The Wicca altar and ritual tools
One of the biggest problems that Wiccans often face is their designation as neopagans, and, simultaneously but mistakenly, their designation as idolaters. Wiccans believe in the God and Goddess, and revere them by recreating themselves in the contemplation and enjoyment of nature, in which the God and Goddess represent their duality and power. In part, the confusion is due to the anthropomorphic representations of them, and the use of statuettes in some of the altars, which lend themselves to confusion with the altars of other cultures, by sharing similarities such as the use of candles, chalices and offerings. But the God and Goddess do not dwell at the altar. Nor is the Wicca religion simply an "esoteric branch", although the New Age world has appropriated many of its traditions and rituals. However, the use of magic, associated with the ancient images of demons and gods, only further influences this false issue of idolatry and the lack of understanding about the use of an altar, normally understood as a home. of the divinities, for the development of magical works.
We must not forget that there are multiple branches of Wicca (Gardnerian, Dianic, Celtic...) However, the Wicca altar is always a ritual tool, or rather, a central axis of it. We will describe here the default, standard altar, the most common, but open to all possibilities.
The altar can be fixed, mobile, or even removable. There are Wiccans who like to have a small altar in their homes, to frequently perform magical and religious rites. For their part, others prepare the altar exclusively on days of power, sabbatarians, or when they are going to meditate, make offerings or do some specific work. The only real requirement for these altars is that it be large enough to hold ritual tools and divine representations, whether visually clear or symbolic. It is recommended that it be made of some natural material (stone, wood, ceramic or even metal, always preferable to plastic) and although there are Wiccans who use round altars (a tree stump or the typical table with a marble surface), in allusion to the natural cycles or the goddess, the most common thing is that the altars are square or rectangular.
Before starting the ritual
It is considered that once the altar, as well as the circle, has been prepared, one should not leave it for any instrument or material. For this reason, it is common to use a small trunk or wooden box that is always on the altar, above or below it. The work area, whether indoors or outdoors, must be clean and purified. To do this, apart from cleaning with traditional methods, there are those who sprinkle herbal water, salt water or holy water, as well as ritually sweep: the broom is an element of witchcraft par excellence, but in this case the sweep may not even touch the ground. , it is rather a symbolic act of "energy sweeping" and air freshening, if the broom is made of aromatic herbs. There are also those who move a censer throughout the space, or a lit palo santo, as well as incense and resins in powder form or mixed with herbs such as thyme, rosemary, frankincense, or herbs related to the specific purposes of magical work. There are also those who pour salt, but only indoors, since outdoors it is well known that salt is dangerous for the fertility of the land. According to Cunnigham (2003), the visualization of this purification is what really gives it value, whether seeing it as flames, sparks, wind that carries away the negativity... In any case, all movement (lustration or sweeping) must be carried out in the clockwise.
Along with this purification of the sacred space there must also be a purification of the person themselves. To do this, it is enough to reach a state of certain tranquility, get away from negative emotions and feelings (all this, of course, if you do not intend to perform a ritual with violent or negative purposes; although this is outside the philosophies of Wicca itself. , is, however, something quite widespread). For this purification the Wiccan can take a bath, better if it is with herbs or aromas, he can meditate beforehand with a candle, he can soak in the smoke of incense burners or incense burners, or also play or listen to some music, but tonal, repetitive, immersive music. .
The role that the altar plays in all this is not only the preparation, but also its position. The most common thing is that the altar is found occupying the center of the magic circle and therefore is the center of the ceremony, or that it is located at one end, but in a centered way for the development of the ritual, as if it were a stage. . There are those who purify the table or support of the altar before covering it with the characteristic tablecloth or race. There are also those who purify the tools and ritualize them just before starting, while others purify them and keep them ritualized also when these tools are put away. Likewise, for those who maintain a permanent altar, frequent energetic and physical cleaning of the place is important.
Regarding its orientation, there are two majority currents: one of them orients it towards the north, as it is a direction of power, magnetic. Another orients it towards the East, like most religions, because it is the place where the sun and also the moon rise. Although the altar delimits the sacred space, there are those who prepare a magic circle (with chalk, candles, incense, flowers, crystals, rope) around it, closing the work space, which in turn keeps the symbolism of the goddess, of the universal cycle and sacred time. This circle or pentacle can be made or decorated with elements specific to the festivity, intention or season: for example, some Wiccans make the circle with flowers in spring, with shells in summer, with fallen leaves in autumn, and with pine cones or pine needles. in winter. Likewise, cardinal points are often marked with candles, incense, crystals or specific objects, such as Tarot cards. Just as it happened with the presence of the elements in the Tarot, in this circle their concurrence is also sought: the earth is located in the north, represented by a bowl of salt or stones. Incense or fresh flowers are placed to the East and represent the air. A candle or oil lamp is placed at the South point, representing fire. And for the West, a glass or cup with water is placed.
