I recently wrote about creating sacred space within Modern Hekatean Witchcraft for doing different types of workings, from prayers to spells. Another important type of sacred space is the creation of sacred locations including altars and shrines. Altars and shrines don’t have to be complicated or expensive. The most important thing is that they are a reflection of your personal witchcraft and devotion.
I love my altars and shrines, I’ve got them set up in various places around my home. The most important one is the central combination altar and shrine that is in the center of my home. It’s here that I have my shrine to Hekate that changes to reflect the time of the year and the various things that I am working on. I usually update it with fresh offerings at least every Deipnon (dark moon). If you’re new to Modern Hekatean Witchcraft, you might be curious about what to put in your altar and shrine. And just what the difference is between the two.
An altar is a holy place dedicated to displaying objects used for religious purposes. “Alter” means to change. I’ve seen it explained like this: “an altar is where you go to alter things.” For example, if someone practices Wicca, they might set up an altar with the various tools associated with their practice of their faith, like an athame, representations of deities, objects that symbolize the four elements or the four directions, perhaps a pentacle, etc. Basically, an altar has tools that are used for religious purposes like doing rituals or spells. Hence, you’re hoping to “alter” something by the work done at your “altar.”
I hope this makes sense so far because now I am going to complicate things. There is some “discussion” among devotees of Hekate and practitioners of Hekatean witchcraft about the appropriateness of the use of the word “altar” to describe a consecrated space that contains objects expressing worship of Hekate. The correct term for this arrangement is a shrine, not an altar. If the goal of the decorated sacred space you’re creating is to express devotion to Hekate, then the correct word is shrine, not altar. Certainly not “alter”. You can have them combined into one sacred location, though. It’s really up to you.
Generally, I’ve found that most experienced devotees have a shrine to Hekate, while they may also have an altar that displays their magickal tools. Personally, I have an altar that contains some of my consecrated go-to witchy tools like a mortar and pestal, sage wand, candle snuffer, etc. I’m not Wiccan, so I don’t use things like an athame. An altar could have objects representing a deity, like Hekate, if that object is used as a witch tool rather than to express devotion. For example, I consider my round wooden strophalos a tool of my witchery rather than an object of worship, so it’s part of my altar rather than shrine.
My shrine to Hekate is adjacent to the altar. The shrine has an image of Her, keys, and is where I put my regular offerings. The keys are symbolic of Her ability to open doors for us and I express my gratitude for all the keys She’s given me through the keys in the shrine. However, I also use keys in my witchery, so there can be keys on the altar if they are a general tool. I also put keys that have been infused with an intention in the shrine when I am petitioning Hekate for a specific thing, like a new house or to make me a more compassionate person. I also put photos of loved ones in the shrine if I am seeking Her help for them. The point of the shrine is for usually for worship or for petitioning while the point of the altar is for action. I hope this makes sense.
All this being said, of course, you can call your space whatever you please and use it however you feel led.
As for specific details about what goes on an altar or shrine, or a combo altar/shrine like mine, it’s a very personal creation and as such should reflect your unique relationship with Hekate (shrine) and your own witchcraft practice (altar).
Decorating your Shrine
For a shrine, you may consider a representation of Hekate, like a statue or a picture. There are some truly beautiful works of art available. I won’t post a bunch of links here, but I’m happy to point you in their direction if you’re interested. There is debate over whether the use of mass produced objects, like statues, are an appropriate expression of devotion. Some people feel that such objects are not worthy of Her image because they were most likely created in a factory staffed with marginalized workers. If you use artwork, don’t steal images from artists. There are lots of public domain images of Hekate, especially ones from antiquity that can be used. So, don’t use things that exploit people either through their work or exploit their works. Make sense?
