Pregnant Pagan: Childproofing the Altar Area

Pregnancy brings many practical safety concerns.  Those nice open outlets that were always so convenient need capping.  Cabinets with easily accessible cleaning supplies suddenly seem like death traps at worse or, at least, mess factories.  Coffee table corners become menacing obstacles.  Most expecting parents who choose to have a registry will add various safety doodads to the list.  Weretoad and I have been talking here and there about childproofing our abode, and that started me thinking about my altar space.

I’ve enjoyed several years of relative carefree altar maintenance.  Of course – I don’t leave candles unattended.  Sure – I can’t leave tempting objects like feathers on the altar or the cats will destroy it all.  I’m used to the occasional tipped over carving or the cats sipping from my well.  Those can be annoying but I’ve learned to live with them.  Nothing dangerous or even all that offensive in my eyes.

Enter a child.  If that child is anything like me, he or she will be extremely curious and creative.  He or she will want to emulate mommy and light candles*.  This can (hopefully) be remedied by keeping matches out of reach and teaching the little one to respect the power of fire.  I don’t use a lot of blades in my spiritual work, but when I do they are put away on shelves.  I think I’ll move them to higher shelves…  I am considering altar cloths too.  They are easy to grab and pull.  I can’t imagine a pile of harps, bowls, and sacred images feels good on top of a tiny body… That could be easily addressed by simply not using an altar cloth most of the time.  Of course I’ll miss the beauty of them, but it’s temporary until the little one knows better.

My altar is likely to move again.  This is because I’m likely to move again.  We’re hoping to get into a larger apartment.  We feel we need more room for the baby and for a family member who is going to move in to help us with childcare.  This means my altars will probably be condensed.  I’m thinking that I will combine my seasonal and main altars.  Perhaps it will be in one of the main rooms again.  Nothing is set in stone yet, but it seems that simply closing a door will not solve any problems.  The child will have to learn how to exist with an altar, and I, as an altar-using Pagan, with a child.  It will require learning and flexibility on both ends.

Bags and bags of herbs meant for offerings, incense, and other spell work. Ignore the mess of birdseed on the floor… Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2013.

Actually, my greatest concern has been my herb collection.  For the longest time, it was housed in two separate containers – a storage drawer and a basket below my altar.  Very low to the ground, not locked, and very accessible to curious little hands.  And, once more, if baby wants to emulate mommy, either by making offerings when I’m not looking or trying to make tea…  There are several herbs there that aren’t for baby.  Like mistletoe, for one.

So tonight I started to do a childproofing and spring cleaning.  My goal was to combine all of my non-tea herbs into one container (tea is elsewhere in the home – up in a high kitchen cupboard) and move it to the top of a shelf for safer storage.

Ta da! Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2013.

I decided to use the little treasure chest I’ve had since my wedding.  I had been using it to store and display art plushies at craft fairs, but I recently decided to suspend business to better focus on everything else going on.  The chest was the perfect size!

Aesthetic? Probably not. Safe, I hope… Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2013.

Now the chest of herbs is high on a shelf!  It should be safe from curious little hands for the first few years, until I can really make sure the child understands to respect the power of plants.

For my readers who have children, how have you had to adjust your practices for your children?  Is there anything I haven’t thought of?

* I went through a phase where I insisted I was a witch.  I was 7 or 8, pulled out all my favorite Halloween decor and costume accessories, covered my dresser with what seemed to be witchy objects, and generally made my father uncomfortable.  Now imagine a similar child but with an actual Pagan parent who has real magical tools.  Then again, the Gods could find it amusing to inspire my child to play Catholic priest or nun…  That would be ironic…

Published by M. A. Phillips

An author and Druid living in Northern NY.

18 thoughts on “Pregnant Pagan: Childproofing the Altar Area

  1. Children come with a cart full of challenges for anyone who deals with them. It is a fast learning curve. Running risk assessments is good.

  2. Let’s see, pre-small children, my husband and I enjoyed two main altars, as well as several smaller shrines throughout the house, not to mention knick-knacks and random pretty things on every flat surface. Post-small children, we now have one family altar that’s more a shrine than anything, and very few knick-knacks about the house (only the sturdy ones remain out, up high, of course.)

    Altar cloths have been a huge no-no until fairly recently (youngest is now 2 and has learned to leave it alone, and the kitten has grown enough that hanging altar cloths aren’t interesting anymore.) And also, up until fairly recently, the altar set up has been rather stark, with everything clustered at the center (just out of sight and reach of little hands.)

