The Witchy Lifestyle: Shrines, Altars, and Holy Places
Last week, I posted up an article on Domestic Garden Witch about building shrines near trees in a garden in order to provide a space for magic or worship or meditation. The amount of popularity that this article had gained showed me that, at least to some extent, there is a love or desire for building shrines and altars in many places where shrines aren’t necessarily as common as one would like. Indeed, as I walk through the beautiful city of San Luis Obispo, I see a lot of religious diversity - a gorgeous mosque, the imposingly beautiful Presbyterian church in downtown, the historic Catholic mission at the heart of the city, and a pagan boutique on the very same road where we hold our Farmers’ Market.
Each church has its altar. And I’ve been in pagan stores that have community altars. When it comes to shrines, however, I hardly ever see any around here in public spaces. It’s not to say that I don’t see shrines on occasion. There is a lovely salon near where I live which has a gorgeous shrine right in the front of their store for welcoming business and honoring the gods. But I found myself wondering, “could part of this be due to a bit of confusion over what is a shrine and what isn’t?”
The only concrete answer to that question is “maybe.” But in thinking a bit harder, I realized that it would still be good to discuss shrines in a little more detail. As a community, we as witches and pagans talk a lot about altars and magical spaces (or holy spaces, depending on what vernacular you prefer). As such, it’s not uncommon to see a witch or pagan with at least one space in the home which has candles and some sort of religious iconography, either in a simple and clean setup or in as complex a setup as my coven’s Lughnasadh altar.
So much happiness and peace!
But to get back to the point… What is the difference between an altar and a shrine? And what role would each have to play in a tradition?
Magic and Worship In Communal Space
Altars, as I’ve mentioned, are something we see a lot of in the witchy and pagan communities. From aesthetic posts to tutorials, as well as instructions in some spells for how to properly set up an altar. I have yet to see a “starter’s guide” to witchcraft or paganism that does not have a chapter devoted to building and consecrating an altar.
In short, an altar serves a couple of purposes: providing a place for meditation and worship for a pantheon, and anchoring/grounding magical workings done on and near it. In this way, an altar is essentially the Swiss Army Knife of witchcraft. It is in itself a tool, but also houses multiple other tools, such as wands, athames, candles, stones… you get the picture. By itself, an altar need not be religious, and instead serves a much more practical use in magic as storage and anchoring space.
As an anchor, altars are places where we place ourselves into a magical mindset. A circle may be cast around an altar, with the altar being the focus for where spellwork is being done. Like a magnifying glass focusing sunlight, the altar can help concentrate energy to enhance our magical workings. And, in guided meditations, the altar can also serve as a beacon - helping us find our way back to ourselves if we begin to feel that we’re straying too far in the astral.
As a religious space, the altar becomes dual-purpose. In this situation, it is not only used for magical workings, but also for worship - usually to multiple deities in polytheistic traditions. As such, my home altar can be seen with statues for archetypal god and goddess, as well as dragon imagery and more specific symbols for my deities (such as a raven’s feather for the Morrigan, a rose for Cerridwen, a Brigid’s cross for Brigid, and occasionally an arrowhead for Cernunnos). My coven’s altar setup varies depending on who is with us - at times, it is strictly generic, while more often we incorporate the deities and traditions of all present (thus resulting in symbolism for Celtic, Norse, Greek, and Egyptian gods, as well as offerings and symbolism for Hecate specifically… we even sometimes have Christian imagery if we’ve got a Christian witch with us).
It’s this variety and ability to be so generic, coupled with its practicality which makes altars so appealing to so many people. It’s why we’re more likely to see communal altars in a public space than a shrine, and it’s why much of our worship tends to happen around them. But this isn’t to say that shrine’s can’t have a particular role in a tradition.
A Familiar Space, with a Special Face
When I was younger, I had the opportunity to tour some of the historic California missions. Most California schools have us do this in grade school, but as I was older, I was doing this for personal research. And in some of the buildings, I came across areas that were set aside for a specific saint - not part of the main altar in the chapel. This intrigued me, given my Lutheran background. My protestant upbringing acknowledged the saints, but that was about the extent of it. Later on, when I was learning more about Dia de los Muertos, I was further intrigued by the same practice being extended not just to saints, but to family members who have passed away.
