Altars: How to Create Your Own Center of Magic
The practice of Magick can be very personal, so when it comes to studying the Wiccan ways and witchcraft, it helps to have a safe space to do so. For most Witches, this means an altar.
Altars are great tools that allow you a designated space to practice, a focal point for all of your other witchy tools (as well as storage), and they give you the ability to express your beliefs and what you practice. Altars are extremely personal and can look different for every witch out there, and there’s no right or wrong way to have one. How you display them and what you build into them is based on your preferences and what you want and need out of your altar.
When preparing to build your own, the first step is to decide if it will be permanent or portable. There are benefits to both, so it really depends on what you believe would be best for your practice and lifestyle.
My altar is permanent, located in a closet upstairs. When I first moved into this home, the second bedroom wasn’t available for me to use as I wished, so my altar was, by necessity, portable. It worked for me at the time, because I was able to bring it out when I needed to and then tuck it away so it could be left alone by others. As soon as that room was mine to us though, I gutted the closet and turned it into a more secluded permanent altar. I was able to paint the walls and decorate with the knowledge that it wouldn’t be messed with (except maybe by the cats). But not everyone can do this, and when building your first altar, you may be unsure of what you’d like. Exactly how you organize yours is ultimately up to you, but I’m here to provide a helping hand and give you some tips for creating your own altar.
Let’s start with the pros and cons of a portable altar.
Your altar can be kept small, which helps prevent clutter and keeps you from accruing more than you know what to do with.
Multiple altars can easily be made to emphasize what you want to be working with, allowing you to focus on the five elements, the seasons, or even a particular deity.
Portable altars are easy to hide if you feel the need. Some households aren't welcoming of Magick, so altars in this fashion are handy because they’re so easy to tuck away.
It can be harder to feel connected to your altar if you’d prefer to be able to sit within it or be able to spread it out around you.
The lack of permanence can also hinder the creation of an environment. Not everyone needs a permanent altar to feel that they’re surrounded by Magick, but some need their sacred space to be there at all times.
Decorating it how you want can be difficult as you’re limited to whatever you can carry and store within your portable altar.
If that all works for what you need, a portable altar is probably a good idea. But let's consider the pros and cons of a permanent one as well.
Go as big as you want! Feel free to surround yourself with books, gems, knickknacks, and anything that connects you to your altar.
With more room, you can add a central figure to your altar, whether that means a deity or your own figure of Power to draw inspiration from.
A permanent altar can come with a space dedicated just to your practice, which allows for more privacy.
It can be daunting having a bigger space. How full your altar is has no bearing on whether you're doing it right or not, but a sparse altar can feel like a letdown.
Finding a location for a permanent altar means committing a portion of your home to exactly that purpose, which can be limiting if your home isn't very big.
Once you've decided on a method, the next question is what you actually need to create a basic altar? The core components are a handkerchief or other piece of fabric, a candle or candles, at least one of your favorite crystals, some Clear Quartz or Selenite (both good for cleansing and charging), a small bowl or cup, and something personal like a trinket with sentimental value (this creates a feeling of connection between yourself and the altar). Also worth considering are a journal, a cauldron, a Tarot deck (or any other kind of deck or divinatory tool), and incense. Now let's discuss setting up your altar. If yours is portable, all you need is a flat surface somewhere that you won't be interrupted, but permanent altars sometimes have a dedicated table. The type of Craft you wish to follow may influence how and where you create your altar as well. Green Witches may like to set something up outside, while Kitchen Witches might find it more useful to clear out a cabinet, allowing total access to all their tools.
Once you've decided where to put it, the fabric serves as a base for your altar, a center point to build around and should be placed first. Using a handkerchief or bandana is especially handy if your altar is portable. It can be laid out as the base of the altar, but when you're done, you can wrap everything up in it for next time.
There's no right or wrong way to place the remaining items, but it helps to avoid clutter. The biggest things you want to remember are comfort and safety. Leave a space in the middle for spell work or Tarot readings, and keep components you'll make use of more often closer to you, so you don't need to reach. Remember to place any candles in a spot that won’t risk getting knocked over or spilling melted wax. When my altar was portable, I would use a candle and some gemstones to hold the corners down and really root the base of the altar as much as possible. I’ll be getting further into the types of crystals and how they help in a future article, but for now, let’s take a moment to talk about Clear Quartz and Selenite. These are good crystals to have in your arsenal of witchy tools. Both help to cleanse other crystals and also lend a hand in charging them and other items. I have both on my altar and before I sit to meditate or practice, I like to spread them out to each corner, to prepare my space. I’ll also toss one into my cauldron when I’m going to be using it for something different, this way any (non-physical) remnants from my last spell are dissipated. Laying them onto your closed journal or Book of Shadows can cleanse your Book if you want to reconnect to it and draw inspiration.
Both gems are also relatively easy to come by and can be found in practically every metaphysical shop, but be cautious and don’t accidentally buy something that isn’t genuine. They should look like the crystals below.
I always like having something sentimental with my altar, because it helps me feel connected and gives it my own personal charm. It can be anything from a photograph, a piece of jewelry, or a little trinket you find neat. My altar includes a Troll Doll that was gifted to me. She’s got beautiful towers of Clear Quartz in place of the usual (and lovable) mess of Troll Doll hair. I’m a pretty big collector of Troll Dolls; they bring me so much joy and warmth. Of course, once I received this Quartz Troll I made a spot for her on my altar.
Once you have the basics, you can consider expanding your altar. This is easier with a permanent altar, but clever solutions or small versions of items can allow just about anything if you're keeping it portable. I recommend a journal, as it allows you to keep a record of what you learn and practice.
Next, you can include more crystals beyond the Clear Quartz and Selenite, or add a cauldron. These come in multiple sizes, and smaller is better for a portable altar, but you can go as big as you like. I like to keep a candle in each primary color because this allows you to customize certain spells to match different days of the week, energies, or whatever you assign them.
A symbol of protection is a nice addition as well. Take some time to look into different symbols and find something you feel connected to. These can definitely be a part of a portable altar, but they’re more important for something permanent. They’re comforting to have around, and even if you don’t feel the need for heavy-duty protection, they offer support and mental relaxation.
As a permanent altar expands, feel free to use a small bookshelf or even a wooden box. Both of those will allow you to store items that you aren’t currently using, and as time goes on, you can even add more shelving or larger storage spaces.
The biggest thing to remember is that this is your altar. It is your place in the world to study, practice, and embrace your Craft. You don’t have to set it up in any particular way, so long as it works for you. Now that you know how, start this year off with a center in your home that allows you to connect yourself to the world and all things around you. Allow yourself to grow and find comfort in the Craft.