The concept of altars has become more mainstream, especially when you see people posting images of altars and talking about them on social media.
In general, witchcraft has seen a resurgence over the last few years and with the help of social media, information about witchcraft has become more accessible.
However, an altar doesn’t have to be restricted to witchcraft.
It can be created and used by anyone who wants to have a personal connection to their spirituality.
Altars are found in many religions, although mainstream religions reserve their altars for places of worship in which only the ordained work at them to conduct ceremonies, but people can still bring their spirituality and personal connection to Divinity at home.
Altars in the home have been used for millennia, commonly practiced in pagan religions, although some religions even today have shrines or altars for personal use.
An altar is a place, usually a table or shelf, in a part of a home or residence where the practitioner can work with and connect with Divinity, however they view the Divine.
Photos on Instagram of stunning, beautiful altars can be intimidating with expensive items and crystals, colour coordinated and displayed perfectly.
Let’s just say, a personal altar doesn’t have to be “aesthetically pleasing” or Instagram perfect.
What matters most is what’s on the altar that has meaning to you.
Altars can be neat, messy, minimalistic, overcrowded, lots of candles, no candles, statues, whatever you feel has personal meaning and representation to you.
Let’s go over some ways about how to create an altar that can bring your personal touch and spirituality to it.
How to Create an Altar
Spirituality / Divinity
If you follow/practice a specific religion or type of spirituality, you may have a personal connection to a deity or deities.
Having a representation of your god(s) or goddess(es) can be an important focal point for your altar.
Statues and images (such as printed pictures found online) can be added to your altar.
Pick images or statues that depict your deity in a way that you envision them or how you view them, so that you can feel a personal connection.
If you buy a statue of your deity just because it’s an image of that god/goddess, but the artwork doesn’t appeal to you, it won’t have a great impact on the energy and feeling that you have at your altar.
Choose images and/or statues that show the beauty of your deity and how you see them in your mind or the image you feel most connected to them.
If your religion or spirituality has tools that are unique to your faith, you can add them to your altar.
For example, if you follow a Christian path (or a hybrid path that blends Christian faith with other spirituality), you could add a cross if you feel inclined.
Most noted in witchcraft, Wicca and other occult magick, the four natural elements are commonly represented on an altar.
The four elements, earth, air, fire and water, are often represented on an altar with an item for each element.
For example, dirt or salt to represent the element of earth, a feather or incense to represent the element of air, a candle to represent the element of fire and a dish of water to represent the element of water.
The placement of these representations of the elements varies depending on traditions and personal preference.
Most often, depending on the orientation of where the altar is situated in a room and which direction it is facing (north, east, south or west), the element representations are placed in the corresponding directions on the altar.
So, where do you place the altar based on elements?
Some traditions suggest placing the altar to face east, while other traditions suggest north.
A few traditions will choose to place their altars facing south or west.
Sometimes the direction you think you should place your altar isn’t a possibility based on furniture arrangement or how your room is laid out.
If you have a compass (there are apps available in app stores), you can locate the directions (north, east, south and west) and see where you want to place your altar and where it’s possible for you to place your altar.
After that, it’s up to personal preference.
Explore the representation and meanings behind north, east, south and west and find which direction you feel most comfortable with placing your altar.
Divination / Tools
If you practice divination, you may decide to add your divinatory tools to your altar such as runes, crystal ball(s), oracle and/or tarot cards, etc.
Adding one oracle or tarot card (or more) to your altar can be used for magickal and/or meditative purposes.
Drawing a card each day, you can place the card on your altar to reflect on it for the day or you can choose one intentionally to channel that energy during the day.
If you practice magick, there’s tools of the Craft that are appealing to everyone to have, but they aren’t necessary.
If you’re new the magick, don’t get caught up in the belief that you have to have every magickal prop or tool on your altar in order for it to be complete.
Tools are great to have, but many of them can be substituted with what you already have at home or can find in a regular store.
The basic tools like athame, cauldron, wand, chalice, pentacle and candles are fun to have, but aren’t necessary. My first wand ever was an apple branch from a bundle of sticks meant for hamsters! And it did the trick.
Don’t feel that you have to buy expensive, handcrafted candles that you end up paying more for shipping to get them delivered.
Sure, they’re nice and beautiful, and if you can afford it, great.
But, don’t let yourself go broke or be late for rent because you spent your money on witchy items.
Candles are available everywhere and can be affordable. I often use plain white tea light candles and anoint them with oil.
You can get a pack of 100 or more tea lights and they’re much cheaper!
