When we create a magickal altar, we are creating a world within a world, a place to reflect, make magick, craft spells, meditate, laugh and commune with the divine. An altar is a reflection of where we are at, energetically. It is also a visual trigger and reminder that you are a being of heaven and earth, spirit and matter, and your energetic, invisible self has power and influence which can be transformed, channelled and directed.
There are several formal ways to set up an altar, but the most grounded way is to begin with a representation of the four elements on your altar, in the direction you associate them with. For example, you may associate the East with Air, the North with Fire, the West with Water, and the South with Earth… where I live, I tend to approach this in a geocenbtric way – following the flow of energies of the land. So, for me, my altar in Sydney is set up East for Water, North for Fire, West for earth, and South for Air…
I sometimes charge my ritual tools on my altar, and at other times, they live on their own altars in areas within temporary temples I have set up. For more information about magickal tools and ritual items, please go to the Magickal Tools section.
Athame (element of air): The athame (ath-ah-may) is a double-bladed knife used for energy work – it is never used for cutting anything on the physical plane. Priestesses often wore theirs strapped to their legs, and worked with them to heal. They are especially powerful for casting circle and cutting etheric cords – think of them as being a little like the sword of Archangel Michael. I have a beautiful brass athame. Most metal moves too quickly for me to feel I am directing it efficiently, but brass is perfect. It has a beautiful rose quartz in it and is very rounded at the top, which gives it a feeling of femininity that I adore. It is heavy in my hand. My young daughter often wanders in, picks it up, gently draws a circle in the air above her head with it and says softly: “In perfect love and perfect trust.” If you don’t have an athame though a feather works just as well, and you can also use your finger to cast circle and direct energy.
Wand (element of fire): Wands are also used to work with energy, however they primarily direct and send it out. They also strongly connect us with the fairy realm. I have two wands at present. One is amethyst, which I use when it feels right – it is stronger, more protective and more psychic, solid, powerful and commanding. The other is rose quartz and crystal, and is more loving, romantic, feminine and sweet in its energy, although it almost has a “naughty” energy at times. I also use wooden wands, ones I gather myself and activate with crystals and found objects, but you can also use a small candle to represent fire if you are keeping things simple.
Crystals/stones: (element of earth): I have a collection of crystals that is constantly evolving. Rose quartz, gathered under moonlight. Healing smoky quartz. Gifts from a valued friend of crystals they mined ethically in Brazil. Stones found at the seaside, tumbled over and over until they’re smooth. Rocks that simply “ask” to be collected and worked with. They are all an articulation of the Goddess and the grounding element of earth, although you can also use a small dish of salt to represent this element.
Chalice (element of water) In my chalice, or bowl, I keep water. Over the years I have collected water from the sea, from the sacred wells of Glastonbury, and from rain, but all water is blessed when you bless it. By simply doing this you change its structure. A bowl of clean, clear water on your altar represents this powerful, cleansing element. Sea shells, a picture of a dolphin or mermaid or a simple glass of water will also activate the water aspect of an altar.
Other Magickal Tools and Creations of Nature
Once the four directions, or five elements are represented, you can add anything you like to your altar – the most important factor in your choice is intuition and that the object speaks to you. Most witches like to have a statue or drawing of the God and the Goddess – it could be an elaborate stone statue, an inexpensive brass figurine, the Empress from the Oracle Tarot or something you draw yourself. It is whatever is meaningful for you – perhaps a sun candle represents the God for you and a moon candle the Goddess.
Many magical altars also include a pentacle, or the five-pointed star in a circle, to represent the five elements coming together. Again it can be a picture, a piece of jewellery, a large pewter plate, a stick drawing – whatever is meaningful for you.
You can choose to drape your altar too, with anything from a specially bought altar cloth to a piece of beautiful fabric or material cut from a favourite old skirt, or something sentimental that holds great meaning, and thus energy for you. Its colour also contains magic, so you can change it daily, with the seasonal festivals, when the mood takes you or not at all. Perhaps if you are working a major spell you could choose the colour that most corresponds to the desired outcome.
A cauldron is another wonderful choice. While it is probably the most stereotypical of all the altar tools for a witch, it’s also very practical, and has true power. It can be used to cast a spell within, activating and purifying your intent with fire. Grind up incense or other magical brews. Cook a sacred feast in it. It is also the three-legged symbol of the triple goddess (maiden, mother and crone), and our wonderful ability to create and give life.
Most magical of all however are the “found” objects that resonate with you. These things, which have actually been looking for you, are very powerful magical tools. For example, I have a small, delicately spun bird’s nest, which I found outside my back door. When I work on spellcrafting for my home out it comes, as it represents the creation of home and hearth. A stone you find in your favourite park, a shell you pick up on a birthday beach wander, a crystal you are gifted with, dried flowers, a snake’s shed skin that you come across.
Your altar is your own sacred self symbol, so choose objects, images and symbols that are personally activating to you. There is no need to purchase expensive tools – simply placing a sea shell, an image of an angel or Goddess aspect you wish to connect with and some clean, clear water on your altar is a profoundly magical thing. When I look around me, my tools are everywhere, because everything is a tool to me.
The act of gathering what speaks to you is in itself a sacred act, and will reveal much about you. Your altar and its objects can be as complex, as ritualised, theatrical, simple, masculine, feminine, angelic, earthy, sexy and pure as you wish. It is your sacred space. What do you want to ask for?
You may wish to keep your candles and ribbons, cords, incenses and oils in special boxes or drawers, and only bring them out when you intuitively feel the time is right for their energy to be activated on your altar. You may also like to keep specific supplies on hand, like a pelican feather for Mabon, swan feathers for Imbolc, red cloth for Beltane, pink candles for a love invocation on a Friday night, moonlit water in a silver scrying bowl to speak personally with Arianrhod, the Moon Goddess of the Celts.
The most potent magic of all is to revere your home as a living altar that is unique and personal and divine, as you are. When we think of everything in our home as being magical, a tool, a spell at work, our home becomes a sensual manifesting zone. Experiencing its magic is deeply moving and very fulfilling, and connects us deeply with the Goddess Vesta, the original Domestic Goddess, who teaches us of the honour of having a home we love and which loves us back. By working with our homes in this way, people will feel its healing energy when they walk through your door – bringing them back again and again, and bringing you good fortune and prosperity.
May your home be blessed, as are you.