The word altar has varying definitions in different contexts. In the context of Witchcraft, an altar is generally a Witch’s workspace. A Witches altar serves as a focal point for magical activity. It provides a dedicated space to perform spells and ceremonies with tools easily at hand.
What is an Altar and What is it used for?
A witch’s altar is their personal magical workspace. Although we can make magic anywhere, the altar is a focal point for our magic and our craft.
Typically, we think of the altar as a space for casting spells, performing rituals, practicing divination, and even a space to meditate with the divine or sacred energy.
It’s not just a space for storing our tools and supplies after all!
Beyond a workspace, it is a microcosm of nonphysical reality and energy. This microcosm mirrors all that the magic circle is and represents!
Your altar allows you to bring the sacred into physical representation in your space. Honestly, I think creating a physical representation of your craft this way is like sympathetic magic. In doing so, you invite the sacred into your everyday life.
As a pagan who deals with bipolar disorder, my altar is a physical reminder of my spirituality and creates a foundation for my practice and commitment. Even when I’m not working there, I have a visible reminder that the divine and the sacred is always in my life.
Every witch’s altar is different and unique. They can express not only our beliefs and our craft, but also our personality, aesthetic, and taste. Don’t be afraid to do things differently than everything you read and see around you!
How to Set Up Your Own Altar
If you’ve never created an altar before and you want to get started, then hopefully this will help you get started! And if you’ve already established an altar and reorganized one to the point where you feel like a pro, I hope what I have to say can give you some new ideas!
Personally, every time I read about sacred space or see another witch’s altar, I’m immediately inspired to try something new with mine.
First, the most important thing to decide is where you’re going to put your altar. Likewise, you’ll also want to start thinking about how big your altar will be. In other words, while you’re thinking about where to place the altar you should also think about what to use as its base.
Your altar can be almost anything! Perhaps it’s just a shelf on the wall or part of a dresser. On the other hand, maybe you want to use an entire desk or build your own table to use!
Where to Put your Altar
Once you’ve figured out what to use, it’s time to figure out where you want to set everything up! Ideally, we all would have as much space as we want to design and set up our workspace. But realistically most of us will be constrained to a smaller space.
A lucky few may have a whole room dedicated to their craft – which I’d love to do one day. For the time being, if you’re like me, you’ll have to stick with just part of your room.
Truthfully, the size of your altar doesn’t make a difference. You could have a massive altar, but if you never work with it what’s the point? Don’t feel bad if your altar is smaller than some or you can’t do all you want yet.
The key is that the space is sacred to you and functions for what you want to do.
On the other hand, while any space can work, we should be mindful of where we settle on creating our workspace. Some traditions say that the altar must face a particular direction or cannot touch the wall.
Personally, I don’t adhere to a particular path. As a result, I’ve set up my altar using my intuition and whatever felt right. In fact, my altar along with many others are situated against a wall – and I don’t think that’s a problem.
Initially, when I set up my altar on my armoire it was against the eastern wall in my room. This was partially because of the layout of my other furniture. But it was also because I associate the east with the element of air. At the time, I wanted to do this because of air’s correspondence with enlightenment and communication.
Later on, I reorganized my room and moved the armoire against the northern wall. At first, I was trying to use Feng Shui to design my space. But it didn’t work out well for me and so I decided to follow my intuition.
As a result, I found that the northern wall was perfect for me. The space felt right, and I was able to use my magical workspace with ease.
Likewise, I associate the direction of north with the element of Earth. The earth provides a strong foundation and grounds my craft in my reality. It felt right to me. And that’s all that matters.
Permanent Vs. Semi-Permanent
So far, I’ve mostly discussed creating a permanent altar. Permanent meaning a workspace that you set up and can leave set up. But there’s also semi-permanent or travel altars.
A semi-permanent altar is one that can be dismantled and packed away easily. This can be done as needed or whenever you’re done using the workspace. A travel altar is essentially the same thing.
The idea is that it’s portable and therefore can travel with you. Travel altars are great if you’re doing a lot of rituals away from home such as outside.
Similarly, not all of us are able to have a permanent altar; whether it’s due to the constraints of our living space or we’re in the broom-closet. Although you may think you can’t have a permanent altar because you’re in the broom-closet, this isn’t always the case.
A broom-closeted will need to be creative with setting up a concealed permanent altar, but it can be done. For example, you can use a closable chest or trunk or a dresser that closes. Before you give up on having an altar because you’re in the broom-closet, try thinking of creative solutions and see what you come up with.
What Do I Put on My Altar?
Witchcraft is full of tools! I mean, we have a lot of magical tools for spellcasting, decorations, and a wide variety of supplies such as crystals, herbs, jars, and so much more. But where should we put all of it?
First of all, you’ll likely want to put an altar cloth down. This could be a plain table runner or a decorative altar cloth or different decorative ones for the seasons/Sabbats. In addition to being decorative, altar cloths can stop messes such as candle wax or spilled herbs from getting all over the workspace itself.
Above all, symbols of your craft and the divine if you work with deity are probably the most important things to set up. I say this because these symbols help connect us to the sacred and truly evoke this sense of sacredness in our workspace.
Representation of the Divine
Most commonly, candles are used to represent the divine. Personally, I have a black candle on the left side of my altar to represent the goddess and divine feminine. And on the right, I have a white candle to represent the god and divine masculine.
I associate the left with being receptive (as I am right-handed) and the right as projective, receptive energy is associated with feminine energy while projective is associated with masculine energy.
Additionally, I use a black candle for the goddess because black is said to absorb all colors —making it receptive as well! Recently, I also read about someone else who did the same because of the imagery on the priestess card in tarot.
Along with these two candles, you may wish to include one for the divine mind/great spirit. This one could be a color that corresponds with the season/Sabbat as well if you’d like!
In addition to the candles, I have small statues that represent the god and goddess to me. Many others have figures like these or perhaps symbols associated with them or even painting. Anything that connects you to divinity works!
Lastly, I have a pentagram made out of sticks I gathered that sits at the top of my altar shelves. This symbolizes magic and the 5 elements to me and is a key symbol of my craft.
In summary, if you view it as sacred, it’s perfect for an altar!
The four elements in witchcraft in magic are utilized mostly when we cast a circle and evoke them through Calling the Quarters. However, each element relates to a different type of nonphysical energy – each element also has corresponding tools and should be represented on the altar if you work with them.
- Earth – Salt dish, Peyton (Altar Pentacle. Also, can represent spirit), Crystals, stones (direction: typically, north in the northern hemisphere)
- Air – Athame (some say fire as well) Feathers, Censer, Incense holder
- Water – Chalice, Cauldron, bowl
- Fire – Wand or Athame, candles
- Spirt - Akasha or the Aether
Other Tools and Supplies
There are a lot of other tools and items that can be represented on the altar. I was going to create a list, but I think that’s actually counterintuitive. The tools and things that you work with and find sacred should go wherever feels natural to you.
If you’re stuck, try meditating with your altar and tools and see what feels right and wrong. You’ll figure it out!