The traditions revolving around these two practices are different - shrines to saints have a much different purpose than those built for ancestors. This is something that I understand. But break the practice down to its absolute basic level and you have the same practice being done - a space is being designated for honoring and/or worshiping a specific individual. This practice isn’t limited to saints or ancestors, either.
A shrine to Buddha in Oakland, CA.
There are many religions that are polytheistic, in which there are further denominations, cults, or sects devoted to a more specific deity (e.g. the cult of Demeter in ancient Greece, or the sect of Bast in Lower Egypt). Even monotheistic and non-theistic religions have been known to construct shrines in areas as a means of honoring or worshipping spirits, or as a way of creating a space in which meditation can be done closer to home.
What sets a shrine apart from an altar is its purpose. While a shrine may occasionally be rather large and grand - it is often described as being almost like a home in some practices (in Shinto, a shrine is quite literally the home of a kami or other spirit) - a shrine may also be very simple, like flowers on the roadside where an accident had occurred.
Indeed, some shrines are built without religion or spirituality in mind. A couple of great examples of public shrines are the 9/11 memorials and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. They are non-denominational shrines dedicated to the memories who have lost their lives in combat or in acts of terror.
Where is the Line or Distinction?
If my description of shrines and altars sounded very similar to one another, this is because both are closely related. Both altars and shrines: are used for meditation or worship or honoring, are spiritual places, and can be very complex or very simple. Some shrines double as temples, and some altars double as churches.
Ultimately, we can use the terms interchangeably in many situations. But what I’ve discovered is that altars are generally practical and used for magic in addition to worship and may or may not be permanent. Meanwhile, I’ve found that shrines are usually permanent, used exclusively for meditation or worship, and usually to only one or two people or deities.
How Can I Use Them?
First, one of the most important things to consider is how you plan to use a space. Is it for ritual or is it for worship? Is it for honoring ancestors or for worshiping gods?
For me, I consider something an altar if I plan on tearing it down regularly for various reasons (my altar which I frequently picture is an altar because I sometimes tear it down for coven work) and if I plan to use it for magical workings. A shrine, on the other hand, is more permanent and may be used for worship more often than magic in my particular brand of paganism.
If you plan on constructing a shrine, who is it devoted to? I particular god or spirit? An ancestor? Then use materials on it that are appropriate for that individual and tradition. For instance, if I were to construct a shrine to Cernunnos, I may construct it of wood and place plants on and around it. Then, I may incorporate ethically sourced antlers or bones, as well as a candle or two, and possibly an offering bowl. It may also have an image or statue of Cernunnos, depending upon whether it feels right to do so or not.
If I were erecting a shrine for an ancestor, i would consider that ancestor’s beliefs. For instance, if I were to build a shrine for my grandfather, I would have Christian imagery on or around it, as my grandfather was Lutheran. This is out of respect for him and who he is.
In these two instances, I would have shrines for two different purposes - a shrine of worship to Cernunnos, and a shrine honoring the memory of my grandfather.
Regardless of the subject of devotion, shrines can add a particular bit of spirituality to any tradition. Throughout history, we have seen both altars and shrines erected just about anywhere humans have lived. We have a natural tendency to assemble images or symbols in one spot in order to more easily pray or honor someone or some spirit.
Perhaps a shrine is right for your practice? Or maybe an altar is best for your work. Work with what helps you most in your life!
The King’s Men are part of the Rollright Stones, a complex of three Neolithic and Bronze Age megalithic monuments near the village of Long Compton, on the borders of Oxfordshire and Warwickshire. Constructed from local oolitic limestone, the three monuments now known as the King’s Men and the Whispering Knights in Oxfordshire and the King Stone in Warwickshire, are distinct in their design and purpose, and were built at different periods in late prehistory.
The King’s Men is a a stone circle which was constructed in the Late Neolithic or Early Bronze Age; unusually, it has parallels to other circles located further north, in the Lake District, implying a trade-based or ritual connection.
By the Early Modern period, folkloric stories had grown up around the Stones, telling of how they had once been a king and his knights who had been turned to stone by a witch; such stories continued to be taught amongst local people well into the 19th century. In the 20th century, the stones became an important site for adherents of various forms of Contemporary Paganism, as well as for other esotericists who hold magico-religious ceremonies there. They also began to appear more widely in popular culture, featuring in television, literature, music and art.
