Baby-steps in altar creation

My kitchen has this nifty built-in shelf over the sink. It’s a great place to keep herbs and spices (ignoring the recommendation that you should store them in a dark place) because they’re right there at eye level for grabbing during cooking, yet out of the way of splashing water. I also store some teas there, again, conveniently located for browsing through when I’m in the mood for a cup. And so it didn’t take long for the shelf to fill with these herbs, spices, and teas, often stacked two and three high.

As it happens, my move to this apartment roughly coincided with my growing interest in hearthcraft. The apartment doesn’t have a fireplace, so I can’t make a literal hearth its spiritual center, so I’ve been trying to suss out what the center really is. While I’m not ready to commit to any location yet, I’ve realized that the kitchen shelf wants to have an altar.

It’s been a bit of a challenge. Despite years of being Pagan, I’ve never gotten into having a permanent altar, so I lack that sort of altar experience. I wasn’t sure what I would do with a kitchen altar. The shelf was too enclosed to safely burn candles and even if I cleared it off, too narrow to let me put up a lot of stuff. Whatever went there would have to be simple.

Kitchen altar to Hestia
The shelf and the altar.

And finally it hit me: don’t make a generic altar, make one to Hestia. This is hearthcraft, right? A goddess often pictured simply as a flame probably doesn’t require a super-ornate altar—indeed, Hestia surrendered her throne on Mount Olympus to Dionysus and took a seat close to the hearth. A single candle would be a fine symbol—or in this case, a single battery-powered LED tea light. I’d love to leave the candle burning 24/7, echoing the eternal flame in the ancient Temple of Vesta, but that wars with my concerns about wasting resources. For now, being a beginner at this whole altar thing, I’m just trying to mindfully light the fire when I’m starting to prepare a meal and extinguish it when I’m done with the dishes and ready to leave the kitchen.

Kitchen altar to Hestia 2
The tea light, balanced on top of a canister of tea, is just at the right level to see easily.

Christopher Penczak writes in The Outer Temple of Witchcraft, “By making a space for [an altar] in your home, you are symbolically making a space for the life of a witch in your life.” A tiny altar may not take up a lot of space physically, but symbolically, I may have constructed Stonehenge.