Keep it Personal and Holy
Making objects yourself for the shrine is perhaps the most meaningful way to express devotion to Hekate. If you’re not artistically inclined, don’t worry about it. It’s what represents your feelings about Hekate, not how great the pic will look on Instagram. I believe that Hekate views our DIY creations as favorites because we put our love right into the object we create. My absolute favorite statue of Hekate is one made out of three Barbie dolls. If anyone out there made this or knows who did, please let me know so I can properly attribute this creation. I’m going to say one more thing about statuary, plaques and images: unlike in some Pagan traditions, Hekate does NOT abide in the object. You do NOT attempt to put Her into an object. Ever. It’s blasphemy. She is The Great Mother, Cosmic World Soul, Our Savior, etc. She does NOT hang out in objects.
OfferingsIt is customary to put offerings in the shrine, either those historically associated with Our Lady or those that are of personal significance to your devotion. Traditional objects include: garlic, saffron, oak leaves, food, etc, and my favorite, wild roses can be used as permanent parts of the shrine or as offerings. Typically, devotees decorate their shrines with offerings during Deipna (the new moon phase). You may use other symbols like dogs, or snakes, like having a dog statue or a snake skin. Right now, I’ve got a pelvic bone from a muskrat which is a relative of the polecat to which She is associated with in ancient texts.
Colors associated with Hekate can also be used in the shrine. The most common ones are black, red and white. You can have candles in those colors, pieces or fabric, or even make your own cut outs from construction paper. Other colors included yellow (saffron) and the colors of objects associated with Her, like green for oak.
You can include plants in your shrine, and they, of course, can also be used in your witchcraft. Plants associated with Hekate include garlic, oak, rose, and some devotees use poisonous plants like belladonna to represent Her dark aspects.
Here’s a table from The Three Keys Ritual summarizes the colors and other symbols that could be used in a shrine, or used as tools in developing a ritual or spell. Each of the keys is used to represent a different aspect of Hekate.
* Entities. I’ve organized this the way I see the various types of spirits that we can work with. I tend not to use these often, but instead work with specific epithets of Hekate.
** The dark moon/new moon is the Deipnon and is the holiest day of the lunar cycle associated with Hekate. All three keys would be used for a Deipnon ritual. To do a lunar cycle ritual, each key should be actualized during the appropriate phase and the ritual finalized during Deipnon, but ensure that worship is included since this is the day to honour Hekate.
*** Wands represents the triad completed, so this suit and the Minor and Major Arcanas should be used when all three keys are put together.
Altar Objects and Magickal Tools
As a Modern Hekatean Witch, I tend to create talisman’s, use knot spells, make other things, etc., rather than use candles, crystals, etc., so I don’t have many tools for my altar. I have drawers full of things like crystals, rocks, bones, cords, charms, markers, paints, etc. If I had to choose one sacred tool it would probably be my Exacto knife! Your tools are personal. Perhaps you use the tools of Wicca or some other pagan path. For example, many Pagan paths use the blade (like an athame or a sword) and a chalice to both represent female and male energy and as practical tools. A person could use the sword to cast a circle or to symbolically cut ties with a toxic individual. In either case, the sword from the altar is being used as a tool.
Cleansing and Consecrating Objects and Tools
Regardless of whether it’s tools for your altar or objects for your shrine, everything needs to be cleansed and consecrated. Cleansing usually involves removing other energy from the object and infusing it with the intended energy. You can cleanse in many ways. I usually smoke objects using a combo of sage, garlic and plants appropriate for the energy I wish to place in the object. If an object feels particularly wonky, I’ll put it in a black bag once I’ve cleansed it and keep it there until the energy clears. I once kept a deck of Tarot cards in a bag for a year! For me, everything gets consecrated in Hekate’s name. I usually ask Her blessing on my tools and pray for Her to guide my use of them. For the shrine, I ask that She accept them as tokens of my devotion.
Altars and shrines are not static. They can change based on your current relationship with Hekate, the tools you use, the specific intention you have or the particular aspect of devotion being expressed. As we grow in devotion to Hekate and develop our witchery, our outward expressions of both change. What is ultimately the most important thing to have in a shrine or on an altar are objects that are of great importance to you.