The Ritual & Magic of Altar Making
Oh how I love me a good ritual. The entire process – from conception to collation, from collaboration to completion – is magic, in its purest and simplest form.
Ritual is a potent way to connect with the natural world, acknowledge and align ourselves to her ever-changing cycles and guide the path of our life. When combined with meditation to clear the head and direct the focus, and sprinkled with lashings of current astrology and moon lore so we know exactly how and where the planets are dancing around us, it is both powerful and transformational.
Magic does not just happen, in this witch’s opinion, despite sparkly bumper stickers that would have you think otherwise. Connection yes, serendipity sure, appreciation and reverence absolutely. These are the things we often describe as magic.
Real magic is created and crafted, conjured consciously through our connection with nature; her cycles and seasons, plants and animals and crystals, the soil and the sky. This has always been the way of things.
Mama Earth connects us to the universe we inhabit and grounds us within it. Ritual adds ceremony, structure and a certain frisson to the everyday, rendering the mundane magical and the boring extraordinary.
There are just so many spells and incantations out there, for this is what ritual is. Some are dark and some light, according to the intention with which they were created. There are endless tomes written where you can find a perfect set of words and instructions and they rightly hold the most sacred of places in the pantheon that is spellcraft. I believe the most important part of ritual is that you do it. It is a practice and a devotion in no small part to the natural world and she is built on endless repeating cycles. We bear witness to the rise and fall and return of the moon, the tides, the seasons, our bodies, the planets, the stars. This is the wheel of the year, continually turning. Our lives are intimately connected to these revolutions as we waltz through existence, every little death making space for new life as surely as Winter cedes to Spring.
Altars are at the centre of dedicated ritual and offer a gorgeous way to focus intention and hold it, lighting a candle each day to illuminate your intentions for your life.
There is something truly enchanting about creating an altar. It is in framing a beautiful collection of the elements from the natural world, which hold specific meaning, that the ideas enter and are invited to manifest in your life. An altar will endure and shift, all at once.
I adore pulling together the elements for my ritual and heading out to the tree stump altar in front of my home in the country, where I am connected to the land and her changing moods and faces in a way that I was not when I lived in the city.
There is so much beauty held in the collection and collation of individual plants and flowers, pods and leaves, chosen specifically for their meaning and the energy they bring to my ritual. They are symbolic, well-learned and not one is chosen lightly. Individually and collectively they underline the intention and desire behind the ritual itself.
The secret language of plants is a fascinating world to roam. Through their appearance and their behaviour, plants have much to tell us and teach us. The doctrine of signatures from the time of Paracelsus reminds us that plants are constantly striving to educate us in their ways and uses. The magical language of plants proffers the same and invites us into a secret world where the energy of the plant itself, its purpose and dedication, its planetary affinity and stage of growth, aids your workings. Take basil leaves added to the water mopped across the floor, which invites prosperity into the home. Lavender and rosemary at your front gate for protection and clarity. Chilli to spice things up and chamomile to calm things down. Trees and their deep old wisdom.
On an altar plants are chosen to align with the energies you are working with and towards. Look first in the environment where you find yourself, at the plants you see waving at you in the breeze. Nature provides every single time. Look them up in musty old books of magic and learn them well, they are your current compadres on the crooked path. They know the path well and are happy to take your hand and show you the way.
Assembling and creating an altar demands your sharp, focused intention.
Watching your thoughts is key, in much the same way that we best watch our thoughts when we are cooking and stirring the pot – so everyone else we feed doesn’t have to imbibe our silent whinging about the day we’ve had! What you add to the altar is intricately weaved into its magic, so be conscious about it. As a child of Venus, each altar I create always calls in love: of self, for others who will sit with me around this sacred space, and beyond to the new, sweet places we can communally inhabit. It is not for nothing that love is regarded as the greatest force for welcome change.
By holding space together around an altar, where everyone has added their own offering, we create a sacred space swimming in crystals and flowers, anchored in water and fire. Sitting together here is an intimacy, as we openly share our hearts’ desires and the truest intentions for our life. Speaking words bravely and often tearfully out loud and each bearing silent witness to the dreams of others is a powerful call for change that is held safe in a dedicated space. It is an initiation of sorts, a step on to a magical path. What happens in ritual stays tucked in our hearts and minds and ripples through our lives for the days, weeks and months to come.
This is a take home too. Align yourself with the energies of the cosmos and the gorgeous plants and crystals that inhabit these verdant lands. Know your framework and spend time learning about the holy traditions of this precious natural magic. Reacquaint yourself with the lost worlds held in old books from the time before the post-modern Kindle apocalypse. Be fervent and true in your words and let them come from your heart. Remember always that ritual is for you and you alone and you have no right to influence anyone else. Sketch and take photos, scribble down notes and keep them in a dedicated place so you can follow what you have asked for and tick it off as it steps sweetly into your life.
This is the art of ritual. Practical magic, wrapped in the green world and starry skies, and on offer to you. For you. Dive in.