An altar can serve many functions, but to me, its main purpose is a place to honor the Divine. It can also be a place to do magick, to meditate, to commune with the elements, to do divination, to perform energy work, to cleanse and purify, or to charge something. An altar helps to concentrate your intent and your energy by giving you something to focus on. It helps to provide a connection to other realms, giving deities, elements, and spirits a physical place to come into when called.
Some people make a distinction between altars and shrines. An altar is typically regarded as a more active place for workings and magick. A shrine is typically a bit more static – a place dedicated to a particular deity or spirit. For my own personal practice, I don’t really distinguish between the two. I call everything an altar. Though some of my altars don’t really change much and could probably be classified as shrines, I do magick at all of them. So, mine are a hybrid.
Whether you are just starting out with constructing your first altar or shrine to Aphrodite, or if you’re a seasoned practitioner looking for some new inspiration, here are some of my essential considerations for constructing an altar.
Let’s start at the beginning: What is the purpose for your altar? Where will it be located? Is it for a particular ritual or spell? What do you want the feeling of your altar to be? Do you have a specific theme in mind? How frequently do you expect to use your altar? Are there items, associations, or correspondences that you wish to incorporate? Has the Goddess made any special requests?
There are no wrong answers to these questions. I’ve constructed elaborate altars that were only up for a few hours for a group ritual and were then taken down. I’ve consciously built a sacred nook in my home with an elaborate altar that I use at least twice a day. I’ve had altars that were mostly static except for collecting new crystals and trinkets, and I’ve had altars that I have changed for holidays and the seasons. I’ve had altars that I’ve mentally constructed and held in ritual space when a physical altar was not possible or practical. There is no limit to the possibilities.
Some of these questions around the purpose of your altar are practical, and some are more related to your intention. You’ll want to think these things through (and listen for some divine guidance) before you start gathering altar supplies.
It is worth noting that not all altars are created consciously. Sometimes altars and sacred spaces just happen. In fact, the last three altars that have popped up in my house spontaneously appeared… My most recent Aphrodite altar happened because I needed a place to display my statue that would not get knocked over by my cat, and then that area started collecting other Aphrodite items until – *poof* – it was suddenly an altar. It is now an area I use daily for prayer and other spiritual things.
Aspects of an Altar
There are some common “ingredients” among my altars for Aphrodite, and for Pagan altars in general. Depending on your practice and practical limitations, not all of these aspects are essential, and most can be changed to accommodate your specific needs. Some common ingredients are: Representation of the Divine/Deity, Sacred Symbols, Representation of the Elements, Offerings, Spell or Ritual Materials, and (most importantly) Your Intention.
You can create an altar for any Deity or purpose. For this article, I will walk you through the process of how I create altars for Aphrodite.
Representation of the Goddess
An altar to Aphrodite wouldn’t be complete without a representation of the Goddess of Love. What form this representation may take is only limited by your creativity! Art of any kind is wonderful. Natural items are also fabulous. Anything you make yourself is incredibly special and will bring that much more power to the altar.
A statue is a popular choice for Deities, though they can be expensive. I have a small bust of Aphrodite that was given to me by a friend that I have been using for several years now. I also recently purchased a full figure statue of Aphrodite surrounded by flowers. Both statues have prominent places on two different altars in my home. Personally, I like the marble look – though, to avoid being cost-prohibitive, my statues are mostly resin with a marble appearance. Marble reminds me of the beautiful sculptures I have seen in my travels in Greece and Italy. Statues can also be made of bronze (or bronze-look resin), other stones, or hand-shaped clay.
Paintings, drawings, artwork, and other images are also wonderful. Before I acquired statues, I had printed some pictures off of the internet of my favorite depictions of Aphrodite. Some of my favorites are still on my main altar – four pictures of Aphrodite channeling each of the four elements: Aphrodite in a golden gown and jewels for Earth, Aphrodite windswept in a flowing white dress surrounded by swans for Air, Aphrodite dancing while wearing only necklaces and a golden bellydance-style girdle for Fire, and Aphrodite in a sacred grotto surrounded by mist for Water.
