"It may seem that black magic (spells that summon dark forces to achieve extraordinary powers) is from another era.
But this is still practiced in various settings, both to twist the fate of people or events or to protect against negative energies. And, apparently, heads of state have trusted her to achieve goals."
- KUYB Team
The word altar is derived from the Latin altus, meaning ‘high, and thus ‘exalted’ (this is, after all, the main principle behind the concept). It usually signified an elevated place, or a raised platform on which the sacrifices or rites of the Gods were performed. It was on this ‘high place’ that offerings were made, and whence they were supposed to ascend to the Most High, consumed by fire. This led to the further supposition that the higher the altar was placed, the nearer it approached the Most High. In many cases it was located in the high mountains.
It would be hard for any writer or researcher to state a time when the use of altars first came into being, and what prompted it. There is little doubt that the conception has been with Man for very long time. There can be little argument that it acted as a focal point for the suppliant, and even more so if many were gathered together. It gave a centre of orientation for the whole ritual, just as the hub of a wheel holds the wheel together: every part is drawn towards, and depends on, this centre. If the hub of the wheel is broken, then the whole thing just fall apart, for there is nothing to hold it together. In any act of vandalism, desecration, or destruction of any Holly Place, no matter who is responsible, the cultprits will always make for the altar.
All things revolve around the altar, and evolve from it. It is the center of all, whether it is within a building, or erected outside, in either a constructed, or a natural place. The altar has the effect and purpose of signifying the ‘focal point’, and helps the participants to concentrate, so that any Force evoked does not dissipate itself through lack of clarity, and provides a clearly defined area or working space in much the same way as an artist defines the limits of his work with the size of his canvas or frame.
An altar is, astrologically speaking, very much like the action of the planet Saturn, which ‘defines the limits and boundaries’. While it is true the altar acts as a focal point, we do not wish to give the impression that it is essential. There are certain rituals where an altar is not necessary, the ‘clearly defined space’ is determined by the perimeter of the Magical Circle, among other methods. The first altars were quite often simply mounds of earth, or natural, flat rocks, which are two of the things that come under the rulership of Saturn. Later they were created artificially from wood, and perhaps, finally, from polished stones.
Many descriptions of these primitive forms of altar can be found; many of them were round, some are square, and others were rectangular. Although they differed greatly in height, the one thing they usually had in common was the fact that they faced the east, or the rising sun. In ancient Druidism it was considered impious to turn your back on the sun. Mountains that were considered sacred were approached from the west so that the worshippers, while ascending the mountain, were climbing to face the eastern, rising, sun. We still adhere to this custom, by entering churches from the west to the east, where the altar is placed. At times, in certain parts of the creed, we bow towards the east, which is a survival of bowing to the sun.
Let us now come back to the methods of burning incense in church, temple or home practice. Incense has proved to be one of the most popular ingredients of any ritual practice. Its use has, however, caused some dispute, not only among the established church bodies in the past, but also among some ritualists. Some argue that it forms a major part of the ritual and is therefore given prominence with other ritual practices.
The other school of thought does not subscribe to this view. This holds that the use of incense should be a “background” one, unobtrusive in operation and only noted because of the resulting smoke, sweet or otherwise, depending on the type of ritual being operated. There are no hard and fast rules with regard to these two seemingly opposed opinions. The matter is one of personal choice, and depends on the type of ritual being worked as to wheter it is prominent or unobstrusive. If you are being guided by a teacher or school, you will naturally be given instruction in the matter. If you are working on your own, or with a small group by yourselves, you will have to make up your own mind on the method you prefer; as you progress, experience will guide you as to which works best for you.
There seems to be little or no difference between these two items, apart from their etymology. ‘Censer’ appears to have come through the French into English, while the other, ‘thurible’, appears to have come from Latin (turibulus- a censer), which derives ultimately from the Greek.
Both censers and thuribles are basically portable incense altars, usually hung on chains which can also be used for swinging by hand. Sometimes the person who actually performs the duty of incense is called a censer, or thurifer.
The simplest method of burning your incense is in a decorative holder or container, which can, withn reason, be made of quite a large range of materials, metal, ceramic, and so forth, which you have filled with sand. The smouldering charcoal generates quite a lot of heat, and if this were placed in direct contact with many materials it will crack or damage the container. Hence the risk of fire resulting from carelessness is ever present.