Tending an altar, for me, is a lot like tending a garden. I actually have two little live plants in matching bud vases on my altar. They’re chrysanthemum sprigs. Somehow they rooted, even though they never get any sun.
When you tend an altar, you remove the burned down candles daily. I keep a tall white jar candle on my altar all the time and replace it each new moon even if it’s only burned down a little. I keep the old ones in case there’s a power outage. I sometimes use votive candles for special things. The best way to get them out of a glass holder is to fill the holder with hot water from the sink (NOT boiling water) and wait 15 or 20 minutes. The candle wax will separate from the holder. If it comes out in a big piece and you can’t get it out of the holder, repeat the hot water so that it softens and you can bend or break it. Let the holder return to room temperature before you use it again.
I make sure my little plants have plenty of water. I empty and refill the little ceramic bowl of water I keep on the altar. I remove the ashes of the incense. It has quickly become a relaxing ritual, tending the altar.
Everyone’s altar should be different. It doesn’t have to look like the standard pagan altar layout you’ll see in a lot of books about Wicca. You can have any goddess image that makes you happy. I don’t have a god image on my altar. Most men frighten me. If you’re a man and you’re reading this and you would never dream of doing anything to harm a woman, I ask you not to be offended and understand that my fear comes from being abused by my father and ex-husband and verbally assaulted by so many man online.
I like a lot of things, a lot of trinkets, a lot of color. My altar is bright and looks like a summer garden. I finally met the Goddess who touches my mind, heart, and soul. I have a gorgeous statue of Her. In Her mythology, She was a queen. When I speak to Her in my mind, I call Her “Great Queen.” She was also the subject of a horrifying lie and abused by Her husband because of it. She bore up under the abuse and was vindicated. That is one reason, I think, that She came to me.
I have paper dolls on my altar (away from the candles.) The only thing I have that isn’t bright and lovely is and old tarnished silver tray that I keep under my incense burner. It belonged to my grandmother. So did the big old tatted doily that I use as an altar cloth. I found a wooden incense burner–at Walmart, of all places–with a gold butterfly on it. Sitting in front of my altar is a lot like sitting on my porch looking at my summer garden.
I have had depression for many years and often have no motivation to do anything, but every day I tend the altar. It’s a small thing, but it’s something, and it makes me feel grounded and connected to something good and beautiful when the world outside is descending into madness.