Altars are an easy way to include children in everyday practice. An altar can be anything from a formal set up with all the bells and whistles to a simple table that is left empty with nothing on it at all. I have always encouraged my children to have their own altar in their rooms. My oldest usually did. My second child chose not to set one up at all, which is fine too.
The best way to do a child’s altar in their room is to just let them do it. It can be on top of a dresser, shelf or a special table just for that purpose. Although for younger children the top of a dresser or high shelf may be better, so little friends don’t disturb it when visiting.
For younger children a simple table with an LED candle and an item or two of their choosing is plenty. The older the child, the more elaborate they may want their altar to be. The point is, that it is their altar, to decorate and do with as they see fit. They can then use this space for their own devotionals or quiet time as they choose.
Explain to your child (depending on the age) that this is a special spot where they can put their special things and give them examples. (pictures of family/friends, a favorite stuffy/toy, a candle; either real or battery, stones/shells they pick up from family outings etc.) The important thing is to let them decide what to put on it so it is special to them only.
Feel free to let them change the items on their altar as often as they like, especially around any holiday. Encourage them to put items on that represent the holiday to them.
If your child decides they don’t want their own altar in their room. Respect that, no matter what their age.
The Family Altar:
If it is not possible for your child to have their own altar, you can always have a family altar. A family altar can be anywhere in your home with anything on it. They are meant to represent each member of the family and the family as a whole. They can remain the same year round or change with the seasons and family events.
Allow each family member (if they choose) to add an item to it that represents them. You can also ask children to help decorate the family altar for different holidays and events. This is a great way to encourage your children and to include them in your day to day practice.
We had a family altar for a long time. We took the kids to the store and let them pick their own candle to place on it that we would light on family night each week. When someone’s candle was too small to light again, that person would make a wish as they blew out their candle for the last time. Then they would choose a new candle. The altar was on our wall unit above our TV. Every family night we would each light our candles before dinner, then put them out again before bed.
When setting up a family altar put it somewhere in your home where everyone will have access to it. At one point we used the top of our entertainment unit in our living room. I have also used a coffee table, shelf, sofa table in front of a window and the china cabinet in my kitchen.
Together, choose something to represent the entire family to put at the center. This can be a family photo, emblem, painting, statue etc. It doesn’t matter what it is as long as it represents the entire family and everyone agrees on it. Then have each person put something on the altar that they feel represents them. It can be a candle, a picture, a toy, an award that they won, etc. Let your child(ren) use their imagination. If it is too big to put on the altar, have them put their item beside, or under it.
You can also have items to represent the God/desses and elements as well if you wish. Once your family altar is done try to use it often. If you can, have daily/weekly devotionals there as a family. Say blessing there before dinner. Hold ritual in that room.
Your family altar doesn’t have to stay the same, encourage your children to change the items that represent them as often as they wish. They can even change them according to how they feel that day. You can also decorate according to the holidays or family events. If someone has a birthday coming up, let them put some of their favorite things on the altar for that week. If there has been a death in the family, have everyone put things on that remind them of that person (or pet). At each Sabbat have every family member place a decoration on the altar that represents that holiday for them.
Family altars are a great way to practice and spend time together as a family. If you focus on the intent and purpose of this activity, and not on what is actually being put on the altar, it will be an enjoyable way for your family to spend time doing something together.
WARNING: If you are letting young children blow out candles, make sure you explain to them to blow “across the top”, not down into the candle from above. If you blow down into a candle from the top, any melted wax may splash up into your face. I have seen it happen, it isn’t pretty.