I don’t usually write such long titles, but I wanted to make sure I got your attention! Now that I have, let me tell you how to create a beautiful altar with little expense and the bonus of being easily disassembled and hidden.
First, let me say, it is absolutely true that you can create an altar with items you find on a nature walk and couple of candles. Nature walks are great ways to find things like attractive stones, pinecones, and seashells. (Please respect the rules of national parks/historic sites and don’t take items from them.) City parks and public beaches should be okay. I found a hag stone on a public beach.
If you’re like me, you prefer an attractive altar that combines both. Pagan objects are hard to find if you live in a tiny town like mine. When the holiday season begins, dollar stores are great sources of little pumpkins, cauldron-shaped candle holders, mini Christmas trees that can be used as Yule trees, reindeer, and a variety of Christmas ornaments that you can re-purpose into altar items.
You can use a fairy figurine as a Goddess figurine. You can use an angel. Figures to represent a male deity can be harder to find. Deer figurines can be a solution.
You can find amazing things in thrift stores, and the inventory changes every day. I found my carved wooden box designed to hold cards in a thrift store. I keep my first set of Tarot cards in it.
If you just can’t find what you need in a brick and mortar store, there’s always Ebay and Etsy. Pagan items are often very expensive, but they don’t have to be labeled pagan to be used on your altar.
My advice is to put your money into a small (I’m talking teacup small) real cast iron cauldron with three feet to ensure it doesn’t make the surface you place it on hot. DON’T burn anything but a candle in a candle holder. I had a heavy glass ashtray crack just from burning herbs. If you buy a cast iron cauldron, please read up on how to care for it so that you don’t accidentally ruin it like I did with my mom’s cast iron skillet.
If you’re looking for Goddess and God figures, you’ll quickly realize how expensive they are. My Rhiannon and Morrigan were $35 each. Here are two solutions for multiple goddess figures:
I have the Dover book. If you want to know if a particular goddess is featured in it, please feel free to leave a comment and ask. It’s a high-quality book and the art is, to me, much better than the book that costs twice as much. Just please remember to keep your paper dolls safely away from your candles.
You can use a picture as a Goddess/God representation. Print out something you like and frame it. The Dover paper doll book has a Rhiannon doll. I have it in a frame on my Rhiannon altar.
I have a seasonal altar devoted to fairies. If you’re looking for inexpensive fairies, search for miniature fairies on Etsy. I bought three, one white, one black, and one Native American, and three little mushrooms with spirals on them. They’re meant to be decorations for potted plants and had thin metal stakes on the bottoms. I broke off the stakes by working them back and forth, then used a nail file to file down the stub.
In another Etsy shop, I found stars (pentacles) made from grapevines. They’re small, and you can run any type of ribbon or cord through them to hang them up. The same shop sold miniature fairy brooms. You can use a broom to represent East on your altar. It’s a lot less noticeable than an incense burner ;).
On Ebay, I found a seller who sells candles about eight inches tall in female and male forms and in a variety of colors. They’re meant to be burned in spells, but I use my green female figure candle as a Mother Nature figure. Again, keep them away from candles you’re going to light to avoid softening the wax.
Candles. Candles are often pricey and can bring on asthma attacks if they have intense fragrances. If you want a safe, unscented jar candle, check dollar stores and the “ethnic foods” aisles of grocery stores for candles featuring saints. You can soak off the labels in hot water. Just don’t submerge the candles, because water can run into pockets in the wax, making the candle unsafe to burn.
When you re-purpose Christian items into pagan items, you may feel as if you’re doing something wrong. This is leftover guilt from rejecting your Christian upbringing. Remember that these are inexpensive items sold in bulk. Unless it’s blessed by the Pope, don’t worry about it. I painted a white plastic statue of Mary meant for garden decor black and used it as The Crone. I have yet to be struck by lightning.
Setting up an altar to a particular deity can be challenging. I recently discovered a line of vintage ceramic animals, people, and objects called Wade Whimsies. A figurine was included in boxes of Red Rose Tea, sort of like the toys in Crackerjack boxes, but really charming and collectible. Luckily, there are so many on the market that you can usually find a handful for less than 10 dollars on Ebay. Last night, while working on my seasonal altar, I decided that I wanted a mermaid to represent West. I got on Ebay and searched for Wade (not Wade’s) Whimsies mermaid. They made a mermaid! Several people were selling only the mermaid for eight dollars. Then I found a seller who had the mermaid and several other nautical-themed items for eight dollars. Free shipping. Now, please understand that these Wade Whimsies/Red Rose Tea figurines are TINY. They’re smaller than a quarter but nicely detailed, and many have “Wade England” inscribed on the base.
