Pretty much every beginner book on paganism and witchcraft talks somewhere in the first couple of chapters about building an altar. Everyone tells us that an altar should be aligned with the four directions, should have the elements represented and should be a place of sacred space. All of which are true! For some people.
But guess what? Like all parts of our spiritual practice, altars are a deeply personal thing. Some witches believe in a deity, others do not. Some pagans cast spells or read tarot, others do not. Your altar should reflect specifically what YOU practice, rather than being just a collection of items that reflect a somewhat generic version of your beliefs.
Where should you put your altar?
That’s up to you! Wherever I’ve been, I’ve always chosen to build my altar on my dresser; frankly, it’s a convenience issue as my dresser would otherwise just collect dust and piles of nonsense! However, I do like having my altar in my bedroom where I wake up to it every morning and go to sleep seeing it every night.
Should you have more than one altar?
That’s up to you! Although I just have the one official altar, I do have little collections of things around the house that some might call altars: a collection of crystals and votive candles under a bell jar by the television and a compilation of photos and meaningful knick-knacks on a bookshelf.
What should you place on your altar?
That’s up to you! (Sensing a pattern yet?) For my altar, I have representations of the four elements, my witchcraft books, crystals and some personal items:
- A small electric fan for the air element
- This one could be a bit controversial! Some people like to use feathers or ribbons to represent air but honestly, I need a fan in my room because it’s bloody hot. So, two birds, one stone.
- A terrarium with planted succulents and layers of soil and rocks for the earth element
- My terrarium also includes a little bluebird figurine that was a gift from my grandmother and an amethyst.
- A glass plate filled with white candles for the fire element
- I like to use white candles for my altar to keep it simple and not have a lot of conflicting scents or intentions, although I do have some lavender scented candles elsewhere in my room.
- A crystal bowl filled with water and floating candles for the water element
- This one was just the perfect thrift store find!
- A stack of non-witchy books on topics that are meaningful to me including art and literature
- A stack of witchy books
- A glass and silver gilded platter that I’m planning to fill with crystals soon
- A moon shaped platter to represent, well, the moon
- Some personal items including my green vintage typewriter
- A canvas photo print of a field filled with lupine
- Practical necessities including a box of matches and a watering spritzer
How do you customize your own altar, you ask?
Well, for one thing, think about your practice. Do you read tarot? Do you need a scrying bowl? Do you like to read, drink tea or otherwise relax in your sacred space? Do you like to indoor garden? Are there other functional needs of the space?
OR you could just sign up for my Moonglow newsletter and receive the Building an Altar checklist free! Choose as many or as few elements to build an altar that exactly matches your needs. (Hint, hint – there’s more great resources where that came from!)
What does your altar look like and what are the most important elements for your practice? I’d love to see pictures!