My exaggerated view of a Barnes and Nobles metaphysical bookshelf
Hmmm… this is a pretty big Barnes and Nobles, maybe they’ve got something different than the one from my small town in South Texas. Oh yeah, there’s some Silver RavenWolf, that’s what I’ve been looking for. Sweet! I’ve been needing a sixth book on Magick 101! This one’s got a pretty picture of a flower on the cover and it’s all sparkly! Oh yeah, and there’s the section on Cunningham, definitely haven’t seen those before. I hear they’re good especially if you’ve never heard of primary sources. Oh and here’s the section on meditation. Probably much different from the meditation that’s taught in Asian philosophy and everywhere else. Oh yeah, and there’s the 270 page fairy book that has absolutely no information that can’t be found in a child picture book. Definitely my choice purchase. Oh wait, it costs $31.99? I’m sure it’s worth it. Oh yeah, here’s what I was looking for, the section on altars. So there’s Altars for Different Seasons, Basic Altars, How to Make Your Own Altar, and the ever popular Different Crap You Can Buy to Decor…I Mean Honor Stuff With Your Altar.
I wonder why the average Pagan creates an altar. I also wonder why there is such a market for books on the subject. I know that some people need ideas for their first altar, and most books are marketed to the novice in their practice, but the idea of an altar is fairly simple and doesn’t really require buying anything–even books on the subject. An altar’s three-fold purpose is to create a sacred space in a home that is normally filled with non-sacred emotions and actions, to honor spirits, and to use as a magickal tool for filling something with energy and power.
When taking the purpose into account, can you really tell me that you need to buy a bunch of overpriced stuff for an altar? And how can you make an altar out of a book? I know that my altar has a few things that a book would suggest, but I wouldn’t ever go buy the items just to build an altar (which the books seems to suggest that you do). I’ve got a chalice that I used long before I ever had an altar. Yes, I’ve got a few crystals that I had before I was Pagan and was using them for meditation practices. Yes, I’ve also got an incense burner that is actually a mortar filled with salt. I’ve got a few feathers…that I got as a gift my spiritual teacher.
So what is it that I’m trying to say? An altar is supposed to bring you closer to “God” as the Christians say. It’s supposed to open you up and allow you feel safe and calm. It’s no different from the sacred temples of the ancient Greeks or groves of the Druids. Do you really think that the priests of old went to their local Magick-Mart for a bunch of stuff made in China or Korea in sweatshops to put in their brand new temple? We don’t have to hand-make everything like they did, but please remember that the energy in these cheap foreign-made products is likely to be less that awesome. I would rather have an incomplete altar than one filled with items that will bring negative energy into my workings. Magick is a subtle art that is heavily influenced by the nuances of the practice rather than the basics, and so in this case, yes you should sweat the small stuff.
The other thing to think about is that an altar is not so much a tool like a rake or steak knife. It isn’t just something to use in order to get results. It becomes a living extension of yourself. That is one of the primary reasons that taking care of it is such an important task. It needs the love and attention that you give in order to put you into that place of spiritual openness.
How is it so necessary to own 7 books on a subject that is simple. Put pieces of yourself into the altar above all else. Put spiritual pieces that mean something to you next. Yes, it’d be nice to honor the elements and certain gods, but remember that the altar is your gateway to the infinite, and so it should be a part of you rather than some altar template that you found in a book.