Altars for beginners

Altars - they have been seen throughout history, utilized by different cultures and religions, and appear in various forms. As witches, our altars are very personal. How, when, and why we use them are very much up to us.

An altar can be as elaborate as an elevated tall table, or a full art installation in the forest with ornate candles and ancient artifacts. It can be as simple as a stump of wood in a forest or a tiny pencil case version for your kids. It is simply a set of earth honouring ritual tools placed in specifically measured positions in accordance with the four directions: East (Air), South (Fire), West (Water) and North (Earth) with the centre of the circle representing the spirit.

If you are new to using altars or haven’t created your own, I would like to share some information about altars and how to get started.

Firstly, why do we use them?

An altar helps to set your focus. It can be for rituals, spell casting ceremonies and magical workings. This space is a place of honour and should be alive and teaming with intention. In other words, do not use it simply for decor or be too decorative with it. It is not to display decorative items but rather to amplify a magical meaning. Items for focus and inspiration should return to your altar when you want to re-create that same ritual or spell. One can change the items based on the moon cycles or on the wheel of the year. This is a witches private workspace and it should be large enough for you to conduct your spiritual work upon. So you don’t want to overwhelm your space with unnecessary statues, knickknacks and unused objects or photographs – it is not a vision board. Lastly, the altar should be geared toward your personal beliefs. This is a witches altar and you will want to honor your beliefs and the spirits and energies that are present within this altar space. If you work with a specific Goddess or a plant or animal that you align could be a regular item every time you set up your altar too.

Using a sacred cloth

A special cloth can be used. You can use more than one cloth in varying colors and patterns, depending on the work at hand. But consider the use of the cloth before you

cover the altar. If you are going to be mixing herbs, or creating spiritual objects such as handmade candles, herbal sticks or spiritual tools, then you want the cloth to be

inexpensive and practical. If, however, you are conducting a ritual to celebrate an earth holiday, then you might use a more formal twinkly cloth or crushed velvet,

satin or lace or even a special area near your bathtub.

The cloth should reflect your personality, your beliefs and one that you feel

comfortable with. To honour the aspect of Love and the Goddess is Aphrodite for instance, you might use something that has the essence of romance and meaning from your own heart such as red silk.

Whatever you chose to use, the cloth should be large enough to cover the entire

altar and fit the witch work at hand.

altar with various offerings

What should be on your altar?

You can include many different items on your altar. The following are some examples:


  • A central ceremonial candle to invoke the intention of your ritual -this can also be used as a Goddess candle.

  • 5 Ritual Candle(s). These are candles that you may want to use within your ritual workings and they hold the outer ring of the altar or you can place them in a circle around you -often representing the 4 cardinal directions (East, South, West North and Centre). Each of these directions are universal and can also have a corresponding element such as Air for East, Fire for South, Water for West and Earth for North. Spirit for Centre is often the culmination of all four

  • A set of bowls can also be very useful that hold any ingredients that might be used in your workings.

Bowls, Cups, Goblets

  • Personally, I have a set of 4 ceramic colored bowls. Each one represents one of the 4 elements. Such as blue for water, white for air, brown for earth, and red for fire.

  • A mixing bowl or also known in witch’s circles as a cauldron to combine your working ingredients

  • A ritual plate or serving plates. I use a flat brass candle holder as a serving dish for offerings. Sometimes these are cakes or cookies that I will share with others who are invited to join my ritual and be equally present. Sometimes it holds a small seedling that I will plant in honor of something I am seeding. A serving plate has a wide range of uses and often comes in handy.

  • A ritual cup or goblet. Whether you share water as part of your workings, a decorative cup adds to the essence of your altar.

Others considerations:

Have a place for your journal or Book of Shadows to write in or read from - a place that you have written out your ritual on - similar to a set list that musicians use..

Whether you’re referring to your book for reference in the ritual, or to record your experiences or conduct automatic writings as a divination tool, there should be a place for your writings. Personally, I rarely have room on the altar itself for my book – so I have it beside where I kneel or stand.

There are many items that you may want to add to your altar based on the witch work that you’re doing. If it’s a ceremony for a Sabbat (Earth Holiday) or a ritual for magic work, additional items might be needed to connect or cast your energies.

These are a few examples of Witch tools

  • Inspirational Statues - If you feel connected to porpoises, then a small ceramic one can decorate your West space.

  • Herbal bundles or incense to start your ceremony and use the smoke from them as a setting. You will need to add an incense and a bowl or fireproof holder.

  • Crystals, sticks or stones or shells are also helpful energy conductors and wands

Types of altars

An altar can be a permanent table that you use in a designated room for

Witch work. It can be a table you put up and take down after use. It can also be a pop-up style of altar, i.e. a briefcase, picnic basket, a drawer, a glove box in your car, small jewelry boxes where you can store your altar items and turn into simple ritual tables - all simple ways in which you can set up and collapse to put away and out of sight.

When you are ready to begin your ritual...

Preparing your space

Before you begin any ritual or ceremony, you should Clear and Cleanse the area

where the witch work is to be done. Do so in a way that is magical and not simply a routine. Attempt to follow a pattern to cultivate your magical state. This is especially true when you’re first consecrating - creating your sacred space. One can re-cleanse this area each time you begin a ritual or use these objects and this space, but these efforts will all be affected by how you first set the intent and use of energy in this space for the first time.

Closing your space around you (like closing the doors)

Once your altar work is complete, you must close the energy around you and your altar. You would call forth the four elements and their corresponding directions and casted or drawn a creative circle around your space, this is casting or closing the circle around you and it should incorporate the altar as well. This will ensure the energy used for your witch workings has properly been shut around you.

During your ritual

Having a timer nearby is a useful aid

(For more on learning how to hold or host a ritual - check back here for new postings)

Opening your spiritual space around you (like opening the doors)

When ending your ritual - you want to come out of this state with the same intention you went into it. You would release the directions in the exact way you closed it - you are doing the ending in reverse of the way you created it. This helps to not get too stuck in it. Make sure to do the following:

  • Thank the guides, teachers, Goddess that you called or who came into the circle to offer assistance during your work.

  • Do this all in the exact reverse mechanic as you invited them (like leaving the breadcrumbs behind you when you travel down a forest path)

  • Ending by Imagining the energy around the circle lowering around you or unwinding, this helps the temple falls away, the doors open again to your everyday life open, you are energetically toning down and fading your voice quietly – end in a hush.

  • Finally, clear up the altar space with a blessing and ask the spirits to dissolve the gate to the spiritual realm behind you .

Are you interested in learning more about altars?

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