On August 15th, the developers behind Layers of Fear will
release their new game, >Observer_. Set in a dystopian cyberpunk
world, you play as Dan Lazarski, a neural detective known as an
Observer. With your augmentations, you can hack into peoples minds to
solve crimes all while reliving some of their biggest fears and
nightmares. One rainy night you get a call from your estranged son,
seemingly in danger and asking for help. Once you trace that call to a
decrepit apartment complex in the slums of Krakow, your investigation
This game hit me just like Soma did. I wasn’t sure
what to expect at first, but the environment immediately grabbed my
attention and before long, i was immersed completely in the world and
its characters. With a mix of Blade Runner, Midgar from Final Fantasy 7,
the movie Brazil and the developers own unique touch, the gritty look,
feel and atmosphere of Observer are pretty much perfect. We’re talking
Rapture/Arkham Asylum/Tallon IV (Metroid Prime), level of detail and
quality here. While most of the game takes place in and around a single
apartment complex, its size and labyrinth like layout are deceiving. I
was often reminded of how Stanley Kubrick purposely built the
hotel in The Shining to be confusing and off-putting. You constantly
feel a sense of unease at the multitude of tight hallways with rooms that are
so close, or at such odd places, they couldn’t possibly fit inside the
building. While the observing (hacking minds) parts are interesting,
thrilling and a nice change of pace, the true star of the show in my
opinion is the incredibly realized “real world” aspect of the game.
Whether you’re going door to door learning about the residents, or
finding rooms that are open/unlockable and searching them for clues, or
simply just exploring this steamy, crumbling, wire-strewn slum, each
aspect is immensely enjoyable and rewarding.
Requested: No. But, I posted a text postbut the tags are slightly different than how I decided to write this fic. I didn’t want to do something that had already been done before and so I changed it up a bit.
Summary: When you’re called out on a case in Florida that involves BDSM, Spencer seems to know a lot more than you had thought. You had always thought of him as ‘vanilla’ and when he finds out he decides to prove you wrong…
Word Count: 1,994, Warnings: Swearing, Mentions of strangulation and blood, BDSM, Oral Sex, Daddy Kink, Unprotected Sex (wrap it before you tap it yo)
A/N: If you looked through my search history you’d probably think I was really into BDSM lmao, I got my facts from wikipedia so here’s the source… I don’t know why you need it but, who am I to judge!
“We’ve got a case,” Garcia’s heels tapped rowdily against the floor as she walked to the bullpen, both you and JJ following in suit as she grabbed the remote to start delivering the case. Everyone else was already sat at the table flipping through the dreaded pages, observing the bloodstained discarded clothing, still vibrantly screaming despite it being a photograph. You sat next to Emily wincing at the contents of the file as Garcia spoke. “Well, my crime fighters. This is not a pleasant one- as if any case is pleasant but, anyway. Two women were found in Florida tied to a chair with some sort of silk material, with various torture devices in the room with them. The C.O.D is not clear as of yet but the ME is assuming that they were suffocated based on the ligature marks on their necks,” she continued, clicking her device and bringing up the already horrid images in 1080p quality. “The torture devices you’re referencing could be used as a part of some sort of BDSM play,” you stated glancing once more at the tie used to restrain the victim. “Correct, there are actually two bondage harnesses I can point out in this photo. Also, if you look in the corner here,” Spencer pointed, clearly placing the photo in the view of the whole team, “This here is a bondage bed. It’s designed for bondage and BDSM play. The design typically falls into two main variants; a standard bed designed primarily for sleeping on but which has purpose built attachments for bondage, and a table-like piece of furniture with a padded top and multiple fixing points around it. This second variant is purely designed for bondage and would be part of a purpose built dungeon,” you glanced up at him, confused at his knowledge on the subject. The rest of the team holding in laughter as Emily proceeded. “Okay then… Wheels up in 30,” she smirked, making her way back to her office.
To the people who say we should not punch Nazis in the face
Philosophizing and discussing principles are all well and good, in a vacuum, but all ethics must have a practical purpose.
When we built this country we made a decision that personal freedom was important. There was an ideological axiom in play, but axioms must be grounded and functional. That is what gave us the Supreme Court, the decision about harmful speech, the famous “shouting fire in a crowded theater.”
Speech that invites riot, that harms a person’s reputation with completely false statements, that pursues a person with threats, that causes injury by evoking panic…these have been determined to be the practical limits of the amorphous philosophical “freedom of speech”.
