From the Latin altare (plural altaria), an elevated place or structure, typically a table, used in worship and before which religious ceremonies may be enacted, divine offices may be recited, sacrifices may be offered, and upon which the Eucharist is celebrated in Christian churches. Also a spot, site or location for presenting sacrifices to God or gods.
Altars have been used from almost the beginning of human civilization, as far back as the Paleolithic Age. The very earliest permanent sacred altars have been discovered deep inside caves, which on those days were highly spiritual places with narrow, treacherous paths leading to them.
Nearly any piece of furniture with a flat surface can be used as an altar, and with a little bit of imagination, outdoor altars can easily be made out of such things as garden benches, tree stumps, and large stones with flat tops.
In Witchcraft, altars are usually used for rituals and spell castings, incense and candles burning, and for offerings made to the Goddess, Horned God, or other deities. Wiccan altars include candles, a pentacle, chalice, salt, incense, bell, athame, and a Goddess or Horned God symbol.
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Sources: (1) Dictionary of the Occult, Caxton Publishing; (2) The Catholic Encyclopedia, The Encyclopedia Press; (3) The Encyclopaedia Britannica Eleventh Edition Handy Volume Edition, Oxford University Press; (4) Mackey, Albert G., and Clegg, Robert I., Mackey's Revised Encyclopedia of Freemasonry, The Masonic History Company.
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