An altar is a reminder of the sacred cosmos it represents. By making space in your home, you make space in your life to be a witch. Just by acknowledging its presence, collecting, arranging and lighting it, you’ve renewed your dedication to walk with Spirit. More important than WHAT is on a witch’s altar is HOW you activate it’s powers and then utilize them. With a consecration ritual, the Witch becomes the catalyst that transmutes a table full of arcane tchotchke into a microcosm of empowerment.
What is the Altar’s Purpose?
To me, an altar is an adaptable workplace, a miniature theater of props and players that is flexible enough to host all manner of productions and the witch is the director of those plays. Magick is then the cosmic poetry enacted upon that stage, and that becomes an art form. The key component is the creativity that ignites the senses and imagination to be in alignment with inherent divinity. Every choice after that is yours to make; there are no other universal requirements.
Of What is an Altar Made?
Please….please, hear this most important message from your friendly magickal shop-keeper: an altar can be made of anything and be put anywhere. Every blessèd atom in the Universe IS Divine…even a crappy, plastic folding table you found at Walmart that easily fits in your car. YOU ARE THE MAGICK that will catalyze these assembled items into a sacred space.
An “altar table” does not have to be a specialty item purchased brand-new at a magickal shop–and the same goes for everything on the altar, too. There are many fine manufacturers of specially made tables that an artist prepared to be a Witch’s altar–and they are lovely, should you choose to invest in one–but I wouldn’t worry about that too much, because the table itself isn’t the point, no more so than the floor of a theater’s stage is important.
That being said, I consider the altar to be one of the grand-tools of Earth. So for my permanent altar in my home, I would aim toward something functional made of wood, stone or metal that actually grew up out of the Earth.
The altar can be an antique, one shelf of a larger bookcase, or a storage cabinet, the mantlepiece, the top of a dresser, or a cheap folding tray table. Trunks are nice so that you can transport your tools to a ritual site, then use the top as the altar. Mine (pictured above) is actually a buffet side-board cabinet that was part of a dining room set. It has storage in which I store my extra altar tools, cloths, incense, candles, etc.
Witchcraft is messy, when thoroughly done, so I’m more interested in the altar cloths, than decorated tables. Altar cloths can be anything, but natural fibers, easily washable and of a substantial weave are a good idea as they will catch spilled wax, herbs, oils and ash, and you’ll need them to lie flat even when there is a breeze.
Altar Layouts: Personal versus Group
One kind of altar is set for a single, temporary rite, others are long-term fixtures for general use; some layouts better serve the personal needs of one witch, and other layouts are more appropriate for coven work with many witches.
The personal altar is a Witch’s magickal work-place and so it will reflect the style and practice of the individual. Typically, it will hold the elemental altar tools, water, salt, candles, incense, stones, etc. It also holds the symbols of that represent Deity to you, and the Spirits that guide you.
Altar Placement: Feng Shui
Most witchcraft books will suggest that altars be positioned facing either North or East, depending on the direction from which you feel beginnings flow. Honestly, where the furniture sits, or how it faces, matters not to me. Remember that the importance and assignment of cardinal points is rather arbitrary across traditions and depending on your geographical location–the only thing that matters to me is internal consistency.
I’d be more inclined to position my home altar based on the chinese principles of feng shui, than cardinal directions. Feng Shui (pronounced like fung schway) is “the art of placement” of objects and rooms so that the chi (ki) energy flows through a physical space most effectively. As it happens, my permanent altar is on the south wall of my temple room and has always served me well there. Chi energies flow in through a doorway on the eastern wall (where beginnings lie in my paradigm) and flows deosil in the room, so it’s first pass is my South Wall. I’m happy with that.
As for altars prepared for rites within a coven setting, I actually prefer the altar set in the center of the circle so that it is visible and accessible from all sides, by multiple witches. I have a standard-sized square “card table” that I arrange with the corners pointing to the elemental gates…so it is a diamond aligned with the axis of the elemental crossroads at point o,o,o. I call this layout the “Diamond at the Crossroads.”