You may be in a living situation where you can’t keep your altar up permanently or can’t openly display pagan items because it would create conflict with roommates or family. Or you may not have space for a large altar. These situations call for “stealth altars.” Miniature and innocuous items are ideal for such situations. A candle is just a candle. A miniature fairy is just a miniature fairy. A pocket knife with a black handle is just a pocket knife with a black handle. You can hide little items easily if you have to. You do not have to have an altar cloth with pagan symbols. You don’t have to have an altar cloth at all. If you want one, you can use a scarf or placemat. I have my fairies on a wicker placemat. Just don’t use it for any other purpose.
There are many simple ways to cleanse objects of old energies. One way is to burn sandalwood incense and pass the item through the smoke. You can also burn a sandalwood candle. Your intent is the key. Another is to leave the item sitting on your windowsill in sunlight all day or moonlight (preferably full moon moonlight) all night, depending on your intent for using the item.
I don’t usually write such long blog posts. I’ve just been remembering times in my life when the people I lived with attacked me for being Wiccan. And, even now, working as a freelance writer, I still find myself looking for the least expensive items. Sometimes I can afford to spend $35 on a statue. Sometimes I can barely scrape up $4 for a book.
I haven’t discussed books yet. As a teen, I checked out books about Wicca from the library and hand-copied the most important parts into a big, multi-section notebook. I still have it. Hand-copying information about the deities, the pagan holidays, spells, and reference lists about herbs and stones and candle colors is actually a great thing to do, because you’re creating your personal grimoire or Book of Shadows. Right now, I’m dealing with cold-weather utility bills and I’m in a freelancing dry spell, so I don’t want to spend money on printer ink rather than a book. I’m writing things down, saving them in Word documents, and saving images with info into my camera roll. When I my marriage was dying a slow death and my ex-husband was going through my things on a regular basis, I created a virtual vision board for my books on my iPod. I was able to keep the iPod out of his hands.
I am strongly against stealing art, books, and music. You can find Creative Commons imagery. You can make notes from online articles and library books. You can buy a song on iTunes. Don’t pirate eBooks. It’s the same as stealing a book from a store. 99.999% of published authors aren’t wealthy. Even if they are, don’t steal from them. It’s wrong, and it’s not acceptable behavior for a pagan or Wiccan or witch. We are better than that.
Items you can find at thrift and dollar stores:
- Vintage funky candle holders
- All types of figurines
- Unused candles
- Incense burners
- Handmade things
- Holiday decorations
- Blank books/journals
- Vintage fabric items originally used to dress up dressers, vanities, and chests of drawers
- Mirrors (for scrying)
- Geodes (large rocks broken in half to display the crystalline interior)
If you’re lucky enough to live near a used bookstore, you can find all sorts of books about witchcraft, and novels. I have two copies of Triad, the book that inspired Stevie Nicks to write Rhiannon, that I got for less than five bucks apiece at a used bookstore. One is hardback with the dust cover, the other is paperback. Most thrift stores have a used book area. Unfortunately, stores affiliated with religious organizations weed out occult books. They often miss novels. Just remember that anything you intend for your altar or for ritual use must be cleansed, because it carries the energies of previous owners.
Are you artistic? The most wonderful and powerful objects are those you make with your own two hands.
I remember vividly what it was like to hide the pagan part of my life when I was young and when I was married. I remember wanting an altar that reflected me and honored the Goddess at the same time. I remember hiding books. I remember sitting in the library copying things by hand from books.
Now I don’t have to hide anymore, and sometimes I have the money for a pricey Tarot or oracle deck, or a figurine, or a cauldron. I just hope that this post helps you if you’re in the same position I was 30 years ago.
P.S. Again, please ask any questions by leaving a comment, or follow me on Twitter and send me a DM.
Solitary Wiccans/Pagans often come to depend on people who present themselves as teachers because we don’t have the support system of a coven. When that teacher’s path changes, we can feel as if the earth has shifted under our feet. It’s comparable to a Christian pastor announcing that she no longer believes in a key element of Christian theology and will no longer follow what she has preached for a decade.
