In addition to these items, your Magical Tools will also have a place on your altar -you will learn about these in LESSON V. There are also several other items that people usually keep on their altars.
LIBATION DISH -a libation dish is used to make liquid offerings to Goddess, God, or Spirits. Often a cup of juice or wine is shared in ritual, and some will be offered to the Deities or Spirits either before or after the human participants have drank. To make this offering, or LIBATION, a portion is placed in the libation dish and dedicated to Deities or Spirits. This is a gesture of respect and sharing -a means of giving back a portion of what you receive to its source. When the ritual is done the libation is normally disposed of by being returned to the elements, that is to say it is either emptied outside onto soil or into running water, or perhaps into a special Earth Pot. In this way its physical essence is returned to Mother Earth to nourish Her and be re-used for the sustenance of new life. However, some people consume the libation themselves after the ritual has ended, feeling that Spirit has taken the part of the offering it desired and that the rest is left for them. Which of these alternatives is preferable is largely a matter of opinion.
OFFERING DISH -in this same vein a dish for food offerings may be used. An OFFERING such as flour, corn or cornmeal, rice, a cookie or small piece of fruit, etc... is placed in the offering dish and dedicated to Deities or Spirits. As such offerings are symbolic in nature, only a small quantity need be used. This is a means of building a psychic bond and showing respect, not giving sustenance. Like the libation, a food offering is commonly released to the elements, though it may be eaten by the celebrants in the knowledge that Spirit has taken of its essential nature, leaving the physical behind.
BURNING DISH -you may wish to have a burning dish on your altar, in which to burn paper in rituals that require this. Burning a paper on which we have written our desires is a common form of SYMPATHETIC MAGIC -as the paper burns it is believed that the desires are released into manifestation. Obviously a burning dish must be fire resistant, and big enough to accommodate a sheet of paper that has been folded once or twice.
IMAGES -Frequently the altar includes images of Goddess and God, or tokens representing them (for example an antler or acorns might betoken the God, a seashell or a Moon the Goddess). You might also want images of other spirits you call upon -photos of Ancestors or drawings of Spirit Guides. Perhaps a picture or a doll representing an aspect of yourself with which you commonly work, or which you wish to develop further -your Higher Self, for example, or YOUNGER SELF, or key past lives.
EARTH POT -this a bowl filled with earth or rocks to honor Mother Earth and the element of Earth. The earth or rocks you keep in it might come from your back yard, or your birth place, or some favorite spot -or it might be gathered from various travels, the homes of friends, etc... this lends a very special stabilizing energy to an altar. A similar effect can be achieved by a number of rocks placed loosely on the altar, especially rocks you've found.
STONES -You may want to keep crystals or gems on your altar to amplify and color the energy. You may select them, or let them "select you" -by finding them or selecting stones that "call" or resonate to you. A common way to tell if a stone (or any item) is for you, is to run your hand over a number of items (as a selection of stones) keeping it about an inch above the items, and see which one or ones feels "different" from the others. The one that is different from the others is "calling" you, and is the right one to take. Later you will learn the meanings and uses of different stones, and this will help you to select them. But for now just take ones you like, or that like you.
FOUND OBJECTS -found objects are lucky in general and are always appropriate for your altar. They are symbolic messages from Spirit, and knowing their meanings is an ancient art. This can be an excellent way of receiving spirit messages, or OMENS, and you will learn more about it in LESSON XII. This doesn't mean just anything you find of course, but things you happen across in unusual ways or in unusual places, or that "speak to" you. Putting found items on the altar helps to strengthen your bond with the altar.
SEASONAL ELEMENTS -lastly, remember that you can make use of seasonal elements on your altar -leaves, flowers, acorns, pinecones, etc... These can do a lot to help you make the Shift in Consciousness that is needed for magic. They also add tremendously to the atmosphere of your altar, provide variety, and commemorate the sacred Wheel of the Year.
Always remember that your altar is personal to you. It is the visible symbol of your personal connection to Spirit. There are traditions and guidelines as to how to set it up, but ultimately it must be right for YOU, and that alone determines its proper form.
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