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A Witch’s Tools: The Altar

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What does an altar mean? What do you put on a witch’s altar? When do you use it? Where does it go? Do you need one? Are we going dark here? Ok baby witches, don’t worry, I gotcha. Let’s demystify the witch’s Altar (you can re-mystify your own personal one at home) 😉

WHAT IS A WITCH ALTAR

An “altar” might stir up images of bad Hollywood movies of pointy hat wearing witches sacrificing babies on stone altars to an evil bright red dude with horns*. Or, you might be thinking of a church kind of altar where they dip screaming babies into ice cold water. Either way, it doesn’t immediately lend itself to something peaceful, beautiful and sacred. So let’s fix that.

A Witch’s Altar is:

  • One of our most sacred and essential tools for witchcraft
  • Our place of worship
  • Where we conduct most of our rituals, ceremonies and energy workings from
  • Where we celebrate the seasons
  • And where we generally keep most of our other tools and sacred items
A witch's altar

The Altar helps you connect to and honour the Goddess & God / your chosen Deities, and the Elementals (Earth, Air, Fire, Water), whom you work with whenever you do any kind of energy working.

All you need is a small surface and a few symbolic items to represent the sacred energies you work with.

Your altar can be permanent, or something you set up and take down when you practice your craft. It can be indoors or outdoors according to your preference. Big and full of lots of things, or a minimalist set up that you keep in a shoebox. It really is all about you! So let’s look at the basic Altar tools and items.

BASIC ALTAR TOOLS & ITEMS

Here are some basic altar tools you might want to include in your altar:

The Altar

Statues, pillar candles or framed pictures that represent your image/s of God & Goddess / Deities / Great Spirit.

Witch Altar Items the Athame and Chalice

You can also use a Chalice (cup) which represents Goddess, and can be used to drink out of during rituals.

A knife, called an Athame, represents God, and can be used like a wand to cast the circle as well as to cut things during rituals.

To represent the four elements: A bowl with sand for Earth, a bowl with water for Water, a red candle for Fire and a feather for Air work well.

Of course, you can use a variety of different items – I list suggestions below.

A great idea is to use crystals associated with each element as well. See our Elementals Crystal Kit.

Place your representations of the Elementals in their appropriate direction. Here in South Africa (Southern Hemisphere), East is Air, South is Earth, West is Water and North is Fire – this is according to the Wiccan associations. In Shamanism they are placed differently.

IDEAS FOR REPRESENTING THE ELEMENTS ON YOUR ALTAR:

EARTH

  • brown or earth colour crystal,
  • brown or green candle,
  • bowl of sand
  • a bowl of salt,
  • statue or picture of an earth dwelling animal like the snake or a magical creature like a gnome or giant.

AIR

  • yellow or white colour crystal,
  • yellow or white colour candle,
  • burning incense stick,
  • feather,
  • empty bottle or bowl,
  • statue or picture of a bird or sylph

FIRE

  • red crystal,
  • red candle,
  • something spicy like a chilli,
  • lighter or matches,
  • statue or picture of a dragon or salamander

WATER

  • blue crystal,
  • blue candle,
  • seashell,
  • bowl of water,
  • statue or picture of a water creature like a fish, nymph or mermaid.
Offering bowl

A metal bowl, often called an Offering Bowl, is where you would perform various kinds of energy workings.

For example, burning a piece of paper, mixing up a magickal herbal brew, or leaving small cakes to honour the Fae folk on Samhain.

Use a candle snuffer to extinguish altar candles

A candle snuffer is a useful investment to extinguish your candles.

Candles can be used to represent the Deities and Elementals. You may also use candles in magickal workings.

Using your breath to extinguish the candles is considered bad form by the spirit world.

A mortar and pestle on the altar

A mortar and pestle is useful for grinding up herbs and spices during rituals.

CELEBRATIONS

During the year, we witches celebrate or mark the passing seasons (sun movements) and moon cycles (lunar movements). We call these Sabbats and Esbats.

You can learn more about The Wheel of the Year HERE.

A lovely way to mark the Sabbats and Esbats is to have a few items you use to change up your altar space. For example, picking some wild flowers and painting some egg shells for Ostara (Spring celebration) or pinecones and a mini Yule tree for Yule in Winter. You can pick things up in nature to add to your altar or invest in special items that you bring out each year for the Sabbats. Keep different colour tablecloths or candles that correspond to the season.

SUMMARY: THE WITCH’S ALTAR

Ok, let’s do a quick sum up of the items you want to consider adding to your altar. I’ll include some budget friendly options here too:

BASIC ALTAR ITEMS AND BUDGET FRIENDLY IDEAS

  • A tablecloth (black is an excellent budget option that can be used for anything). Later, you can expand to include different colour tablecloths for different seasons or types of workings, if you so choose.
  • Something to represent the Goddess and God (or your chosen deities). Ideas include two pillar candles (gold for God and silver for Goddess), pictures you find online and print out (find second hand frames at a charity shop!), statues, crystals (e.g. a Smoky Quartz tower for God and a Quartz Geode for Goddess).
  • A Chalice for Goddess (and to drink out of during ceremonies and rituals) – this can be a simple wine glass or cup out your kitchen cupboard. Fancy it up with some ribbon or paint!
  • An Athame for God (also used for any cutting of items during ceremonies and rituals) – again, you can grab a knife out the kitchen drawer and wrap the handle with string, ribbon or scrap leather or fabric to make it more special.
  • Elemental representations for Earth, Air, Fire and Water. You can use one or many different items for each element depending on your preference.
  • Offering bowl (a metal bowl you can burn things in, give offerings or mix up brews for anointing etc) – see what you’ve got in the kitchen cupboard, or go fancy and invest in a mini cauldron (aka mini potjie pot!).
  • Candle snuffer. Budget option? The lid of a cooldrink!
  • Mortar and pestle. If you don’t have one in your kitchen, go (super) old school and see if you can find some rocks that could work. Look for a flat rock (with a slight indentation would be amazing) and a rounded rock you can use in your hand. Worked for our ancestors, no?

NO ONE SIZE FITS ALL – MAKE IT PERSONAL

Your altar can be as big and elaborate and fancy as you like, or simple and minimalistic! What’s most important is that your altar space gives you a sense of the sacred and magickal. It should inspire and empower you. Make it personal, and allow it to change over time.

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