Mark Green's Atheopaganism Blog

Living an Earth-Honoring Path Rooted in Science

Developing a Focus

A Focus is an Atheopagan word for an altar. I use this word because “altar” seems to me to imply worship and/or sacrifice, neither of which are components of my religion.

The Focus is:

A curated collection of meaningful objects gathered together for ritual use and placed upon one or more surfaces in an intentional pattern.

These objects may be of practical use in a ritual, or chosen solely for their symbolic meaning to the person or people creating the Focus. A Focus may be built anywhere with horizontal surfaces on which to place the objects: a shelf, a table, a mantle, a tree stump, or simply the ground. Often, the Focus is constructed atop a cloth or other covering draped over the surface(s) on which it is built.

When building a Focus, here are some considerations:

Themes: Is this Focus a temporary one for a particular ritual on a particular theme? You will want symbols that go with that theme, then. If you’re building a more permanent personal Focus, consider all the most important themes to you. For example, my Focus at home has elements devoted to natural beauty, to my friends, to sexuality, to ancestry, to the Beloved Dead, and to evolution. So ask yourself: what’s important to me? What do I really need represented on my Focus to capture my character, values and aspirations?

Aesthetics: The Focus should delight the eye and intrigue and draw in the viewer. Beauty matters! What colors are consistent with the theme? What symbols? You might use symbols of the Earth, Sun and Moon, fresh flowers, beautiful objects from nature, artworks consistent with the Focus themes, etc. Arrange them attractively! If there is a wall behind the Focus surface, you can mount images and artworks on it.

What ritual tools do you regularly use? Common examples include candles or oil lamps, chalices, knives, wands, incense burners, Tarot decks, jewelry that is only worn during rituals, an Atheopagan Rosary, or other such practical ritual tools. Many Atheopagans who come from the Pagan tradition may have more of these “occult”-style tools, but they aren’t necessary–they just add some color and “Oooooo!” factor to a ritual.

Practical considerations:  If you’re going to serve wine in a chalice, do you have a corkscrew? (Alternatively, it can be opened early and the cork partially replaced until needed). How about a chalice to pass, or cups? If the ritual is to take place in darkness, are there candles or other lights to illuminate the Focus so its beauty and meaning can be seen? If you intend to burn incense, do you have a source of fire to light it? If you will asperge (sprinkle) participants with water as a tactile experience for bringing them into their senses and Presence, do you have something to dip in the water and shake at each participant (a sprig of rosemary is nice)? Less attractive practical considerations like matches and extra incense can be stored behind or to the side of the Focus, or in an attractive container such as a wooden box.

Finally, once you have created your personal Focus, keep it “alive”. Meaning, don’t just let it sit. Make it a site of change and activity. Light the candles and/or burn incense regularly. Move things around. Change it with the changing of the seasons. Clean the Focus occasionally to keep dust from accumulating. Speak a short intention or blessing at your Focus each morning before leaving the house.

That sort of thing.

My Focus is the literal focus of religious activity and observance in my home. It is a comfort to me to see it when I come home, and contemplating its symbols and glowing candles makes it easy for me to enter the Present, liminal Ritual State, or “trance”.

May your Focuses be as richly satisfying!


  1. I have to admit, I find the term “Focus” unsatisfying, somehow- a little sterile and jarring. A quick internet search confirms that, yes, “Altar”, comes (partially) from an ancient Hebrew term for a “place of sacrifice”- and I get that that’s not what’s being denoted, here. Evidently, some Protestant groups have come to use the term “Communal Table”- which sounds like something a Protestant group would come up with.
    I guess, for this old dog, this is one new trick I’m probably not going to bother to learn. The special place, dusty and unchanged as it gets, sometimes, is probably always going to be my “Altar”, and I’m really okay with that. Your actual mileage, as they say, may vary.

    1. Sure–whatever works for you. The word “altar” just sticks in my craw for some reason, seems naturally to ask the question “altar TO WHAT/WHOM”? But YMMV–as always, use what works, adapt as necessary.

  2. I like “focus”. To me it sounds modern and doesn’t have the baggage of “altar” and it is a reminder to be meditative. The Focuses (Focii?) I make tend to be very informal. On the mantle, I have photos of loved ones who have passed away. It just feels right to keep those photos separate from those of the living, not out of superstition, but out of respect. Setting them apart allows us to focus on them without distraction.

    I feel like the bird and animal feeding area in the backyard is a Focus, a living Focus. I put out birdseed, suet cakes, and “critter” food. It is there for the songbirds and sparrows alike. I feed the animals others try to discourage. I feed the starlings, grackles, and jays, the squirrels, and rabbits. We now have a woodchuck living under our back porch. This animal feeding area is the opposite of an altar–animals are not sacrificed, but being helped with supplemental food and water.

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