Altars & How to Create Them
Altars & How to Create Them
Your Altar has to be one of the most important tools. This is where all the magickal things happen.Your altar centralizes your personal power. It is a work table.
A permanent altar helps you honor the Gods even when you are not physically present. I do have a permanent altar in my home that I leave up at all times if possible. But what if you would like to do a ritual outside. I surely can’t carry my altar around!!
Anything can be your altar. An old table, a rock, a picnic table, or even good old Mother Nature!
An altar is a special place you create to hold the objects you use in your magic practice. Your altar could be a simple shelf, table, trunk, or cabinet, or it might be something more elegant and elaborate. It can be a permanent fixture or a portable one you can easily move when necessary. You can locate your altar inside your home or outdoors. Choose a spot that feels right for you, where you’ll be able to enjoy peace and privacy. If you wish, dowse to find a place that resonates with positive vibrations.
This place is yours. You can display whatever you want on your altar: fresh flowers, incense, candles, statues, figurines, crystals, or whatever else pleases you. You might like to drape your altar with a decorative cloth and hang meaningful artwork above it. This is a good place to store your grimoire, tarot cards, runes, pendulums, gemstones, botanicals, and other ingredients you will use in spells. Depending on how large your altar is and how much room you have, you could even house ritual clothing and jewelry there.
Some people like to place their ritual tools on their altars; others store them inside. Don’t just leave one or two implements out on your altar, however. Lay out all four principal tools (wand, pentagram, chalice, and athame) to establish a balance of elemental energies.
At different times of the year, you might enjoy decorating your altar for special ceremonies and sabbats. Don’t feel that once you’ve created an altar it must remain the same way forever. In fact, it’s a good idea to move things around periodically and to make changes that reflect the changes taking place in your life.
Special Kinds of Altars
An altar may be devoted to a particular purpose, such as healing, manifestation of abundance, or love (as in relationships, family harmony, etc.) In such cases you will probably choose to focus on crystalsspecifically related to these purposes.
Green stones are always helpful for healing, and special center pieces might be a statue of Kwan Yin, or a green calcite or aventurine sphere.
Frogs and bears, both of which symbolize healing, are appropriate for this kind of altar.
For abundance (which can also use the color green as well as yellow), an appropriate centerpiece might be a pyrite cluster.
For love we generally focus on the pink stones, and if improved communication is part of the state you wish to create you might choose to add aquamarine, chrysocolla, blue lace agate, larimar, turquoise, or amazonite. Helpful power animals include wolf and otter (they mate for life), and hummingbird, for the transcendent aspects of love.
Some people like to create angel altars for angelic guidance. Angelite is the most obvious stone to use, as is amethyst for its transitional quality (this stone is the colour of twilight), and rose quartz, to symbolize the unconditional love which angels have for us. Any symbols of angels work well as centerpieces.
For any of the above special altars I also like to use quartz points to direct and enhance the energy, and grounding stones (hematite, obsidian, black tourmaline, tiger’s eye, or smoky quartz) to also ground the energy.
Many people like to either vary the elements of their altars or have particular ones related to the seasons.
A winter altar might include pine cones, evergreen tree branches, and a focus on clear crystals such as quartz, calcite, danburite, and selenite. Red and green accents often brighten up a winter altar. Owl can represent the inner wisdom associated with winter; while Bear symbolises hibernation and going within.
A spring altar would have a focus on green. A vase containing spring flowers could make a meaningful centerpiece. Green stones and green candles help to celebrate the season of renewal. The singing of spring peepers at this time makes Frog, a symbol of healing and rebirth, appropriate for this season.
For a summer altar I think most easily of the golden stones to symbolise the sun. I like to contrast these with blue stones, representing the sky and the sea. I am also drawn to the symbol of Deer, as this is the time when fawns begin to appear.
An autumn altar may include red, orange, and yellow stones. A cornucopia in which a crystal programmed for abundance is placed can make an appropriate centerpiece. The squirrel, gatherer of nuts for the coming winter, is a helpful symbol.
Enjoy creating your altar(s). You will find it to be a peaceful, meditational activity.
I’ve learned that one of the biggest issues people have is in the area of being grounded. Some people tell me they’re earthbound; they can’t seem to lift off to explore other dimensions. Others say they have wonderful visions, but experience difficulty in translating them into material terms.
