Altars are an interesting part of any witch’s practice. We all vary so much on the use and importance of altars in personal practice; (Australis Incognita wrote a really beautiful post for PDU). I don’t think my post will be as lyrical or beautiful because I tend to not actually use my altar (or any altar as such) all that much. I have one, I have items on it that relate to my path but it is more of a touchstone of where I am at any given time in my practice than a practical space that is for working. Here is a photo of my altar as it stands right now; it reflects the green elements of my craft.
Weed Wife & Maiden, Mother, Crone by the wonderfully excellent Rima Staines
Carved Triple Hare to represent the hedge by the fantastic Moore Designs
Datura spirit bottle
Herb charm bottle
Handcrafted altar candle
New grimoire (embossed leather with lovely handmade pages)
Cat (cos I love mine)
All of these things are representations of aspects within the journey I am taking. They’re not used all that much because I’m a lazy witch who really needs to get her stuff together (I’m trying, honestly) and get on with crafting a better spiritual practice. And I will. Eventually.
But how does one go about creating an altar? They’re personal spaces reflecting your path so there is no one way or right way to do it. It’s pretty well intuition as to how it comes together. The problem is, you could research until the cows come home and every site/book/person will have a different way of doing things. So let’ start with the basics.
An Altar Cloth – this is the base of your altar so to speak, the foundation on which everything else will sit. However it is not mandatory to have an altar cloth, it could be a lovely piece of wood, a flat surface that suits you – my altar has a handcrafted Celtic tile, this was made by my parents as a gift so it is very special to me. I do however have a black altar cloth on the wall above my altar; it has the cardinal points and glows in the dark (and yes, it is awesome).
If you’re Deity inclined, your altar set up for each one could be something like:
Left Side for the Goddess:
White or Silver candle to represent the Goddess
A Statue of a Goddess (if you intend to represent her that way or if you have a statue of a Deity you work with)
Bowl of Water
Right Side for the God:
Candle either Gold or Yellow
God Statue (if you intend to represent her that way or if you have a statue of a Deity you work with)
Bowl of Salt
For each of the elements:
Earth: Pentacle, bowl of salt, stones, plants or a green candle
Water: Bowl of water, seashells, cauldron or blue candle
Fire: Red stones, charcoal, dagger or red candle
Air: Incense, feathers, bells or a yellow candle
Having everything representing each element is neither necessary nor practical, or even has to be done – it really depends on your practice. My altar guide here is based more on the Wiccan view of altar arranging simply because as I am a hedge witch with the trad bent – and this would be the same for many other practitioners who follow a similar path – the altar reflects my practice. Some will have bones, banes and other bits that have nothing to do with elements or Deity. They may have their altar strictly dedicated to their spirits or ancestors so therefore would reflect that.
Your Grimoire or Book of Shadows can sit on your altar or underneath it as mine does (I have a shelf that it sits on, saves room). My altar is also a cabinet of sorts that holds my herbs and other bits and pieces, everything is together in one central location. This may or may not work for you. If you find that you can’t keep an altar up permanently buy a nice box, decorate it and keep your items in it until you need them. Though I would perhaps streamline what you need for your altar because you may not be able to have everything on it at once if this is the case.
The best advice I can give for building an altar is always personalise it; after all it will be a reflection of you and your own spiritual practices, you will be working with it. Don’t let anyone tell you it has to be done a specific way because you’ll likely end up with a space you don’t connect with, and if you don’t connect with it, you’ll not be able to successfully work with it.