What is the difference between an altar and a table of tchotchke?
Intention. Spirit. Power. If the Altar is a stage, and all the items are the players, and you are the director of this production, then you will need to awaken the Spirit within each item, imbue it with your intention by giving them their part in the script and then weave them all together as your cast. The powers of above, below, and between will be channeled through you and held by them. These items are both the spiritual anchors of the elemental energies in your magickal space, and the conduits to keep everything open, flowing and fed while there.
For me, ritual is far more powerful when the whole group is allowed to participate in the ceremonial awakening of the altar, rather than my doing it in advance before they enter the temple. When I lead group rituals, I begin by leading us all in a “tree-breathing” power-flow visualization, and then we all take the postures together. Then I will awaken the masculine elements, while our High Priest awakens the feminine ones. In this way, we reinforce that all energetic gender expression is held in unique balance within each of us, regardless of our biology.
An Altar Consecration Ritual:
This is written as if done privately. You may adapt it to include coven members as we did in our “Ostara Ritual for the Large Coven,” that I posted previously.
- Arrange your altar with reverence and intention.
- Chime the bell three times.
- Light the Spirit Candle. Spirit is ever-present.
- Face the altar, stand in Goddess position with hands raised up to the sky, remember that you are like a tree who’s branches reach up through the atmosphere, touching air and the fires of the sun, and tap into Father Sky and the heavens above.
- Draw down that power, crossing your arms over your chest in Osiris God position, feeling how that power flows through you reaching all the way through the soles of your feet.
- Remember that like the tree, your roots reach deep below into the earth and water, to Mother Earth and all the underworld below.
- Kneel, touch the ground. Draw up the earth energy to cross arms over your chest again in Osiris God position.
- Feel the flows from above and below meeting and anchoring at your heart chakra–you are a vessel of The Two Who Move as One in Divine Love, an open channel of their creation flows through you.
- Stand, power flowing through your heart and down through your hands.
- Hold the incense, saying, “I charge this incense as a being of air.” See yourself drawing yellow light from the atmosphere to imbue the incense, awakening it to its purpose.
- Light the incense from the spirit candle, if it is a stick. Light the charcoal tab, and then when ready sprinkle your loose incense on the tab. (Instructions for creating loose incense here.) While drawing an invoking pentagram over the altar with the incense, then encircling the altar, say, “Powers of air, blow free any impurity from this sacred space.” Visualize a yellow energy glowing around the altar.
- Hold the red candle, saying, “I charge this candle as a being of fire.” See yourself drawing red light from the fires of the sun and stars to imbue the candle, awakening it to its purpose.
- Light the fire candle from the Spirit Candle. While drawing an invoking pentagram over the altar with the candle, encircling the space, say, “Powers of fire, burn free any impurity from this sacred space.” Visualize a red energy glowing around the altar.
- Hold the bowl of water. “I charge this water as a being of water, and cast out all impurity.” See yourself drawing blue light up from the water table to imbue the water, awakening it to its purpose.With fingers or athame, add three pinches of salt. Stir by drawing the invoking pentacle in the water, say, “Powers of water, wash free any impurity from this sacred space.” Sprinkle the water over the altar three times. Visualize a blue energy glowing around the altar.
- Hold the bowl of salt. See yourself drawing green light from the earth itself to imbue the salt, awakening it to its purpose. Say, “I charge this salt as a being of earth.” Draw the invoking pentacle in the salt, saying, “Powers of Earth, ground free any impurity from this sacred space.” Sprinkle the salt over the altar three times. Visualize a green energy glowing around the altar.
- With your hands or wand, stir the air around the altar by drawing the invoking pentagram 5 times, saying, “As above, so below; As below, so above; macrocosm to microcosm. Spirit, you who are ever-present, indwell within this altar, you are honored in this sacred temple between the worlds. Blessed be.” Visualize a white light containing all colors now glowing around the altar.
- Chime the bell three times. Commence with the creation of your temple.