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RITUAL TOOLS – Altar Cloths – Empowering backgrounds for Ritual, Spellcraft & Divination.

By Julie Snodgrass

Whether it be cotton, satin, velvet, or an old scarf with sentimental value which once belonged to your favourite grandmother, altar cloths can provide a powerful background to the tools and adornments upon your altar.  They are versatile, able to transform even an upturned cardboard box into a pleasing altar.  Hung on the wall, they can provide an evocative backdrop to your altar, or alternatively, cloths can be used to wrap and store your sacred tools when not in use.

Altar cloth

So what sort of altar cloth should you choose?  Many people use a variety of coverings, each conducive to the type of magical work being performed.  Cloths decorated with a magical symbol, such as a pentagram, ankh or triple moon, provide a bold central focus, around which may be arranged your selection of altar tools and embellishments.  Fabrics such as satins and velvets create a sumptuous, regal air, whilst some people prefer fabrics made of a natural fibre, such as cotton or silk.  I must point out that ‘silk’ is a name now applied to a wide range of fabrics, most of which are synthetic, such as rayon.  Silk made from the thread of silkworms is relatively rare outside of China, and carries a hefty price tag to match.

Altar cloths allow us to integrate the power and symbolism of colour into our rituals, workings and readings.  Regarded as both spiritual and powerful, purple is one of the most popular colours for cloths.  Originally, only obtainable from a shellfish, purple was one of the rarest colours, and highly prized, owned mainly by royalty and people of monetary worth.  This accounts for its associations with the planet Jupiter, embodying business, law, royalty and acquisition of knowledge through expansion.  Composed of red and blue, purple embodies both the masculine fire element, and the feminine water element, creating harmony and balance between the two.  Associated with the third eye chakra, it is a popular choice for tarot reading, scrying, and other forms of clairvoyance, divination and psychic readings.

Black is the colour of the Void, of creation from which all things come and to which all things recede.  It absorbs light and energy, so can be used as an altar cloth to draw in energies during ritual, or during dark moon esbats.  At the other end of the spectrum is white, which actually contains every other colour; just as ‘white noise’, such as the sound of breaking waves, contains the whole spectrum of notes. White is all-purpose, reflecting and radiating pure white light and energy from your workings out into the Universe.  White also represents the moon, and a shimmering, white satin altar cloth beautifully evokes lunar energies at full moon esbats.

Green is the colour of the lush vegetation of the Earth, and is associated with fertility and abundance.  Associated with Venus and the heart chakra, it may also be used, instead of pink, when performing rituals and workings involving love and relationships.  I know some people have an aversion to too much pink on the altar, creating for them an overriding evocation of Barbie.  However, if you don’t mind pink, it’s an interesting synchronicity that Barbara Cartland, the world’s most successful and well-known romance writer, used pink extensively in her décor and wardrobe, making her synonymous with the colour.

If lust and passion be the intent of your ritual, then a fiery red altar cloth will get things going.  Associated with Mars and the flames of the Sun, it is used in workings requiring extra energy, power and stamina.  Red is also the colour of life blood, and may be useful to women wishing to honour and celebrate menstruation, gaining an energy boost at a time in the month when energies may be a little depleted.  Rituals involving creativity, drive, ambition and transformation may also benefit from a red altar cloth.  The power of red has been known in theatres and bordellos for centuries.  As the nature of fire is tricky, I suggest caution in using too much red, particularly for those living in bushfire-prone areas of Australia, where the element is more difficult to control.  Use it sparingly, balancing it out with a complimentary colour, such as gold.

A blue altar cloth embodies the cool, flowing, changing element of water, and is ideal for healing rituals.  As another colour associated with Jupiter, it is good for justice and legal matters.

Like most practicing Pagans, my trusty altar cloths display their magical histories with colourful splashings of wax, which for me, gives them power and character.  However, if you regard dripped wax as more of a dirty mark to be removed, it’s easily banished by ironing the marks on your cloth between two pieces of brown paper, which will absorb the wax off the fabric.  A way to protect your altar cloth from drips, spills and burn holes whilst in use, is to place a sheet of glass from a sizeable picture frame over the cloth before arranging your props and tools on the altar.  It doesn’t burn and any mess can simply be wiped off.

At some point your altar cloth is going to need cleaning, both physically and metaphysically – and what is washing, but a cleansing ritual.  Hand washing is aesthetically desirable, and the act of gently squeezing the cleansing water through your cloth becomes a magical ritual.  Add a few drops of an appropriate oil, such as frankincense, rosemary  or sandalwood  oil, to the rinse water for a final cleanse and recharge.

* Julie Snodgrass owns and runs the Esoteric Bookshop and is a qualified seamstress, specializing in ritual regalia.

2 thoughts on “RITUAL TOOLS – Altar Cloths – Empowering backgrounds for Ritual, Spellcraft & Divination.

  1. Thank you for sharing your knowledge. I hope in a near future you are able to run a 101 course to share your teachings to another generations I would be happy to attend a weekly 12 months class, I am hopefull this will happen Bless it Be

    1. Thank you Angelica. I’ve passed your comments on to Julie & we’ll let you know what transpires. Bright blessings …

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