Continuing the series of posts on altars and shrines, we come to how our shrines look like now, just before Yule. The altars and shrines are more than just a place to leave offerings; these are places where we can devote ourselves wholly and fully to worship, to good relationships. In my own case I am doing my best to make sure I spend at least 10 minutes a day with my Ancestors. Much of the family’s altar and shrine times are when we pray. Our lives are hectic, and our schedules are up and down. In my own case I work midnight shifts and Sylverleaf morning and evening shifts, and our son goes to school. These altars and shrines give us places, even for a few moments, to slow down, remember our blessings, pray, and give offerings for all we have.
These altars and shrines, as I have mentioned, change throughout the year. Much of the decorations, and the altars and shrines themselves were gifts or bought from thrift stores and garage sales. The cloths come from our local JoAnn Fabrics when we cannot find the right colors/patterns in thrift stores. There’s nothing saying you cannot buy good/expensive things for your altars or shrines any more than cheap. We take care in selecting what goes on our altars and shrines, regardless of where it comes from. We listen to the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits for what They want on our altars and shrines, what offerings They want, and so on. What matters, in the end, is the care you put into crafting your altars and shrines.
Cleaning and Preparing Altars and Shrines
What also matters is the prep work done before making an altar or shrine, and/or when transitioning between set up and take down. When we make a new shrine we first clean the area, vacuuming, dusting, the works. We then will clean the shrine inside (if there is an inside) and out physically with water and soap, if needed. We will then cleanse the altar or shrine with blessed water and/or Florida Water, and may use this water in lieu of soap and water, using fresh towels when needed. Whenever we transition the altars and shrines, we clean all their cloths. We also clean any new cloths prior to their use. While those are in the washer and then dryer, we will clean every piece of the altars and shrines that we can, bathing the statues, if we can, and scrubbing everything that can be scrubbed clean with fresh towels. We then dry with fresh towels, and they usually wait on my bed until the cloths are ready.
When the cloths are ready and we have all the items we need for the shrine, we will take some time and ask the Gods, Ancestors, and/or spirits for whom the altar/shrine will be made, what color altar cloth They would like. We usually do this well ahead of time for new shrines, but with transitions between seasons and/or cleanings, we will not know until we the cloths are clean. When we have an answer, or if we are left by Them to suss that out, we will lay the selected cloth on the surface and adjust until it looks/feels right. Then we decorate the altar, first with the direct representations of the altar or shrine itself, such as the Gods for the Gods’ altar, the Ancestor for Their shrine, and so on. We generally start in the middle and work our way out, so the main Gods with whom we work are in the center of the altar and those who we give honor to are on the outside. This does not always follow, though, as sometimes Gods we have had long relationships with, such as Sunna and Mani below, end up outside of the granite tile and on one of the sides of the Gods’ altar.
The Gods’ Altar
At this time of year since our families are coming together we put our Gods together on the Gods’ altar by families wherever we could. So Odin and Frigga are together, Brigid and Bres, Mani and Sunna, Freyr, and Freya, and so on. The green altar cloth was laid down in reflection of the evergreens. The Gods our family actively worships are in the center, with many Gods whom we have connections to have prayer cards, such as Sekhmet and Hermes below the two paintings of the Valkyries. On the opposite side is a sword I received at this last year’s Renfaire from a Michigan-based blacksmith. The glass crystal chalice was a gift from a dear friend, someone I count as a Sister. In the corner are my journey staff, a sword I’ve had for about 7 years I used in evocation work, and a spear I received as a gift from a dear, old friend for work I did with him.
The Disir’s and Väter’s Shrine
This shrine is relatively new. This was made in the Fall after we picked up the table at a garage sale, and the batik patterned cloths at JoAnn Fabrics. The batik patterns struck us as being perfect for each set of powerful Ancestors. The two ceramic pieces we picked up at our local thrift store. The left part of the shrine is for the Disir, and the right, for the Väter. The plastic container has my necklace for the Disir, bought from an excellent craftsperson at ConVocation, which broken recently. The necklace on the left was made by a good friend of mine, made while she meditated on all the men who had an impact on her spirituality.
