wiccan-altar

Wiccan Altar: For Beginners

Something new Wiccans often wonder about is the Wiccan altar layout, how to set up a Wiccan altar and Wiccan altar tools that should be added to a Wiccan altar. A Wiccan altar table is an important place of power, is a spiritual focus point and also a place to leave all of your Wiccan ritual tools and accessories in a safe place. Not all Wiccans and witches have an altar set up at home, and some do not necessarily have the space to set up a permanent altar, and of course most beginners won’t have an altar set up either. This small guide, will touch on the basic layout of a Wiccan altar. It is by no means the way that every single Wiccan in the world would lay out their own altar, because an altar is a very personal thing. Also, an altar can change its form and shape based on various seasons, some Wiccans set app a temporary altar for specific rituals, such as each particular Sabbat where an altar is decorated specially for that Sabbat. For example, on Samhain, the altar might be decorated with a pumpkin carving, and green and orange colours.

Altar Table

When it comes to whether the altar should have its own dedicated table, or be on the floor, is really up to you. It is nice to have an actual small table, on which you can place all of your Wiccan accessories and tools to use for your rituals and spells. However, it is not always possible to have space for a dedicated table, and some Wiccans don’t necessarily want to buy a table, and in that case, it is actually completely fine if you prefer to have your altar on the floor, or even on a workbench, or on a chair and so on. It doesn’t really matter except that I personally find a dedicated altar table is better for me because it creates a focal point in my home for Wiccan spiritual practice, and also keeps everything off the ground, which also avoids fuzz and dust from gathering on all of my equipment.

When I first started out, I also started with an altar on the floor, or just on a work table that I had. I’d also recommend adding an altar cloth just to give your altar a formal appearance, and also it creates a neat space on which to place all your Wiccan items. There are some lovely altar tables available from your local pagan shop if you are lucky to have one, and also online, in particular I have put together a list of some of my favourite altar tables from Amazon, which can be found in this article. Please go have a look and see if something takes your fancy. Although an ornate or stylized altar table is not a necessity, I do quite like the look of an altar table that has carvings in it and decorations to make it feel more magical. Of course, any plain old table will do, as long as it is practical that is what matters most. Also if you are looking for an altar cloth to use for your table, here is a list of some of my favourites that I am sure will add colour and style to your Wiccan altar.

Candles

wiccan-candles

Each altar should have some candles that are available for spell work. You should, at the very least have at least two candles. One being your Goddess candle, and the other being your God candle. There is some talk in the Wiccan community that the left-hand side of the altar should represent the God, and the right-hand side of your altar should represent the Goddess. For some they prefer the Goddess on the left, and the God on the right. But basically, you will have two candles, your Goddess candle could be placed on the right-hand side of the table and the God candle can be placed on the left-hand side of your altar. The God and Goddess candle, may be different colours depending on the deities that you follow. If you do some research on your particular God and Goddess, see what colours normally represent those particular deities, and try to get a candle for your God that represents his colour, and a candle for your Goddess that represents her colour. You may also prefer to inscribe the name of your God into a plain white candle for example, and the name of your Goddess into a plain white candle, if you can’t decide on a colour specifically to use for each. You can still then place your God candle to the left of the altar table and then your Goddess candle to the right of the altar table, each inscribed with the name of the deity, and you can also add any other personal insignia or symbols to those candles to further emphasise the properties of the God and Goddess for each.

Normally what I like to do, is have three candles, I might for example light the God candle and then the Goddess candle, and then light a third candle using the flames of both the God and Goddess at the same time, to represent them joining together. I then keep all three candles burning together throughout the ritual.

Crystals and Bell

Crystals are a brilliant addition to your Wiccan altar table and are excellent for helping you to achieve more focus during a ritual or spell. Depending on the kind of ritual that you will be performing at your altar, do some research on which crystals will provide more focus and the right kind of energy for that ritual or spell. You can place those crystals on your Wiccan altar to provide the additional energy and power of their individual properties, generally they can be placed anywhere where there is space, but you should have at least one crystal or two, to help with your spell work. Some Wiccans like to leave a crystal on the altar permanently even when not in use, to provide protection, or to ward off negative energies, such as a Tourmaline crystal, which helps ward of negative energies.
Some Wiccans like to have a bell on their altar table, which can be used for various spells and rituals. Although not an absolute necessity, if you have the space for it, go ahead and add a bell. It can be used to signal the beginning or end of a ritual, or perhaps at the beginning of a ritual to drive away evil spirits or negative energies from the altar. Some also use it for particular types of magic or to send messages to spirits. I don’t personally use one, but if I did, I would use it at the beginning of my ritual and perhaps at the end, to signify the start and end of the ritual.