Two months ago, I wrote about Doreen Virtue’s conversion to Christianity. We should have seen it coming, I suppose, as she increasingly focused on Mary and Mary Magdalene, the Templars, the quest for the Holy Grail, and the well at Glastonbury. I was fascinated by those things for years. That’s how I discovered Doreen and bought two of her decks. I do believe that Doreen’s Goddess Guidance Oracle helped me connect with Rhiannon when I realized that a Christian form of paganism was not for me. Then she went to angel decks. I had absolutely no interest in them. What bothered me about her conversion to Christianity was her decision to alter her previous work to remove deities that she now considers “dark.” That’s wrong. Are her old, original decks now worthless? Not at all. If you’ve been using one or more and they work for you, I say keep using them. You may miss her teachings using those cards, but if you still feel connected to the cards, that’s good. They’re still a tool for you and one hard lesson of Wicca/Paganism is that everything created and named by human beings is fluid. I question my witchy world daily. That’s the point. I picked this path because I didn’t want dogma.
I’ve recently been reading books by a prolific academic author and teacher. Just when I felt I was beginning to understand what I needed to understand about The Morrigan, like not saying I wanted to “work with” Her, this teacher underwent a profound spiritual experience, and her devotion to some deities, including Macha, has changed. At first I was shaken. Then I remembered that I was drawn to The Morrigan, Goddess of War, Queen of Phantoms, and possibly the most confusing Celtic goddess of all, when I “should have” connected with Brigid, goddess of hearth, poetry, healing, and many other things close to my heart. Why did I physically reach past Her for a statue of The Morrigan? I only had a superficial knowledge of Her. I just felt a connection. That connection isn’t broken by this very knowledgeable teacher’s change of path. Her previous writings aren’t to be dismissed. Our teachers are learning, too, examining their beliefs every day, as we should.
A teacher can’t determine what path is right for you or which deity or deities you should follow or call on . . . only you can know that, and you have to learn two things: how to read the signs that a deity is calling on you, and how to trust yourself.
I read this article about The Morrigan yesterday and almost dismissed it due to this line: “Her breasts were believed to form the hills in County Kerry called Da Chich Annan (the paps of Anu).”* I thought that the Paps of Anu referred to a different goddess, Anu or Danu. Then I kept reading more and more about The Morrigan and it seems that she is behind many Irish and Celtic goddesses, and to try to pull Her out and stand Her separately would be to rend apart an ancient and fragile weaving. Damaging it would not damage her; it would damage us. We, especially Americans, try to fit the most confounding deities of all into our notions of Archetype.
We Americans learn a little about Greek and Roman mythology in high school. We have to take advanced university classes to learn Celtic mythology. Or, we have to learn on our own.
I did minor in Folklore at my university, but I couldn’t finish the four-year degree because my student loans were cut, and I thought it best to just work, take a second job on top of the job at the library at night after a full day of classes.
My first job was a clerk in the library, so I was able to continue my education on my own. I got a little lost in Buddhism in 2003. I did have a great love for Kwan Yin. I rejected it when my ex-husband turned it into a weapon–I was unworthy because I couldn’t “fix” my mind. I floundered about a bit and then went back to the first religion and Goddess I had known–Mary. I clung to Mary and Mary Magdalene, which suited my in-laws but not my husband–until I left him in 2010. But I still hung onto those Christian Goddesses who made me feel safe until 2015. I was living with my mother again, praying, studying the rosary . . . and we were hit with a financial crisis that endangered our home.
Many Christians would say it was a test of faith. I didn’t have that luxury. You see, the difference in Christianity and Wicca is faith versus action. I remember the date my faith in Christianity died. And what I came back with was a desire for power and a way to act to change my circumstances.
I turned back to Wicca, I acted, and I saved our home.
I’ve struggled for the past year with specific deities, all-encompassing deities . . . and two came to me at different times. I am moving, for a time, from working with Rhiannon to asking The Morrigan if She will work with me. As she calls to me so often, in the voices of crows and ravens, and the long black feather that I found in my yard, I think that She might have an interest in me.
Is what I want what She knows that I need? That is my question, and I will draw cards and ask for an answer.
