Altars Versus Shrines

The difference between altars and shrines is they serve different purposes.  An altar is for working.  It is the space a witch sets up for an esbat, a sabat, a magical working, or permanently for all sorts of practices (examples: divination, meditation, etc.).  Basically it is the place for transformational change.  In contrast, a shrine serves to honor a person, deity, or concept.  Offerings and prayers may be given here.  People tend to create shrines after a passing or tragedy as well.  It is more of a place to connect rather than to do magic.  For a lengthy discussion on both altars and shrines, listen to the latest episodes of Circle Craft Podcast.

Objects that can reside on altars include:

  • Ritual objects, such as athames, chalices, wands, cauldrons, etc.
  • Divination tools
  • Herbs, gemstones, or other magical tools
Image
A Pagan altar (source: thelivingwiccan.tumblr.com)

Objects that can be found on shrines are a little different

  • Offering bowls
  • Statuary, representative candles, or other ‘stand ins’ for deities
  • Objects strongly associated with the person, concept, or deity.  For example, dove feathers and peace signs for peace altars.
Image
A shrine to Persephone (source: the-telesterion.tumblr.com)

You may notice that some practitioners include shrine items on altars.  Sometimes a space can pull double duty.  On Mabon, my everyday altar becomes a large temporary shrine to Persephone because that is the center of the work I do on that holiday.  It largely depends on two factors: personal practice and space restrictions.

© Ariadne Woods

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8 thoughts on “Altars Versus Shrines

  1. Nice article.
    I usually like to think of my sacred space as a “Temple”. It IS usually a very busy place as I do a lot of my prayers and meditations there too. Though most may say it is more of an “Altar”, some of us view our altars as to also be our temples. (The presence of a statuary as well as other deity-themed placements should be a good indicator of this.)
    Another thing about “Our Temples”:
    Usually a great idea to rededicate and re-cleanse the space at least once a year. This, I view as most important, because it reminds me of WHY I have a temple dedicated to whomever I work with, AND just how important this sacred space is.
    Again, nice article and well-timed (for “Spring Cleaning/Cleansing?”).

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