A Birth Altar

A Birth Altar July 8, 2011


Our son was conceived very deliberately in a ritual designed to bring forth the baby that visited my partner and myself in a series of dreams. So when the time came for birth preparation, of course we wanted to have him born that way-intentionally and in a sacred context. One of the ways we devised to make that happen is to design and build a birth altar. I have several different kinds of altars in my home- some are for specific deity or the dead, and some altars that hold “works in progress”.

To me, a “working altar” is for a specific project and the items placed on it have symbolic and religious value that contribute to that project. For example, when making a wand, I not only had elemental reminders of air and its attributes on that working altar, but also all the materials to construct and consecrate the new tool until the work was finished.

Because we were planning on giving birth at a birth center or hospital, we realized that we would not have space to craft an altar from scratch- that is, build the structure on or in which the items would be displayed, like a shrine. So we decided to stick with a limited amount of items, that could be configured in any number of ways, depending on where we ended up and how much space we were allotted. We opted for items that could be configured on any tabletop.

Those doing a home birth can take this process many steps further and build a shrine if they so choose and take up as much space as their living quarters allow. (Another nice thing about a home birth altar is that you can start building it during the pregnancy and use it for multiple evolving purposes: as a place to focus on a healthy baby, as a place for ease and comfort of the mother, a place to commune with your unborn child, and and place to assemble collected items from here and there, until the grand moment arrives.

So what goes onto a birth altar? That is really up to the people involved, as it is a deeply personal choice. I can tell you what I placed on mine for inspiration:

  • Statuary/Tangible items that invoke a deity, spirit or being: There were specific deity that had been involved in my son’s conception that we invited to the birth- so we had specific reminders of hir. In addition, I also placed a brass figure of Sheela-Na-Gig, opening her vulva wide for the world (to use as visual inspiration for me and my coming work). We also had animal allies on the altar for personal spiritual work reasons: wolves and doves, crows and foxes.
  • Charms, Talismans, Other kinds of spells: We also had lots of help from our religious community to help move my placenta previa while I was pregnant (so that I could have a vaginal birth instead of a C Section), and there were many charms and talismans given to us from Witches all over the world as a result. We felt that these spells needed to see this magick working to fruition, so they all went onto the altar.I also made a few talismans myself during my pregnancy: one to keep me peppy during general labor, and one to keep my stamina and strength for transition and “push time”. My plan was to have my doula show them to me at key moments while I labored.
  • Altar Cloth: I was given a lovely cloth that was wrapping a gifted talisman for my pregnancy, so we decided this would be our logical altar cloth (Bonus, it was covered in a print of pomegranates!).
  • Candles: If you will be laboring outside your home, check with the location to see if a candle or candles would be OK. We bought a massive green pillar that we lit during labor, to welcome our son. We intentionally bought a big one, because we used it again on his first birthday and will ritually continue to use it at every birthday until it is gone. Should last until he is at least 18, since it is only lit for a few hours at a time.If candles are not an option for you, you could try battery operated ones. A neat trick I just discovered instead of fake candles: place a few drops of coloring in the base of a clear glass that represents that which you are invoking. At the moment of invocation, pour water into the glass and get a pillar of color on your altar representing a being or spell you desire!
  • Gifts for the baby: During my baby shower, I asked people to place wishes for my son and the new family that was being created by his birth into stones they held in their hands for a while and then placed into a glass vessel. I have that vessel displayed at home now, near a picture of him- but I also had it on the birth altar. I also had some gifts that were going to be Rowan’s first outfit and ornament. I bought my son an amber necklace before he was born, as I wanted him to wear it daily (and now that he is actively teething it is extra important!

Things that I did not include, but you may want to include:

  • Music (You may want several playlists reflecting several moods, in case the music you chose outside of a labor context does not work for you in the moment.)
  • Anointing oils (for mother and other adults involved in birthing ritual, please consult an herbalist and/or midwives before anointing a newborn with any essential oil, please!)
  • Consecrated water and food (You need these things during labor anyway- why not have them sanctified?
  • Your ritual tools (In case you want to do a working, baby blessing, or name ritual afterwards.)

The important thing about an altar of any kind is that the objects included resonate with you and help with the working- in this case, a birth. I tend to trust my gut on these things, and will add items that call to be included. I believe that you, as a parent bringing forth new life, will know what should go onto your birth altar.

by Lily Shahar Kunning, aka Witch Mom

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