While browsing through witchcraft blogs, I see a lot of posts about building altars on a budget. Those are wonderful, but I want to approach altars from a different angle. How can you make a functional altar that’s also beautiful?
Today, I’m going to write a fun post as a break from all the chaos. I’m going to redecorate my Hades altar and guide you through the process. If you redo your altar after this, post it on Instagram and tag me @death.witch.envy!
Determine Your Altar’s Function
Many posts about altars discuss the “purpose.” For instance, you may build an altar for a specific deity. Perhaps you want to practice your craft at your altar. Will your space focus on nature, ancestors, or something else?
But I want to take this a step further. What will you do at your altar? Or rather, what do you want to do? Perhaps you want to practice spirit work there. Perhaps you plan to create more jar spells at your altar, or you want to journal more.
Thinking about your altar’s function will determine the setup. For example, if you want to write in your grimoire at your altar, you’ll need enough space for your notebook. If you want to practice more fire magic, include a jar of candles and matches.
Write down everything you’d like to do at your altar. This will determine which tools you include and how much space you’ll need. If you need a lot of space (like I do), stack all of your decorations and tools in the back. Leave the front open for your work.
Sort through What You Already Have
While setting up your altar, focus on the stuff you already have. Don’t wait for a specific crystal that you want to buy in the future. Appreciate what you have--and get creative! Decorative boxes, bags, jars, sculptures, and rocks can make great altar accessories.
Lay out all of your materials so that you can see them. If you’d like, pinpoint what color palettes you have. In my pile, I have a lot of blacks, tans, blues, purples, and pinks. I decided to use blacks, tans, and purples for my Hades altar. Of course, you don’t have to make a color palette. But it can be fun to explore what combinations you can make.
Decide What You Need and What You Go Without
When deciding what to put on your altar, aim for the absolute minimum. Divide your stuff into three piles: must-haves, maybes, and no’s.
Your must-haves are tools that you WILL use on the altar. Don’t include tools that you might use; add ones that you know you’ll use. Remember, you can always add more tools later.
However, your must-haves can also be sentimental items. Is there a statue that improves your prayer? Or a family heirloom that makes you happy? Perhaps you have a crystal or candle that gets you in the “witchy” mindset. If you can’t imagine your altar without it, then it’s a must-have.
Keep out your maybe pile and put away your no’s. When you set up your altar, focus on the must-haves first, and add the maybe’s if you have room.
Related: Offerings for Deities: The Basics
If You Include Containers, Fill Them Wisely
Adding boxes to your altar can save space and look elegant. But if you’re going to include storage, fill the containers with stuff that you frequently use. If your box holds old letters or crystals that you never take out, it’ll only gather dust.
Before decorating my altar, I filled my favorite containers with tools that I need. The basket holds graveyard dirt, bones, and wands. The box stores my favorite crystals and candles with candle holders. My coffin containers have more bones and bone candles for my Hades worship.
Now, for the set up!
Establishing symmetry will always make your altar look put-together. If you have a long table like I do, placing items on both ends will signal where the altar begins and stops.
For my Hades altar, I have two candles that I use for death work. I also have two skeleton statues. Although these pairs don’t match perfectly, they still look symmetrical. They’re similar in height and appearance, so they frame both sides wonderfully.
Create Different Heights
If you want your altar to look aesthetically pleasing, vary the object heights. Include some tall candles next to short candles, or a short teacup next to a tall statue. It’ll entertain the eye.
To create height, stack boxes or books and place objects on top. For my Hades altar, I stacked a Konstantinos book and my old Greek mythology book. Both match my color palette and provide a platform for the rest of my tools. Plus, they were both influential for my Hades worship and death work.
Related: On Worshipping Hades
Arrange the Biggest Objects First
This step will make your decorating a lot easier. If you have a large statue, candle, or crystal tower, place that on your altar first. The smaller objects can surround the big objects. Plus, including large items will automatically create height variance.