The ability to be grounded is very important to people who want to develop their spirituality, explore the many dimensions of existence, and make their dreams come true in physical reality. The essence of grounding isn’t a simple matter of being organized, functioning well in the mundane areas of life, or a question of how close one’s feet are to the earth. To be grounded entails drawing on the energies of both the material and the spiritual dimensions.
A BOX ALTAR: Get a medium-sized wooden box or large cigar box. This can be used as a small altar upon which to set up your tools for prayers and ritual, and, best of all, the tools can be stored inside of the box when not in use! If you like, paint the inside with colors and symbols you feel are significant. Some good things to keep in it are: a small altar cloth (old cloth napkins are the perfect size), a small stick consecrated as a wand, a small, flat pentacle, shot glasses (great for holding salt, earth, water, or ritual drink), a lighter, a small bag of salt, some cone incense and a miniature cone censer, and birthday candles.
A CRYSTAL ALTAR: Small crystals and gemstones are easily portable in a bag, and can represent just about any altar tool or symbol you can think of. A small, terminated quarts makes a great wand or ritual knife. Geode slabs make good pentacles. Choose a stone that is associated with your deities to symbolically represent Them, such as moonstone for Goddess and sunstone for God. Crystals can represent elements: malachite or onyx for Earth, carnelian or rhodonite for Air, bloodstone or lava rocks for Fire, and pear or coral for Water. Wrap your crystals in a small cloth that can act as an altar cloth and tie them up with a ribbon, then carry in your purse or glove compartment.
THE TAROT ALTAR: You can keep an altar handy if you just carry around a deck of tarot cards. Use different cards for different symbols: The Emperor and Empress as God and Goddess, the aces of each suit for the four elements, and any other cards you wish to represent the ritual observance.
The Travelling Altar
Many people spend a lot of time away from their home – and their tools. Here are some ways to take your altar with you while you are vacationing, moving, or on a business trip. All tools have alternatives. Sometimes some items cannot be taken onto planes or are to cumbersome to carry. There are easy ways to deal with each problem.
Athame – the athame is the symbol of the God and can be substituted in most any ritual with other tools. The forefinger of the power hand, for example, can be used in its place. You can also use a small twig or wand to serve in place of the athame.
Candles – pack some small candles such as votives, tea-lites (which do not require candle holders), or birthday candles. White candles can be used to substitute any other color in spells. Birthday candles have the added advantage of colors and burn quickly.
Anointing Oil – carry oil in a small vial or bottle such as an empty vanilla extract bottle. Pack an all-purpose oil, such as rosemary, that can be used for any occasion and drop in a tiny quartz crystal or two to empower it.
Herbs – if you require herbs for your candles, pack a small baggie with some all-purpose herbs such as rosemary, sage, anise, basil or bay or a mix of them all.
Chalice – Other tools can be used in place of a chalice. Shot glasses, small ceramic bowls or tiny wooden cups work fine. A wonderful alternative is the small decorated Asian ceramic hand bowls used for holding herbs or sauces. These are readily available in Asian supermarkets for very cheap andcanbe purchased with decorations of animals, fish, birds and dragons.
Incense – incense cones, sticks or powder can effectively be used in the place of cumbersome charcoal and herb incense.
Cauldron – The cauldron can be replaced with a small black bowl or dish. Tiny black ceramic cauldrons are easily found for sale online and in catalogues and are often very cheap.
Pentacle – A small pentacle can be made by painting a wooden disk or a flat stone.
Salt – keep sacred salt made from sea salt or kosher salt in a small glass bottle, empty medicine bottle, or tic-tac box.
Out Of The Way Altars
KITCHEN CABINET ALTAR: Devote a shelf in one of your cabinets as space for your hearth altar. This will be out of the way, but can be opened whenever you want to use it.
ALTAR IN A DRAWER: Clear out a drawer. Line with a thin fabric (altar cloth). Place non-burning items in it for your religious symbols, such as a lava rock for fire in place of a candle, a bowl of potpourri instead of incense. Pull out the drawer for a quick, readily set-up altar whenever you need it.
WALL ALTAR: Get a plaque representing your deity, such as a Green Man or Maiden wall plaque. Hang it, along with a candle sconce (fire), and small knick-knack shelf to house your other ritual tools.
WATER ALTAR: If you have a multi-tiered shower caddy in your bathroom, create an altar to the sacred element of water on one shelf. You can place on it a sea sponge charged and consecrated to absorb negativity (wash it and recharge periodically), a shell as a representation of the ocean Gods and Goddesses, and a bottle of sea salt to add to your cleansing bath. Every time you shower you can use it as an opportunity to pay homage to the sacred element.
