Cyber Altars: Using New Technology In Traditional Ways

I grew up in a house full of altars. My nominally Catholic mother would probably dispute my calling them altars, but every flat surface in the house had a grouping of objects that were special. Candles in unusual holders sat next to the flowering violets and small portraits of family members in the hall. Pottery forms shared space with crystals and shells in the living room. Every once in a while my mother would rearrange the furniture and the altars would be changed, moved, reformed into new combinations. I feel like I learned a key lesson about altars: they have been with us for thousands of years, bringing the sacred into our homes in personal, tangible ways.

So it may seem odd to know that most of my ritual work is performed at a cyber altar nowadays. To me it is just the next step in the process, a new direction to take the notion of sacred and incorporate it into our lives. After all, many of us use computers daily, why shouldn’t we bring them into our sacred circles?

In her book Altars, Denise Linn says, “Since time immemorial, the primary function of altars and shrines has been to provide sacred and holy places amid the ordinary reality of life.” The process of transforming your computer into an altar has the potential to completely alter how you use it and what you can produce. For example, if you are a writer then using the computer is probably a major portion of your production –(the writing itself, editing, communicating with editors and publishers, etc.). If you were to transform your computer into an altar to creativity, who knows what the Muse will bring to you or how much deeper into the creative flow you might find yourself swimming?

That is only one form of cyber altar, however. There are also web pages that act as shrines to particular divinities, such as those found at Spiral (web site references are at the end of the article). That site also has a place where you can build your own cyber altar using graphics they have designed, which you then save to your own computer for later admiration. Other cyber altars worship cultural icons, like the one for Tori Amos, which has a place for you to light a candle and speak a few words (recorded forever on the Internet). Other cyber altars allow you to light a candle in remembrance for those who have passed on, or in token of appreciation for lessons learned (usually through hardship).

There are astral altars as well, which is where I do a large portion of my ritual work. Traditionally this has been a place one visualized and manifested within the mind, usually as part of a temple or place of power. In my work, it is where my coven and class meet to hold rituals online. For the coven, the altar is quite specific in form as it is part of a larger
structure within which we worship. For the class, the altar varies according to perspective and ability.

As part of the process of preparing four our cyber rituals, we transform our work area (the desk or other computer location) into an altar. Each of us creates private sacred space from which we link to one another in cyberspace, creating a vast sphere of energetic connections.

Since we are unique, we each have our own way of preparing our sacred space. In my case, I disassemble my main altar and set it up again on my desk (repeat the process in reverse after the ritual is complete). Others in the group have two altars, a “main” altar and second one for cyber rituals, or have their permanent altar next to their desk, and when they cast their
personal circles they include both their desk and altar. One member of JaguarMoon has her permanent altar in an adjoining room, against the same wall as her computer desk; she simply casts a circle through the wall.

How you set up your cyber altar will, of course, have much to do with a variety of factors: your desk size, what you feel is necessary for ritual, how your desk is laid out, etc. There are a few recommendations I can offer.

Make sure that:
1. nothing hot is placed in such a way as to do damage to yourself or electronics,
2. smoke or other foreign substances (like soap bubbles) will not blow into the CPU, and
3. you can easily type and move objects on your altar as appropriate for the ritual.

As with any altar, make sure that the items you place there are symbolic of the elements, the Deity, and anything specific to the ritual being performed. Although you may not actually use all of the tools during a cyber ritual, having them present adds to the sense of the sacred and honors the elements present. Laying down an altar cloth and using incense and candles to create a sense of mood are wonderful additions.

My altar is shaped like an equal-armed L, and fits perfectly into a corner where I can set up my altar in either the North or the East. Because of its shape, I can place an altar cloth over one side, lay my tools out, and light candles around the room and I am ready to go. (I do make sure the other section is cleared of distracting elements like work to do, or bills.) My cats like to lie in the cleared desk area during my rituals and occasionally move to my lap.

To make your computer a cyber altar can be a complicated undertaking or a fairly simple task, depending on your skill, desire, and creativity. At the simplest level, change your desktop image to something that evokes a sacred or magickal response in you. Change it with the seasons, the sabbats, every week, or anytime you are working magick. One of my personal
favorites is changing passwords to evoke magickal responses. Instead of having “8uyC9” as your password, make it “l0vinG” or “@bunDance”. Each time you type those words, send a moment of energy towards manifesting them into your life.

If that doesn’t feel like enough, transform the area around your computer into an altar, with the monitor as the center (or just a component, whichever feels more correct). Take a moment to sit in silence at your desk. Relax and imagine yourself laughing and in a constant state of joy. Feel the sparkle of creative juices flowing through you. Enjoy that feeling for
as long as you wish, and then open your eyes. Look around you and throughout your life for objects that symbolize creativity for you. You might use jars of brushes, coloring pens, or pencils; images of inspiring works– (your own or others’); or scraps of paper with inspirational quotes or creative doodles taped all over the monitor.

You’ll be pleasantly surprised how transforming your computer space into a sacred space helps creative energy flow over into your other work. For example, Anne Rice writes quotes on her monitor while writing a new book and starts with a fresh monitor each time. I’ve seen bubble soap in pottery jars, kitchen utensils in a cheese grater, crazy quilt scraps pinned to paper, notebooks covered in special fabric and colored ink pens attached by long ribbons, and many other collections of uniqueness. Anything goes—if it pleases you, use it.

My mother’s altars opened the door for me and her wisdom and creativity has flowed throughout my life. Now that she uses a computer it pleases me that she follows my example and creates sacred space every time she types her password.

Cunningham, Nancy Brady, and Denise Geddes. A Book of Women’s Altars: How to
Create Sacred Spaces for Art, Worship, Solace, Celebration. Red Wheel, Boston, 2002.
Linn, Denise. Altars: Bringing Sacred Shrines Into Your Everyday Life. Ballantine Wellspring, New York, 1999.
Mc Sherry, Lisa. CyberCoven.Org: Creating and Maintaining Magickal Groups in Cyberspace. 2002.

Web sites:

This article first appeared as “Cyber Altars” in The Beltane Papers, Issue 30, Summer 2003.

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