On my altar, the biggest object was my obsidian scrying mirror. I placed it on top of the books as a centerpiece. The rest of my tiny objects can go around the mirror.
Have Fun with Smaller Decorations
After your large items are set up, your smaller decorations and tools go on. Experiment with different arrangements and colors. Remember, must-haves go on the altar first, and maybes can be added if there’s room.
First, I placed two bones that I commonly use in my practice. Then, I added a jar of graveyard dirt. Those are some of my must-haves because I work with them frequently. Another must-have was a purple Cerberus sculpture that my friend made for me. (Visit her Etsy at IntotheCaveCreations!)
The rest were maybes. A tiny Greek jar filled with coins and a black candle skull fit perfectly. In front of everything, I included an offering bowl for Hades. The altar is pretty, functional, and contains plenty of space for my death witchcraft.
Decorate Shelves Similarly
If you have shelves of witchcraft supplies, you can decorate them similarly. Place the largest containers first, and stack books and boxes of different heights. I’m lucky enough to have a bookshelf as my altar, so I keep all of my supplies underneath my altars.
If you’re closeted, store items in discreet boxes. That London box in my bookshelf has hid my witchcraft supplies for years. If it weren’t underneath my altars, nobody would guess that it’s witchy.
Related: My Death Witch Travel Altar
If It Can Go on the Wall, Hang It
If you want to save space, use the wall. Hang decorations that can’t fit on your altar. Install shelving to contain more of your supplies that you can easily reach.
I created a magnetic herb container out of an old advent calendar from Starbucks. I painted the container lids to label every herb. Then, I hung the advent calendar over my altars. Whenever I need some dried herbs, I can easily grab them. Plus, it makes a wonderful decoration.
Did this guide help? Have you redecorated your altar during quarantine? Let me know in the comments below!
Tackling the Fear of Death
I used to sleep with the lights on. My crippling fear told me that when I slept, I couldn’t fit to stay alive. I had this vision of someone breaking into my apartment and killing me in my sleep. Months of sleepless nights finally prompted me to tackle my fear of death.
This fear manifests in different ways, but everyone has it. It’s in our DNA. If this fear has interrupted your life--caused you to dissociate, created an existential crisis, or robbed you of sleep--it’s time to attack the emotion. If you need therapy for this, please seek out a professional.
I’m not a psychologist, and I can’t cure your fear of death. But I will provide the techniques that helped me. Remember that this is a journey, not a destination. Some days I feel fine, while others I stay up at night. We have to consistently work on this fear throughout our lives, especially as death witches.
Acknowledge the Purpose of the Fear
In my experience, many people treat the fear of death as a weakness. I used to say that I didn’t fear death because I thought it made me appear braver. But this emotion serves an important purpose. If we didn’t fear death, we’d drive 100 mph down the LA freeway during rush hour. We’d smell sour milk, and drink it anyway. No one would work towards their dreams, because if there’s no end, there’s no rush.
The fear of death keeps us alive. As unpleasant as this emotion feels, it makes us value life, and there is no shame in that. Perhaps author Lisl Goodman said it best:
“Our very essence rests on the knowledge of mortality From the building of permanent shelters to the invention of means of transportation to ever more distant places...all this is founded on our knowledge of death. If there were always tomorrow--if we didn’t know that our future was limited--our only goal would be the satisfaction of immediate, parochial needs, as we witness it on an animal level.”
The trick is to make this fear work for you, not against you. Thinking “life ends, so nothing matters,” will only worsen your life. The following tips will attempt to flip that mindset.
Define What You Think Happens After Death
What do you think happens after death? Take some time to write down, in detail, what your theories are. Do you believe in an afterlife? Are the afterlives separate for different religions? Do you believe in reincarnation? Or that you’ll enter a deep sleep?
Although this may seem arbitrary, it’s essential for the rest of the process. Some people find comfort in the idea of an afterlife and reuniting with Gods. Others feel terror at the idea of a conscious end. The next tips will provide support for all views, whether religious or otherwise.