For simpler altars, natural items with symbolism can take the place of a representation of the Goddess. (See the next section for more on symbols.) Seashells lovingly collected from a beach are wonderful representations, as are roses from your garden (or the grocery store).
Aphrodite has many symbols or correspondences that are sacred to Her that you may wish to use on your altar.
Roses are often associated with Aphrodite, both for modern connotations of love as well as a mythological basis in the tale of Aphrodite and Adonis. Roses of any color will work, though I prefer pink, red, or white. Fresh roses or dried rose petals are both lovely. I particularly like fresh roses with a scent to them – that just adds to the magick! (Unfortunately, many store-bought roses do not have a strong scent.) Fresh roses will need to be cared for to be kept in good condition for your altar. Once they start going downhill, you can offer them to the Earth in Aphrodite’s honor.
In the same vein as roses, I associate any beautiful flower with Aphrodite. Some other flowers I have used for Her on altars include sunflowers, lilies, carnations, buttercups, and wildflowers. One of my favorite plant-related altar stories is from a Beltane celebration a couple of years ago where I asked the members of my Pagan group to bring flowers if they were able. In addition to a wonderful assortment of colors and varieties of traditional flowers (including some listed above), one of my friends brought pussywillow branches, with soft fuzzy white buds. It was somewhat intended as a joking innuendo, but Aphrodite quite enjoys that sort of thing, and was rather pleased!
There are several fruits associated with Aphrodite, including apples, figs, blood oranges, and olives. For a while, my local grocery store carried a variety of apples called “Ambrosia” and those were perfect offerings! (And absolutely delicious.) I’ve been using fig and olive crisps as part of my cakes and ale for group rituals for several years now. They are the perfect balance of salty and sweet – very evocative of the Goddess of Love springing from the sea.
Seashells are also sacred to Aphrodite, related to the story of Her birth. I particularly love spiral seashells, as they feature another special symbol of Her – the Sacred Spiral. Large cup-shaped seashells can be used as offering plates/bowls (just make sure there are no holes in them or your offering may end up on the floor!) If I ever need a small token of her (for example, in a shared altar featuring many deities), a seashell will often be my token of choice.
With a similar connection to water and the sea, pearls are also sacred to Aphrodite. Any color, freshwater or saltwater, will work. Natural pearls are preferred, and they don’t need to be big or perfect in shape. I particularly like the inherent lesson that a pearl teaches – How to make something beautiful out of a difficult situation – which is a message I very much associate with Aphrodite.
Aphrodite has several birds that are connected to Her, including the goose, the swan, the dove, and the sparrow. I also associate another winged creature – the butterfly – with Aphrodite. Butterflies symbolize beautiful transformation, which is certainly within Aphrodite’s sphere of influence.
Gold is the metal most often associated with Aphrodite, though in my own experience silver has just as strong of a connection with Her. Any type of jewelry or adornment is a good symbol for Her. It doesn’t have to be decadent or lavish (though I’m sure She would appreciate that, too!) Simple jewelry works as well – What’s important is that it has meaning for you and for Her.
Please keep in mind that the items for your altar do not necessarily need to be classical symbols associated with Aphrodite. This post is also not an exhaustive list. I believe that our own personal connection with the Divine is much stronger than any correspondence listed in a book, or even a historically associated symbol. If there is something that rings true for you as being sacred to Aphrodite or honoring Her, go with your intuition. An altar is a touchstone between you and the Divine, so you want to construct it with things that are meaningful to both you and Aphrodite.
This is Part One in a series about constructing an Altar for Aphrodite. Continue on to Part Two here!
*Please note that an “altar” (ending with an -ar) is a place for spiritual things. “Alter” (ending in an -er) is a verb meaning “to change.” I frequently see this misspelled on the internet and I wanted to clarify any confusion.