The Pagan Altar - Permanent or Temporary
To Start Things Off
I'd like to devote some time to the various tools of the craft and their importance and associations that go with them. I do want to point a few things before I get started.
First, it is not the tools that make the witch. They are meant to enhance and help direct energy and to assist you in getting ready to perform your magick by putting you in the 'right frame of mind'.
Secondly, please, do not feel that you have to rush out and buy all of your tools right away. I feel that your tools should be special for you and I don't feel that rushing out and buying the first things that you find give you that special bond with your tools that you can have with a little time and patience.
You can quite easily make a lot of your tools yourself. By doing this not only are you saving yourself money but you are putting your energy into the tool. When you do this, the tool is attuned to you and will work much better for you. I will include easy directions for making a lot of your tools yourself as I talk about each one.
If there is a tool that you don't feel that you can make or you simply don't feel that is the method that you want to follow, that's fine. Follow whatever you feel is right for you. If you do decide to buy a tool, however, I do at least ask that you spend some time searching various metaphysical stores in your area or spend some time researching online. There are an ever increasing amount of pagan and witch stores online now with some really great items. Spend time searching for one tool at a time. When you find your tool, you will know it. It will let you know in some way that it is meant to be yours.
WHAT CAN I USE FOR MY ALTAR?
Some say that wood is the best thing for an altar and others believe that stone or metal can be used as well. It is my belief that when possible, stone or wood should be used simply because it's naturally from the earth and will have earthen energies within. I do not feel that plastics should be used, but this is simply my opinion. Always decide what's best for you. Do not feel that you need to do something a certain way simply because someone tells you it should be done this way. If that doesn't feel right for you or you don't feel that it's working for you, by all means, go with your instinct!
First thing that you should decide is if your altar will have a permanent setup (always setup and ready to use) or if it's going to be temporary (only setup for ritual and magickal use). If you have the room available and are comfortable with having a permanent altar that's great. If you are limited on space or you feel that discretion is in your best interest that's fine also. Deciding which choice is the optimal one for you is an important step so that you know what type of an altar to start looking at.
Some easy altars that you can use for the permanent setup include end tables, small hutches, book shelves, and chests that have a flat top.
Some altars that can be used for a temporary setup can be things such as large flat stones or tree stumps (generally used for outside use in your yard and/or garden), foldable TV tray (wooden if possible), or it can be as simple as a piece of plywood sitting atop a trash can. You may also choose to buy a style of portable altar.
WHAT THE ALTAR IS USED FOR
The altar is a symbol of the center of the self and of the universe. Your altar is going to become a space that you set aside to honor your deity(ies) with prayers, offerings, and rituals and will be a focal point of concentration and magickal workings. Your altar will be used to light candles and incense, invoke your deity (ies), mix herbs and potions, consecrate various other tools, cast and uncast your circle, raise your power and empower your will, meditate, and call upon your deity (ies) or guides when you need help or guidance.
PLACEMENT OF YOUR ALTAR
Many groups place their altars in the east because the sun and moon rise in the east and this symbolizes new beginnings. This placement is recommended for new moon rituals and for any magick that deals with starting something new or deals with intellect, wisdom, or matters of the mind.
There are other groups that place their altar in the north. North is considered the direction for steadiness and balance. Placing your altar in the north is good for full moon rituals and any magickal workings that will be benefited by steady energy or things dealing with money or the earth.
Placing your altar in the west can help with transitional spell work. It is also considered the symbolic direction of death. This doesn't necessarily mean physically, it can also mean a certain path, thoughts, ideas, or feelings.
You could place your altar in the south for spell work dealing with fire or any emotional matters (love, anger, sadness, melancholy, etc...)
There are also groups of people that will base the placement of their altar on astrology or feng shui methods.
The choice is really up to you. What matters is that you are comfortable wherever it is that you place it. It should obviously be in a place where you will not be disturbed or interrupted while doing your magickal workings. Any detail other than that, however, depends strictly on what feels right to you. This may change over time. When you start out, you may have it in the north. Later on down the road, you may change your mind and decide you would rather have it in the east or south.
WHAT ITEMS CAN BE PLACED ON MY ALTAR?
Your altar will be an individual expression of your spirituality and magick. You will probably want your altar to be decorative and functional.
Your altar can contain your primary tools of the Craft such as the athame (or sword), candles, incense, wand, God and Goddess statues, bowls of salt and water, chalice, libations dish, pentacle, cauldron, bell, crystals or stones, boline, matches or lighter, candle snuffer, plants, flowers, seashells, feather, and your Book of Shadows. You can also place personal items that carry a special meaning for you such as a bear figurine given to you by your grandmother who is no longer with you.
If you have a temporary altar you will only put on it what you are using for that specific ritual or magickal working. If you have a permanent altar, however, you may have all of the above along with oils, herbs, and magickal and/or spiritual books.
