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Setting up a shrine is similar to setting up an altar in terms of location, though the materials you will find on a shrine vary greatly from those found on altars. After all, a shrine is not an altar and has a different purpose. Careful thought should still be given to the location of shrines, though instead of thinking of how the location will impact your magic, you should think about the significance of the location in terms of who or what the shrine is dedicated to. If you’re building a shrine to your ancestors, face the altar in the direction of their home. Consider building the altar in the living room, kitchen, or in a room where family members gather often. If the shrine is dedicated to an earth or air deity, for example, place it accordingly. Low to the ground for earth or high on a table for air, etc.

Shrines tend to be dedicated to someone, mostly living people, ancestors, or deities, though not always. You may also dedicate a shrine to a specific intention. For example, a shrine to a loved one’s health or a shrine for getting a job. Unlike an altar, a shrine will serve the single purpose of worship or manifestation — it is not a place to work. It is a space to reflect and focus mentally.

Imagery

If your shrine is dedicated to a deity, an image or a symbolic item should be present on the shrine as a physical representation. This is known as an object of veneration and it should be blessed before being placed on the shrine. In simple terms, it is an item that we ask the subject of the shrine to inhabit whenever we visit the shrine to worship or meditate. This can be done by ringing a small bell at the start of the ritual and reciting a prayer that welcomes the deity to join you. Respect should be paid to the culture this being comes from and the shrine should be built with their symbols and culture in mind. Think of it this way, if you’re asking a being to visit your shrine and spend time with you, this space should be as respectable and sacred as possible to that being.

Offerings

A small cup or bowl can be placed on the shrine and coffee or liquor offered to both ancestors and divine beings alike. Honey, fruit, and milk are also considered good offerings. However, in these cases it’s best to be as specific as you can. If you know your ancestor was an avid fan of Dr. Pepper, for example, offer that instead. If your shrine is dedicated to a goddess known to be associated with apples, perhaps apple juice or a fancy apple from a farmer’s market would be a better choice.

Make offerings regularly — at least once a week — and keep any foodstuffs fresh. It would be a bad idea to leave stale or moldy items on your shrine. Though food and drink are traditional, if you’re worried about bugs or pets getting to the offering, you can always find more creative ways to please your deities or ancestors. Leave seeds, flowers, and other natural elements if your deity is associated with the earth. Coins and rolled dollar bills are another way to offer your respect and perhaps bring a little good fortune your way. Presents like crystals, jewelry, and handmade items can be left as well. Be creative and most importantly, be thoughtful. Some witches simply play music in front of their shrines as an offering or they may do good deeds for others instead of leaving physical items. Incense can also be lit daily or on days symbolic to a particular deity or relative as an offering. It’s cheap and easy in a pinch, and with all the different varieties out there, it’ll be no problem finding a scent that corresponds nicely to the vibe of your altar.

Candles & Light Sources

Shrines dedicated to deities should have a perpetual light source, and although candles are traditional, they are less accommodating than electric candles, string lights, or other sources of artificial light. For ancestral shrines, the light needs only to be lit when you are visiting and paying respects, so candles would work nicely. For shrines focused on manifestation, the candle or light should be lit daily for as long as possible. Remember, DO NOT leave candles unattended while lit.

Amulets

Carrying the power of your shrine with you is an option if you’d like the subject of your shrine to stay with you, even when you aren’t at home or near your shrine. Fill a small sachet with meaningful herbs, oils and an object reflecting the deity’s beliefs in some way, or a token to represent the deity themselves, like a prayer card, miniature statue, or small icon. Bless the amulet in the same manner as the object of veneration and carry with you.

Manifestation Shrines & Altars

These shrines serve the purpose of bringing something into your life or making something happen that would help you in some way. Love, abundance, success, health, protection, and even banishing shrines are common. You may include offerings to deities if you wish, if there is a particular one that you think would be helpful to you, but be sure to go about making this connection respectfully. You may keep perpetual lights on the shrine and decorate it in any way you see fit.

Symbols reflecting luck, career success, money, etc. will be nice additions to help with the manifestation. What will be crucial with these shrines is persistence. You should spend time at the shrine every single day and ask for what you want, reinforcing the goals of manifestation all the time. Reflect on how things are changing in coordination with your ultimate goal. Keep a journal. Think of ways you could enact change faster. This is the space in your life where you focus on what you want, how to get there, and recognize positive aspects of your life that are leading toward this end by practicing gratitude. Once what you’ve sought is accomplished, you can change the intention of the shrine from manifestation to maintenance to make sure you keep what you’ve got!

A manifestation altar will work in much the same way, however they will be smaller than your regular altar and sigil work, any spells, rituals, etc. will be performed at the altar itself. A shrine is a place for meditating on what you’d like, and the altar will be a place for performing the magic to see it done.


Action Steps

  • Choose your shrine location, use the answers from lesson 1 to guide you as you consider the appropriate place. Don’t worry if your options are limited and you can’t have your ideal space. Witches are resourceful and have always made do with what we have available to us.

  • Physically clear off this space and give it a quick wipe down. If you can tidy up the rest of the room as well, do but if you don’t have the energy or time right now, it’s ok to just focus on your altar.

  • Cleanse the space. For more cleansing methods, check out this lesson from Defensive Magic Level One >>

  • Focus your intention, what or who is this altar for?

  • Find your object of veneration. This is highly personal and will vary greatly depending on your intention. Statues, objects, artwork that you create, and art and photos from other sources can all be used.

  • Cleanse this object and dedicate it. Simply saying “I dedicate this to you, *name of being or intention*, please bless me with your presence at this shrine.” can suffice although you’re welcome to create a more elaborate dedication ritual.

  • Add an appropriate light source to your shrine.

  • Brainstorm offerings. Create a list based on historical sources, personal gnosis, and what you can personally acquire and keep this list near your shrine so that you can reference it when needed.