When you are writing your ideas, remember: THERE IS NO “TRUE” ANSWER. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard something like “consciousness just disappears, and that’s a fact.” We DON’T KNOW what happens after death. Scientists don’t know, religion doesn’t know--no one knows. Treating your theories as a fact could lock you into a box of existential dread that you don’t need to be in. Be nicer to yourself.
Pinpoint What about Death Scares You
The fear of death is more complicated than many people assume. Everyone worries about a different aspect of death. If you want to tackle your emotions, you need to determine what they are.
According to psychologists, here are the most common fears surrounding death:
You may have more than one reason why death scares you. Write down your reasons, and remember that all of these fears are valid. There’s a logic behind them, even if the emotion itself feels irrational.
This is a technique that psychologists use to test what they call “emotion myths.” These myths are assumptions that we treat as truth, when they may actually be flawed. In short, you write down arguments against your fear.
Here are some examples for the fears I listed above.
These “myth busters” won’t erase your fear immediately. But they may create cracks in your logic. They help people realize that there may not be as weight to their emotion as they once thought there were. As a thought experiment, come up with arguments against your fear.
Write Your Own Obituary
Instead of discussing another person’s death, write about your own. Create an obituary for yourself, or write a speech that a loved one will give at your funeral. This exercise clarifies what we want from life, because it forces us to explore the impact we can have on others.
Try not to invent worst case scenarios in this exercise. Brainstorm your ideal funerary speech. Imagine that you’ve accomplished everything you wanted to; this will illuminate what you want to do in life. It will also frame death in a positive way, proving that your life will make a lasting impression on others. I still remember feeling inspired by speeches at my relatives’ funerals.
This is by far the hardest technique on the list.
“Cope ahead” is a therapy skill designed to relieve anxiety around a situation. In short, you imagine yourself undergoing the experience that you most fear. If you’re scared of dying painfully, imagine it. If you worry about dying unexpectedly early, picture what will happen afterward.
The idea is to brainstorm how you’ll cope with these situations. For instance, will you get medical support that alleviates the pain? Will you write a will that tells your family to publish your manuscript if you die early? “Coping” may help you realize that you can handle the situation, even if it feels like you can’t.
Some authors have added physical exercises to this mental experience. For instance, witchcraft writer Konstantinos recommended lying on the cold floor to picture your body in a coffin or at a funeral. Although it may sound silly, your posture influences your thoughts whether you realize it or not.
IF YOU’RE GOING TO TRY THIS EXERCISE, READ THIS. You must schedule “cool down” time. Coping ahead is an emotionally draining experience, and you’ll want some self care afterward so you don’t carry your strong emotions throughout the day. I didn’t do this the first time I tried it, and it messed me up. So remember to watch a fun movie, take a bath, or spend time with loved ones to recover from the exercise.
Also, try coping ahead in ten-minute intervals. Again, this exercise is draining, and you don’t want to spend all day imagining your own death. Right now, you are living. Enjoy life and make the most of it.
Before I Go, Let’s Talk about Shadow Work
Whenever I see metaphysical writers talk about the fear of death, shadow is the number one recommendation. The psychology theory comes from Carl Jung, who argued that the conscious ego ignores or shuns emotions that we don’t want to experience. By tending to this “dark side,” we can make peace with it, Jung said.
One could argue that the exercises I mentioned above are forms of shadow work. But that’s not what Jung would say. He asserted that the “shadow” appears in dreams, as it is subconscious. Acknowledging your shadow and identifying or “assimilating” with it is the ultimate goal of this practice.
I’m here to discuss the downside that a lot of other writers ignore. Some experts don’t agree with this philosophy. It isn’t practiced in modern psychology, and it doesn’t work for everyone. I’m not telling you to avoid shadow work. I’m saying that, before you dive in, you should assess whether or not this practice will work for you.
I’ll list some pros and cons for you to consider.