But the practicality of a thing is measured by the world around it, which is always changing . To remain relevant, the practical arm of philosophy must also evolve. Fifty years ago…hell, thirty years ago, a man’s capacity to cause harm with racist speech was very small. Only his family and friends caught the brunt of it, unless a man was lucky enough to catch the one in a million break of obtaining a television show or some small fame. However, the world has shifted. Now we have televisions, radio, and of course, the multi-headed hydra of the internet.
That tiny sphere of influence, that crowded theater, has gotten far more crowded.
Now a man’s terrible speech can reach millions around the world instantly. It can utterly destroy how our country is seen by the world and other powers that already have difficult relations with us. One man now has the microphone to a concert-sized stereo sound system and is yelling “fire!” To an audience 7 billion people strong.
This modern technology has meant that we must adapt our philosophy, just as we do in connection with cyber bullying, stalking, online victimization. We must alter our high ideals so that they become tenable in the real universe. So what is the solution?
How can we inhibit the bad behavior without the removal of the rights we all agree we should have?
The answer is consequences. Because the law is slow to move and most men these days have become lustfully entrenched in the notion of anonymity and protected obscurity, they fear no consequences. This never happened until now. In the past, if a man wanted to make an opinion known, he had to do it in the open, because there were no keyboards and monitors, no YouTube and camera phones. So…It falls to the people, the society around them, to hear the things they say and indicate that the words are not allowed, because of the detrimental effect one man can have.
That is simply how it must happen until our law can be interpreted to meet the new age.
But a mindful person who understands why the philosophy exists, who embraces the concept of freedom but can apply practicality to themselves, knows that murdering a man for what he believes is not their personal right. This mindful person comprehends that actions must have consequences and the consequences of murdering a Nazi are the same as murdering someone else. This well-minded and rightly angered citizen refuses to be responsible for a breech of the philosophy. So instead of simply ridding the world of a Nazi and demonstrating that the philosophy of freedom is an unsustainable paradox, this person punches a Nazi in the face to teach him a lesson.
Seems fair. It’s precisely what happened when men only had real soapboxes from which to shout hate speech.
TL;DR In the modern era the audience is far larger and the world uses social media as a metric of how to interpret the USA. Racism and hate speech are no longer hidden things but have been brought to the surface by men who have become too comfortable with the anonymity of the internet - a thing which did not exist in previous centuries. The law is slow to apply itself with the practical adaptation of philosophy. Therefore, consequences fall to those listening. And those listening choose to punch rather than to kill.
The infamous ’Skyfall’ house from the 007 movie of the same name [2012 MGM/Sony/Columbia] is supposed to be situated in the barren rural lands of Glen Coe, Scotland, however the property was purpose-built from scratch at Hankley Common, Surrey, England. Interiors, designed by Dean Clegg, were shot on a soundstage at Pinewood Studios.
Jaguar E-Type Series 1 Fixed Head Coupe 4.2, 1965 (restoration, 2017). Jaguar Classic has announced an E-Type Reborn program and is offering an initial batch of 10 comprehensively restored Series 1 E-types for sale direct from its purpose-built facility in Coventry. The first E-type Reborn, a 1965 Series 1 Fixed Head Coupe 4.2, will make its world debut at Techno Classica Essen show in Germany on April 5-9. Every E-type Reborn, which starts with a base vehicle sourced by Jaguar’s E-type experts, is completely restored according to the company’s original 1960s factory specification.
I built the
castle with my own two hands, clueless, but hopeful, placing brick upon brick,
grimly satisfied and deeply shaken whenever walls tumbled and euphoric whenever
they stood. I had no blueprint, no scaffold, no leading hand – I vibrated with
insecurity, in a swallowed perpetual terror that a black swan might come along
to break one of my wings with his.
my anxiety by stuffing it with pride, remembered all that I had built and all that
was still standing. I became smug. Covetous. Sneered at all those who seemed to
build no walls at all. They were fools; naked to the universe and unashamed, while I
sucked on the piece of apple in my mouth like an addict. I needed to know. Needed to add floor
after floor, wing after wing, my hands often bloody and my tongue often thirsty
I met some people
who had built palaces themselves. I loved and hated and feared them. Some of
them lavished praise on my castle, their words turning into mortar and
fortifications before my eyes. Others seemed intent to bombard me; they loathed
my very foundation, the land, the air I had built on and tore into me with
But I did
not falter. I defended my walls. I grieved the ones that had fallen, yet knew
that it was for the better, re-purposed the bricks and built new structures
from shambles. I was tireless, breathless, each breath a brick, haunted by
black swans and the idea that my whole castle, my whole life, my whole work, could fall to
pieces and my calloused hands would mark me no genius and no pioneer, but a fool.
