Lesson 2: Making an Altar
What is an Altar?
Altars are sacred spaces found in almost every spiritual practice and religion the whole world over. Altars can be set up traditionally, like a pagan or Wiccan altar, or they can be adapted and customized to your specific beliefs and practices. Most of all, altars are a place to get into your “magickal zone” and focus on your intention.
The main function of an altar is to create space for your magick and spiritual practice. That means you can use this space for a wide variety of activities, not just midnight gatherings and secret ceremonies. In fact, the more you use your alter, the stronger your bond. Some things you can do at your altar include:
- Shadow Work
- Ingredient Preparation
- Self Actualization
- & so much more
An altar is intended to be a safe space for you, as well as a place that cleanses your energy from the rest of the world. Inside of the sacred space, you can listen to your inner voice, give gratitude for your happiness, or set intentions for your future. The options are infinite and completely up to YOU.
What do you need to have an altar?
In all honesty, all you need is a space you deem sacred with your thoughts or actions. However, to really master your magic and experience your craft, it helps to create a dedicated area or create a portable altar.*
*Travel altars can be easily made small and portable for witches practicing in secret or that do not have space for a permanent altar.
Why Make an Altar?
Aside from the fact that your altar serves as the centerpiece to your magickal practice, here are some other ways you can benefit from an altar:
- Create a physical space to call forth your intentions and manifestations
- Holding symbolic space for your ritual tools
- Separating your spiritual practice from your daily life
- Actualizing your craft and magickal practice
- Creating a ‘spiritual center’ to ground yourself daily
- Clear negative energy and bring positive energy into your home
- Expressing yourself freely and abundantly!
How to Make an Altar
The best altars are made up of personal items and special ritual tools that have significance to you. I encourage everyone to get creative with their altar space! After all, it is YOURS and should reflect your feelings, intuitions, and beliefs. There is no wrong way to make an altar.
1. Choose your sacred space
Ideally, you will want to choose somewhere special to you. A place that embodies peace, quiet, and grounding. I have several altars all around my house (two in my bedroom, one in my living room, one in each garden and a few hanging on my walls). While I only really use two of these for ritual, I use the minor altars for little spells, meditation, and herb preparation.
I am very blessed to be able to freely practice throughout my home. So, if space or acceptance is a barrier for your practice, this is by no means necessary. You can even create a tiny portable altar that consists of only a few key elements that you bring to a special place when you are ready to practice your craft. However, for this lesson, we will dive into the complete altar set up for educational purposes. Feel free to pick what works and leave what doesn’t.
2. Gather your tools and sacred objects
Okay, now for the fun part. You’re going to want to gather any magickal tools and supplies you want to include in your altar, as well as anything deeply personal. Personal effects are not only a fun way to customize your altar, but objects you have a previous relationship with have significant source energy to draw upon. Be mindful of the different associations these objects have picked up from your life. This is powerful.
Traditional Altar Tools
Elemental Representation of the Five Elements
Earth, Air, Water, Fire, Spirit
Clearing energy | Beginning & Ending Ceremonies
To charge or to clear energy | Use in rituals and spellwork
Burning Incense or Intentions
Symbolic Correspondences | Offerings | Incense
Anything that is special to you
Flowers, Money, Food, Water, Letters, etc
Additional Sacred Objects
- Offerings for spirit guides, ancestors & deities
- Altar Cloth or Tapestry
- Statues or sculptures
- Feathers, bones, or natural treasures
- Dedication to your coven & teachers
- Inspirational Quotes & Handwritten Notes
- Spellbooks, Grimoires & Journals
- Living Plants & Flowers (dried or fresh)
- Personal & Inspirational Photos
- Oracle / Tarot Cards, Runes, & Divination Tools
- Representations of Duality (light / dark; masc / fem; physical / spirit)
- Herbs, spell ingredients & potions
- Anything that has inspired or impacted you
- DON’T FORGET TO ADD A BOOK OF SHADOWS TO YOUR ALTAR :)
3. Arranging Your Altar
Arranging your altar is totally up to you. While there are some traditional methods you can follow, at the end of the day, you want your altar space to represent you and your intentions. Feel free to make substitutions and adaptations as needed. Also, don’t forget to rearrange your altar and redecorate for different energies, seasons, or just because!
The Four Elements & Cardinal Directions
Traditionally, an altar will have a dedication to the four elements (technically five with the element spirit). Additionally, traditional altars account for the cardinal directions (North, West, South & East) and arrange their elemental correspondences in direction with the altars.
I personally really like this tradition and while not all of my altars have this, whenever I am making an altar in the wild or for a special ritual, I definitely like to include the four elements when possible.
The elements and their correspondences are as follows:
Water - West - Cup / Chalice
Earth - North - Salt / Dirt
East - Air - Feather / Dagger
Fire - South - Match / Candle
*Some traditions say if you do not have something for all of the elements, to use none. However, I typically can find something that works for missing ones or use sigils when necessary.
Things to consider when arranging your altar
When making your altar be mindful of different symbols and their relationships.Is your altar symmetrical or asymmetrical?What color is the base?What symbols or sigils are present on your altar?Does it feel right to you?
4. Cleansing Your Altar
Okay, before you use your altar, you will want to cleanse your space. While this can be done in any number of ways, here is a short cleansing ritual you can use.
- Light a candle to start the cleansing.
- Clear your mind and take a few deep breaths.
- Set an Intention for your current or future altar
- Light incense, herbs or a cleansing stick (cedar, sweetgrass, sage, etc.)
Note: a match, a symbolic candle, essential oils, or even a cleansing spray can be used in place of your burning herbs in a pinch.
- Say your own mantra out loud as you light your herbs. Or use this short spell provided below:
“I light this flame to cleanse my space.
Remove that which intends to take.
Set my path, light my way,
Here my altar shall forever stay.”
- Fan or blow the smoke over your altar space and your tools. Visualize the negative energy exiting your area and positive light filling you, your tools, and your altar as you say your mantra out loud.
- Put any of your fires out and either start your ritual or prepare to clean up!
5. Maintaining Your Altar
Traditionally, ritual tools are wrapped in fine silk or high-quality cotton before and after the ceremony. Personally, I leave my altar set up at all times but I am sure some traditionalists would say otherwise. Just be sure to cleanse and charge your altar and tools when possible, and keeping a well-kept altar is usually a sign of a healthy magickal practice. When my altar is messy, it usually means its time to make time for my practice.
Extra Credit: Ceremonial Garb
If you are looking to fully immerse yourself in your ritual, don’t forget to adorn yourself in your favorite ceremonial garb. White robes are the traditional clothing of choice, many practitioners use “ritual only” clothing or just practice nude. The intention is to remove anything that connects you to the external world and to cleanse and purify yourself. If this interests you, set aside some clothing that you intend to only use during rituals and consecrate the garments during your next ceremony.
Using Your Altar
Ok! If you haven’t already, collect your ritual tools and elemental objects and prepare your ritual!
The most important aspect of magic is to get in touch with yourself and have fun. Don’t be afraid to make adaptations or get creative. This is YOUR practice and adaptations can be made when necessary.
Set up your altar and perform a ritual! Practicing meditation at your altar every day is a great way to develop a healthy relationship with your altar space. Here is a free downloadable ritual log for your book of shadows as well as a quick reference guide for the altar setup. Also, if you feel comfortable, please share your altar in our Facebook Classroom or Discord Discussion for everyone to see. :)
Join the virtual classroom and share your altar ideas.
Have questions about Altars or Magick?
Please e-mail any questions to firstname.lastname@example.org