And although the magic circle is usually physical, many coven consider that it must also be energetic, and in the case of rituals that take place in a place where it is not possible to create said sacred circle, it can be considered created by the magic circle's own energy. practicing. For this creation, the main thing is tranquility, so it cannot be created if there are more people around, unless these are other Wiccans who are going to participate in a joint ritual or a celebration in which they will know when to participate and when to maintain ritual silence. The main form is the visualization of its creation, each one with the magic they consider they should give off. Some make the circle by walking, marking it with their footsteps, or making a circle, whose energy is believed to be maintained even though it may dissolve later. Others rotate on themselves, expelling said energy through their fingertips, drawing the circumference. Of course, this creation can dissolve due to lack of concentration or an element or person that breaks into the ceremony. However, it is the Wiccans who develop the ritual who must create a "door" through visualization (or some characteristic element that places it, such as two candles or two crystals), to exit the circle and end the rite.
Division of the altar and tools
The surface of the altar is symbolically divided into three parts: the left side belongs to the Goddess, the right side to the God, and the central part belongs to both and is where the magical work will mainly take place, although during it it may be evoked or refer more to one divinity than the other. This is just one of the most common ways, but the vast majority of practitioners are happy for everyone to organize the altar as they like. Pointing out this type of organization is an excuse to allow us to develop an article in which ritual tools are also related to the divinities.
On the left side, that of the Goddess, it is customary to place the cauldron, the cup, the bell (symbols of the Goddess's belly), the pentacle and the crystal, as well as an image or representation of the goddess: it can be a figure or some element with which the practitioner identifies it, such as a green, white or silver candle, a triple moon, a corn or wheat doll, a round stone or a witch stone, a shell... Water is also usually included. , either in the glass itself or in a separate bowl.
Regarding the tools mentioned, let's make a brief summary of each of them:
The cauldron, the cup and the bell are symbols of femininity, of the womb of the Goddess. The cauldron is the tool of sorcerers and witches par excellence, but for Wiccans, it is also a symbol of rebirth and creation, of cycles, and they evoke them when mixing ingredients, whether to create a mixture or simply as a ritualistic act of the elements. that they put inside. It is normally made of iron and has three legs. It is also used in divination, but as the main element, it is also decorated at seasonal festivals with elements specific to each one, or it is filled with water, wine, or heated to recreate the heat of the sun.
The same occurs with the cup or chalice, which in the words of Cunnigham (2003) "is simply a standing cauldron", with the difference that it can be drunk from, inviting the community or the divinities, or used for libations on the land. It also symbolizes the water element, an element associated with the goddess. As for the bell, it is a ritual element common to most rites and religions, as a musical element, and as a protective element: in Europe, for example, church bells were rung to ward off storms. It is also an indicator of the beginning and end of the liturgy, something that is also used in Wicca to indicate the beginning and end of the magical act. The ritual bells must be free of negative energies, which they will scare away with their sound. On the other hand, it is also a feminine symbol.
Rounded stones or stones with a hole, also called witch stones, are also a feminine symbol. Both its rounded shape and the holes, which once again remind us of the Goddess, are the product of the erosion of water, an element consecrated to her. The relationship with water and femininity is clearer with the shell, a feminine object in many cultures.
The glass occupies a separate place. Whether it is round or a crystal ball, it is still an object of reference to the Goddess. But if it is a polished, edged, or raw crystal, it is logical that it will be used in the ritual, or it is a crystal preferred by the Wiccan, or associated by some particularity with the Goddess. Let us remember that crystals are, in magic, containers, transmitters and receivers of energies.
As for the pentacle, its use has its origins in the imitation of ceremonial magic, which used it as a central and visual element of the ritual, centering it on the altar, in the same way as in other religions the sculpture or symbol of divinity presides over the altars.
The Triple Moon (which represents the three ages and forms of the Goddess), the corn or wheat doll (elements of the crops), or the candles are representations of the goddess that avoid the figure of the divinity itself, precisely to avoid that sense of idolatrous polytheism, rather than naturalistic appreciation.
