home, do something like this. If you don’t have any bookcases, try clearing off a dresser, or a bedside table. The important part is that once you’ve designated a spot (or a part of it) as your altar, you only use it for that. My bookshelf had other things on it, but those three shelves were reserved JUST for those things I view as sacred.
What should I put on an Altar?
The short answer is: “There’s no set rule”. There is no definitive guide to what a Heathen altar should contain. However, there are some items that are commonly used in a ritual space like this. A few examples are:
1- Many people like to put up some kind of statue or representation of their patron gods. Thor and Odin for example, are common choices; however, this depends entirely on your own preferences. I’ve been looking around for ages for a good statue of Skadhi to place on my altar.
2- Some people like to place objects on the altar that they feel represents the life they’ve chosen. Sometimes it’s a tool of ones trade, or a book that’s special to them. I own a large statue of Mjölnir that has the nine noble virtues scribed around it’s edges in Elder Futhark. This holds a special place on my altar because those virtues are an important part of who I am. Not all Heathens like them, but I’ve always felt that they help me to be a better person, so I keep them in a place of honor.
3- Runes. I’ve never met a heathen who doesn’t have at least one set of Futhark, and many of them keep those runes in a special place on their altar.
How should I build my Altar?
So you’ve got a place all set up, and all your gear assembled. Now what?
Some people just leave it at that, content to declare the place dedicated as an altar. Other folks will leave it as is until the next time they go to use it, when they dedicate it through prayer. As I explained in my last “How-To”, there are a number of ways to do this. Some people choose to use the rune to purify and protect the space, sometimes even carving the rune into the Altar itself. Others prefer to perform a ritual “Hammer Hallowing” in order to claim the altar space as sacred. For details on both of those rituals, CLICK HERE.
I hope you all found this guide helpful!
How to host a Blot for your friends/kinsmen.
How to build an Altar Table from the ground up.
How to do a Rune Casting.
-And many more to come!!