Altars: common concerns.

There are a number of common concerns. I talked about space and cost considerations in my last post, but here’s a few others I’ve heard pretty often: practical issues combined with personal considerations.

1) Pets or kids.

My experience, honestly, is that both pets and children are trainable, if you are very clear about what spaces aren’t to be messed with, and you start out with things that are either not breakable, or can easily be replaced if necessary. Growing up, my parents put some breakable stuff up high – but they also taught me what I could play with and what I couldn’t.

My previous home (with housemates), we had 5 resident cats, two dogs, and various people who could be clumsy. The cats would make a beeline for the set of windows (so we made sure that the quarter altar in that direction didn’t have breakables, unstable objects, or lightweight objects on it) and everything else was fine.

Some people put the breakables behind a door that can’t easily be opened (a bedroom or office, for example). In my current home, the only door is on the bathroom: my altar’s out in the front room, and my cat ignores it. Thoughtful placement helps a lot: my furball’s a lot more likely to explore near the window or patches of sun than away from them.

Barring these options, you might put away any breakables or sharp tools that could accidentally hurt someone, but also find lovely and meaningful items that wouldn’t be harmful (an unlit candle, stones, a bowl of water, pictures, etc.)

2) Unexpected visitors who don’t know you’re Pagan.

If you are likely to have people drop by with whom you don’t share your religious choices (for example, people from work, extended family, etc.) there are a couple of choices.

You might keep any obviously religious items somewhere private (your bedroom is a common choice, unless people might wander in there. An office sometimes works.) You might keep them in a closed container (there are some lovely boxes that open outwards, that are deep enough to store standard items) and decorate the box in a way that means a lot to you, but isn’t obvious to others. You might have an altar with non-obvious objects to others (shells, stones, flowers, a candle, etc.) that are meaningful to you, and add other working tools only when you’re actually working.

Some people pack everything away, and set up their altar only when they’re actually doing ritual work. This seems a little complicated, but people that do it have told me that it helps them go deeper into the ritual mindset earlier in the process.

3) Living with someone who disapproves

This is a complicated one, mostly because there are different kinds of situations. A teen is in a very different position than an adult working things out with their spouse.

In the case of teens who are still dependent on their parents, I do think that the people providing the home get to set most of the rules. If they have strong objections to Paganism, I think it’s best to quietly explore it in ways that don’t go behind the parent’s back overly much, until you can move out. Not fair on some levels, but very clear on others.

While I’m long out of the house, I do the same thing when I go to visit my mother. She’s an active Catholic. When I visit, I bring only enough for my personal daily devotional work, and I don’t do other ritual work she might not approve of in her home. That seems only polite.

In the case of spouses, though, it’s more complicated: even if only one of them is working, the other is presumably contributing to the home in other ways, and they’ve both made commitments to being together. It’s definitely a good time to have a long discussion, and figure out exactly what the issue is. (Are they concerned about unexpected visitors? Extended family? Specific concerns about the religious choice in question? Are they being controlling? It’s hard to tell which it is without some more conversation.) What solution makes sense will depend on the issues.

In general:

There are options for almost every circumstance – whether it’s a dorm room or your own home, whether you live by yourself or share your space, whether you have pets or small children, or not. There’s no one set of requirements for a daily devotional altar and lots of options to handle more structured ritual use, if that’s part of what you do.

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