Sorry for the poor quality. I took this with my iPod Touch. It’s a corner of a large (fills the top of a chest of drawers) nature altar.
I just added the pumpkin. I picked up the leaf from my yard. The object on top of the leaf is a miniature besom. My athame from Scotland is in the foreground. The little figures are miniature fairies, and you can see two miniature mushrooms with spirals painted on them.
The Goddess figurine, I bought on Ebay. She’s green and she has yellow accents from nature, like dragonflies and flowers, and a crescent moon on her left breast. She’s supposed to hold a tealight candle, and I’ve done that a couple of times, but She tips over too easily. At first I put stones in her bowl. Now I’m gathering seed heads from my garden and putting them in the bowl so that She can hold them over the winter.
I’m interested in fairy witchcraft, hence the miniature fairies, and I bought this book. I also like my big working altar with the green Goddess, the fairies, and the mushrooms just because it will remind me of the green time of the year during winter. Living by the 13 moons and the Wheel of the Year is healthier, I believe, than wishing it was spring, or summer, or fall. Almost no one wishes for winter. They associate it with bad weather and/or hectic holidays. The more that you understand each month’s moon, the easier it is to live by real time and feel connected to your ancestors. Changing the altar decor every month (adding miniature pumpkins or real gourds, pine cones, mini animals, real plants, leaves) makes your altar a living thing.
Many people don’t like a lot of things on their altar, but if you want an altar that’s a little world inside your house, you can find miniature fairies and animals on Etsy and goddess figurines on Etsy and Ebay.
I am Irish, Scottish, English, Dutch, German, French, Comanche, and Choctaw.
I have a deep and rich culture. My Native American blood is in my father’s family. He died two years ago. I hadn’t seen him since I was ten, and his family didn’t keep in touch with us after he left my mother. It feels strange, being descended from the invaded and the invaders.
I identify most with Appalachian culture: the Scots-Irish. My grandfather was a son of the Appalachians. A Protestant. After my father left, my grandfather put me in a Catholic school. It was the first of many gifts that he gave me. I learned that women figure in religion just as much as men. Oh, Mary and Mary Magdalene were denigrated, not goddesses, but I got that they should have been equal to Jesus, equal to God.
That set me out on the search that led to Wicca. I learned about the Celtic gods and goddesses. I learned that I had an indigenous European culture. I realized that my grandmother, Christian though she was, was a wise woman, and so was her mother. And my grandmother passed down some of my great-grandmother’s knowledge . . . cooking, healing, sewing . . . to me.
My white Christian grandmother said that my Comanche grandmother was a witch. She didn’t like my father. She had no knowledge of Native American culture. She gave me a box of photos, some over a century old now, and told me that I was the only one that she trusted to care for them. My father put a stone spear head into my hands. He found it in the Ozarks when he was a teen.
In one hand, I hold sewing needles and photographs, and in my mind I hold recipes and herbal medicine. In the other, I hold this piece of stone formed by the hands of someone who might have been my ancestor.
I realized that the earth itself was the connecting factor in my bloodlines. The moon and the feminine are essential parts of any religion to me. A religion that does not elevate the feminine isn’t real to me. Wicca combines all of the things that, to me, are holy. I study, endlessly, goddesses of Ireland, England, and Wales.
I read on Twitter that I can’t pick up a feather and a stone and make magic out of them unless they were handed to me. They were, physically, a stone was put into my hand, and I was given heirlooms and oral tradition.
Please don’t tell me what I can’t have or think or love. It’s taken me a long time to get over hating my father for abandoning us, but I claim all my cultures, regardless of which one calls to me in the most insistent voice.
Many of us got started on our path by happening across a book. My book was The Spiral Dance, but the original, not this 20th anniversary edition. I was 12 or 13 and I read The Mists of Avalon, and The Spiral Dance was listed in the concordance as a reference. Miracle of miracles, the local library had the book. It was hardback and had a red cover. I read it over and over. I photocopied long sections because I was so young and yet old enough to know that I would never be allowed to buy the book, at least for a very long time, until I became an adult. Now I do have a copy, but not the original.
My other favorite pagan book is Celtic Magic. As I mentioned in this post, it is a great book for people new to The Craft. You can find history, mythology, goddesses and gods, and ingredients for all types of spellwork in this little book.
Please feel free to add your favorite books to this discussion with a comment.