Here’s an excerpt from this week’s edition of Jason Miller’s Magick Monday Newsletter:
“You have dedicated yourself to daily practice yes? What would you do if you were thrown in prison tomorrow? What do you do when travelling?”
This question was posed to me (through a translator) by Kunzang Dorje Rinpoche.
A priestess friend I met in Highgate once asked me: “Do you think people that could have been tortured and burned for consorting with spirits had visible altars in their homes? Do you think they kept inscribed daggers and cups hidden in the house? Of course not. We are lucky to be able to keep visible altars now, but we shouldn’t think the craft depends upon them.”
Thankfully I haven’t been thrown in prison, but when I travel, I don’t feel the need to bring a ton of kit with me, nor am I draped in amulets from head to toe. I need nothing, and so take only a few things I want. Keeping the lessons of these teachers in mind, I make a point to never commit to a practice that I couldn’t keep while naked in the woods, at least in some form.
In the end the real altar is you.
I started practicing magic when I was 15 years old. I kept my supplies, mostly either repurposed thrift-store finds or poorly executed DIY projects at my Dad’s hardware store, in a wooden box under the bed. I remember setting up the altar from Modern Magic on a folding tray table with table cloth thrown over it. It probably looked ridiculous, but there in my bedroom I felt like Merlin himself.
Taking your candles, statues, tools, and whatever else you need out of storage and setting up makeshift altars on dining room tables, rocks, the floor, etc is probably how most magic gets done.
In Christian traditions there is a cloth called an antimension, which literally means “instead of the table”. It’s a small piece of cloth that has a relic of a martyr sewn into it. Since the Eucharist must be performed on a consecrated altar, this was an essential element to the growing early church and is still an essential element in Orthodox Liturgies whether they are performed in a dedicated Church or not.
The enterprising Sorcerer can easily consecrate a cloth that they can put on any ordinary table and instantly have a consecrated surface. Making the effort to sew in items from sacred places, or other objects of power will pay off.
Eventually the tray table I used was upgraded to a fancy living Room end table my Mom was getting rid of. This had the benefit of being both an altar and a storage unit for my growing collection of occult knick-knacks. I didn’t have the space or time to keep a regular altar with candles and statues that were visible 24/7, but at least I could store my things in a sacred space.
This was how I operated while living in apartments with roommates for most of my twenties. Sure, I had some things openly displayed on shelves, but for the most part it was all kept in that same end table: taken out at the beginning of a working and put away after. Most of the magic that laid the foundations for everything I do now, was done under these conditions.
After I bought my first house I finally had a dedicated room where I could keep multiple permanent altars. I painted a closet red and had an enormous six foot long altar inside it, as well as two other altars in the room. This was what I always wanted, and nothing could make me go back…. Nothing except newborn twins.
My wife gave up her office before they were born so that we could have a nursery. Not even a year later I was packing up my things into “sacred storage again” so that the kids could have a play room.
This time the “Sacred Storage” was a section of the not insulated garage that I sectioned off with curtains. It looked like a tiny temple, but was too cold to work in the winter, and too hot to work in the summer. So I would bring in whatever I needed into the living room at night, and clean up when done. When it was nice out, I did a lot of work outside in the yard or at a place I found in the pine barrens.
This might not seem ideal, but again, this was a time of exceptionally important work for me. The Strategic Sorcery and Sorcery of Hekate courses were born under these conditions. In that garage shrine room, I had a system of altar trays that were set up and ready to go. All I had to do was bring them in to the area where I was working and I could pick up where I left off whether it was a Hekatean working, a 7 day candle spell, or an evocation.
PERMENANT COMBO ALTARS
There were a few times that I was able to manage a single permanent altar that I could keep and tend to. Permanent altars are nice for a lot of reasons. You don’t need to set up every time you do something. They allow ease of access to materials needed for long-term work and daily offerings. They serve as an ever-present reminder of our path and our work and become a gateway to subtle powers. Their mere presence permeates our most intimate spaces with magic and populates it with spirit. On the downside, they can take up a lot of space and require a good bit of maintenance. If you can’t manage to keep your dishes clean, and house dusted, then a permanent altar might not be a great idea. Unlike sacred storage Altars tend to manifest what is put on them.
The problem is that my practice reflects my life, and my life threw me into multiple traditions and approaches to magic right from the start. Before I was 21 I had found mentors in rootwork, ceremonial magic, and tantra. This was before I was on the internet mind you, I encountered all these people in and around central Jersey. These days someone can contact teachers from 12 different traditions just a few hours after deciding they have an interest in magic. So what does one do with access to limitless knowledge but limited space?
Some people seem to think that having an altar that honors more than one tradition is the height of disrespect and will call down the wrath of offended deities instantly. I heard many dire warnings of mixing pantheons, but I have a secret for you: the world is not now, nor has it ever been, divided up into neat little boxes. The problem isn’t pantheons and traditions intermingling, it’s doing it badly.
Ever notice how everyone is concerned about mixed pantheons, but rarely think about conflicts within the pantheon? I mean, have you ever opened a book on Greek Myths? They don’t exactly all get along. Yes, sometimes there are gods and spirits who have taboos about honoring other gods and spirits in the same space that they are honored, but this is usually a matter within the tradition. Some say Santa Muerte should not be honored in the same space as St Cyprian, others say its fine. Some say that Oya and Yemeja’s candles should not even be stored on the same shelf, others don’t seem to observe that taboo. I have found that Helios and Aphrodite don’t get on well, but that Sol and Venus get on fine.
As I said before, ultimately, you are the altar. You can separate spirits into different tables, different rooms, and even different houses but in the end these forces come together in one life, one body, and one mind: yours.
If your single altar represents multiple traditions, you may not be able to set it up in a perfectly traditional way, but that’s fine. Rather than just imitating the tradition, this is an opportunity to research why things are set the way they are in those traditions and figure out your own approach to meeting those needs.
PERMENANT MULTIPLE ALTARS
When I moved to Vermont, I again had a dedicated room with multiple altars. I could have Buddhist implements set up in a traditional manner, I could have my Cyrpianic and Hekatean altars separate and set up in accordance with the dictates of those separate systems. It was awesome!
Multiple dedicated altars are also great for people who work for clients. Rather than different altars for different traditions, you can have them set for different purposes. I had different spaces for wealth/expansion magic and influencing/magnetizing magic in the altar room and a space outside for wrathful and strong binding magic.
There can be a lot of benefits to multiple permanent altars.
It was also crowded. Between the books and the altars, I needed to go to a different space to perform some evocations or anything that required a physical circle around me.
When I stopped doing client work, the multiple altars wound up not really being needed a lot of the time. The effort to upkeep the altars started to overshadow what I was getting out of it. That’s the thing that I wish everyone would remember whether it’s altars or spirits or spells: More is not automatically better. Better is better.
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