On the right side, belonging to the God, there would be the incense, the athame dagger, the white-handled knife and the magic wand, as well as a representation of the God or a symbol, for example a red, yellow or gold candle, or a horn, acorns or pine cones. On this side, a bowl of salt is usually placed in counterpoint to the water. In other cases, elements of water and earth are established on the side of the Goddess, and of air and fire on the side of the God. If the cauldron does not have space on the left side, it is considered acceptable to move it to the right side, since the God is, in addition to being a husband, the son of the Goddess, and the cauldron, as already indicated, evokes her womb.
Regarding these tools, we can say the following about them:
The Athame dagger and the white-handled knife, as ritual tools, are placed on the right for a simple practical function, since most human beings are right-handed. There are those who have tried to find a phallic meaning to relate it to God, and although it is a good idea and image, the practical function continues to predominate. Let us remember that the Athame, which some practitioners personalize with runes, sigils, symbols, names, etc., is always blunt, never sharp, and is used to point, direct and channel energies; For its part, the white-handled knife, of this color to distinguish it from the Athame, is used to cut ingredients or magical ropes, "cut out" magical spaces, or engrave signs on wax, clay or wood. The only prescription for this knife is that it be used exclusively for magical and ritual purposes, preferably within the circle.
It was recommended to carve the magic wand yourself from branches of hazel, oak, cherry, willow, apple... Nowadays it has become an object found in a large part of the stores dedicated to esoteric dawns, and in addition to being richly decorated , made of wood or ceramic, even silver and gold, many include a crystal in the handle or tip, different depending on the purpose for which it is intended or the preference of the magician. They are used as compasses and pendulums to point directions, but above all to channel energies, to invoke spirits, to draw in the air, to stir instruments, and to bless or imbue an object with a spell.
The symbols of the God are simple to define: a horn in remembrance of masculinity and of the Celtic horned god himself from which his image was taken. Acorns or pine cones are phallic symbols, but they also evoke the seed or the place where it is hidden, referring to the God's own rebirth.
Incense is a substitute symbol for fire and air. Its smoke is also used for magical baths, to divine in the smoke (by shapes or directions it takes) and to attract spirits who like its smell, while it wards off evil ones, given to more sulfurous and unpleasant odors. The bowl of salt is more difficult to define, especially since not all Wiccans prescribe it for the altar, and in any case they use witch's salt. Salt, after all, is a purifying, defensive religious and ritual element that does not necessarily have a relationship with the God, rather with the Goddess, since salt often replaces the earth element.
In the central area, the different elements of the ritual can be placed, or some of those mentioned that did not have a space: the most common are the pentacle, the cauldron (which moves to work with it), oils, incense and candles, a plate or paten for offerings and a mat on which the other tools to be used are placed (runes, cards, herbs, crystals, fabrics, papers, inks, coins, charms, amulets...) Some covens have the custom of including a crystal or quartz ball in the central part of the altar, as a tool for concentration and visualization, and as a symbol of the Goddess. And of course, the book of shadows, where the Wiccan has not only his spells but his experiences.
All of these tools, it is understood, will have been ritually prepared and consecrated for use, whether through water, salt or moonlight baths.
As already mentioned, the altar can be permanent or can be set up for works and celebrations. There is a third type, which are portable altars, in two variants. Community portable altars, that is, those intended for public use with other Wiccan members, and individual or travel altars. The first are usually a type of portable tables that are covered with tablecloths of specific colors or with illustrations and symbols, or even large trunks on which the magical tools that are kept inside are then placed. The second, travel altars, have spread mainly due to their discretion, and basically consist of wooden boxes, small trunks or metal boxes in which what is considered basic for the ritual is kept: normally, they only include one or two candles, some tablets or incense sticks and matches, a small athame or knife, like a pocketknife, paper to write prayers, wishes, runes or sigils, some support with the pentacle or triple moon (although they also tend to draw it on the surface of the box, whether on the inside or outside of the lid), and, at the will and use of the magician, some crystal or some amulet, or some small divination method (a bag of runes, a pendulum ).
The Wiccan altar is not simply a ritual preparation. In other contexts of paganism and witchcraft, the altar is, to a certain extent, improvisable, and does not necessarily have to have the presence of spirits or closed divinities, until they are invoked as auxiliaries or as perpetrators of the spells' designs. And the presence of these divinities can rotate, while in Wicca the Goddess and the God are always present, in fact, not only as symbols or figures, but in nature itself. This makes the altar a meeting point, and not a place of worship, request or treatment.
Pietro Viktor Carracedo Ahumada - firstname.lastname@example.org
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