Plus, they extinguish on their own so I can safely burn them in a tea light holder without worrying about the flame getting too high.
Adding things from nature to your altar can help you connect to the land around you.
This is especially important if you’ve moved to a new area in town, a new city or even a new country.
Get to know your surroundings, the land and the environment around you.
Branches, leaves, acorns, flowers, stones, rocks, snow and rain are just a few things that you can add to your altar.
Popular for altars are crystals to add and amplify the energy of your altar.
Choose crystals that you find appealing and research other crystals to find what they are intended for.
If you have a big enough altar, you can create a crystal grid for certain workings.
As the seasons change, you can bring items from outside to your altar and reflect the changing season.
Seasons / Holidays
Celebrate the holidays (pagan and/or modern) with your altar by decorating it for the season or holiday.
Decorating your altar for each season doesn’t have to be expensive. A trip to the Dollar Store can yield some good finds (dollar stores really have changed since the 90s.)
A quick change of the altar cloth, adding a few seasonal flowers (like real or fake poinsettias for Yule) and you can have a festive altar.
For Mabon, you can place pumpkins, gourds and corn on your altar to celebrate the harvest.
Holidays don’t have to be reserved to just pagan holidays.
For example, if you’re into celebrating Valentine’s Day, you can create a “love altar” placing pictures of hearts, adding chocolates, images of your loved ones or even the god Cupid to celebrate the day.
Ancestors / Departed Loved Ones
As part working altar, part shrine, you can create an altar to honour your ancestors and loved ones that have crossed over into spirit.
Placing pictures of your loved ones, memorabilia and items that were special to you and/or them can help create a memorial and sacred space to honour them and if desired, work with them.
Ancestral altars are common around Samhain and in the autumn when the departed are honoured, but an ancestral altar can be set up all year ‘round.
Find out how to work with your ancestors if you’d like to know more about setting up an ancestral altar.
Heritage / Culture
Since an altar is a personal expression of yourself, adding pieces of your cultural heritage can also link you to your ancestors and who you are.
If there are items that are unique to your culture and/or heritage, you can add them to your altar.
This could be a traditional cloth, artwork, jewellery, tools, writings in your ancestral language(s), etc.
If you have a mixed background, don’t be afraid of mixing the cultures together on your altar or even having a special place for each on your altar as these cultures are a part of you.
Your altar should be an expression of who you are, whether culturally or otherwise.
Magickal Dirt / Oils / Powders / Dust
Having an altar doesn’t mean it has to look clean, perfect and pristine all the time.
If you design an altar to be a working altar instead of an altar for only honouring and devotion, you may find that the altar will get dirty.
You’ll soon find there may be candle wax on it (which is why it’s a good idea to have an cloth under all your items to protect your furniture) and if you work with powders and/or oils, it’s going to get messy and dirty.
A working altar is where spells and rituals are performed, which means that magickal powders or dustings will get all over it.
This could be from mixing and crushing herbs, using oils, powders, dustings or even dirt (such as graveyard dirt or crossroads dirt.)
Altar dusting powder by The Witchery is great for working at the altar and adding that extra energy to it.
When to Clean Your Altar
If your altar is a working altar, like mentioned before, it will get messy and dirty. Whenever you feel the need to rearrange and clean your altar is up to you.
Cleaning your altar on the dark moon, new moon or full moon can be a good way to remember, if you want to regularly attend to cleaning your altar and preparing it for the next moon cycle or month.
In ancient Greece, Hekate’s Deipnon was practiced on the day before the first appearance of the silver crescent (the night of the new moon).
An evening meal was offered to Hekate at a crossroads and the home and altars were cleaned.
Any food and offerings that remained from previous in the month were placed at the shrine or outside and offered to Hekate at a three-way crossroads.
Modern day polytheists can use this time to clean out the fridge, pantries and clean the altars of any food that has spoiled or expired and to clean the home, preparing for the new month.
Since the ancient calendar marking Deipnon is different than our modern day calendar, some may practice this at the dark moon while some may on the last day of the calendar month.
You don’t have to honour Hekate in order to have a tradition of your own to make a regular practice of cleaning your altar and home. This can be part of any spiritual practice and cleanliness.
No matter how you create your altar or what you put on it, let it be an expression of who you are and what you believe in.
Don’t get caught up in the beautiful altar photos online or what other people have on their altars. You don’t have to have $50 crystal towers or expensive tools to make it special to you.
Make your altar unique to you, spend time with it, make offerings at it, commune with the Divine and create your sacred space with it.
Stacey & the Tarot Pugs
Images designed in Canva.
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