WHERE SHOULD I PLACE MY ITEMS ON MY ALTAR?
I will show you two of the more common methods of setting up your altar, and you can choose one which fits your style and arrange items to your liking.
The first method is dividing your altar in half. The left side is honoring the Goddess and the right side is honoring the God.
Goddess (left side)
- Goddess Candle (white or silver)
- Goddess Statue
- Bowl of Water
- Crystals and/or Stones
- Libations Dish
God (right side)
- God Candle (gold, yellow, or black)
- God Statue
- Censor and Incense
- Bowl of Salt
- Lighter or Matches
- Candle Snuffer
The second popular method is to divide the altar by the elements and directions and their associated tools.
- Green Candle
- Bowl of Salt
- Libations Dish
- Stones and/or Crystals
- Yellow Candle
- Censor and Incense
- Red Candle
- Candle Snuffer
- Blue Candle
- Bowl of Water
- God and Goddess Candles
- God and Goddess Statues
- Book of Shadows
- Ritual Pen
HOW CAN I MAKE MY OWN ALTAR?
I'm going to provide you with an easy altar to make that can be for either temporary or permanent use. This altar is also incredibly quick and easy to set up and can easily be stored in a closet or even under the bed. It's also nice because it can easily be transported if you would like to do rituals outside. The great thing about this altar is you can use it as a temporary altar for now, but can always be used as a permanent altar at a later date, or vice versa.
You will need:
- 1/8” drill bit
- 4 2”x4”x16” treated studs
- 1 4'x8' hardwood plywood or plywood sheathing
- 1/8” diameter dowel cut into 2” long pieces
- Wood Glue (optional)
- Paint or Wood Stain (optional)
(If you plan on painting or staining your altar, it would be a good idea to go ahead and stain or paint everything first.)
You will need to drill a hole in the center of each of the 2”x4” studs that is approximately 1” deep.
You will then need to measure 2” in from each of the 2 sides on each corner of the plywood sheet and drill a hole.
Next you need to gently hammer in each of the dowels into the 4 studs where you drilled the holes. You can put a little of the wood glue in the hole before inserting the dowel if you wish.
All that's left is to align the dowels with the holes in the plywood.
That's all there is to it. This is a very easy altar to make and doesn't involve a lot of money or time and the products can be easily acquired at any hardware store. If so desired, you can make this a multilayered stand by simply following the above steps, drilling holes in the bottoms of the studs of the second layer and placing those on top of the dowels from the first layer.
If you would like, you can decorate the top of your altar with symbols and/or drawings that match your tradition or faith. Stencil kits can be found at most hobby stores and make it almost error proof to put designs on items. You could also use a burning wand to etch in some designs. The ideas are limited only by your imagination! The idea is to have fun with it and personalize it to suit you and your needs.
WHAT IF I WANT TO BUY MY ALTAR?
Now if you don't feel you're capable or simply don't want to make your own altar and feel more comfortable with buying one there are dozens upon dozens of places to buy an altar. I suggest looking around at some metaphysical stores in your area and trying to find one that suits your needs. I will also supply a few of websites where you can purchase your altar online. I will provide you with a couple of sites for a permanent altar and a couple of sites for temporary altars.
TO WRAP THINGS UP
Before you use your altar, you need to make sure that you cleanse and consecrate it before you put it to use. Simple ways to cleanse your altar can be such things as wiping it down with salt water, smudging it with sage, or exposing it to direct sunlight or moonlight.
Once you have cleansed and consecrated your altar you have the option of covering it with a washable black or white altar cloth. Purchasing a comfortable pillow, mat, or cushion to sit on in front of your altar would be a good idea also.
Keep in mind that your altar and tools should be respected and taken care of. These items are used to honor the Lord and Lady. Your altar should only be used for rituals and magickal workings and typically not a table for mundane items.
Just keep in mind that these are simply guidelines that can be changed to suit your individuality. When dealing with the Divine, there really are no hard and fast rules. If you don't do everything in exactly one way, lightening will not strike you down, I promise. The Lord and Lady love you and they will not have a conniption fit if everything is not 'just right'.
I have spent some time lately creating an e-book for my fellow Wiccans, Witch's, and Pagans.
It has all of the common tools that we use along with history, lore, where to buy, how to make (if possible), and correspondences.
I have created this because I know how convenient it is to have all of the information available and easily accessible. I even find myself using this all the time simply for the correspondences.
This book contains information on your altar, Book of Shadows, candles, essential oils, herbs, incense, pentagram/pentacle, mortar & pestle, athame, boline, wand, cauldron, chalice, besom, offering dish, bell, bowls of salt & water, statues, clothing & jewelry, and the lighter & matches.