Quarantine Witchcraft: What to Do If You’re Feeling Unmotivated during Social Isolation
Have you felt too sluggish to practice your craft during quarantine? Me too. In this article, I’ll discuss why that’s okay, and how you can perform simple rituals to improve your socially isolated life.
If You’re Feeling Unmotivated, You’re Not Alone
It has rained all week. Every time I peeled back the blinds, I saw grey and downpour. Although I could easily walk in rain, it felt like another physical barrier between me and the outside world. Yet another thing holding me back from a fifteen-minute walk.
My logical brain has treated quarantine like a time advantage. “Since I’ll be home all the time, I should practice more. I should perform those rituals that I’ve been planning. And I need to plan for the next full moon.”
Instead, I oversleep one or two hours, and I don’t practice. I work all day and don’t practice. I call my parents, ignoring my craft. And then I stay up until 2:00 a.m. playing Animal Crossing--and don’t practice.
If you’ve been in the same sluggish, unmotivated boat, you’re not alone. We’re not robots. All this extra time could benefit us IF we weren’t stressing about a pandemic, separated from our friends and family, and bombarded with apocalyptic news.
We’re not “supposed” to act any way during this once-in-a-lifetime pandemic. This situation is new, hard, and unpredictable. When I finally stopped beating myself up for not following my “should” statements, I finally considered how witchcraft could benefit me.
How Witchcraft Can Help without Bogging Us Down
Don’t be surprised that you have to change up your rituals and routine. When you’re feeling unmotivated, focus on magic that tackles the problems you have now. Abandon the rituals you performed before this all started.
Magic uplifts our lives when we’re at a disadvantage. When we need a job, it gets us one. When we want a new romance, it sends suitors our way. And it’ll do the same during this pandemic.
To be clear, I’m NOT claiming that magic will cure COVID-19. But it can make our daily lives more manageable.
Determine WHY you're feeling unmotivated. What about this time is preventing you from practice? Is your emotional weight stress, concern for safety, or something else? After you determine the cause, you can use magic to tackle it.
Throughout the week, I considered my main problems brought about by quarantine. I landed on these issues:
The following are rituals that can assuage these problems. Perform them as you wish--remember, there is no timeline that you have to follow during social isolation.
For Health Protection
Magic has warded illness for centuries. In many cultures, magicians would seek the help of spirits or deities to keep disease away (which many believed were caused by evil spirits). Ancestors, health deities, chthonic deities, and nature spirits may aid you. Give them offerings and ask for help to keep you and your family healthy.
Folklore also references protection and luck charms. For instance, the Celts would place Brigid’s cross in their homes to ward off sickness for a year. The evil eye, Gorgon’s head, and horseshoes were worn or hung to keep misfortune away.
Other magicians would aim to redirect the disease. They would carve images out of clay, which was designed to attract the disease. Then, they would bury it far away.
There are far too many health and protection spells to list here. If you’re interested in more info, check out the Encyclopedia of Superstitions, Folklore, and the Occult Sciences of the World: Volume One by Cora Lynn Daniels or The New Encyclopedia of the Occult by John Michael Greer.
For Feeling Trapped
We stay at home all day--no one can blame people for feeling stir crazy. Although you can’t head outside (except for essential needs), you can create an “away place.” By redesigning your spiritual place, you’ll feel less trapped in the same boring house all the time.
Now is the time to revamp your altar. Sort through your magic tools, and throw out anything you don’t use. Hang different art on the walls. If you can, construct a blanket fort in the corner of your room that will offer a small “away place.” Obviously, this doesn’t replace going outside. But it can spark that desire to practice your craft.
For Negative Energy
For those who feel more down than usual, you may want to cleanse more often. The most popular method is smoke cleansing with rosemary, sage, lavender, or palo santo. But I’ll teach you a couple of different methods too.
One uses oil instead of smoke. In my experience, rose geranium oil works well, but you can use rose oil or rose water instead. When in doubt, infuse cleansing herbs in a carrier oil or water.
