by: Sen Elias
It all began when I was only twelve years old, that’s when I built my first altar. It was as simple as an altar could be, a single white taper candle on a nightstand in my childhood bedroom marked my sacred space. I’d just started on my spiritual path and I’d seen elaborate altars that I wish I was able to create. Statues to deities, intricate tools, magical oils and rare herbs is what a witch’s altar was supposed to look like in my mind. I knew my parents wouldn’t stand for overt witchcraft practiced in their house, and honestly I didn’t want to explain it to them. I figured that a single candle was unassuming enough and wouldn’t draw any unwanted attention. I worried that the single candle wasn’t enough, but it was the best that I could do.Doing something was better than doing nothing right?
Looking back at those first steps to what has become a strong and fulfilling practice, I’m grateful that I didn’t have the freedom or resources to build an elaborate working space. The simplicity of my one candle taught me that my connection to spirit does not rely on fancy statues or expensive tools. True dedication and commitment to my craft created the relationship I now have with my deities and that was all I needed, the candle was only an anchor and it focused the power that I was tapping into.
Everynight and everyday I lit my candle and made the time to meditate and pray at my little makeshift altar. When that candle flame was dancing nothing else mattered, it was just me and my gods. Even though I was passionate, making the time to communicate wasn’t always easy. I was very young, so I had more time than an adult, but still there were other things I would rather be doing at times. There were days I had to make my practice a priority.
Working at an altar is a practice of maintaining consistency. The daily decision to be an active participant in your spiritual growth is half the battle. Without your attention, an altar is only a hollow representation of a stale relationship. I’ve heard it said that a dusty altar is a dusty practitioner, and I agree that a sacred space is only as good as the person using it.
Over the years I have had the pleasure of building beautiful altars, but I always keep in mind that the honor I bring to the altar is more important than anything on that altar.
The altar that I’m presenting at this Day of the Dead gathering is very special to me, it represents years of hard work and dedication to my craft. I ask that when you approach the altar that you do it with respect, keeping in mind that it is an extension of my devotion to the powerful deities that I have taken an oath to honor.
I created this altar to share with you what witchcraft means to me. I am an initiated priest of the Alexandrian Tradition of Witchcraft and my personal relationship is expressed through the lense of that tradition. While I cant share every aspect of my craft, I do hope that the spirit of it can be felt through my altar.
Original Drawing of Altar Layout
Explanation of the altar from top to bottom
The symbol of the pentagram can be found in many magical/ mystery traditions. My personal understanding of it is as a spiritual map for the witch. Within the pentagram there is a representation of Goddess and the God, the four elements and a key to summon or banish spirits. Essentially the pentagram contains the entire altar and everything else is further detail pointing to the mysteries that it holds.
The Lord of Death
Witchcraft is a fertility religion and we honor the duality that exist in all thing including life and death. As the seasons change our awareness focuses on specific expressions of our gods according to the season. In October our God travels to the underworld and he teaches us lessons about the impermanence of life. During this time, the Lord of Death allows us to have easier communication with our ancestors and the loved ones that we have lost. While his image is imposing and even scary to some, he teaches us to move past our fears in order to survive the cold and barren winter months to come. The Lord of Death always comes with a secret promise of rebirth and new life, reminding us to focus on family and household matters.His color cloth is black.
Mask have always kept secrets and on this altar they represent the mysteries that come after initiation. The true faces of the spirits that are commanded in witchcraft circles are hidden to the non initiated. The mask also represent our ancestors which are also hidden in the physical world. Although we cannot see them, we can still interact with them at this time of the year.
The tools on this altar are used in witchcraft practice. They are an extension of a witches willpower, integrity, stability and resilience in the world. Through these tools magic is worked and spirits are commanded. No witchcraft altar is complete without these spiritual weapons present. The altar cloth is red for the fiery determination necessary to wield the tools. It also represents the blood that was sacrificed on our behalf by all of the elders that practiced before us, our ancestors through initiation.
The herbs, oils and curios that are placed at the bottom of the altar express how witches understand magical practice and its place in our religion. For us, magic is a force that flows from the Gods. Through our witchcraft lineage we are given the wisdom to use the gift of magic to our advantage. The altar cloth is white to represent the Moon. Witchcraft is a lunar cult which operates by the phases of the moon and honors Goddesses of the moon. It is the Goddess who teaches us how to operate invisible powers and gives us the authority to cause change through magical operations.
The three tires of the altar also represent the three degrees of initiation and elevation within the coven structure. As we continue to study and practice, new mysteries are revealed to us and more difficult lessons are learned and then mastered. Through each tier we strengthen our connection to our gods and discover new depths within ourselves. The colors of white, black and red seen through the altar represent the purity of ignorance, the blood spilled to gain experience and the solitude of wisdom.
The Alexandrian Tradition of Witchcraft is a lifelong devotion to understanding the dance of life itself. We honor the Goddess and God as polarities that maintain balance and cause the tides of both creation and destruction. In the Samhain season, witches fearlessly accept their mortality. We find the inner strength to push forward despite adversity because as surely as the seasons change so does death follow life in an endless cycle of the eternal spirit.