night that passed and every morning that rose, I grew faster and faster when
pacing my hallways and tracing my stones, panic electric in every step. I turned in circles, frantic, manic, perfectionistic, and when I had nowhere else to turn, I turned on the castle. I convinced myself that something so fragile and painful could never be true. I kicked
the walls down all by myself, proclaimed it suffocating and rigid and artificial and cruel
and wrong, hated how it had me confined, like a bird in a blood-gilded cage,
forever tied to the walls like some dumb creature of no understanding.
free and left. Just left. Like a child carelessly drops a flower once all its petals are
torn and there is nothing left that’s entrancing, I let it all fall to the
ground with a veil of detachment weaved into my eyes. Everything I had once
considered my personal duty, the source of all of my pride and arrogance and
self-worth, the very reason for my existence – I dropped it. I ran out of my
castle towards something that was deliciously not-mine: the horizon.
subjective. All was irrelevant. All was in a state of perpetual flux. The very
sky was my castle and I the black swan that defied it. I was one of the
homeless now, empty and free. I tasted numb fingers and soft hands and soft
hearts and soft brains. I let myself go, allowed myself to be swept away by the
tides of existence - from one shore to two shore to ten shore. I never
questioned. Never complained. Basked in the warmth of the sand and the light of
the sun, accepted the bite of the wind and the wetness of rain.
time, I grew dissatisfied. Was this really the truth? A life without any
attempt at understanding, at ordering, at classifying, at comparing, deducing,
progressing, building, tinkering, experimenting, creating myself? A passive
existence like that, forever just nodding and calling it life… somewhere inside
my liquified brain, I nursed a rebellion against my acceptance. I was a king. I
wanted to shape, to create, to lead and to conquer. I wasn’t made for swimming
along with a smile on my lips. I was born to bleed from my hands and to love
blood. I wanted sweat. I wanted the sweet release of laurels, of success and of
honour. I wanted my castle back. I would rebuild it better than ever. Slowly,
sluggishly, incompetently, I turned around and heaved my amorphous body against
the gust of the wind. I walked into the great unknown, first toes on soil, then
wading back into black water and swimming against a towering tide, all in darkness.
I had no idea where I was, who I was and how I would get anywhere, but I just
kept at it, pushing, crawling, floating, step after step and breath after
very slowly, in a crawl of time in which day and night seemed as one, I pieced
together a map of my world. I found oceans, jungles, deserts, snowy plains and
lush forests, mountains, reefs and abysses. I realized that I knew many of
these places. I had walked through them in my dreamlike stupor of blind
detachment, stumbling ahead without ever stopping to think. This time, I
rested. Hidden behind stone monuments, corners jutting out of the sand, stuck
between the branches of fir trees, I found bricks – some of them were my old
ones, carried far away from my castle by the wind, just like myself. Others were
new. I’d found them and tossed them aside without any inspection.
I traced every one of them. Some turned to steel in my hands, others crumbled
to dust and returned to the earth. Hands bleeding once more, I carried them
home to my castle. The more bricks I found scattered all over the world, the
clearer I saw my castle in my mind. I knew where it was. And now, I also knew
where it wasn’t.
Finally, there it was. My old castle on the horizon. It was reduced to ruins and rubble; only a few
trusty walls were still standing up to the elements. Without clearing off the ivy and
moss, without even stopping to dust off the floor, without looking around the
lower chambers at all, I collapsed on my cracked throne and breathed. It was no
longer one breath a brick, but a fortified brick every conscious breath. I have changed.
So, here I am, sitting in the dust of my own escape. Master of destruction,
disciple of construction, the king of the ruinous castle, and weep.
I know that
I will never be only a king again and never only a wanderer. I am something new.
I will wander the world to build my castle and my castle will follow my steps.
I am no prisoned madman and no homeless fool. I am free. And I choose to build
and re-build and re-build and forever re-build a home.
black swans come. I dare them. Invite them.
If I perish
with just one solid brick in my hand, all of it will have been worth it.