“To the poet, to the philosopher, to the saint, all things are friendly and sacred, all events profitable, all days holy, all men divine.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson
There’s nothing in any Witchy rule book that says you can’t personalize the way you physically and psychically establish sacred space. If you’re looking for some creative alternatives to keep in your Book of Shadows for those moments when ideas seem wanting, here are several:
Magic Altar Variations: Many Witches and Pagans get really creative with their magical tools. So why not consider getting equally creative with your altar? You can change placement, decorations, and elemental markers just to name a few.
Magical Altar Placement
While there are some people who insist altars must go in the east, think there are many times when alternative placement makes perfect sense including:
- Putting the altar in the south for Fire-solar festivals, or when working magic for passion, energy, and purification.
- Putting the altar in the Wast come fall to honor the Water Element, or when working magic for rain, healing, inspiration, and for any lunar observances.
- Putting the altar in the north on Earth Day, or when working magic for grounding, security, finances, and other “earthly” matters.
Magic Altar Decoration Choices
Another way of making things a little more personal is with your choice of altar decorations. During spring observances, for example, often forego a cauldron filled with water and fill a huge basket with spring flowers instead. These might get strewn, in part, to mark the edge of the circle. Alternatively find a way to incorporate them into a spell or activity suited to spring, like tossing some on running water while making a wish for abundance.
In choosing, adapting, or adding to your altar decorations consider the following:
- What items do you need at hand to complete the magical procedure and do you want to change these at all? Substitutions are fine as long as they maintain a congruity of theme.
- What items suit the season or timing of the seasonal ritual?
- What items or symbols do you personally connect with the theme of this procedure, and can you add them to your embellishments somehow?
- How much space do you have available, and what decorations are safe considering that space? For example, if you have a very small area it’s not wise to have a lot of open flames; use self- contained candles instead.
- Is your altar’s surface out of reach of children and/or pets? From experience, both pets and kids love magical energy and are drawn to it like a magnet. So, if either can reach your altar, keep whatever you put there safe for little hands and paws.
- If holding your procedure outdoors, what decorations will be best if it rains, gets windy, or other weather situations arise?
Remember that you have a lot of options to use in fulfilling the above guidelines. You can change the colors of the candles or altar cloth, the type of incense used, assemble some potted plants, or freshly picked greenery, sprinkle some glitter around, find fun statues, or whatever.
Example: To give you a functional illustration, for lunar-related procedures use a silvery satin altar cloth dusted with white or silver glitter. When you add white, lighted candles to this blend, the surface of the altar looks amazing and really feels more magical. And, really that’s what all these extra touches are for—they help create a magical ambiance and mood that helps the entire process flow more easily.
Magical Altar Elemental Markers
If you plan on marking your magic circle at the four Quarters, your options are nearly endless in terms of objects to represent the elements. All the same considerations, as those for the altar’s surface, apply to these objects, with the additional necessity that the item somehow symbolizes the correct element for the Quarter in which it’s placed.
Example: Here are some examples of creative elemental markers:
- Earth: A globe, an atlas, the television (or computer), a green marble, a sprouting onion or potato from your vegetable bin
- Air: A fan or air conditioner, an open window, air freshener stick, feather duster, a child’s airplane
- Fire: Your fireplace, a stove or furnace pilot, a match, a toy fire truck, a lamp (turned on), sun catchers, a flashlight
- Water: The sink or bathtub, a garden hose, a sprinkler can, your favorite coffee cup, the teakettle (this might be fire/water combined)!
Hint: Copy the above options into your Book of Shadows!
Quarter Correspondences in the Sacred Magic Circle
There has been a fair amount of discussion about varying the elemental correspondence of a particular Quarter to better suit your living environment. For example, if you live just east of a pond, lake, or river, east might become the Water center for your circle. Or, if you are south of a dormant volcano, the Fire element is geographically north!
Making these kinds of adjustments equates to a Wiccan version of Feng Shui. By so doing we’re honoring the lay (and ley) of the land, and nature’s symbolic markings. By extension, if you have a predominant plant in the eastern part of your home, this point might represent the Earth Element instead of Air, just as a fireplace in the north part of your home can represent the Fire Element. It’s all in the way you look at it!
Starting and Ending Magical Invocations
Most invocations start in the Eastern Quarter of the circle to represent beginnings. But just as it sometimes makes more sense to designate the Quarters of your circle with nontraditional elemental correspondences, it also sometimes makes sense to begin invocations in a different quarter than usual.
For example, while you can certainly start a solstice ritual in the east to honor the rising sun and dawn, you could also start the invocation due south, representing the sun in its fullness of power! Similarly, lunar rituals and related activities might include invocations that begin in the west, with the Water element that ties to the moon.
So, when you read over any pre-created rituals, spells, and other magical procedures that include invocations, keep this in mind. If you feel strongly that a particular element is better suited to set the tone for the entire activity, begin your invocation in the corresponding section instead
Designating the Magic Circle
In much the way you adorned your altar with personal touches, you can designate the perimeter of your circle with significant markers that are (a) visually appealing, (b) thematically appropriate, and (c) magically charged with energy to mark the line between the worlds.
Here are a few other fun ideas for you to try (don’t forget color correspondences):
- Balloons: Birthday gatherings and other celebratory festivals. Note: Put a little piece of masking tape beneath each balloon to keep them in place.
