All About Altars and Shrines

A very common question to have when approaching really any polytheistic religion is how to set up an altar or shrine. But first, it’s important to note that Gaelic Polytheism does not require an altar or shrine. Historically, the Gaelic people didn’t have altars or shrines in their homes to specific deities, spirits, or entities. There were sacred places for sure (like the Well at Kildare comes immediately to mind), but it seems that offerings were left outside for the most part–if offerings were given at all.

The concept of having an altar or shrine is entirely a modern implementation to the Gaelic Polytheism religion. And that’s fine! I have an altar and shrine, because I find it meaningful. But I just want to point out that it isn’t necessary.

Now that I gave that preface, let’s talk about what an altar and shrine even are. Then, how to set up an altar. Lastly, I’ll link to some tips and examples of shrines that may be useful.

So what’s an altar and what’s a shrine?

The terms “altar” and “shrine” get interchanged quite a lot in the polytheist, pagan, and witchcraft communities. However, there are definition differences between the words.

The word “altar” typically refers to a religious work space. For example, in Roman Catholicism the “altar” is where communion is prepared by the priest. Meanwhile, the word “shrine” refers to a structure or space that is made sacred to a deity, spirit, or other entity.

I personally tend to view “altar” as where I do magic work, where “shrines” are where my deities reside. (You can read another person’s opinion on shrines vs. altars here.)

The reason the two words are interchangeable is mostly due to how the two can share space. I personally have a space that is both sacred to my deities but is also where I perform magic. So is it an altar or shrine? I just call it both.

What should you call your area? That’s entirely up to you. I know people who call their religious space an altar that never perform magic, so don’t worry if you’re more comfortable with that term.

So how to make one?

Since there isn’t a “historical” model to copy from, altars and shrines in Gaelic Polytheism can range in appearances. At the core, an altar and/or shrine should serve you, and possibly also any entities you honor.

Ask yourself the following things: what is the purpose of the space you wish to create? Do you work with any entities? Do you want to leave offerings? Do you want to work magic? How much space do you have to work with? Where will the area be? What is your budget for supplies like?

Here are some hypothetical examples of what a Gaelic Polytheist altar and shrine may look like:

Frisk is a very minimalist person living in a small apartment. They decided to set up an altar so they had a place to say prayers to the Gaelic deities and spirits. Keeping things simple, they have a bowl for offerings and a candle to light.

Lara routinely prays to several deities as well as honoring a local river spirit. She has a huge bookshelf where she dedicates a part of each shelf to these entities. Each entity has their own candle, offering dish, and trinkets. She also stores all her magic supplies on this shelf, as well as books she finds important to her religion.

Steve loves to incorporate technology into his religion, so he decided to set up a virtual shrine on a website to his deity. He routinely posts sourced art, self-made poetry, and other virtual offerings to the website.

As you can see, there are many ways to make an altar and/or shrine!

Here are some examples from real-life Gaelic Polytheists:

Under resources, we also have an entire section dedicated to eShrines.