The Ancestors’ Shrine
The Elemental Ancestors have spaced out a bit since the last time I took photos. They now are part of the four pillars of the shrine. Sometimes the Elements switch places entirely. At one point Earth and Air were in the front of the altar, and now They are in the back. This is reflective of the relationships we have with the Elements as with the seasons we are in. Earth and Air were in the front through the Summer, if memory serves, and come Fall we transitioned to the layout we have now. This new layout brought with it important additions to the shrine. The first that was placed on the shrine is the glass insulator my Brother gave to me. It belonged to his grandmother, and now sits prominently on the shrine. As with adoption, when I call someone Brother or Sister, and am called a Brother in return, our Ancestors mingle and become part of one another’s lives, part of our family as surely as we are. With my adoption into the Ojibwe and Thunderbird People I placed the Native American bust in the back, given to me a long while ago by my Mom, on the shrine. Given my own tribemates have similar statuary, one on their own Ancestor shrine, I felt it was about time I did so too.
The Earthvaettir Shrine
The Earthvaettir Shrine has changed quite a bit. Ramses II is now on the Warrior Dead shrine, per His request. The shrine has new offering bowls, part of a set we bought from the local thrift store to replace the bronze ones. While the bronze bowls would work for dry offerings, they got weird and green with liquid offerings, so we have switched them out for the time being. The shrine to the Roadside Dead, which has been part of the Earthvaettir shrine for a while now, has a more prominent place. A moonstone sits at the feet of its incense holder, which our son made. At its top sits the offering bowl. Behind it is the cairn, which, as mentioned in the last post, changes position and structure each time the Earthvaettir shrine is cleaned and remade. In the center of the shrine behind the ceramic offering bowl is the Gebo stone on the left, the Earthvaettir stone on the right, and the large stone in the back is the Landvaettir’s stone. On the right the Gnome and Dragon of Earth have more prominence, and before Them are the stone we have used in magical work and healing over the years. At each of the four corners are stones, which change between them and other stones when the shrine is remade, symbolizing the four directions and the Four Dwarves who hold up the sky.
The Watervaettir Shrine
This is the newest shrine. The table is a temporary one, given it is a wooden TV table and likes to wobble. It sits between the two bookshelves on which the Earthvaettir, Housevaettir, and Moneyvaettir shrines sit. This was almost exclusively made by our son; he insisted we make it one day, and all we did was buy the cloth and gave him a choice of containers for offerings. The paper image he made at school, and while he has not explained to us what it is, he made it with a friend and told us “It is for the water spirits.” While he is involved almost every time we clean and set up altars and shrines, this is the first he has made by himself. We are very proud of him.
The Housevaettir and Moneyvaettir Shrines
These two shrines have not changed much at all. The Housevaettir now rests atop a woodburnt Ægishjálmur that I made here at home. The Moneyvaettir Shrine has more shell and coins added to it, and some taken from it. The coin jar has sheaves of coin holders in it, with the idea of ‘we hope to fill these’ and ‘we have a place for you’ in mind. There was a point in the Fall where we emptied the coin jar of a good deal of coins to help pay for things. That adding and taking from the coins is part of a good relationship with Moneyvaettir; sometimes you have a lot and sometimes you do not. Every time we’ve needed coins on hand They have been there for us.
The Dead Shrine
This is a shrine that I set up this year as a priest of Anpu. My work with the Dead as His priest had a long break, about 4 years. When I started to do prayers for the Ancestors of my House, House Sankofa, I also felt called back to offerings prayers for the Dead, especially the lost Dead. I was pushed by Anpu to go back to the work of helping lost Dead and whoever comes to the shrine cross to where They need to go, with His help. The shrine has four candle holders around a censer in the middle. The four fires are there to cast light and warmth to the four directions, inviting the Dead, and the censer as a gathering place where They can smell the sweet fragrances and be comforted by the frankincense, myrrh, and other offerings left there. Anpu’s image is above His wand, which I use for Opening and Closing the Door every Sunday in the work. There is a bowl of water below the censer to quench the Dead’s thirst, and a place for more incense and other offerings to the left. On the right is a bell that I use in the weekly work to soothe the Dead, and call to those who wander.
The Warrior Dead Shrine
The Warrior Dead Shrine now has Ramses II on it in the back of the shrine with a stone star above His head. The altar cloth is now white, and the placement of its items have been switched around a bit. The last of the Ezra Brook is now in the flask, and the offering liquor is now Lauder’s Blended Scotch Whiskey. The formerly white ceramic offering bowl now is stained with the offerings I have given despite my best attempts to get it back to white. Given the candle-pot was both unwieldy and I could not light a candle in it, it was moved off of the altar. The Warrior Dead did not seem all that attached to it, as it was. The shrine is closer together and simpler, but feels better overall, and Ramses II has settled in well here.