    The biggest surprise, for me, as to what would be a problem, was the bowl of salt. Little fingers found their way in the dish, repeatedly; apparently youngest daughter likes the taste (none of the other kids had ever done this! lol) The bell I should have seen coming, but it now sits *quietly* at the far back of the altar.

    Another thing that I never expected, though, was that in teaching the children to leave offerings for our Gods, just how much they would love to do so! It’s not so bad in the Winter, but in the warmer months, the children each bring in at least one small handful of pretty stones and flowers to set on the altar -every single day. After last year, I have a 4qt cauldron about half filled with stones. The plan is to keep them for a garden project (dedicated to our Gods) once there’s enough.

    Best of luck to you! 🙂

    1. Your children sound adorable!

      And you’ve given me some more to think about. I’m sure my altar will become a bit simplified as the little one starts to walk and grab… We have so many knick knacks around…

  3. I have my altar on a shelf in my closet (one my hubby helped put up)l. it’s a sliding closet. I plan on putting stuff on the top shelf that was already installed when we moved in.

      1. I will post it on my Facebook. It’s a Shinto/Pagan altar but mostly Shinto looking until holidays of course. I don’t have everything up yet i’m still searching for it all and need to rebuy the stuff that broke during the move.

      2. Oh no! I’m so sorry to see that some of your things broke. 😦

        And I am really curious how you blend Shinto practices with modern Neo Pagan practices. I look forward to seeing your altar and learning more. 🙂

      3. It was hard at first because I couldn’t find any information on Pagan-Shinto stuff but I found that I made it work well for me. There is a thing called a Kamidana in Japanese which is a shelf house altar I have one, although not complete lol. I follow Kami (Japanese Gods) instead of say Celtic ones. Just little things like that. Although somethings are a little different around the holidays and I celebrate some Japanese holidays like Hinamatsuri which is 3/3 and is basically a girls day, it’s called dolls day and it’s to celebrate the grow, happiness, beauty, etc for young girls. I even had to hina dolls (very expensive) but they broke really bad during the move so now I will have to wait to get another pair.

  4. I’m a big believer that the best form of childproofing is supervision. A child is not going to get a fork and stick it in the light socket if they are well supervised.

    1. Oh this is also something we strongly feel. We just want to be extra cautious. My parents watched me like a hawk, but my dad worked during the day and I loved to get into things when mum was in the bathroom! This was more when I was 5 and up, and I knew not to stick my finger in a socket… But I still loved to look in my parents’ drawers and such. Such a snoop. 😛 So, like I said, just being extra cautious!

  5. I’ve pretty much walled off a working/altar space with bookshelves and a dresser that I braced together with L braces and screws so they can’t tumble over. There’s only one gate in which remains locked at all times. That being said my oldest loves to come in with me and look around while supervised. He knows not to go in there alone. My youngest ones wont be allowed to go in until their old enough to understand. I don’t want it to be a “forbidden zone” because then I’m afraid it will encourage them to sneak in all the more. By letting them see whats in there while I’m with them I’m hoping it will just become a natural thing. So far it’s worked.

    1. Sounds like my father’s workshop! We were always allowed in, and even had our own work benches and child-sized (functional!) tools – we just weren’t allowed in by ourselves. Too many sharp things that we didn’t know how to use. I don’t think I’ll have that ability until we get our own home – there’s a definite limit on space due to the rental situation. But it’s still a good thought! I suppose I could consider using a high safety latch on a closet or something like that… But I will probably opt for a simplified altar that the family can see and have access too. I just need to get used to putting some things away for a time. It’s not like I do the ritual metal work you do! That’s a whole different ball game!

  6. Not being Pagan, I don’t have any altar-related advice to give/get…but I do have a lot of knick knacks everywhere that I should probably start thinking about moving to higher ground. Most are already inaccessible because, like you, I have cats, and we all know that if they can get to an object, they will knock it down just to watch it fall – haha!

    And don’t even get me started on the light sockets…I swear, our house has at least 50!

  7. I leave my Altar in my bedroom, and don’t allow my children in there, most of the time. Mine are two and four, so they mostly get the gist of, “That’s mommy’s please don’t touch!” They seem to be absurdly obsessed with my well though!

    1. There is a very real chance my altar will end up back in the bedroom, so there’s that possibility too. It’s neat that they’re drawn to the well!

  8. I have a static ancestor altar that is in a shadowbox hanging on the wall surrounded by framed photos and a candle sconce. I suppose a shelf could be hung in place of the shadowbox for a more standard altar. My daughter did get into some corn husks and beech sticks I was saving once. She carried them around for days!

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