It’s easy to forget about tending our altars. I’ll be the first to admit that I have a long history of failing to care for it properly.
We’ve all been there — cups full of moldy libations and bowls full of crusty food, and a thick layer of dust covering everything.
My friend, The Wizard, made a rather astute observation to me once;
“Our altars are a reflection of our spiritual practice.”
How right he is.
It occurred to me as I was preparing my altar space for Ostara this year, that part of the reason for this is that we fail to see the importance of our offerings.
Sure, we all understand that providing offerings to the Gods and spirits we work with is important, but do we truly understand why? I would argue that the majority do not because we are from a culture that does not place importance on offerings that are not monetarily based — which, let’s face it, is just an excuse made up by organized religions to obtain wealth from you.
So I’m asking you to think about vodoun, think about santeria, think about the practices of buddhists, hinduists, taoists; think about all the cultures that feed the spirits and the Gods.
That’s what making offerings really is — feeding the spirits.
When we fail to care for our altars properly, what we are really doing is failing to feed our spirit allies and deities. If we do not care for our friends, why would they care for us?
If you’re like me, there will be a sickening heavy feeling in your gut at this realization. That sensation is shame. I’m not here to shame you, nor are our spirit allies. Instead, we are here to encourage you to listen to that shame and make a positive change in your life.
Don’t despair and wallow because you messed up. We’re human, we’re going to fuck up sometimes.
It’s like the plant you forget to water. You forgot to water it and now it’s wilting. When you see this, usually you’ll feel shame and berate yourself, but then you shrug it off and water the plant, reviving it.
Your altar is like that plant. If you forget to care for it properly, it’s going to wilt. The trick is to take note and change your behavior when you see it wilting. Apologize, acknowledge you fucked up and then do something to revive it. If not, your wilting plant is just going to die.
Shame is not a completely evil emotion, but rather an uncomfortable tool for us to recognize that our behavior is not congruent with the life we want to lead and who we want to be.
I’m not going to tell you how to feed your allies, you already know how to do that. However, I have some suggestion to help you improve your feeding habits.
- Regularly scheduled care — Notice I said these are suggestions to improve your “habits”. The number one suggestion I have is make your altar care / feeding of the spirits a habit. Maybe you don’t have time every day, that ok, make time once a week, or once a month, or change how you feed the spirits so that it is more accessible to you. Some spirits can be picky about Their food, but most will understand if you tell Them that you can’t afford to give a full meal every day or to provide alcohol every day. Just do what you can when you can. If you can only feed them once a month, do that! At least they’re being fed once a month rather than never.
- Daily prayer practice — In some cultures, simply giving your time and attention is considered a worthy offering to your spirit allies. In my own practice, I have begun a daily prayer practice. This is not a first for me, but this time I’m trying to make it a little more structured so I don’t stop the practice. I prefer to look at this as a daily work to intentionally connect with the spirits in your life. It’s nothing major, it’s literally just a practice to say hello to these spirits every day. By doing so you are showing Them on a daily basis that They are at the forefront of your mind, that you are thinking of Them even if you have a busy day ahead. — On a side note, this is a wonderful way of caring for your allies when you are broke or in a situation that doesn’t allow for candles and incense!
- Create a routine — Everything is easier when it’s a routine. By creating a daily routine, the process of caring for your altar (and by this I am pretty much exclusively referring to the actual feeding of allies via lit candles, incense, libations and offerings or prayers) becomes a mindless process. If you can automatically feed your allies on a regular basis, you’re going to have some pretty happy spirits in your home. Some of the routines I do are: -saying a prayer to the spirits of our home while watering the plants, -making a pot of tea after breakfast and giving that as a libation, -morning protection prayer at my altar before leaving for work. All simple options that make a big difference.
- Fail safe — None of us are perfect, myself included. This is why I always make a point to “deep clean” my altar before or on a sabbat. It’s a big event, and being a solitary practitioner for the most part, I will, at the very least, provide bigger offerings and libations on those days. This forces me to take a good look at my altar space. I need to make sure all my offering cups and bowls are clean and ready to go. I clean my incense holder, replace all the candles, and dust everything. By doing this, I make sure that at least eight times a year my altar is properly cared for. It’s like giving it a “spring cleaning” eight times a year. This is also a good way to check in with yourself and your practice.