What is an altar?
I looked up the word in the dictionary just out of interest and this is the description it gives:
“An elevated place or structure, as a mound or platform, at which religious rites are performed or on which sacrifices are offered to gods, ancestors etc”
When I had finished laughing, I thought about it – this is the description of what ancient altars were, it seems that it needs a bit of tweaking to represent modern day altars. Otherwise there are going to be some very worried sacrificial goats out there!
An altar to me is an area that is set aside where you can place items in honour of deity, leave offerings, sit and meditate, a place to connect with deity and a place to leave spells to ‘do their thing’. It isn’t just a pretty place to keep your magical goodies, although that is part of it, for me an altar is also a place to honour deity. Over time and with use your altar will become a sacred place and it will gather magical energy from the workings, meditations and items that you have used it for or placed on it.
You don’t have to have a huge ornate table with dragons carved up the legs and gold inlay on the top, an altar can just be a small space on your mantelpiece or book shelf, it can be the top of a coffee table. If you are still ‘in the broom closet’ or sharing your space with others you could keep your altar on a tray and just slide it into a cupboard. If you don’t have anywhere inside the house to use you could always just set aside a small space in the garden, just a clear patch of earth that you can leave stones, flowers and shells on.
I have several altars, but then I have a very understanding family. My working altar that I use daily and where I put any spells to ‘do their thing’. I have an altar dedicated to Sulis, one for Belanus and a small altar for Ganesha. I also have a small altar in my kitchen and one in the garden. And let’s not forget the altar to my animal spirit guides. Oh, and the friendship altar too.
I have seen all sorts of altars ranging from a pile of stones to huge grand affairs dripping in gold and splendour. Ultimately your altar is a reflection of you and should be so, be creative, and go with what you feel is right and what suits you.
Altars can be used for many intents; you may just want to have a main one or a working one. You might also like to set up an altar specifically for healing or one with the intent of prosperity, the options are really limitless.
There are traditional items and positions involved in creating an altar but I can’t stress enough how important I feel it is to go with what feels right for you as an individual. If you want an altar with fluffy toys, sparkly tiaras and offerings of chocolate sweets on it – go for it!
How you set up your altar is really up to you and what feels right, but traditionally the Goddess items are placed on the left and the God items on the right. The altar is a reflection of a ritual circle, so if you use representations of the elements then they should technically be placed to correspond with the right directions too.
If you belong to a particular tradition or coven they may have strict rules about these things. If you are unsure ask, they may have underlying concepts of why they do things a particular way. However I don’t believe the traditional rules are hard and fast, nothing is WRONG, if you think an item feels right in a particular place then go with it. I am a firm believer of the “if it feels right for you, do it” school of thought.
Some altar suggestions
Working altar – a main altar where you do your daily devotions.
Deity – the god or goddess you are working with or dedicated to.
Animal spirit guides – the animals that help, support and guide you.
Meditation altar – a simple altar where you can sit and focus on a candle or crystal to lead you into meditation.
Crystals – an altar focusing purely on crystals works really well, particularly as a healing altar. But it could be the place where you keep your main crystals and a place for you to leave them to cleanse as well.
Friendship – I have a friendship altar that has a main central candle. From that candle I lit several others, allowed the flame to burn for a short while then snuffed them out. These candles I gave to my inner circle, they have them on their altars as a connection.
Kitchen – my kitchen has a small Green Man shelf that just has room for a tiny glass bottle that I put a fresh flower in.
Elements – you could have one altar dedicated to the four elements, or you could have an altar for each. Perhaps placed in the relevant compass directions in your home.
Divination altar – an altar just for divination purposes, that can also house your divination tools.
Healing – as I said above, crystals work well on a healing altar but you might like to set on up specifically to focus healing energy.
Prosperity – we all need an income of sorts, having an altar set up to keep the money coming in can help. Even just a small jar with coins in by your front door can work as a prosperity altar.
Self love – if you struggle with self image or confidence of any sort. Then a self love altar can be a good positive focus. Set aside a space with a photograph of you in the centre, one that you love (or the one you dislike the least). Surround it with positive items and things that you find beautiful. Spend some time in front of this altar each day saying positive affirmations or meditating.
To watch a replay of my talk, click below: