Some of the most common questions on Irish Pagan Beliefs I see, revolve around the Pagan Altar. What is it? How do you make one? What direction should a Pagan Altar face?!
I figure it might be useful to show you what I do, as a starting point. (Spoiler alert, there’s no pentagrams! The post image was a RUSE!) So, here’s mine, currently, and my answers to a few of those questions besides.
What’s on my Pagan Altar?
Back, left to right:
- Mini bottle of Mead, a sacred drink to the Irish. This one is for the symbolism, rather than the offering, and it has sentimental value too as it was a gift from my partner.
- Dropper bottle of Men’s Sacred Water, a gift from Justin Moffat (who is an excellent Guide at Uisneach, an important Irish Sacred Site).
- 2 red pillar candles; the colour is symbolic of both my Goddess, the Mórrígan, and the Irish Otherworld in which we walk and work.
- Crow painting, painted and gifted to me by my first ‘Witch Daughter’ initiate, Caroline 💞
- Square candle holder, usually containing a daily devotional white candle flame; Red and White are the 2 colours of the Irish Otherworld, so they fit here. The holder was a gift from my Mammy, and reads “Take a deep breath, relax, you’re home now”. She gave it to me when I moved down to join my family in County Waterford, after many years in County Roscommon.
- A travel compass, so I can always find my way back to Ireland. This was a gift from the Cauldron of the Celts and Vyviane of Land Sea Sky Travel, after I guided a tour for them here in Ireland.
- Crow skull, a treasured gift from my friend Brianna 💜
- 2 glass vials with cork stoppers, containing clay mud from the Síd ar Cruachán (the Cave of the Cats), and water from the Ogulla Well, both sites of the Rathcroghan Complex, in County Roscommon – home of the Mórrígan and Queen Maedbh.
Front, left to right:
- Adge’s Wand – a long ago gift of a bog oak and quartz snake carved wand, the personal tool of our own Fluid Druid, Adge, before he left us.
- Beater for the Bodhrán (native Irish drum) you can just see in the bottom left corner. I often use these as part of my daily devotions.
- Offering dishes (pictured with sage, which was a gift though I don’t personally use it, and there are sustainability and appropriation issues to consider if you do!)
- Scented candle with bright copper lid, because I really, really like nice smells and shiny things!
- Carved wooden bowl and spoon, with blended herbal incense packages – all gifts from the Caludron of the Celts, and Land Sea Sky travel.
Not pictured, see the video for… Offerings glass, painted and gifted by my Witch Sister, Rhiannon, who died a long time ago and is still missed every day, and remembered every time I see it. 💔 Also, Blackthorn branches and Crow feathers collected during my Monthly Site Visits, which are in containers up above, on either side of my Pagan Altar.
How to make your Pagan Altar
As you can see, this isn’t too difficult.
I found the chest in a second hand shop for about 20 quid, and the drawers make handy storage for candles, lighters, and other assorted shite.
Fire is vital when practicising Irish Pagansim, in my opinion, as the hearth and home fires are SO much a part of our culture (and for many other reasons which are beyond the scope of this post… ask me in the comments if you’ve any questions!). So, be sure to have some sort of live flame on there whenever possible.
Connection to place is very important too, so have something that represents the place/s that are important in your practice.
Representation of deity is good – seriously though, don’t get caught up on finding the ‘perfect’ statue or painting. It probably doesn’t exist, to be honest. The gods are essentially formless, and anything after that is us trying to visualise them so that we can build relationship. Stick to the basics as you begin, and see what develops over time.
Ritual tools are optional, depending on your tradition and practice. I have 2 really large carved walking staffs, one bog oak and one yew, that obviously don’t fit on my Pagan altar. I have an athame with a carved Blackthorn handle, that was very special to me when I was an 18 year old in a Traditional Wiccan Coven, but doesn’t have a place in my current native Irish practice.
The most important thing for any Pagan altar is to find and use items that are special to you, that make sense to you.
What direction should a Pagan Altar face?
I don’t even know what direction my altar is facing.
That compass is purely symbolic… I’m probably dyspraxic, and spend a lot of my magical life (and far too much of my mundane life) wandering in and out of the Otherworld. I very rarely know what direction I’m facing in this world!
Unless it’s a specific part of your tradition (in Alexandrian Trad Wicca as I was initially trained, for example, it goes in the North), it doesn’t matter what direction your Pagan Altar is facing.
Just put it wherever works for you, in your home, so you can see and connect with it every single day. I promise, that’s more important than getting it ‘right’ by anyone else’s standards or rules.
How to use a Pagan Altar
As I said, connect with it every day, in some way.
Some days, that will be giving it a bit of a dust or a tidy, and maybe lighting a tealight/votive candle.
Other days, you might be sitting in front of it for an hour or more, using divination or Journeying, perhaps for communicating with a God or Goddess.
And sometimes you may do rituals – like celebrating the seasonal cycles, rites of passage, or devotion to Deity – and decorate it with extra special or symbolic items for the duration.
These are all good uses of a Pagan Altar, and if you’re working alone, or just starting to figure out your Irish Pagan practice, experiement with what seems right for you.
Take notes, keep a record; watch for patterns over time and improve as you go.
Seriously though. Do something every day.
Irish Pagan Practice (or any Pagan practice, to be honest, but especially the Irish stuff) is about building relationship. To do this, you need to show up consistently, and do the Work.
It doesn’t always have to be big work, or important work, or hard work. But it’s all part of the Work.