The Basics: Setting Up An Altar

Blót stone found in Goðdalur, Iceland

Blót stone found in Goðdalur, Iceland

In developing a personal religious and spiritual life it is natural to set up some sort of central focus for worship in the form of an altar or shrine. Setting up an altar is easy enough and there are a couple of different options to consider. The first option to consider is an outside altar called a harrow (ON hörgr, AS hearg). This is a simple option that is either a cairn of piled rocks or a single large stone on which offerings can be left and libations poured. This is more practical for home owners with a private yard or a tree clearing on their property but if you rent a house you can always make build a cairn. Apartments that has a large stone stone on the ground can serve just as well but likely isn’t very private and might not be optimal.

The second option is doable for anyone who has a flat surface in a room that is safe from pets and children. Eyrbyggja Saga gives us an account of an indoor altar in a hof built by Þórólfur Mostraskegg called a stalli.

My personal blót-stone

My personal blót-stone

“…[O]ff the inmost house was there another house, of that fashion whereof now is the choir of a church, and there stood a stall in the midst of the floor in the fashion of an altar, and thereon lay a ring without a join that weighed twenty ounces, and on that must men swear all oaths; and that ring must the chief have on his arm at all meetings.

On the stall should also stand the blood-bowl, and therein the blood-rod was, like unto a sprinkler, and therewith should be sprinkled from the bowl that blood which is called hlaut, which was that kind of blood which flowed when those beasts were smitten who were sacrificed to the gods. But round about the stall were the gods arrayed in the holy place.”

A personal or household shrine, or stall, doesn’t need to be complicated or overly ornate. They do, however, have a tendency to become quite full over time. To set up stall, all you need is a safe, flat surface that you can place god-images or icons and some sort of bowl or cup to make offerings in. You can use a table, the top of a dresser, or even the mantle over a fireplace. In my own home, I use the mantle as it is central to the house and has the added benefit of harkening back to the central hearth.

God-images also don’t need to be complex if you’re just starting out. While there are now several easily available commercial statues of the gods, including historical reproductions, you can use anything that reminds you of the god or gods you wish to represent, including pictures or trinkets. You can also carve or paint faces onto sticks and place them upright in a pot filled with sand. You might also include a means of burning incense. In ancient times, the burning of herbs (ON reykelsi, AS récels) was a way to purify an area and today burning incense can help “clear” the air and help put you in the right frame of mind for worship. Additionally, I recommend some sort of candle holder, particularly for tea candles, as a means of lighting a small need-fire. If you use a table and place a table cloth on it, keep in mind that it should be easily washable as you will spill food, drink, and wax on it eventually. You can choose a color for the table cloth that is appropriate to the god or goddess the stall is dedicated to or an “all purpose” color for a stall for many gods. In this case, I prefer a rich red.

All in all, setting up an altar is one of the easiest and most basic things we can do. Even if you build a harrow, it is worth considering setting up a stall in a safe and secure place. It allows us to have a consistent place to meditate and pray as well as engage in daily practices if we wish to.


The Basics: Setting Up An Altar — 8 Comments

  1. Being a child and also embracing the way of your ancestors is very difficult, it seems. I don’t know how to worship, and I can’t perform a blót. I live in a Christian home as well, so this just makes me trying to honour the gods difficult.

  2. Hello Ale Glad. I’m a Norse Pagan and I’ve been so for about 2-3 years. Before that I was a non-practicing Christian because my family was that. Eventually I turned and converted to Paganism but recently I decided to build a Horgr as a formal way of worship instead of a quick prayer for Strength, Courage or Wisdom. I built it according to it’s description as a “heap of stones”. I looked at images of it on google and I think I created it correctly but would like your input.

    BTW, I put a smoother rock on top of them all and drew a Tyr/Tiwaz symbol with my knife on it as he is the chief God I focus on.

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