Animal Spirits Shrine
Only the placement of things has changed on this shrine, but I thought it would be good for people to see how things can change even on altars that don’t change all that much throughout the year. Aside from dusting on occasion, and cleaning Them as needed, the animal spirits prefer I not change out the altar cloth.
The Runevaettir altar has not changed all that much. It now has many Rune mandalas made with ink on paper, and holds the communion talisman, one of two I made for the 30 Days of Magic Talisman Challenge put on by Andrieh Vitimus. The offering bowl now is in the back left corner where it can sit without blocking the mandalas when I use them or make another.
Come the Spring I will need to take photos and write about shrines we keep outside, since at least one of them cannot be seen well right now. These shrines include the shrine to Hela and Niðhogg, the Landvaettir’s outdoor shrine, and the Air spirits.
These pictures were taken back in 2012 when I moved back home. This was prior to my son and Sylverleaf coming to stay with us. At the time I lived in the basement, as the entire living arrangement had been changed since I moved out. I finally had a bit more room to make altars and shrines, and much of my parents’ resistance to such things in their home was gone. They recognized my need for space to set out devotional space for worship, and I will always be grateful to them for this.
I made an altar to the Gods, a shrine to the Ancestors, a shrine to the Earthvaettir combined with the Moneyvaettir and Warrior Dead, and a shrine to the Animal Spirits.
The Gods’ Altar
At this point in time my Gods’ Altar was still fairly squished, at least compared to how it is now. It is also a lot more simple; the Gods’ Altar as it is now has a lot more statuary and representations on it, whereas this was me trying to get back to some simplicity. For example, the Chaos Star got packed away, as at the time I felt I’d had more than what I had needed of that. The drum I made my journeys with was placed on the Gods’ Altar as I did a lot of journeywork to Their Realms at this point in time with Its help. There are two chalices on the altar here: the pewter one I dedicated to Freya as our relationship was going very well, and She was teaching me a lot at this time. That, and the chalice, which, if memory serves I had picked up at a thrift store, had at one point been given to someone as a Valentine’s gift back in 1985. I found not long after I started using this that anything placed in the chalice would degrade and mold quick, despite repeated cleanings. It has since been retired from service to any Gods since I can’t get it stop doing weird stuff to the contents within a few hours of being in the thing.
There’s also more prominence to the Valkyries’ representations here, with Brynhilde being directly behind Odin, and another to Her right. The blue vial to the left of the pewter chalice long contained the last of a Dansk Mjød Viking Blod that I eventually ended up offering that year. The crystal in front of the altar is selenite, a crystal I and my family still use to cleanse ourselves before some evening prayers. The Negative Confession is on this altar in front of the vial and pewter mug.
The Ancestor Altar/Shrine
The Ancestor Altar/Shrine had finally come into being. I had not been able to have a separate shrine for Them due to space issues, so being able to give space to the Elements as part of the Ancestors was wonderful as well as connective for me. With this came a sense of connecting not only with Them individually as Elements and Ancestors, but in the space of the altar/shrine itself, each Element having Their own space in the way it is laid out. This time also marked, roughly, when my Ancestors started asking for semi-regular tobacco offerings. I started doing smoking offerings in 2009, 2010. I had long held a taboo in my mind because of my parents’ smoking habits. The deal I made with Them was that, so long as I was not going to become addicted I would smoke for Them. So, cigars and cigarettes became part of the Fire area of the Ancestor shrine at this point, but that ended when Sylverleaf, our son, and I, transitioned as a family into the whole of the top floor of the house.
The Earthvaettir, Moneyvaettir, and Warrior Dead Shrines
This was the second shrine I had set up for the Earthvaettir and Moneyvaettir; Their previous places had been set into a bookcase on a whole shelf. I do not believe the Warrior Dead had a shrine before this, and if it had, it had been rather squished in between everything with the Earthvaettir and Moneyvaettir. Here, again, I felt a sense of being able to breathe, of expanding not only my physical limits, but practice. Of having space to actually physically acknowledge Their place in my life, Their Presences, and to honor that not only with space, but with prayer in that space. Of giving offerings to those beings, whereas once They may have been lumped all in together with a single offering chalice between all of these great, diverse Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir otherwise, now I had space and ability to honor each closer to Their own ways and desires.
