What is an Altar in Witchcraft?
An altar is a personal sacred space where you perform any magick you set out to do.
Altars can be permanent (aka in one spot, like in the home) or flexible (aka you bring the supplies with you and set up wherever you feel like). There is no right or wrong way to have one; it's a personal space for a reason.
Is an Altar the same as a Shrine?
No, this is a common misconception.
An Altar in Witchcraft is purely for the craft, making it atheistic in nature. You can work with the divine at your altar, but ultimately that's not what it's for. Witchcraft is a practice, not a religion, so using your Altar as a dedicated religious space doesn't make much sense.
A Shrine is a dedicated space for any divine being. Shrines can be used for ancestors, deities, spirits, ghosts, deceased pets, etc. They are our direct connection to the divine. It's optional to have one, given that not every Witch is theistic and not evey theist practices Witchcraft.
An ALTAR is a dedicated workspace
A SHRINE is a space to honor the divine
Can a Altar and a Shrine share a space?
Sure, why not. I'm not a cop. It's your space. Don't worry about set rules when it comes to what you want to put where.
However, for practices like Wicca, the Altar and Shrine are expected to share one space. But again, it doesn't really matter at the end of the day as long as you are catering to your needs.
Which one should I set up?
It's really up to you. Seeing the theme, here?
There's nothing wrong with just having an Altar and not a Shrine, or vise virsa. Or both. Or neither, really.
Okay, enough questions. Onto the meat of this page.
How to Set Up Your Altar
Step 0: Deciding Where to Put it
Do you want to keep your Altar in one spot? Do you want to carry it with you?
Do you want to keep it inside your home? Or maybe outside, under your favorite tree? Perhaps in a bag in your backpack?
The most common spot for an Altar is on a dedicated table. Sometimes, it can be in a dedicated spot on a larger table, like a corner of your workdesk or on an empty shelf on your bookcase. Try to set it up in a spot that isn't currently being used for anything. If you want to put it somewhere that is already in use, then remove everything (and yes, I mean EVERYTHING), clean the space, and then reset the workspace to your liking.
If you have decided to not make your Altar in a fixed spot, then decide the proper housing for your items. Common storage containers are shoeboxes (for full-sized items) and mint tins (for travel-sized items). Use what you already have and like; it will make your work more successful.
Decide on where you want your Altar located before moving on to the next step
Step 1: Gathering Your Items
Now that you've decided where to put your Altar, it's time to actually make it an Altar.
There are common Altar items used in Witchcraft, and uncommon Altar items. It's up to you to decide what you wish to include in your space, but remember to only include items that you actually intend on using! Altar spaces can get very cluttered, very quickly. Maximize your workspace by keeping everything on your Altar limited to what you actually intend to use.
|Candles||Pillar and Taper candles are the most common forms used in Witchcraft, but Tealights are just as common because of their price.||Represents the Fire element. Can also be used to represent the divine that you are working with (for example, a deity candle). Universally used by most Pagans and Witches alike.|
|Bowl or Cauldron||A rounded vessel used for a variety of things. Tends to be fireproof for safety (cast-iron is fireproof).||Represents the Earth element and the Goddess, in some faiths (the roundness of the bowl symbolizes the Womb of the divine feminine). Mostly used to mix spell ingredients together. Also a safe spot to burn anything necessary (hence why it should be fireproof).|
|Censer and Incense||Incense, according to Google, can be defined as, "a gum, spice, or other substance that is burned for the sweet smell it produces." It's intended to only be burned for ritual purposes, but some Witches burn it whenever. Alternatives to incense (if you live in an environment where you cannot burn it) are wax melts (using either a flame or electric wax burner) and perfume.||Represents the Air element. Traditionally, it was used as the primary form of communication with the divine because of the smoke seemingly rising to the heavens. It can also be used to ensure a sense of purity in your ritual, as smoke cleansing is very common and very effective.|
|Chalice||A cup or glass usually with a stem. Can be drunk out of during ritual or kept in one spot. It's not directly used very often, but it is still an essential part of the Altar.||Represents the Water element. Wine is sometimes kept in it, depending on your ritualistic and religious goals. Some Witches keep Moon Water in it (water that has been charged with the energy of the Moon) to be used in spellwork.|
|Iconography||An image, statue, figure, or any other physical representation of the divine, if you choose to work with them. Common Icons are images of ancestors, deity statues, a specific image for a holiday (such as Brigid's Cross), a prayer card, a sigil, a Pentacle, the collar of a deceased pet, a special stone or symbol...the list goes on.||Represents the Spirit element. Not every Witch believes in the divine or works with ancestors, but that doesn't mean Spirits don't live among us and shouldn't be left out of your rituals.|
|Reference Book||Sometimes called a Book of Shadows, you'll want some place to actually have all your information that you refer to during your rituals. It can be in any format, in any form, and anywhere you like. It's best to keep it with your Altar supplies so it's easy to utilize. Common methods of keeping a reference book are notebooks, ring binders, cloud storage like Google Drive, websites like this, and any other method of keeping information that works for your brain.||Traditionally, the personal reference book is copied down from an existing reference book witten by another member of the Coven. However, times have changed. Solitary practitioners are welcome to create their own book or copy from one they like. It's becoming more and more common to have a digital reference book (hey, you're reading one right now!) so don't feel like you're limited to analog books.|
You should at least have the above items on your Altar, if nothing else.
Anything else that you wish to put on your Altar depends on your personal faith, practice, and what you want to use.
Step 2: Proper Setup
Now that you have your items, it's time to put them in your chosen spot.
Different practices and faiths will determine what goes where, but I will show you the most common setup that you'll find and that I personally use.
|Top of the Altar (away from you)|
Bowl or Cauldron
|WORKSPACE - LEAVE CLEAR||
Censer and Incense
|Bottom of Altar (close to you)|
This is how I always set mine up, it works for me. If you prefer to do it a different way, then by all means do it. Otherwise, feel free to copy my method.
Step 3: Putting it to Use
Congratulations! You now have all the bare minimum requirements for an Altar. So, that means you're ready to perform Spellwork, right?
I mean, I guess so. If you want to.
However, I recommend completely overhauling the energy in all your items before actually using them. How do you do that, you ask? Lucky for you, I already have a page for that!
So, yeah. That's pretty much it for this topic.
Click here to go back to Chapter 1: