Today I’m going to talk about the difference between an altar and a shrine. Many people use the terms interchangeably, but I see differences to each of them. Later this week a post will be going up on how to clean shrines – not written by me – so make sure to check that out!
First up: altars. To me, an altar is a place where I can honor the Divine, the Elements and can place any sacred items. It is the meeting place for my circles.
My permanent altar my main sacred space. It is where I perform my main ritual and spell work. I am lucky enough to be able to have a permanent altar space, but for those of you who can’t – never fear! Portable altars are just as good! A shoe box filled with the basic items you need will work. Or you can use a small suitcase, a make up bag, or a fancy wooden box. I’ve even had a mini altar with mini versions of everything in a decorated Altoids tin!
My altar is nearly constantly changing. It is a place for working spells and for a bunch of other stuff. Nearly every week there are new decorations (faux flowers are great for year round decorating.)
Now a shrine is a little different. A shrine is an altar, but it is an altar with a specific purpose and only for that purpose. I always think of Asian paths, such as shrines to Buddha where there is a Buddha statue and only things that are gifts or offerings for Buddha belong on/near the shrine. Just as there are ancestor shrines and offerings to the ones who have come before us are honored only. Shrines can be for anything, such as to the Virgin Mary outside in a small shelter, on a table in a living room, or by a roadside where someone has passed away. Unlike altars where many things go on and the objects change, and the space can be used as a preparation area for ritual, a shrine is a dedicated, sacred space that is to be used for the intended purpose only.
I have a shrine to Buddha, and there is a plate with coins on it near Him. I wouldn’t do any spellwork on that shrine, since it’s solely for the purpose of honoring Buddha.
Sort of how all squares are rectangles, but all rectangles are squares. It can be a little confusing, I know!
Also, you can have an outdoor sacred space! As I mentioned in the Shrines section, a shrine can be placed outside and you can use outdoor ornaments and plants to honor a deity or theme or person. One of the obvious places we find these is in cemeteries. Usually around graves of children or important (or famous) people. Those who come to pay tribute to these people place gifts or decoration to show others how important these people were to them.
Outside altars are not something new, but in this day and age are not as common as they once were. The reason for this is because any more it is harder to have privacy outdoors as it once was. Unless you own a large parcel of land you might have a lot of close contact with your neighbors making it difficult to keep prying eyes away from what you are working on.
I have a small outdoor glass topped table with a fairy statue, a mini wooden bench to hold a plant and a geode. I usually place shelled peanuts on the table for birds and squirrels to get to.
That’s my take on it! What sort of sacred spaces do you have? I’d love to hear from you – make sure to comment below!