So I recently met someone who I’m guiding on how to get into Asatru, and the old saying that you learn more by teaching is true. It’s had me reviewing things I haven’t thought about in a while. So I’m going to start a series here that will get updated as I can, called Getting Started.
Now, altars might seem a strange place to start. Shouldn’t you start with faith, or the basics of the religion, or something, anything else? Maybe, but a student of Asatru, of any faith, is going to spend a lifetime at least, in the learning. It isn’t something that you can do for 9 days and then you’re good for life (well, maybe in Christianity, a lot of people think you say the magic words and you’re good for life, but I’m not an expert).
But an Altar is where you practice your faith. It is your shrine, your temple, in an age where we have a church on every corner, but maybe three Pagan temples in the USA, and all of them are tourist traps rather than holy places. So an alter becomes as much a foundation stone as knowing what holy days there are, or which God rules over what Subject.
Now, before I get started on what you’re going to need for a basic altar, I wish to make a statement. If you have a Pagan Supply Store in your area, buy as much of your stuff there as you can. Yes, walmart might have candles for fifty cents, where as the Pagan store sells them for a dollar, but faith starts at home, and if you want Paganism to flourish so that you can keep having the freedom to follow a Pagan or Heathen path, you need to support that community.
Here’s the following that you will need for a basic, 101 altar.
1) An image of the Deity or Deities you are going to worship. A web search works well, but bookmark what you use in case you need to get a replacement. If you can, buy a print from the artist, this supports them so they can make more art. A good Pagan store will have images and posters of the various Gods and Goddesses, or may be able to get them in, but if they don’t, then hit the web. If you need to, print out the picture. A simple frame, something that speaks to you about the Deity in question, is fine to keep it in. I don’t know if your Pagan store will have them, and if they don’t, you can hit up a thrift store and find something nice for pretty cheap.
2) A place to put it. This can be a shelf you already have in your room, a table or nightstand beside your bed. It can be as simple as getting a piece of cloth that’s 12″x12″ or 12″x24″ that you use to wrap up your alter pieces when you’re not using them, especially in a house without as much religious freedom.
3) A candle and candle holder. Candle magic is pretty basic, and a lot of those who walk the magic path start with candle magic. Well, faith isn’t much different. Light and Smoke are good starter offerings. Most deities will accept them, though they do like more substantial offerings. Those can come later though. You can offer it to either a single deity, or more recommended, to the entire Pantheon you are working with. When I can, I burn the entire candle as an offering, but if funds are short, simply burning it while you are in your Prayer should be acceptable. Your Gods will let you know if they want more.
4) A Chalice/cup. This is where you’ll be making offerings of drink. If you’re under aged, juice will work fine. You might even be able to get away with soda. 😀 But if you’re over 21, then alcohol is a good offering. A large bottle of booze can run between $10 or more, so if funds are limited, you can get the little sampler bottles for about a $1 depending on what you get. They come in a perfect size for offerings in a chalice too, so that’s handy, and they make great containers for Holy Water (I’ll post about that later) which can certainly be helpful.
And there you have it. A quicky starter altar that you can put together with judicious use of Pagan stores, thrift shops, and found items. All told, you can probably put this together for about $10. So it’s easy on the pocket book for the starting faithful.
Now altars can get very elaborate, so don’t feel you have to stick with just the basic. Don’t bust your budget, but always be happy and willing to upgrade. The picture is good, but if you have a Deity that you’re close to, try and get a statue. Again, through your local Pagan store if you can.
Somethings you’ll also want to get may be incense (Pagan store), a divinatory aid either used generally, or dedicated to being the “mouthpiece” for the Gods and Goddesses, (Runes for those who walk the Heathen Path, I’ll make a post on Runes and how to either make them or buy them). A Bowl in which you can pour your drink offerings after you’re done, so you can take them outside and pour out as a libation. A Plate on which to offer food. And various trinkets that make you think of the Gods and Goddesses you make as offerings, but I’ll get more into that later.