Take the oil and rub it on your window sills and doors. You only need a little bit; dab the four corners if you can. If a specific area feels congested, such as a desk, cleanse that too. If you have an infused water, put it in a spray bottle and mist your home.
Next is a banishing spell in case these cleansing rituals aren’t strong enough. Take a black stick candle and place it in a shallow bowl. (You may anoint or carve the candle for extra strength.) Fill the bowl with one inch of water.
Light the candle. Focus on the negativity leaving, and repeat the intention to yourself. Chant, sing, whisper--invent your ancestors or other spirits if you need help. Keep the energy high until the candle flame extinguishes in the water.
For Lack of Direction or Guidance
If your day’s schedule gets thrown off, or if you have no idea what to do with your craft, perform divination. Whenever magicians have questions, divination offers answers. It exists to guide people.
Even a single rune drawing or five-minute pendulum session can lend you more clarity. I highly recommend journaling about your divination results. In the past, I’ve received answers that I didn’t understand until I wrote about it.
For Blocked Emotions
“Blocked emotions” may need some explaining. Recently, my subconscious has prevented me from really feeling my emotions. I’d experience bouts of anxiety before it vanished seconds later. I’d try to reflect on my recent stress, only for my mind to go blank. When we don’t experience our emotions, they continue to build until they overflow. If you’re also struggling with blocked feelings, try these techniques.
First, consider meditating. Although meditation isn’t inherently magical, many practitioners do it before or during ritual. It slows down thoughts, soothes us, and prevents the mind from interrupting your experience.
Even an occasional five-minute meditation can make a difference. If you can’t focus on the breath, consider listening to a guided meditation. There are plenty on YouTube and the free app Insight Timer.
The second technique is self-cleansing. I’ll admit that, for a long time, I doubted that self-cleansing would make a difference. But after trying it, I found an unexpected benefit. It kept me in touch with my body. While cleansing, I detected energy stalls and blocked chakras that I didn’t know about before.
My favorite methods of self-cleansing involve smoke and crystals. Use a smoke cleansing stick or small crystal to move around your body. You don’t have to touch the skin; hover right above it. Drag the smoke or crystal across your head, neck, shoulders, arms--your entire body. Notice what you feel and where, then journal about it later.
There is no "right way" to handle quarantine. If you're feeling unmotivated or struggle to pracitce your craft, that's okay and valid. Consider why you're feeling uninspired. Is it a trapped feeling? Worrying about health? Or another issue? After you discover why you're not practicing, use witchcraft to tackle it. Just one ritual could make your experience better.
What have you done with your craft during quarantine? Comment below and let me know how you're doing! We'll get through this together.
Most Pagans begin their journey by studying Wicca, and then they may convert to a different Pagan religion. I was the opposite. I started my spiritual journey by studying Hellenic Polytheism, because I felt a close affinity to Gods such as Zephyrus.
When I was 12, my family lost our house in the recession of ‘07. We moved in with my grandparents, and I entered a long depression. All I could do was wait until we moved back home. For some reason, I felt a strong affinity to Zephyrus, the God of the West wind. In my mind, He represented a favorable change and would sweep me back home soon.
I didn’t connect to Zephyrus again for another dozen years. Now, during social isolation, I’m feeling the same way I did back then. I can only wait for change to happen. Once again, I feel drawn to Zephyrus. But this time, I want to actively worship Him with the knowledge of Paganism I’ve gathered over the years.
Worshipping a lesser deity is hard. Resources on the God/dess are sparse, and few blogs and books even mention Them. If you want to work with a minor deity, you landed on a good article. Here’s how I found information on the worship of Zephyrus.
Find Your Sources
Because few people worship minor deities, you likely won’t find offerings lists or worship guides online. So what do you do? Now, you have to go to the source. Read ancient texts and authors who wrote about this deity.
