About that altar

As took a stroll around the pagan blogosphere this morning I came across this frustrated post by one who calls herself Pagangrl. Rather than writing a massive comment there I thought it best to respond here in a blog post of my own.

 

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Exploring your faith and developing your spiritual practices is wonderful and inspiring, but not always easy. Especially not if your spouse doesn’t share your views. In the blog post I linked to above, Pagangrl talks of how she wishes to create an altar in her home. The problem is that her husband doesn’t agree at all with her faith, and wouldn’t accept such an altar. So what should she do? Create a hidden altar, as she suggests?

I’m not going to get into the core issue of Pagangrl’s and her husband’s relationship, not unbidden and without knowing his side of it all. But what I can talk about, and perhaps even give advice on, is the issue of the altar specifically.

What is an altar, what does it mean? Obviously it will differ from tradition to tradition, but I dare say it most often boils down to two main aspects. One side is the practical – it is where tokens of devotion, symbols, candles, and perhaps certain tools are kept. The other side is more profound, it is a focus and in a way a physical representation of ones faith.

Do you need an altar? No, you really don’t. Is it good to have one? I’d say so, yes. How should it look? What should it be made up of? There is simply no correct answer to that. As a physical representation of your faith, and yours alone, there is no one but you who can tell you how it should look. Others can share their ideas, offer inspiration and feedback, but ultimately your altar is yours and there is no true right or wrong.

In this case though, it is not merely a question of what the girl herself wants to do, as there is a husband involved who doesn’t welcome this spiritual element. It would be easy to just say no, bad husband, respect your wife’s wishes yo! But it really is not that simple. Respect must go both ways, and just as the husband needs to respect his wife, so the wife needs to respect her husband. Having a stationary altar, a permanent installation with figurines, candles and whatnot, is not a small thing. For someone who doesn’t share that faith, it might feel downright offensive.

Think of… getting a new couch. Both parties will need to be alright with the choice of couch, it’s a piece of furniture that’s going to be seen and used every day after all, so it really is not viable for only one part to be alright with it. An altar is no couch, obviously, so that need for mutual acceptance is even more important.

Just as how you are entitled to see your faith take physical form in your home, he might be entitled to not have religious expressions in his home, as he isn’t of the same faith. It is a shared home, after all, and both should have the right to feel comfortable there. So what can one do?

Obviously some sort of compromise is needed. I can’t recommend a secret, hidden altar, even though it might feel like a practical solution in the moment. Long term however, it’s just not going to work. It’s not fair to either part of the relationship, not to him who is deceived and not to her who must hide who she is. No, it needs to be done in the open.

Go back to the question of what an altar is, there I would say is the key to how compromise is possible. An altar doesn’t have to be that classic stereotypical piece, the table with candles, figurines, and incense. It doesn’t even have to be a permanent fixture, even if that might be preferable to most.

My first altar was within a wooden box. Normally the lid would be closed and the box itself was tucked away under a chair in the corner of my room. Whenever I wished to I could take it out, open the lid, light the candles, and use it just like any other altar. To one who is used to stationary altars that may sound dull and strange, but I assure you the soul of what an altar is was the same. It had both the practical side – it was where I could keep all the little things connected to my spiritual practice – and the deeper soulful side – it became my focus and the physical representation of my faith. Over time said box seemed to become so infused with it all that I almost dare claim it sacred.

Now, my practice mostly focus around a natural shrine. The “altar” is a slab of stone covered in moss, not created by me but by nature itself. As before I keep candles and other items indoors, to bring them to the altar stone specifically for ceremonial purposes. Sometimes items may even be left out there over night, or for a few days when I feel it appropriate, but ultimately the shrine itself doesn’t need all those things standing on it – it is enough in itself.

So, your husband doesn’t feel comfortable having a traditional pagan altar in his home? Look for alternatives that mean you can respect his wishes while still expressing your own. Perhaps a beautiful wooden altar box, with a lid you can close and keep to yourself, is the way to go. Not hidden or secret, but personal. Or perhaps you should look outside, perhaps there is a natural point of spiritual power nearby, that could be your focus point? Remember that there is no right or wrong way of doing this, there is only your way.

 

 

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