There is so much to consider when it comes to a witchcraft altar. Is it for magick and spells, for ancestors or deities, for divination or meditation? Should you change it at every sabbat? How often should you clean it? What should you put on it, and where? There is so much information out there about altars and almost every religion has a different version. Today I will be going over the basics of the Wiccan and New Age Witchcraft altar setup!
As always, remember it is best to follow your intuition. We are witches after all! If you like the look of something on your altar, that is where you should put it. If something doesn’t feel right being on your altar, you don’t need it no matter how many websites tell you it is necessary. Find what works for you and your personal practice!
What Is An Altar?
Put simply, an altar is a space set aside for your spiritual practice. It is a visual representation of your spiritual path and a place to return to and center yourself. Note that altars are often confused with shrines. A shrine is a consecrated space decorated with sacred objects. It is a place set up to connect with ancestors or deities where you leave offerings. Its energy is connected to its location, therefore it should not be moved. An altar can be taken down and set up as often as needed. It contains the tools you use for rituals and spells in order to work at any location. An altar often doubles as a shrine, and you may choose to keep everything in one place or separate your altar from your shrines, especially if you work with many different spirits in your craft and leave offerings regularly.
Do I Even Need An Altar?
Since an altar can be set up anywhere, the sky’s the limit for what you consider to be your altar. Maybe you’re a kitchen witch and your spiritual practice is only in the kitchen. Having a special altar cloth where you set your consecrated cooking tools is your altar. Or if you are a green witch, maybe your altar is a certain basket you transport from the garden to indoors while you work to prepare your herbs for use in spells and rituals. It does not need to be a permanent thing by any means, it can be something temporary you decide to set up for special rituals only. But of course, an altar is not necessary because you can find your sacred space inside yourself. You are a witch and whatever you deem sacred, so it is!
How To Set Up Your Witchcraft Altar
But if you decide having an altar will help you follow your witchcraft path to its fullest potential, here are some things to consider. Most witchcraft altars are made on a short table that you are able to work on while sitting on the ground. If you don’t have a table you can certainly spread an altar cloth on the floor and set it up as an altar! Are you a broom closeted witch? Consider setting up your altar away from prying eyes and literally turn a closet into your own altar, having your tools in the corner of a shelf behind some clothes.
The most important question to ask yourself when setting up your altar is: Does the way my altar is set up make it easy for me to work my witchcraft? Think about what you use it for most: Is it meditation, divination, spellwork, or ritual? If you do a lot of rituals with deities, you might want to decorate with their specific correspondences. If you mostly use it for divination or spellwork, make sure you have enough space on your altar to give you the room you need to work.
Wherever you decide to put it, having a representation of the four elements can be helpful for when you want to call on the elements when doing spellwork or casting a circle. Your representation of earth should be positioned to the north, air to the east, water to the west, and fire to the south. You might choose something like a bowl of dirt or salt for earth, an incense burner for east, a chalice or a seashell for west, and a candle for south. Whatever first comes to mind when you think of the elements, that is what you should place on your altar.
Let’s Talk About Tools
The focal point of an altar is usually a pentacle or a cauldron. The pentacle represents the fifth element of spirit. In Wicca and witchcraft, the cauldron represents the goddess and rebirth. Many witches also like to include something to represent the god and the goddess. This could be statues, candles, or a sun symbol and a moon symbol.
The foundation of your altar will be an altar cloth. This can be any cloth you choose to cover the surface and place whatever tools and decorations you decide to include. The altar cloth represents the foundation and sets the space aside as sacred. You can have just one that is special to you, perhaps it is designed with a certain symbol, or you can have several different colors and change them out to correspond with the sabbats.
Other tools you may choose to include could be an athame or wand for directing energy, a bell or broom for energy clearing before spellwork, or even displaying your Book of Shadows. You might also like to decorate your altar with crystals and dried herbs and flowers.
DIY Travel Altar
But what if you don’t want a permanent altar, are practicing in secret, or have nowhere to put it? A travel altar is easy to make and can easily fit inside of an empty breath-mint tin. Here’s how to make one, whether it is the only altar you have or a secondary one you use when you are away from home!
You will need:
- An empty breath-mint tin
- A tealight candle or battery-operated candle
- Matchbook if using a regular candle
- Small tumbled crystals
- Dried herbs, this could be a bundle for burning or loose herbs you commonly use for spells (or both!)
- Optional: salt of your choosing for protection or representing the element of Earth
- Optional: miniature corked glass bottles for storing loose herbs or salt
- Optional: a small feather or bell to cleanse energy or represent the element of Air if not using an herb bundle for burning
- Optional: a small seashell to represent the element of Water
Arrange all of your chosen objects so they fit inside the tin. If you like to use a pentacle as a focal point of your altar, you can draw it inside the lid of your tin. Pack your travel altar with a napkin-sized altar cloth so that when you are away from home, you can pull out the cloth and set up your altar on it from the tin. If you can find some that are small enough, consider adding incense cones if you like them for meditation and commonly use your altar in that way. Make sure you will have something heatproof available to burn your incense. Maybe you have a small pendulum or a pocket stone with a symbol that is special to you. Get creative with what you put in your travel altar and customize it to you and your individual practice!
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