EARTH ALTAR: Set up a window box filled with soil. Add a few small plants you can care for, some rocks, stones or sticks you have found. Place a slice of tree stump, geode, or a sea shell upon it as a pentacle or to hold offerings. When praying or meditating for grounding or strength, go to your Earth altar.
AIR ALTAR: Begin a collection of feathers found from your nature walks. Take a small bowl filled with salt, sand or rice and stick the feathers into them so that they stand up. Keep a small stick or cone censer nearby. When you wish to draw energy from the element of Air, light the incense and fan the smoke toward yourself with a feather.
FIRE ALTAR: Somewhere in your kitchen- next to your stove, a small shelf, on top of the microwave- keep a candle, and a vial of cinnamon oil and a cinnamon stick (cinnamon is an herb associated with the Sun). When you are busy cooking or cleaning in your kitchen, take a moment to anoint the candle with oil and light it, calling for the energy of fire to be channeled through the flame and fill the room. Use the cinnamon stick as a wand to direct those energies.
Altars That Don’t Look Like Altars
DESKTOP ALTAR: Keep a small altar on your desk at work without drawing attention. Get a small decorative plate or tray. Place upon it a representation of your deity that is not obvious: a stone, small plant, a small figurine that looks like just another desk ornament. Place on it a decorative candle for fire (even if you don’t use it, you’ll know why it’s there), a stone for earth, a feather for air, and a sea shell for water. Use a letter opener as a wand or athame. Keep a small cup on it for a ritual drink at lunch, or to house a mixture of water and salt (get a bunch of packets from the cafeteria and keep them in your desk) that can be used to purify your space and yourself of negativity when stressed.
STANG: Basically, an altar on a stick. Get a forked branch. Set it in the dirt outside, or in a flowerpot filled with kitty litter or sand indoors. String dried flowers (earth), feathers (air), cinnamon sticks (fire), and sea shells (water), and hang it from the branches. Hang ornaments representing your deities as well. If done nicely, it will look more like a decorative element than an altar.
SCENTED OIL BURNER ALTAR: Get a scented oil burner that uses a tea candle rather than electricity. They come in many shapes and designs (crescent moons, Egyptian statues, fairies, animals), so choose one that represents your deity to you. On the spot where the candle goes, place a small layer of salt (Earth). Put the candle (Fire) on top of it. The water (Water) is added to the bowl with the scented oils (your offering to Spirit), and, when heated from the flame, creates steam (Air). There you have your mini altar to use during small rites or for meditation.
CAR ALTAR: Keep a small altar on your dash board in your car to commune with your deities when driving and to protect yourself on road trips. Use little bits of velcro to keep small figurines or stones in place, hang feathers or power beads from your rearview mirror, burn cone incense in your ash tray.
BIKE ALTAR: If you ride a bike frequently, keep a small basket on your handlebars for a mini-altar. Fill it with non-sharp, non-burning tools such as dried herbs, stones, and gifts from nature that you find on your way. Use it to pray for protection before setting off on another trip.
HIDDEN IN PLAIN VIEW ALTAR: A Pagan altar can be sitting in the middle of your living room and, as long as you don’t have a giant pentacle hanging over a statue of the Horned God, most people would be none the wiser. Set up your altar on a shelf, mantle or table by using decorative candle holders, small potted plants, and artistic expressions and no one will guess that your 18th century floral porcelain plate is a pentacle or your elaborately carved mediaeval dagger hanging on the wall is a ritual knife.
THE DECOY ALTAR: If those you live with do not know you are Pagan, or are not accepting of Pagan beliefs, you can set up a shrine using the tools and symbols of another religion to represent yours. Remember that no tools or symbols belong to any single faith or tradition; what they represent to you is what will be important. For example, if your parents are Catholic and you are not yet ready to tell them you have begun practicing Paganism, get a statue or picture of the Blessed Mother or St. Brigit (who, in pre-Christian times, was a Goddess rather than a Saint) and put it on your dresser. Surround it with your candles. Hang a Celtic cross above it- that is, an equal-arm cross (sometimes surrounded by a circle). The Celtic cross was originally a Pagan symbol but adapted for Christian use. Keep a set of rosary beads made of a crystal, stone or wood charged with magic. Instead of using them for Christian prayers, use them for meditation, chanting, or empowering objects by surrounding them with the beads
Creating Personal Altars
The act of deciding what to include in an altar and the physical act of assembling it can be very powerful and positive activities.