The Animal Spirits’ Shrine
It was relieving to finally have space to do this. I honor a great deal of animalvaettir not only as representations of the Gods (i.e. the snake as Bolverk), but as the animals Themselves who have come and shared wisdom and training. Some of these representations pull double-duty; for instance, the wolf in the top above the center of the shrine is representative of both wolves, and Lupa, the Wolf Goddess who came to me early in my journey as a Pagan and in my self-discovery, helped me to realize a lot about myself. More, She helped teach me how to not only explore it, but integrate it into my life as best as I could. As the Wolf has been a central figure in my life as a whole, and as I mark It as kin, it forms the center of this shrine. The patch of fur and wolf bones were gifts by the wonderful Shin Cynikos. I keep these as sacred items to this day. They still lay upon the animal spirits’ shrine.
It wasn’t long before I transitioned out of this kind of layout. When I moved back into my old room upstairs to live with my family, there was a lot more room to expand, and express the changing relationships and growth in our lives together. The next post will go into the expansion that occurred at that time, and what the altars and shrines tend to look like nowadays.
The next few posts I will be going over how altars and shrines can change over time. My hope is that this will give people different ideas of how altars and shrines can be made, what can go on them, and help people see a different way of doing things.
When I lived in the dorms this is what my altar/shrine looked like. Everything was together onto this little dresser. The only other flat surface I had needed to keep my desktop PC and studying desk. So, my Gods, Ancestors, and spirits all shared space on this tiny little thing. I wasn’t supposed to light the candles or use the censer in the back. There was a single offering chalice for all the varied Gods, Ancestors, and spirits present, and when liquid offerings needed to be poured out I either did so in the sink, or took it out to the trees near to the dorm rooms.
Starting on the left was my tarot and my athame/working dagger, and behind them the mead I gave for offerings. In the back, to the right of the mead, was water I had collected from a lake, and a Chaos Star I had won in a raffle to the right of that. The box beneath the censer contained things like prayer beads, as did the box behind A Book of Pagan Prayer. To the right of the chalice was my representation of the Ancestors (it still serves that purpose) and of course, Odin with representations of Geri and Freki. The little pouch before the Ancestors to the left of the Wolves was given to me as Gebo for help I gave to someone. Thor’s Hammer, Mjolnir, sat resting before Odin’s feet. In front of the Wolves to the left is Brighid’s Candle, and to the right is Her Cross. In between the wands and Wolves were two sigils to the angel Haniel, who I asked to help me in my relationship at the time. The silver skulls were what I used as representation of the Dead and as prayer beads (if memory serves) to that purpose. In front of the Dead representation are wands, while the ceramic container was used to hold herb offerings. To the right of the skulls was an offering of an apple, which, after a day or three, was taken outside and put under a tree.
The altar/shrine was near the door to the dorm room, and since I didn’t want to get brained every time I came home, the staves were set on the left of the altar. A lot of this altar was put together the way it was out of necessity. It taught me to use space effectively, and making sure I knew what was essential to me, both in terms of representation, and what I was worshiping and working with.
Shrines do not need to just be erected on tables. They can be erected wherever they are needed. The last 3 years I have been a Sacred Fire tender at Michigan Paganfest. During that time I have set up shrines to the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits behind my tent. This year I finally took pictures but only after I moved my various representations in front of the Sacred Fire. Something about being behind the tent made it like an invasion of privacy to take pictures there. The set up, however, is very similar to the pictures, except spread out onto two black t-shirts; they were clean, and used for the weekend for the sole purpose as altar/shrine ‘cloths’. Practicality wins out, sometimes, since all of my altar/shrine cloths were taken up by altars and shrines at my home.
These first two are before the Sacred Fire together. On either side of Odin and Freya are the representations of Ask and Embla. Directly beside Odin the key represents Frigga, as I have no statue of Her yet, and beside Freya the little Green Man is our representation of Freyr. The two little circles, (harder to see in the light, sorry) near to Freyr are a Sun and Moon representing Mani and Sunna. After asking the Fire for Her permission and blessing, I placed my divination tools closest to Her for Her to bless and empower Them. They all were located in the North. The East was completely clear, and the South had Brighid’s Cross and a vial of Her healing waters on a single log, which I forgot to take a picture of.
Anubis wanted to be elevated, facing the Fire in the West with the selenite wand we use at home to purify ourselves before prayer as a way of purifying the wandering Dead who wanted to be near the Fire.
