Maintaining the Altar

I cleaned the altar today.

It’s a three-shelf bookshelf that The Boyfriend and I purchased at Target when we were first moving it. I wanted a better place to keep my spiritual books and keep them “out of sight” in case mixed company came to visit, namely The Boyfriend’s parents. They know I’m Pagan but I don’t go out of my way to rub it in their faces as they are Lutheran and, to be honest, I’m pretty sure it makes them uncomfortable.

Besides, it means no one is messing with my books. I like it that way.

On top of the bookcase is where I put my altar. There is no altar cloth, though maybe there will be in the future. For now, it’s just bare wood-like substance and it’s just the right height for me to do work at it, which is what the altar is for.

Last fall, Teo Bishop wrote an article on daily practice and how it can be as simple as lighting a candle every day and blowing it out. That stuck with me, as I had been trying to think of ways to deepen my practice. I could light a candle once a day. It’s not asking a lot.

In the beginning, it wasn’t. I began doing it once a day and as time went on, I expanded it to three times a day. I would light a stick of incense, breathe three times, and then blow out the candle and stamp out the incense. Eventually, I began to light more candles, some that represented a specific deity and some that represented a concept of my practice. I would carve a sigil into the lead candle to incorporate a little magic into the ritual, anoint it with a touch of oil on the wick, and light it. It was simple, though it may seem complicated, and it was mine.

And then last winter I had a panic attack about some of the things around my altar. You see, I have OCD and sometimes this happens. My mind labels something as “Dirty” and I avoid it at all costs. Sadly, something on my altar was labeled as Dirty and I had to clean and clean but nothing felt clean there anymore. So I stopped using my altar.

I grew complacent with my non-practice again.

But Monday night I got a text from a friend. She had just moved to Washington state and was looking for a job. We talked for awhile and then she asked me if I wouldn’t mind doing a spell for her, to help her get the job. I agreed and then realized I would want to use my altar for the spell. Well, that meant I needed to clean it and around it.

On Wednesday, I salted the floor around the altar and much of that side of the bedroom, including in front of the bed. Luckily our room is set up to where that isn’t a problem and we could still use the bedroom without getting salt all over our feet. Which, let me tell you, isn’t fun. It was only today that I finally vacuumed it up and sprayed the floor with some of my beloved antibacterial Febreeze. (Seriously, this stuff is a godsend and makes my OCD life so much easier to deal with.) But I still needed to clean the altar. It had grown dusty from lack of use, my materials faded under the layer of dust and ash that had settled there since I last used it. It would need to be cleaned, again.

As I poured some of the floor wash that I use for sacred cleaning (more on that in a future post), I began to feel more relaxed. Cleaning is a chore for me, literally and emotionally, but there is also something sacred to it. As I wiped down my statuary, candle holders, and other tools with the lemon and vinegar soaked rag, I thought about how I was washing away the spiritual clutter that had been attached to it. It refreshing, both literally and figuratively. I relaxed and washed it all down, wiped the dust that had settled on the altar, and left my things to dry in the sun that’s actually shining today. It’s been cloudy and rainy for awhile now, so I’m pleased Apollo has decided to show his face again.

Soon, I will go back into the bedroom and begin to rearrange the altar once more. I will leave new offerings of honey and sugar with a bit of salt for the Fae folk. I will fill the Deity glass with some of my personal stores of alcohol: hard apple cider and sweet tea vodka. I could offer The Boyfriend’s beer, but it wouldn’t be the same. The gods and goddesses will get their glass and I will get mine and together we will begin anew in this new year.

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