Altar Setup and Ritual Garb

The Pagan Perspective is a YouTube channel that I enjoy perusing from time to time. It features a bunch of pagans offering their perspectives on various topics (I know, you never would have guessed that from the name), generally from viewer submitted questions. One of their recent topics included altar design and placement and ritual garb or attire. See their videos here.

Well, I just love nosing in on other people’s opinions. That, and I’ve opined on the subject of altar design a few different times myself in the past. So I decided to do a video showing off my own current altar setup and placement, and even touch upon what I wear when I do magic. (Hopefully the folks at Pagan Perspective will recognize that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.)

 

Travel Altars

I recently showed off my magical toolbox, which I use to carry magical tool swith me when I’m on the go and think I may need a little Juju. But I don’t just do magic, and sometimes I am unable to stay home and tend to my devotional altar. At times like this, items from the altar can be packed away and carried along, in the toolbox or something similar.

Of course, this depends on a few factors:

1) How big is your altar?

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This is my devotional altar. Through the process of several moves in the past year, and increasingly small living arrangement, it has been culled and condensed to a fairly compact form. Its content includes mini busts of Jove, Venus, and Mars, a coin (a shekel hadash that I found) a small (and admittedly primitive) lararium, a dish of salt and grain, a dish for libations of wine, an incense burner, an oil lamp, a small dish of incense cones, and a pocket Constitution (I’m a patriot, I confess). This is a very small set-up, and is actually quite easily packed up in my toolbox or an equivalent size package. (I also have a larger sized toolbox that accommodates devotional materials as well as magical tools quite easily.)

2) Where are you staying?

Camping trips are the best for taking devotional setups with you, because you don’t generally have to worry about how much room you have to take up when you get there, and burning incense or leaving offerings isn’t usually a problem. When staying with a friend or family, you will need to consider their needs. A pagan friend may not object to much of what you have, but Christian friends or friends with allergies may take issue with burning incense. If you are staying in a hotel, you have to consider issues such as smoking laws and smoke alarms and what the cleaning staff may do upon seeing your altar.

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When traveling and staying in hotels, this is my minimum devotional setup. It consists of my busts and a simple tea light holder. The candle serves as my offering, although depending on how long I am staying in the hotel I may have a libation dish or cup set up as well. Of course, this setup has other advantages as well …

3) How are you traveling?

If you’re driving, you can take almost anything you want without much trouble. A toolbox will work just fine to carry what you want. (Driving to camping trips is the best, in my opinion. I actually have a more elaborate altar setup at long term camp outs than I do at home.) Flying poses a lot of problems. The above travel setup was a necessity born of navigating airport security. Those items and a few candles can be put in a small bag (a Crown Royal bag works nice, or any tarot bag) and placed in carry-on with little drama. Packing much more will invite searches. Do not try to pack an oil lamp, and be aware that a tarot deck in a box will arouse attention in an x-ray scanner.

4) How long are you staying?

If you’re on a short trip, having the bare minimum usually isn’t much of a worry. If you’re staying longer, you may want to have a more elaborate setup. When staying in a hotel for a month, I acquired a few more altar items and had a nicer setup than when I was staying in Vegas for the weekend. The biggest concern was worrying about what I was able to take back. Staying in a place longer term also allows you access to other materials (such as wine or incense for offerings), and may allow you to engage in a devotional practice more similar to what you would perform at home.

Privilege and Space

As I’ve said before, I’m not one for post-modernism or complaints about “privilege” and whatnot. But on occasion even I think about things that can be taken for granted, especially when it comes to the pagan community. Assumptions that because you’re pagan, then you’re an activist, an artist, an environmentalist, you’re bisexual or polyamorous, or that you buy organic produce and go camping all the time annoy the hell out of me, especially from people who scream “check your privilege!” at the slightest provocation.

But there are such assumptions prevalent in the pagan community. And one core assumption that influences others seems to be the assumption that pagans must spend all free time and money on all things pagan. The hypocrisy of this assumption being present in a community that so often decries consumerism and materialism should not escape you. I’ve walked into some houses so crammed full of crystals and statues and dreamcatchers and pagan tchotckes that I could barely bring my aura in with me. This is like walking into the house of a Christian that is packed full of bibles and crucifixes and saint statues and votives. This kind of atmosphere often fails to radiate “reverence” so much as “crazy-obsessive.”

And this is an expression of privilege.

Not everyone can afford all that stuff. Not everyone has the space for it. And it’s kind of impolite to assume that if you do, that everyone else does as well.

See, I’m moving. My last house had two and a half bedrooms, two full baths, and basement access. From there we moved to a one bedroom apartment with a small storage unit. And now my significant other and I are moving into a three bedroom trailer that we will be sharing with three other people.

Space is at a premium.

At my old place, I had an altar composed of a one by two foot table with drawers underneath, accompanied by a three shelf curio. It was very posh. In my current place, I had to consolidate to just the table, and I made it work. Now I will probably have to get rid of the table, reducing my altar space by about a third. Something’s got to go.

No don’t get me wrong — if you have the space and the money for all that stuff, good for you. If filling your house with pagan themed stuff makes you feel good, then go for it. If you really feel the need to have an altar that fills up an entire bookshelf, than all the more power to you. I’m not one to think that having that ability and taking advantage of it makes you privileged.

The assumption that everyone else use their space the same — or even worse, that they should, is where that privilege creeps in.

So how big should an altar be? Honestly, make it as big as your space allows, or as big as you want in your available space. Or as small as you want, or as small as space allows. Or don’t have one — who cares? But recognize that having a huge and elaborate altar is something that you may be able to do because you can afford the space/don’t have kids/have magically charged every possession you have so your whole house is your altar, but not everyone else can. Or likewise, recognize that if you had that space, but don’t anymore, you can survive the consolidation experience just fine.