In choosing appropriate objects and symbols think about what’s most important to you. This may be goals related to your personal life, and may also include your visions for the planet and all of its inhabitants.
An Altar as a Focus of Energy
An altar can be an area on a coffee table, dresser, or night table. What gives it meaning and power is your intention in creating it and using it.
You can use an altar as a focal area for meditation and distant healing. You can also place on it crystals which you’ve programmed for particular intentions. It can also be a place for displaying your favourite and most meaningful crystals and other objects. The number of altars you have in your home is limited only by the number of unoccupied horizontal surfaces. (I do recommend that an area which out of reach of cats [if such areas exist] and children be used.)
How To Create An Altar
Using Your Intuition
This is the most challenging way to arrange the elements of a fountain; it may also be the most rewarding. To use this method choose the crystals, power animals or stones, and any other objects you want to use to put your altar together.
Keep your particular intention strongly in mind. If, for example, you are creating an altar for the purpose of healing (yourself and/or others) you might want to imagine healing symbols as you arrange your crystals. You could visualize the new green grass of springtime, flowers, the trees in full leaf, If you have special people in mind for healing, see them being well and happy. You may also find it helpful to play relaxing classical music in the background as you go about your altar creating. Arrange and rearrange your crystals until you are happy with what you see/feel.
For those who prefer more structured methods of organization, who want to begin with structure until they feel comfortable with the intuitive method, or who want to combine intuition and structure, I’ve listed below three (out of many) methods. In any of these, though there are general formats, your intuition will still be involved.
The Chakra Method
One way I use is to arrange crystals by chakras. In this method I would begin with first chakra stones, followed by stones of each succeeding chakra, arranged in a circle. You can use from one to however many crystals you have free for thus purpose.
I also place crystal animals, power stones, and pocket totems in appropriate locations. For me, appropriate relates to the meaning the particular animal may have for me. Seal, for example, means to me freedom in one’s body, so my crystal seal is grouped with the first-chakra stones. I relate dolphin to communication (fifth chakra), bear to healing (fourth chakra), although it could as easily represent the sixth chakra (dreams, sleep, inner wisdom).
I pay special attention to what I place in the center of the altar. For the chakra arrangement I like to have a quartz cluster or clear quartz sphere, as I feel that this radiates out energy to all of the other stones. With the cluster or sphere in the center, I find that the arrangement seems to create a continuous flow of balancing energy.
The Four Directions/Elements
Another arrangement is to work with the four directions/four elements, as used in Celtic and Native Americans systems. In this arrangement, North is Earth, South is Fire, East is Air, and West is Water.
Intuition and imagination help in assigning crystals to these values. Hematite, to me, is clearly an Earth stone; while Ruby is Fire. Aquamarine is logical for the Water area, and amethyst and lapis seem to me to signify Air.
Other stones call for more subtle and subjective interpretations. Rose quartz, being related to the heart and to emotions, might belong in the Water area. Perhaps, though, the color pink can be interpreted as soft or quiet fire. Green stones are especially interesting in terms of placement. To me, green calcite is very much a Water stone; while malachite feels earthy.
I find that what works best when I am using this method of arrangement is to experiment, moving the less obviously-related stones around until it feels that they are in the right place. With this arrangement I particularly like to place the turkey, hawk, finch, and eagle feathers I find in the air section, and nonprecious stones (i.e. stones I have found on lake shores or by the sea) in the Earth area.
The Feng Shui Method
In using this method you treat the area which will be the surface for your fountain as if it were a room or house. Please see the articles on feng shui to the left on the sidebar for more details.
In feng shui what is placed in the center of the room or house is the most important element. I noted in the description of the chakra method that I like to put a quartz crystal or sphere in the center.
If I’m using a crystal sphere or statue as the center I often like to place four single-terminated points, with points facing outward, around the centerpiece. I feel that this radiates energy to the entire arrangement.
Altar cloths are used to dress the altar, the colours of the cloths can represent different Sabbats and magickal intents. Most witches keep a variety of cloths, they do not have to be exprensive or highly decorative. They can adorn your everyday altar and are an important part of ritual. Altar cloths can represent a particular sabbat or ritual. Plus they are pleasing to the eye.