As new forms of spirituality emerged at the turn of the century, the tradition of spiritual
practice one or two days a week did not fulfill the need for a daily spiritual life. Meditation rooms
and memorial gardens have become common. In every culture one can find sacred space in the home at least
one altar or shrine. Catholics dedicate altars to god and their favorite saints, Hindus to their patron
deities, Buddhists to invoke a sacred calm, Native Americans to the sacred earth. Whether yours is
dedicated to the divine, is a cluster of pictures honoring one’s ancestors or a working altar for magickal
purposes, each is a created sacred space personal to you. If you are new to the concept of altars, you
have probably already created several altars without even knowing it - even dressing a dinner table is an
altar to the gods of bounty and an act of thanksgiving.
When creating a sacred space, it can be as small as a bedside end table, a bookshelf or as I use, a small
sideboard (that belonged to my foster sister) with a series of shelves above. Some people have little
altars all over their homes and gardens. Little clusters of items they hold sacred for whatever reason,
sitting on tables, bookcases and shelves symbolize sacred moments, people and philosophies. Witches who
are not ready to come out of the closet, often cluster, drift wood, stones, seashells, flowers, and other
natural treasures that appear merely as decorations to the mundane world but have a much deeper
inspirational/devotional meaning to those who educated in their magickal properties or those who simply
treasure nature as sacred. Those who are comfortable with their path openly display magickal tools and
images of their gods and goddesses.
Anything you hold sacred can be put on an altar. It doesn't matter whether you follow the rules strictly or
follow them at all. Start with the basic layout and let your natural instincts guide you.
Whether an entire room is dedicated as a temple for spiritual practice, a portion of it with a permanent
altar or a portable altar made from a shoe box. Altars enrich one’s spirit just by their very existence.
Altar placement is a matter of tradition. Permanent or semi-permanent altars usually face the direction
that symbolizes one’s tradition, unless the altar is placed for a particular god or set for a particular
holiday or purpose that evokes a different placement. The person actually faces the direction and the altar
represents that same direction, facing the person.
The significance of the northern tradition of placing an altar comes from the Irish traditions. North is a
feminine direction and primarily attached to the goddess and the season of winter. It is also the direction
of the land of the dead, an ancestral direction and the direction of sleep and dreams. Being Irish, my
grandmother trained me to sleep with my head to the north in order to communicate with our ancestors
through dreams. She wanted me to seek advice and wisdom from our sacred dead every night, not just on
Samhain. So, north is my first sacred direction. Yet much of my work using the sun and moon require an
eastern tradition. Deities with earth ties are Gaea: the earth personified, Pandora: Greek goddess the
"all-giver," endlessly producing food for people and animals. Demeter; Goddess of Grain and Abundance.
Anieros: A Phrygian goddess much like Demeter, Arianrhod Celtic Goddess of the Moon and Earth and Geb is
the Egyptian earth god, As a post script, the Korean Unification Church (The Moonies) has adopted a northern
altar position. Modern Druids cast circles starting in the north. I cast starting in the east, but before
that, I always salute the North honoring my family tradition
The significance of the east was well known to the early pilgrims. Like the rising sun, Christ (the Sun of
Justice and Light of the world) rose in the early morning on the first Easter Sunday. In all Catholic
churches, the morning sun streaming through the stained glass windows made a dramatic sight during the mass.
Long before Christ - Hebrew, Persian, Egyptian, Sumerian and many other philosophies saw the rising sun as a
godly image, with few exceptions. Muslims adopted the practice as well. East is a masculine direction and
primarily attached to the god image and the season of spring. Primary East/Air/Light deities are Woden, Thor
Mercury, Hermes, Aeolos: Greek god of wind and air and Aether: Greek personification of air. Also
Aradia Queen of Witches and Gwydon. Some sky and wind deities are also attributed to the east such as Eos
(Aurora), goddess of the dawn.
The significance of an altar facing the south is a mixed bag. No long time, significant tradition is
attached to the south accept that it has a strong masculine attachment and Mars, god of war, is the primary
god attached to this direction. (Apollo: Greek Sun god, Ra: Egyptian god of the sun, Helios, Hyperion,
Phoebus, Sol, Horus, Bel, Belenos: Canaanite Sun god, and Lugh: Irish Sun god. Then Bridget: Irish Fire
goddess, Pele: Hawaiian Fire goddess, Sunna: German fire Goddess. and Sekhmet: Egyptian Lion headed goddess
are among the other Sun/Fire deities also attached.) It should be no surprise that the southern direction
is attached also to the season of summer. So, there are some fiery superstitions attached here. When
sleeping with one’s head to the south, one opens one’s dreams to angry nightmares and restless sleep.
The solar powered southern direction is so masculine and so powerful, that is leans toward the combative,
angry, warlike energies. Consequently, it should be a very powerful practitioner, who stands facing the
southern conflagration of energy. (In the East and Air direction are the nobler masculine qualities) If
your interests tie you to Southern Sun/Fire deities, I can see this placement as a challenge and sacred goal.
The significance of the west is also sketchy. It is feminine in nature, attached to the season of fall and
although it is attached to water deities, it is mostly attached to Moon goddesses, the sunset in opposition
to the direction of the Sun and east.. All but one Catholic church built with its altar facing west was
dedicated to the Blessed Mother, Mary. Modern thought on the west placement of an altar is that it is the
direction of peace, love, psychic abilities, spiritual communion and healing. If your magickal interests
tie you to these studies or abilities, then a western facing altar may work for you. Many Moon worshippers
face their altars this direction. Moon/water goddesses, Selene: Goddess of the Bright (Full) Moon, Luna
another Bright (Full) Moon goddess, Artemis: Greek First Crescent moon, virgin goddess. Hecate: Goddess
of the Dark (New) Moon, Isis: Goddess of the rivers of life, Arianrhod: Celtic Goddess of the Moon and Earth.
Tethys: The most ancient pre-Hellenic sea Goddess. Amphitritea: Greek goddess, owned the caves under the
sea where she stored precious jewels. Andromeda, a Greek possibly pre-Hellenic moon-goddess, Galatea: A
minor Greek goddess, Cerridwen, Welsh moon goddess, Astarte, Inanna Kuan Yin, Ceres, Cybele, Diana and
Hathor just to name a few. Gods of this Moon/water direction are Poseidon: God of oceanic consciousness,
Neptune: God of Psychic Flow, Osirus, water god, Nanna, Suen & Asimbabbar are synonyms for the ancient
Sumerian Moon-god (upon which some say the god Allah was based) and Lyr; Irish god of the sea.
When one has the luxury of having a sacred room that is used solely for ritual and magick, the altar is
most often placed in the center of the room. With this convenience, the practitioner can stand facing
which ever direction is required for the ritual or rite. It allows for the flexibility of solitary work
as well as coven work. However, most of us live in the real world and are lucky to have a permanent
dedicated altar anywhere in the house.
© 2004-2012 Ardriana Cahill
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