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An altar is a table or platform for the presentation of religious offerings, for sacrifices, or for other ritualistic purposes. Altars are found at shrines, temples, churches, and other places of worship. They are used particularly in Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, modern paganism, and in certain Islamic communities around Caucasia and Asia Minor. Many historical faiths also made use of them, including the Roman, Greek, and Norse pagan religions.


  • And Noah builded an altar unto the LORD; and took of every clean beast, and of every clean fowl, and offered burnt offerings on the altar.
    And the LORD smelled a sweet savour; and the LORD said in his heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for man’s sake; for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; neither will I again smite any more every thing living, as I have done.
  • Ye shall not make with me gods of silver, neither shall ye make unto you gods of gold.
    An altar of earth thou shalt make unto me, and shalt sacrifice thereon thy burnt offerings, and thy peace offerings, thy sheep, and thine oxen: in all places where I record my name I will come unto thee, and I will bless thee.
    And if thou wilt make me an altar of stone, thou shalt not build it of hewn stone: for if thou lift up thy tool upon it, thou hast polluted it.
    Neither shalt thou go up by steps unto mine altar, that thy nakedness be not discovered thereon.
  • And thou shalt make an altar of shittim wood, five cubits long, and five cubits broad; the altar shall be foursquare: and the height thereof shall be three cubits.
  • Who are these coming to the sacrifice?
      To what green altar, O mysterious priest,
    Lead’st thou that heifer lowing at the skies,
      And all her silken flanks with garlands drest?
  • Where, in the coppice, oak and pine
      And mystic yew and elm are found,
    Sweeping the skies, that grow divine
      With the dark wind’s despairing sound,
      The wind that roars from the profound,
    And smites the mountain-tops, and calls
    Mute spirits to black festivals,
      And feasts in valleys iron-bound,
      Desolate crags, and barren ground;—
    There in the strong storm-shaken grove
    Swings the pale censer-fire for love.
    The foursquare altar, rightly hewn,
      And overlaid with beaten gold,
    Stands in the gloom; the stealthy tune
      Of singing maidens overbold
      Desires mad mysteries untold,
    With strange eyes kindling, as the fleet
    Implacable untiring feet
      Weave mystic figures manifold
      That draw down angels to behold
    The moving music, and the fire
    Of their intolerable desire.
    For, maddening to fiercer thought,
      The fiery limbs requicken, wheel
    In formless furies, subtly wrought
      Of swifter melodies than steel
      That flashes in the fight: the peal
    Of amorous laughters choking sense,
    And madness kissing violence,
      Ring like dead horsemen; bodies reel
      Drunken with motion; spirits feel
    The strange constraint of gods that clip
    From Heaven to mingle lip and lip.
    The gods descend to dance; the noise
      Of hungry kissings, as a swoon,
    Faints for excess of its own joys,
      And mystic beams assail the moon,
      With flames of their infernal noon;
    While the smooth incense, without breath,
    Spreads like some scented flower of death,
      Over the grove; the lovers’ boon
      Of sleep shall steal upon them soon,
    And lovers’ lips, from lips withdrawn,
    Seek dimmer bosoms till the dawn.
    Yet on the central altar lies
      The sacrament of kneaded bread,
    With blood made one, the sacrifice
      To those, the living, who are dead—
      Strange gods and goddesses, that shed
    Monstrous desires of secret things
    Upon their worshippers, from wings
      One lucent web of light, from head
      One labyrinthine passion-fed
    Palace of love, from breathing rife
    With secrets of forbidden life.
    But not the sunlight, nor the stars,
      Nor any light but theirs alone,
    Nor iron masteries of Mars,
      Nor Saturn’s misconceiving zone,
      Nor any planet’s may be shown,
    Within the circle of the grove,
    Where burn the sanctities of love:
      Nor may the foot of man be known,
      Nor evil eyes of mothers thrown
    On maidens that desire the kiss
    Only of maiden Artemis.
    But horned and huntress from the skies,
      She bends her lips upon the breeze,
    And pure and perfect in her eyes,
      Burn magical virginity’s
      Sweet intermittent sorceries.
    When the slow wind from her sweet word
    In all their conchéd ears is heard.
      And like the slumber of the seas,
      There murmur through the holy trees
    The kisses of the goddess keen,
    And sighs and laughters caught between.
    For, swooning at the fervid lips
      Of Artemis, the maiden kisses
    Sob, and the languid body slips
      Down to enamelled wildernesses.
      Fallen and loose the shaken tresses;
    Fallen the sandal and girdling gold,
    Fallen the music manifold
      Of moving limbs and strange caresses,
      And deadly passion that possesses
    The magic ecstasy of these
    Mad maidens, tender as blue seas.
    Night spreads her yearning pinions,
      The baffled day sinks blind to sleep;
    The evening breeze outswoons the sun’s
      Dead kisses to the swooning deep.
      Upsoars the moon; the flashing steep
    Of Heaven is fragrant for her feet;
    The perfume of the grove is sweet
      As slumbering women furtive creep
      To bosoms where small kisses weep,
    And find in fervent dreams the kiss
    Most memoried of Artemis.
    Impenetrable pleasure dies
      Beneath the madness of new dreams;
    The slow sweet breath is turned to sighs
      More musical than many streams
      Under the moving silver beams,
    Fretted with stars, thrice woven across.
    White limbs in amorous slumber toss,
      Like sleeping foam, whose silver gleams
      On motionless dark seas; it seems
    As if some gentle spirit stirred
    Their lazy brows with some swift word.
    So, in the secret of the shrine,
      Night keeps them nestled, so the gloom
    Laps them in waves as smooth as wine,
      As glowing as the fiery womb
      Of some young tigress, dark as doom,
    And swift as sunrise. Love’s content
    Builds its own monument,
      And carves above its vaulted tomb
      The Phoenix on her fiery plume,
    To their own souls to testify
    Their kisses’ immortality.
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