Five years ago, my house in Ypsilanti had a huge back yard, and I built an altar in it. The altar was constructed from a pile of shale, bricks, and other flat rocks to create a rough half-moon shape. A big chunk of shale made a roof. Because the back and sides were made of stacked stone, there were lots of nooks and crannies for candles, incense, offering bowls, small statues, and other thingies. My big Goddess statue sat in the center of it all. It was a lovely altar. But when we lost the house, the half-ton of stone was too much for us to move, so it had to stay behind.
The house I moved into was a townhouse with a postage-stamp courtyard back yard that I shared with the neighbors. I couldn't do much of an outdoor altar. In fact, when I created a tiny one, the lawn service hired by the landlord tended to knock my altar materials over and even break them. The outdoor altar was mostly the Goddess statue, a few offering bowls, and my Green Man sundial tucked in among some bushes. It did the job, but I missed my other altar.
Now I live in a house with a nice back yard. We moved into it during the fall, however, and there was so much to do that there was no time for creating an altar until winter arrived, and it was too late.
This year I decided building an altar would be a perfect Beltaine activity. The boys, for once, seemed interested, and we set to work.
Since I have a truck, hauling stone would be easy enough. We went to a hardware store with a gardening center and did considerable searching. I almost bought a couple boxes of stone you're meant to glue to the exterior of your house, but then I found some better stuff--bricks and flat stones that were better shaped for our purposes and much cheaper.
The boys and I loaded them up, along with three irregularly shaped terra-cotta flagstones to use as the base. I also got two bags of red mulch.
While we were there, we also picked out a new grill. The old one was simply dead. Rusted through at the bottom, no real flame control. Dead and dead. The new one is way better and should last at least 15 years. And we got a cover for it.
At home, we unloaded. In the back yard we'd already found an rough oval created by the previous owner. It was set off by a a boundary of buried bricks and was in the perfect location under the trees out back. We cleared out the stray plants and built the altar. The boys liked this. It was like big puzzle. Maksim accidentally dropped one of the big flagstones and it broke in two, but this turned out to work better--we used the two pieces to flank the remaining piece to form a much better base. The third flagstone became the roof.
We also put flat square bricks down at each of the four directions and put an offering stone at the front of the altar. Then we set out the sundial and brought out the Goddess statue. We spread mulch around the two sides to make it look nice and to keep the weed growth down, then brought out votive candles to tuck into the corners and shelves.
It looked wonderful!
We were tired and grubby, so the dedication ritual was short and sweet. We cleansed the area and blessed it and welcomed summer.
But it didn't quite end there.
Today Darwin and I were doing other yard things. I realized that the altar was facing into the wind, and that the roof was too short--the Goddess statue would still get rained on when wind blew into the altar. The statue is concrete and does get worn by water. We needed a bigger roof to jut farther outward.
We went to a different hardware store and found a bigger flagstone. Cool! I also came across bags of pea gravel. I liked the way it looked, and decided to get a bag to cover the bare earth between the two mulched areas.
Back home, I swapped out the roof piece. The Goddess is better sheltered now. Then I spread the stones around and in front of her. It really sharpened it up. Awesome! I spent considerable time just looking at it and admiring how it came out.
Here's a photo, though this is before the new roof and the stone were added. A good Beltaine!