I love altars, shrines, and sacred spaces of all kinds. Tumblr has a pretty cool community called FuckYeahAltars that has some really beautiful expressions of devotions, from the very minimalistic to the very elaborate. It, and communities like it, are powerful reminders that our shrines do not need to be a certain way; they can fit with, complimenting and enhancing our home, fitting into the little niches and spaces. We can erect our shrines outdoors as well, turning a piece of backwoods into a shrine to landvaettir, or to a woodland God or Goddess. A pile of rocks becomes a cairn or a herm. The limits are our Gods’, Ancestors’, and spirits desires’, our traditions and taboos. Barring those things, our own imaginations are the limit.
What I hope to do with this post is encourage people to share their own shrines, should their Gods, Ancestors, spirits and/or traditions approve. To show the multiplicity of forms that altars, shrines, and other sacred spaces can take. I know in exploring FYA’s many examples I have been inspired in my own space creation. In looking at others’ there is no one way of constructing a shrine. They are unique to our relationships with the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits that we worship, our traditions, our individual relationships with each, each Being’s desires, and so many other factors I could not hope to list them all. Suffice it to say, our shrines are part of our relationships, experiences, and points of contact with these Holy Powers that share in our lives.
Well, now I am hooked on making these. This is for Bragi, the God of Poetry. You can find an online shrine to Him here.
Adorations for Bragi
I adore You, God of Poetry.
I adore You, Skald.
I adore You, Rune-tongued.
I adore You, Odhroeir’s Vessel.
I adore You, the Promised Cup.
I adore You, Wish-son.
I adore You, Long-beard.
I adore You, Kenning-master.
I adore You, Son of Odin.
I adore You, Son of Gunnlod.
I adore You, Son of Frigga.
I adore You, Husband of Idunn.
I adore You, Child of Kvasir’s Blood.
I adore You, Greeter to the Einherjar.
I adore You, Peace-bringer.
I adore You, Mound-singer.
I adore You, Traveler.
I adore You, Preserver of Lore.
I adore You, Lover of Mystics.
I adore You, Inspirer.
I adore You, Who are welcomed in all the Worlds.
I adore You, Whose Hands stroke the writer.
I adore You, Whose Voice lifts the singer.
I adore You, Whose Spirit brings together God and humankind.
I adore You, Whose Words bring pause to kings.
I adore You, Whose Words bring awakening to masses.
I adore You, Whose Words bridge Worlds.
I adore You, Whose Words bring solace to the grieving.
I adore You, Whose Words bring peace to the worried.
I adore You, Whose Words bring strength to the weak.
I adore You, Whose Words bring ruin to the oppressor.
I adore You, Whose Words bring truth to the ignorant.
I adore You, Whose Words bring joy to the heedful.
I adore You, Whose Words bring destruction to prejudice.
I adore You, Whose Words bring love to the tender heart.
I adore You, Whose Words bring feeling to the heart of stone.
I adore You, Whose Words bring longing for the traveler.
I adore You, Whose Words bring rest to the weary.
I adore You, Whose Words bring calm to the wrathful.
I adore You, Whose Words bring voice to the Ancestors.
I adore You, Whose Words bring connection to the Gods.
I adore You, Who has traveled long.
I adore You, Who knows every melody.
I adore You, Who plays every tune.
I adore You, Who sings every song.
I adore You, Who knows every word.
I adore You, Who scribes the memories.
I adore You, Who gives voice to the past.
I adore You, Who cries the verse of the present.
I adore You, Who whispers the lines of the future.
I adore You, Who seeks the hidden truths.
I adore You, Who speaks the unspoken.
I adore You, Who breaks the silence.
I adore You, Who brings forth the tear.
I adore You, Who cracks the throat.
I adore You, Who trains the mind.
I adore You, Who cries the forgotten names.
I adore You, Who courts danger.
I adore You, Who humbles the haughty.
I adore You, Who emboldens the oppressed.
I adore You, Who ignites the consuming flame.
I adore You, Who delights in word and song.
I adore You, Singer of Songs.
I adore You, of staff and bar, measure and note.
I adore You, of flute and drum.
I adore You, of bell and horn.
I adore You, of harp and voice.
I adore You, Chief of Skalds.
I adore You, Dirge-Singer.
I adore You, Minstrel of Asgard.
I adore You, Tree-charmer.
I adore You, Composer.
I adore You, Valor-singer.
I adore You, Bragger.
I adore You, Hot-blooded.
I adore You, Earth-guard.
I adore You, Tutor.
I adore You, Dream-giver
I adore You, Dead-Greeter.
I adore You, Oath-hearer.
I adore You, Clever One.
I adore You, Eloquent Tongue.
I adore You, Galdr-singer.
I adore You, Poet.
From written word and song,
From verse and line,
I adore You, Bragi.