"In a dark room a table sits, covered with the trappings of a witch. Chalice and Blade once sparkled in brilliance like the morning dawn. Candles that once burned brightly now sit dark and shadowy. Forgotten is the power that once flowed freely as spell was spoke and ritual performed. Absent are the deities and elements that journeyed at a plea or an offering. Now a fine layer of dust has covered those symbols of the craft like a soft cloth and obscured them from the view of those that would use them.”
I imagine this might describe an altar or two out there. I know it has described mine at least once maybe twice.
We all have lives outside of the craft and at times our altars can get relegated to becoming just another spot for the car keys or the loose change from your last soda or mineral water purchase. Unless your altar is in secluded sanctuary where no one ever sees it then don’t be surprised if it accumulates items other then what is supposed to be there. I myself have absently placed all sorts of mundane items on my altar, from keys to clothes. Yes, clothes. No I wasn’t using a t-shirt as an altar cloth. No matter how hard you try there will eventually be something on your altar that shouldn’t be there and you may not have done it.
I have found some items on my altar that I have no idea how they got there and I can only assume that my lovely house fae have helped out again.
You have found your altar under a pile of stuff, now what. (Even if your altar isn’t buried it can still benefit from a good cleaning.)
First get a small bowl or bucket with a cleaning solution mixed with fresh water. I prefer to use a solution that I make myself that way I know it won’t damage any of the items I wipe off. Also remove all the items off the altar, including the cloth if you use one.
Clean the cloth/surface
If you use and altar cloth remove it and if it is washable then give it a once through in the olde washing machine. If it is a commercially made cloth be sure to read the cleaning instructions. If you have a cloth that is not able to be machine washed then perhaps a hand washing with a Woolite type product would be better. Again, check the cleaning instructions.
Not everyone uses an altar cloth and if you are one of those people, and you know who you are, just give the surface of the altar a good wipe down with the cleaning solution you have. Don’t forget to gently scrape of any wax from those nice candles. Dry the surface with a clean towel.
I like to press my altar cloths so they look crisp. I have also heard it is nice to use a lavender water spray as you iron.
Replace the cloth on the altar as you choose.
Clean the tools
Now that the surface of the altar is clean and ready for our tools it is time to clean those tools.
Using the cleaning solution gently wipe down all of your tools. This includes any statues that you may have. Any porous items should be wiped with a clean dry rag and in the case of wood items a good wood cleaner could be used. Be sure to dry all items with a clean towel before replacing them on the altar.
If you have a nice silver chalice you might notice that it is not as silver as it used to be. Fingerprints cover the surface from all the times you have held it in a toast to the Gods. So how to do you get it back to the bright polished silver? Toothpaste. Yes, I said toothpaste. It is an inexpensive way to polish your silver items. Now before you run to the bathroom and grab the tube from the medicine cabinet you need to know one thing. It has to be the true toothpaste, not a gel or mixture thereof. It is best to get a brand like the traditional Colgate© or a natural toothpaste from your natural grocers.
“To clean off tarnish, coat the silver with toothpaste, then run it under warm water, work it into foam, and rinse it off. For stubborn stains or intricate grooves, use an old soft-bristled toothbrush.”
Be sure to empty all the ashes from your incense burners too. Many times I light a charcoal disk and realize that I am smelling incense when I haven’t placed any yet. It was actually the unburned incense that had fallen through the screen and is resting on the ashes from the previous time. Some people would say to dump the ashes outside, I just empty them into the trash since all the power of the incense has been spent and sent. Of course, don’t dump hot ash in the trash. DUH!
Empty out your offering bowl. This should be done outside to make one final offering. Wipe out the bowl and dry it with a clean towel.
Mirrors, crystal balls, and scrying bowls, wipe them off so that you can again see clearly what you are being shown.
If you have any other items that you place on your altar be sure they are clean and fresh.
The Little Thing
Here is one thing that everyone should do when they are setting up their altar. (Or at least I think so)
Candle wicks. New candles come with long wicks as a rule and many people just light that long wick and move on. Most candle makers say that the wick should be cut to about ¼ inch in length. Why? Well I have found that if I do this then the candle burns more evenly. The wick should be trimmed whenever it gets very long. If have a torch when you light the candle it is time to trim the wick. Be careful when trimming a used wick as you can inadvertently break the wick down to the wax and then the candle is finished.
Now that the surface of your altar is clean and dry and your altar cloth is places as you like it is time to reset your altar. How you do this is completely up to you, there isn’t a right or wrong way to set up an altar.
After I have set my altar I like to give it a quick smudging and blessings with my favorite incense.
Keep it clean. The best way to do this is to use it. Your altar is less likely to gather dust and cobwebs if you are using it daily or every other day. If you notice a bit of dust on an item, give it a quick brushing with a cloth or even a Swiffer Duster©, they work great for altars. A complete wash down should be done at least once a month or as you feel the grime accumulating.
Keep it clean and let the power flow.