- Beans: Divination efforts, hope-oriented magic. Use mixed beans or those of a color suited to your goals.
- Books: Study circles, spells-rituals-meditations for internalizing knowledge. Choose the titles according to the topic.
- Branches (fallen, small): Greenwood festivals, winter observances. Consider matching the type of branch to the theme of the activity, like oak for strength and pine for longevity.
- Curled Ribbons: Beltane, cycle observances. Again, choose colors suited to the occasion and braid a few to represent life’s network and our magical connections.
- Glow-in-the-Dark Stars: Universal awareness, wish magic. You can find these at gift shops and science stores and also use them to decorate the altar, your ritual robe, or whatever!
- Leaves: Autumn rites, harvest festivals.
- Milk: Fertility rites, womanhood observances, blessingways. If you don’t want to make a mess, buy a bunch of single-serving milk cartons, and place them at equal intervals.
- Seeds: Fertility spells, growth-related magic, spring observances. In this case, choose the type of plant seed according to its metaphysical associations (refer to that section in your Book of Shadows for ideas).
- Torches: Outdoor gatherings for Candlemas or other Fire festivals- observances. For the fun of it, find suitably scented torch oil.
- Rice (colored or plain): Weather spells, prosperity magic, providence rituals, harvest rites.
Let your magical creativity shine!
Portable Sacred Space
Since we live in a very mobile, transitory society, sometimes we need a portable sacred space. In this case, rather than an area surrounded by a sphere of power you’ll be making an object whose protective sphere can be activated by your will or words.
To make this you’ll need:
- A small sealable container (like a matchbox or tin mint container)
- Some ashes from a magical fire (i.e., any fire previously used for ritual or spellcraft from which you can gather ashes)
- A feather
- A crystal or tiny stone, and
- A seashell or sand
Take the container and components beneath a full moon (or a window where moonlight shines in). Put the ashes in the container saying:
Spirit of Fire, I conjure and call you. Leave a small spark of your power in this object to protect and energize my sacred space wherever I may be. Come to life when I say_______.
Fill in the blank with a word or activating phrase that you can easily remember. Repeat this procedure with the other elemental tokens, changing the name of the spirit called accordingly.
Close up the container, and invoke your patron or patroness to bless your efforts and bind the magic within if you so choose.
Make as many of these as you need for your car or cars, briefcase, purse, suitcase, or whatever. Whenever you want to activate the object, hold it in both hands, center yourself, open the container and whisper the activating phrase three times with purpose. Visualize a bright white light radiating outward with you at the core. Close the container.
This sphere of force will remain in effect until you release it by speaking the activating phrase a fourth time. Why use the numbers three and four? In Numerology three is the number of body-mind-spirit working in harmony. The fourth repetition grounds the energy, being the number of Earth.
You may find these portable sacred spaces need to be replaced periodically. Like a fetish, there’s a limited amount of energy you can store in them, and a limited number of times you can recharge them. When you feel the token has lost its capacity to hold energy effectively, dispose of it ritually (bury, burn, or throw it in running water) and make a new one.
‘Instant’ Magical Sacred Space
Along the same lines of portable sacred space, our lives are often too busy to allow for long, drawn-out rituals. There are also occasions when the immediacy of need takes priority over formality. That’s when you can use the idea of informal sacred space as a foundation, with a little twist learned from making portable sacred space!
Find four everyday objects in your home that you can use to represent the Elements. Put each object at (or near) the correct directional center for its element. As you put the object in place, adapt the invocation used previously in Portable Sacred Space to something like,
Spirit of ______, I call and charge you to fill this token. Radiate ________(a characteristic attribute of the element, like love for Fire) through my sacred space of home and fill it with your protective energy when I say ______.
As before, fill in the last blank with an easily remembered word or phrase. Then when you need to set up sacred space quickly, just point to the object and speak the word or phrase three times.
Leave the sacred space firmly in place until you feel safe again, or you’re done with the magic at hand, then dismiss it with the fourth repetition and a few words of thanks.
Word of Advice: Always remember to say thank you to the powers for their presence and help. A thankful heart is one ready to both give and receive.
Maintaining Informal Magical Sacred Space
This section is very important especially for those of you who live in urban environments. Urbania barrages our sacred spaces with noise and crowded conditions. This means that the objects you’ve put in place for informal, ongoing protection will need regular care and maintenance to continue functioning really well. Here’s how:
- Regularly purify the items. This can be accomplished by soaking them in lemon water, burying them in salt, smudging them with sage, or the like.
- Charge up the items by sunlight and moonlight for a balance of masculine-feminine, intuitive-logical energies.
- Keep the items clean in between purifications and chargings (i.e., dust free).
- Replace any item that gets broken with something suitable and new.
- Repeat the process of giving the token an activating phrase, and continue around the circle to the others, so the four items work harmoniously together.
Remember, there is no right or wrong time to create sacred space. Folk magicians often cast spells without establishing a formal sacred space first, while ritual magicians will rarely do so. The final decision is up to you. While it might not always be necessary, it is always helpful to make a protected sphere within which your magic can grow and develop unhindered.
Adapted from “Your Book of Shadows,” by Patricia Telesco. All rights reserved.