Search the deity’s name through Google Scholar, which will display verified texts from universities and researchers. You can also scour databases such as theoi.com. If you find an author who wrote about the deity, pull up a PDF of the work (if possible) and search the keyword. On my computer, I can type Control + F to search the deity’s name.
I’m sure this goes without saying, but only trust resources from the culture that worshipped the deity. Looking up ancient Norse guides for Sumerian deities will result in inaccurate information.
If you’re stumped, shake up your keywords. Since googling “Zephyrus” got me little, I switched my terms to “ancient greek wind worship” and “Anemoi.” Those brought up more results and authors that I didn’t find before.
Search for Symbols
In deity worship, symbols matter. They can become objects on an altar, prayers, devotional artwork, or offerings. Write down how your deity is depicted, even (especially) in ancient art.
For instance, Zephyrus is often depicted with wings, so we can assume that wings (or possibly birds) are an appropriate symbol. On at least one occasion, He was portrayed with scattered flowers across His mantle. Now we know that flowers could make a decent offering.
Write notes on any food, animal, epithet, or physical description of the deity. Although modern art can help, it stems from the artist’s perspective and may not reflect how the ancients worshipped the deity.
Read between the Lines
Chances are, the minor deity won’t have correspondence lists of offerings, symbols, herbs, etc. Most ancient texts don’t have those details in list format, either. Some records will outright tell you what an appropriate offering is (i.e., Orphic Hymn #81 attributes “fumigation of Frankincense” to Zephyrus). But if you can’t find these, you’ll have to read in between the lines.
For instance, a story in the Iliad details how Patroclus’s pyre wouldn’t light. To spur the flames, Achilles poured offerings to Boreas and Zephyrus. We now know that some of Zephyrus’s offerings were poured, but what could the liquids be? In ancient Greece, libations were usually wine, water, oil, honey, or milk. So we can assume that any of these liquids are appropriate for Zephyrus.
Even the “Weird” Facts Count
Never discount unexpected or weird facts. Mythology had several writers and a hundred different story versions. Many deities have several different representations, some of which may seem out of character.
When researching Zephyrus, I found that Oppian credited Him as the father of tigers. Not what I expected, but I keep it in mind. I also remember that only one author cited this (that we know of), so I don’t have to go overboard associating Zephyrus with tigers.
Take Your Tools and Worship
After research, you can move on to worship. If you haven’t interacted with this deity before, introduce yourself to Them. Speak or write a prayer, and express that you’d like to work with Them. Give an offering based on what information you’ve dug up.
I often receive questions about how to approach a deity for the first time. People want to know whether to speak formally or informally, what to offer, or what to say. They are (understandably) scared of doing something “offensive” or “wrong.” And I can’t give you an answer on what’s “right.”
Every God/dess is different. When first working with a new deity, be receptive to how They respond. For instance, while praying to Zephyrus, I sensed that He doesn’t enjoy flattery like my other deities do. I praised Him, sensed that He didn’t like it, and stopped. I didn’t get punished or ruin my relationship with Him; most Gods are more caring than that.
Your deity may enjoy informal speaking or praises; They may not. You’ll have to figure that out on your own. Before contacting Them, ground yourself, and remove all expectations. Give yourself permission to feel a bit awkward and possibly screw up. It’s all part of the worshipping process. As long as you remain respectful, you’ll be fine.
There’s also a possibility that the deity doesn’t want to interact. If this happens one time, try again. If it keeps happening, you may want to respect Their wishes. Not every deity/human relationship will work out.
Don’t Expect There to Be a “Right” Way
Everyone worships differently--even with well-known Gods who have millions of followers. If mainstream deities don’t have one-way worship, why should minor deities?
You will receive little information on your deity. Expect that. Know that you may have to improvise your prayers, offerings, and rituals. And that’s okay. Although research is crucial, working with your deity will give you all the knowledge you need.
Because resources on minor deities are scarce, you’ll have to work harder to gain this information. Follow these steps for the most reliable results.