Altar Maintenance

Living in an apartment in a fairly metropolitan suburb of DC has its benefits and its downsides, like anywhere else, not least of which is cleaning.  It gets mad dusty in here, yo, and being a neatfreak and cleanfreak as I am, I like things to look generally good.  (I may get lazy with the dishes, but that’s another story.)  It follows, then, that my altars as well get a distinct layer of dust.  So, when it gets to be too obnoxious for me to live with it, I’ll disassemble my altars and give them a good cleaning.  Besides, with the food offerings to the genii locorum I make, crumbs and stray drops of wine really do make a mess that tempts hordes of bugs that even my household genius and I can’t fend off.

Now, I only have two altars (my devotional altar where I pray and make offerings of candles, incense, food, etc., and my magician’s altar or Table of Manifestation), and this may not be the rule in the future, especially when I get my complete Hermaion set up, but for now, here’s what I’ll do:

Devotional altar:

  • Remove all food offerings (combine them and throw them out into the yard by some trees, giving the physical food to the physical world)
  • Wash all dishes, plates, stands, etc. with a cleansing solution (holy water, Florida water, 7-11 Holy oil)
  • Remove all ash and burnt offerings from the incense holders, wipe down with cleansing solution
  • Clear off the altar and wipe it down with cleansing solution, then reassemble everything as it was or update the arrangement
  • Spritz cleansing solution on each of the spirit placards, statues, etc.
  • Make a full offering of food, drink, light, incense, etc. to all spirits the same day

Magician’s altar:

  • Remove all tools, talismans, etc. from the altar
  • Spritz the altar with cleansing solution
  • Wipe off all tools, talismans, etc. with cleansing solution
  • Reassemble the altar
  • Perform an Alignment Ritual to resituate and empower the tools

This is just for my own practice, as it stands right now.  I don’t know about the rules for altar or oratory maintenance in other traditions, even within my own, but I feel that physical dust leads to spiritual gunk building up over time.  This is all in addition to regular spraying of banishing water and prosperity water solutions around my house, as well.

The cleaning or rearranging of altars is a minor technical detail of magical practice that isn’t often discussed in the literature I can find.  What do you do for your altars, if any?  Do you even have one spot you work or pay in?  Do you let the dust, wax, and feelings there accumulate over time, or do you keep it in a pristine state?

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2 thoughts on “Altar Maintenance

  1. The different ways and degrees to which people maintain their altars fascinate me. Thank you for sharing.

    For myself, although I sometimes keep a separate “current projects” altar, my main altar serves both my magical and devotional needs. I dust the large surfaces every week, and try to do a full clean no less than every Dark and Full Moons. But my “full clean” isn’t quite as through as yours: dust and wax, I do keep to a minimum; feelings, though, are part of the power that I want to accumulate. Maybe it’s my watery nature, but … to me, and emotionally “clean” area feels almost powerless. My altar is where I keep all magical artifacts and and an assortment of memorabilia which date back to my middle teens.

    The arrangement of my altar changes every time I move, at a bare minimum, and frequently–especially lately–more often than that. Unlike many “traditional” altar arrangements, it shapes more than reflects my cosmology.

    I’ve seen altar arrangements and maintenance discussed in a little bit of “the literature”, but not much. Most of where I’ve seen it has been pretty fluffy. Fortunately, we have the blogosphere, where these things are discussed.

  2. I come at this from a High Church perspective… in high school, I had the keys to the sacristy at my church, and set up and took down the altars as preparation for weekly prayer and eucharistic rites. One can get mightily elaborate with altars, and still have powerful emotional investment in the events… One can also have a very plain, ordinary set-up, and be emotionally invested in it; or do all of the most elaborate layout and set-up, and have no emotional investment in it at all. My current altar is sort of lax; at Jason Miller’s suggestion, I set up a small shrine for doing ancestor and spirit work, and then there’s the main altar where I do Frater RO-type stuff; and then my friend Albert made a pair of figurines in clay, one Mesopotamian and one Mycenaean, which are my god & goddess figurines. And then there’s a little shelf in the bedroom, and the mantelpiece in the office…

    But, to say that my apartment is conducive to having many altars? You live in an old house, you find you have lots of places and spaces for this sort of thing. Probably too many.

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