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Making Mini Altars

For many, the Summers Solstice is a time for Sun, Sea and Sand, the longest day and the official start of summer in the West--a good time to create a shadow box altar to honor this turn of the wheel.

Before we get started, I want to tell you why shadow boxes are important. They are not only seasonal reminders of our 8 holy days, but they take concentration and focus. By thinking about the elements that go into the box, you are also centered on the meaning of each box. What represents Beltain? Should I include a maypole? What can I use from my environment to honor the gods at Imbolc? (The image below is a Beltane altar--in miniature!--and made from clay, beads and found objects.)

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Beyond this, shadow boxes can be your actual altar when there is no room for one that’s full size. Some folks live in apartments, or shared houses where space is precious. In those conditions, it may be hard to find so much as a window ledge for magical use. Shadow boxes can sit on a nightstand, a dresser, a shelf, or even be hung on the wall. They can hold many special symbols in a very small space…sacred space. Plus they are simple to do and full of personal meaning.

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Have fun creating your own! To create my Summer Solstice mini altar, I used a shadow box purchased at a craft store, but a shoebox or mailing box will do just as well. By using a box you already have, you are also recycling! I went onto the Internet and looked up images for “ocean”. I selected one that showed both sea and sand. (If you don’t have a computer at home, or one with a color printer, you can use a picture from a magazine. This time of year they are full of ads which feature the shore). The reason I chose my image is that my Irish tradition believes magic is greater “betwixt and between” – something that is neither one thing nor another. A photo that shows land and water is neither land nor water but in-between. (Think of dusk and sunrise the same way – neither night nor daytime, but in-between). I actually made 2 copies of the picture, and used parts of the second to finish the sides of the box. I cut strips that lined up with the full image, making sure that I didn’t have sand up where the sky should be, etc. The finished product made me feel like I was looking out of a window.

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Next, I found a picture of a sea goddess and placed her on the line between sea and sand. I used Venus, goddess of love, because she was born of the ocean. In my image she’s standing on a seashell half. However, you can use any goddess that feels right to you, or no images at all, if you wish.

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For my altar, I made something by myself. It wasn’t hard. I went to the craft store and bought a small bag of tiny spools, and a small piece of wood tile. Four of the spools, glued to the wood piece, because altar legs, and four more spools because the “pole” holders (actually, blue toothpicks!) around the altar. But! If you have no wood or means to get any, that’s OK! Get a stiff piece of cardboard and fold it so that it forms sides. These sides will be the legs. By folding a small ridge at the end of each leg, you’ll have a place to glue your altar onto the bottom of your shadow box. You can use a piece of old lace, sheet or even gauze to cover the altar. I glued four “poles” around the altar and decked them with blue ribbons. To me, it represents the four corners of the Earth, sacred space, and the element of “air”. (I like using the four elements in my boxes, even if only one is the main theme. In this one I have moss for “earth”, seashells for “water”, and a nice, large crystal in the background for “fire”).

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On the altar, in front of it, or around it, you can place any items and symbols that have meaning for you. I live in New Jersey, a place known for its shore, so I used lots of shells – long ones for the God and round ones for the Goddess. I also had little dollhouse bottles, so I used one to represent water and another for salt. If you don’t live in a coastal area, shells can be found in any craft store, or you can use items from your own area. Are there white pebbles near your home? You can actually make an altar out of pebbles, and create things to place upon it--from white paper birds to clay or tissue flowers and things found in Nature. You can even write a prayer request on a small piece of paper, roll it up and tie it with string or thin ribbon (just like a scroll) and place IT on the altar. This is something each member of your family can do.

by Katharine Clark, Beltane altar by Claude Swinburne

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From 2006 to 2010, www.broomstix.com was an online magazine for families following alternative spiritual paths. Relaunched in 2013, Broomstix has a new format, but the same, simple goal: to be a positive community resource where folks can share their knowledge and talents.

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