Creating a little pocket or travel altar for your nature spirituality practice is a great way to be able to “carry” your practice with you, particularly when you are hiking, traveling, or simply out and about. I’ve made a number of pocket altars over the years, and I get questions about how to make them, so I wanted to share here in today’s post. This is a fun spiritual craft project that you can do that also helps you understand what is important about your work.
The purpose of a Druid’s Pocket Altar is that you have some ritual tools that you can put in your pocket. Then, you are prepared for ceremony anywhere that you might find yourself. For some druids, having these kinds of tools at hand can be a helpful part of their practice. What I particularly like about a travel altar kit like the one I’m going to describe today is that you can go out into the woods, build a larger altar from sticks, leaves, etc, and pull a few focal points out of your pocket to complete your setup. These little pocket altars are great for throwing in a purse or backpack and, if carefully crafted, can even be taken on a flight or longer trip.
Buiding your Pocket Altar
The first thing you should do is consider what your absolute necessity go-to ritual items are and what you might want to include in your travel altar. In other words, which items are necessary to your practice? For some people, it may be more important to have representations of the elements and for others, you might want to focus on statuary, representations of animals spirits or diety, etc. Others may want a smoke clearing stick or an offering blend. Make a list of the “necessary items” for your altar. After this, create your list of “would be nice but not necessary” items.
Here is a list of some possibilities:
- Representation of fire: candle, red stone, stone deer figurine, piece of antler, red and yellow glass marble
- Representation of water: vial of water, collapsible or tiny bowl, shell, river stone, blue stone, river stone
- Representation of air: incense cones or sticks, charcoal for found incense (if you are hiking in forests, it’s easy to find conifer resin – see this post), smoke clearing stick, feather
- Representation of earth: wood burned tree image on wood round, rough stone, green stone, vial of earth, sand, vial of salt, salt cube
- Vial of anointing oil
- Tiny divination set: pendulum, penny for flipping yes/no; tiny set of runes, mini tarot, etc.
- Offering blend
- Icons or statuary: small carved beads work well, as do small stone animal carvings
- Prayer beads or strands
- Vials of herbal blends you use with your practice
- Altar cloth: go to a thrift store and look through their hanky, scarf, and doily selection and you will likely find a few nice options for a tiny cloth to carry with you
- Smoke clearing stick
- Quarter and cross quarter stones for marking sacred space: you can get 8 stones–all the same or representative of the quarters and cross quarters and use them to mark a sacred grove; you can also paint these with elemental symbolsm
As you are deciding on your list, you will also want to decide what size of the container you will make your altar in. The smallest possible size that is reasonable is an Altoids tin; I have an example of one of those below and also an example of another slightly larger tin (this is a used salve tin that I repurposed). You want something that is sturdy but also lightweight–so metal tins are a great choice. I would be hesitant to use glass because it is more prone to breaking. A lightweight wooden box would be another very good choice.
Finally, you should also consider how and where you will take the altar with you. If you will be traveling on a plane, for example, you will want to omit any liquids like oils or waters from your altar. If you are going to be in forested environments, it’s much easier to forage representations of the elements and incense, so you might look to offering blends, a fire-starting tool, and a small knife.
Assemble your Pocket Altar
Once you’ve created your list and found your altar container, you can start working on making or sourcing the items that go in your travel altar. Start by looking through your own spiritual supplies. Beyond your own stash, if you are looking for representations of animals, elements, or other sacred symbols, a good resource is a bead supply shop, as they often carry small beads for many different things. You can also look at a rock shop, which often will carry small animal figurines, colored marbles, etc. I recommend the incense matches if you are very tight on space–they work great and double as a fire source and incense source. Sourcing your items and seeing how they all fit can be a very fun part of the process.
Finally, you want to decide if you want any artwork inside or outside of the box; artwork can include poetry, pictures, collages, paintings, and much more. You have lots of options here, from finding artwork in magazines and gluing it on, painting or drawing your own artwork, using photos you have printed, etc. Think about where you want it (top of box, sides or bottom, inside). If you are going to carry this with you frequently, I’d be hesitant about too much artwork on the outside unless it was very sealed (e.g. decoupage would be a good option) as it will wear over time. But inside the box is protected and you can add all kinds of artwork as you choose.
Another option here is painting–if you are working on metal, enamels work well. You can also use spray paint (a technique here is to paint one shade, let it dry, then take leaves, flowers, or ferns and then lay them on top of the box and spray a second shade).
A final option is that you can leave the tin as it is and then just have it disguised as something it is not, which can be very useful if you are a closet druid!
Sample Travel Altar: OBOD Bardic Initiation Gift
This travel altar is one that I made for bardic initiations we were performing for the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids at the MAGUS gathering in 2019. For these, they were OBOD specific, so a lot of the symbolism both in the art and box is geared towards OBOD practice.
Because of this, wanted to include a representation of the bardic symbol and connections with the four elements, which are used heavily in OBOD. I also wanted to include an offering blend. Here are some of the component pieces I assembled–a tiny tin of offering herbs, a wood round with a wood burned tree and earth symbol, a vial of sacred waters (saved from previous OBOD ceremonies and other places), and the OBOD’s Bardic symbol with an awen in it. Not pictured here was a beeswax candle and some incense matches.
This second photo shows everything that comes out of the tin and how I managed to get it all fitting inside. It was tricky but it all worked!
In terms of decoration, I had two different approaches. Since I wanted to cover up the Altoids logo (I was using repurposed tins), I made nice watercolor panels that I sealed with an acrylic sealer. This helped protect them from wear and tear. I glued those on the inside, top, and bottom of each altar.
I chose to do the outside cover and inside covers with watercolor panels–painted them, cut them to size, and then used a water-based superglue (the Ultimate) to adhere them. I sealed them with clear acrylic. The outside of the panel just had a little tree scene on it. The inside of the panel included the Druid’s Prayer for Peace as a focus for meditation.
I decided to spiff up the insides as well. I used alcohol inks, which are permanent and can adhere to things like metal and glass. These gave a cool effect. Here’s a photo of the alcohol inks in progress. Once everything was done, I packed them up and we gave them out to the new bards at our gathering.
I hope that you’ve enjoyed this tutorial on how to make a pocket altar. These are really fun to make and make fantastic initiation gifts or other gifts for all sorts of people on nature-based spiritual paths.