For the sake of not getting views mixed up due to differing definitions, for me an alter is a place of worship or devotion, and a shrine is a place that concentrates a specific energy.
My alter - this is a devotional alter set up with a meditation bench and pillow across from it (and BTW, I found a beautiful , large, dog-bed for 19 bucks at Home Goods with a wash-able cover and it's a perfect meditation pillow at a decent price, lol!!), this is because I am spiritual and I do believe in and devote to divinity (that's just who I am, I know many on here aren't into that).
Shrines - I have my ancestor shrine, which is a place of connection to the ancestral realm and the memories there. I check in with them a minimum of once per week. I consider this a shrine because I love them, I am greatful for them, I remember them, I pay homage to their wisdom and guidance (which I ask for often in many things), but I don't worship them. So this shrine is just set up in a basic Ifa-type espiritism (sp) way to connect to the energy of the ancestors and send/receive messages and blessings (or even WTF were you thinking??? from them, lol). One of the things I love with this veneration shrine is that most of the time when I work with it, I feel a hand stroke my hair... It's wonderful, really makes me feel peaceful and like I'm with family.
The other shrine is my house/working shrine. I call it a shrine because it connects directly to the unseen house energies (even though it is already existing in the house, lol) and the things I work with. Also I don't do magic at my ancestor shrine or the spiritual alter, so this is my "working" shrine.
Which brings me to magic... and I'd really love some other opinions on this.... I don't think one can make magic alone, and I don't think one can invoke something that doesn't have a spirit (to me living and dead things have a spirit, but, say, plastic doesn't). I'm a human and humans can only have human energy so to me, the more I've contemplated it, the more I feel that magic can't be done alone, but can only be done through a relationship with something, or the "use" of an energy that is "alive" spiritually (like a force of nature, storm, fire, etc.). I think the best I can do with my own energy is to direct something that I've invoked.
So the working shrine (concentration of energy) serves two purposes - to let me know if something is off, and for me to let the things I work with know if I'm expecting trouble or if everything is well, and then actions are taken there accordingly (and that is expressed in the set up of the water cups on the shrine). Part of that is again very folk-magic espiritism in its way of working. Where I live I'm surrounded by Caribbean and Afro-Cuban magical and religious energies, so it makes sense to work in that way because it is what is here. I have many connections on it to nature manifestations/spirits that I have worked at getting a relationship with.
Gods, to me, I don't use in magic - I think it's risky and disrespectful at best. If I want to ask a divinity for guidance in something that's one thing, but to try and invoke into my being an energy that humongous and that strong and then try to boss it around, to me that's just asking to get my mind blown-up. Like it's one thing to plug a cord in a socket, it's another thing to try and BE the socket
Human spirits (including ancestral) I don't use in magic because I'm not going to invoke (which to me is a lesser form of possession) another human's spirit into my body. I think that, too, is kinda asking for trouble. And to have a dead person's spirit (who I did not know in life) that I'm working with is also a no-no for me. So I stick to the manifestations of nature spirits - because they live in this physical realm (whereas human spirits live in the spirit realm) and I also, belong in the physical realm (at this time, lol).
So that's how I have my house set-up and why, and my thoughts on the logical-ness of it. And I'd be interested in hearing about other's ways of working.
Edited by Michele, 07 September 2015 - 01:07 PM.