Alter-Building-3dRitual. At any time of year, the word itself evokes magic and mystery. But in the fall and winter, ritual takes on special meaning – even for those of us who practice the Old Ways all year long. From September to March, the dark half of the year marks the time of the goddess’s descent to the underworld. Think of the myth of Persephone, who is kidnapped by Hades, the God of the Underworld, and held captive there until spring when she returns to her mother, Demeter, the goddess of the harvest, who celebrates by allowing new crops to be planted. Similar myths are tied to this time of the year, such as the three Fates or Moirai. The darker months are associated with the third Moira, Atropos, who cuts the very thread of life. She decides the date of death for every soul at birth. And this is her time. This darkness, her season.

When we speak of the dark half of the year, we’re not talking about evil; we’re talking about the balance of light and shadow in the Universe. Fall and Winter represent the darkening of the northern Hemisphere, the lengthening of nights, the surrender of the Goddess to the inner realms, and what many of us feel is a pull toward a more solitary and reflective magical practice. We spend more time indoors, we tend our fires and our families, we ponder the passing of time, and plan for the year ahead. Our rituals at year-end are a mirror of our relationship to the seasons.
This time aligns to an even more auspicious date, the end of the Mayan calendar {12/21/12} and what is known as a date of ascension. At sunrise on that date, for the first time in more than 25,000 years, we saw the Sun conjunct the Milky Way. This “cross” is considered an embodiment of the Tree of Life, a tree honored in some form or variation in every spiritual tradition around the world and throughout time. Some say this concordance signals an alignment with all beings across our galaxy. At the very least, we magicians knew to expect a shift in energies and we prepared by creating our ritual space and planning our ceremonies weeks in advance.
I seek here to inspire you to embrace these darker months by preparing your space, creating your ritual, and planning your ceremony. I will first offer five steps to altar-building that are short, sweet, and sacred. Then, I will offer a brief ritual for winter that honors the uniqueness of this year and the galactic alignment it promises. My philosophy on altar spaces and ritual process is to keep it simple but make it special. Simple = few tools, easy to access, using what you have whenever you can. Special = sacred items, things of meaning, arranged with care, in a manner that is aesthetically pleasing. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder when it comes to sacred space and altar décor; in this case, you are the beholder. Create what you love.



Alter Building 1Step One: Balance the elements first. To represent Earth, always use greenery from your garden or nearby land. An altar space without seasonal greenery is empty. It’s the easiest and most beautiful way to hold the Earth energies. For water, use spring or distilled water (moon-charged!) in a chalice. For air and fire, place sage or other smudging herb in a small heat-proof pot or cauldron.
Step Two: Think seasonally appropriate when choosing a color scheme. I change my altar space every 4 weeks and begin with the table cover. Try a scarf for an easy, accessible, and inexpensive altar cloth! Then consider adding fresh flowers in the colors of the season. For winter, I go with gold and silver, red and white, or deep green and aubergine. I add white fur and red roses, or holly sprigs, for touches of color and life.
Step Three: Raise the vibration with purposefully chosen gems. Next, add gems to your altar space to raise and balance the energetic vibrations in your space. Winter has its own gemstone correspondences. I always use ruby, garnet, and labradorite in winter. I also use moonstone, fuchsite, and obsidian, and I always use clear quartz to magnify them all. Calcite and selenite are also good choices, as they promote clairvoyance and peace. As we go within and mirror the goddess’s retreat, we need clear sight and calm energy as our companions.
Step Four: Meditate on your purpose before arranging items. What kind of energy do you want this space to hold for the next 4-8 weeks or however long you plan to leave the altar intact? How do you want to feel when you sit before this space and gather your thoughts or practice ritual? Will anyone else enjoy or meditate near this space? Will your children or animals be near it? Ask these questions as you consider where and how to position the items. I always place my altar space out of reach of children and pets, as well as visitors to my home who may or may not appreciate or understand my magical practice. Then I focus my mind on the feeling I want to evoke with my altar before placing items in the space.
Step Five: Set the space with focused energy and presence. It’s important to be present and peaceful when laying out your space. Your intention and attention will show up in the final product. The more care you take in placing items and grouping them (always think in 3s!), the more beautiful your space will look. Try to balance height and other dimensions.
Alter Building 2
Words & Ritual By Athena Perakis
Photos By Danielle Cohen