If you are a practicing Pagan then you are more than aware of the importance of altars in our practice. What we don’t discuss enough is their value as creative as well as spiritual activities and how the two interplay. For children creativity is so inherent to their being and I sometimes envy my daughter’s ability to make up games and use everyday items in her imaginative play.
The term altar can sometimes seem a little formal I think, though we have several in our home and our daughter knows that that’s what they are called. However when we set up one for her we called it the “Mother Nature table” and I think she appreciates this term as “altar” can seem a little arcane, the space is no less sacred for the different term.
Developing such a space is a creative act as well as a spiritual one for children. It is also very affirming because they are being given the opportunity to express to the family the things they like and are important to them. My daughter's table has various natural objects as well as some treasured chotchkies that speak to her personality. It can seem when you have children they have taken over the whole house with the detritus we battle daily. However ultimately the decor and furniture are usually chosen by the adult. Providing a space just for your child to decorate can give them a heady feeling of autonomy.
The idea for a nature table came from the wonderful book “Children of the Green” by Dr. Hannah E. Johnston, a book I cannot recommend enough.
Setting up you Table
In “Children of the Green”, Dr. Johnston suggests putting your table somewhere that is well-used by the family. Traditionally altars are placed in the north but we have to use the space we have and that is totally fine. Our nature table is in the hallway.
Encourage your child to gather things to put on the table, feathers, pebbles, pine cones. Take your time doing this, go for walks with your child or ransack their bedroom for things they want to add. This is a nice bonding time and a chance to be in the present, looking at items and discussing their features: Why is that feather blue in the light but not in the dark? That’s a cool figure, is that your favorite super hero? What do you like about them?
There should be no rules to what can be added.
Using the Table
Every evening before going up to bed we go to the table and talk about our day and what we are grateful for. My daughter likes to say “good night Mother Earth” and then it’s off to bed.
Our mornings are unstructured so we don’t often go to the table at this time, but it could be used for setting intentions for the day or thinking about what we want to achieve. Each member of the family should take a turn, grown ups included.
When a situation is frustrating, worrying, or sad, we can use the table to petition for help. My daughter refers to Mother Earth but obviously you could ask guidance of any deity you all feel connected with.
This has become such an important part of our day, that if I forget my daughter reminds me that we have to “Go to the Mother Earth table”.
The table is different to a den or chamber (and we have those too!). This is a space for the family to pause and be mindful together. The den my daughter has is really just for her to be alone and hang out. This space is just as important but serves a different purpose.