Book of Shadows and Pentacles

book-of-shadows

Your book of shadows is normally placed at the centre of the altar, or you might prefer to place it near the top of the altar, in between your God and Goddess candles. You will most likely be reciting from your Book of Shadows, if you have written your own spell or copied a spell into your Book of Shadows that you have found in another book or from Internet. I find having a small book stand, at the top of my Wiccan altar to balance my Book of Shadows on, really helps. Especially if I want to open the Book of Shadows on a particular page, and be able to keep it open on that particular page while I recite or read something from it. If you don’t already have a Book of Shadows, I’d recommend just buying a diary or a small notebook from one of your local stores, and just start by writing your very first spell in it that you want to do for your next ritual. And for each ritual as you go along, in advance before the next ritual, add the next spell that you will be using. That will quickly start filling up your Book of Shadows. I will go into how to create a Book of Shadows and some ideas of how to structure it in another article, but in the meantime if you are interested, have a look at some of these beautifully decorated empty Book of Shadows which are available to purchase from Amazon. There is so much variety to choose from, and although it is not necessary to have anything complicated or decorative, I do like my Book of Shadows to have decoration on its cover to make it feel more magical and give it more character.

You should also include a pentacle on your altar for protection. I actually have a pentacle candle holder which is super cute. In the centre is a pentacle embedded into the candle holder, and it holds a few small tea light candles as well. I find it looks really pretty on my Wiccan altar table, and is functional since it can hold candles as well. If you don’t have the space, I’d say get at least a small pentacle amulet that you can place on your altar table. It’s excellent for providing additional protective qualities to your altar and spells.

Incense and Smudge Sticks

You should have at least one incense holder, and one or two incense sticks available on your altar table. The type of incense that you use, will again depend on the kind of ritual or spell that you will be performing, because different types of incense have different magical properties that can help during your spell work. I also like to keep a smudge stick on my altar, sometimes it is nice to be able to start a ritual, with a smudge stick, just to clear the air of negative energies and to prepare your magic circle before a ritual, rite or spell work. There is no place in particular that you need to keep these on your Wiccan alter, just find a place that works for you.

Cauldron and Chalice

wiccan-chalice

It’s a good idea to have a mini cauldron somewhere more towards the bottom of your altar, which can be used for burning herbs or paper, or for mixing small potions. Mostly from what I have seen, Wiccans use the cauldron to burn herbs to provide further strength to the spell ritual, or if they had written some words on a piece of paper, they may burn those words in the cauldron safely. Always be careful when burning paper, as any other items on your altar will likely be flammable and could be a fire risk. The cauldron helps to provide additional safety because you can burn things inside the actual cauldron itself, and if it gets out of hand, you can simply place the cauldron lid on top to snuff the flame if needed. Cauldrons are super useful and highly recommended for your Wiccan altar.

A chalice, is basically a cup or goblet, from which you can drink wine or grape juice, or even a small potion that you might have mixed beforehand made of tea and herbs for example. The chalice is normally placed on the same side as your goddess candle, because the chalice represents the female deity. The shape of the goblet represents the female womb and so it is a popular symbol of the Goddess. Normally I place my chalice to the right-hand side of my altar table, close to my Goddess candle. If you don’t have an ornately decorated chalice available, just an ordinary teacup or a glass, will suffice as the representation of the female deity. There are some lovely chalices that I have discovered on Amazon, and if you would like to add one with a personal touch to your own altar, please have a look at this article. Again, it’s about what it represents, more than how it looks, but I personally love adding things to my altar table that are cute, have character and look unique, which is the main reason I purchased my own chalice and other altar table items, rather than using plain ones. In the end its about practicality and functionality really, so go for whatever suits your budget the best.

The chalice is also used in certain Wiccan rituals, so it’s useful to always have it on your altar so it’s available for anything spells that might require it.

Athame, Boline and Wand

The athame represents the male deity, and is normally placed to the left-hand side of the altar table, or on the same side of the altar where your God candle is kept. So normally somewhere in the middle of the altar table and to the left, is where I like to keep mine. A Boline, is a curved knife or sharp blade, that is used to cut things such as herbs and is also used to inscribe words, symbols and insignia on candles or other objects you may be using during a ritual spell. You can keep the Boline wherever you want, I normally just keep it next to my athame, or next to my cauldron since I will use it to cut up herbs to burn in my cauldron. If you don’t have a Boline, or can’t find one, then just a small sharp knife will do, or even a small pair of scissors to make cutting your herbs and other items easier. Some Wiccans like to also keep a Wiccan wand on their altar table, and this could be placed next to your athame or boline.

Tarot Deck and Runes

tarot-deck

Some Wiccans also like to keep a tarot deck, as well as their runes, on the altar table. I don’t personally do that, because I tend to use my tarot deck or runes at separate times when I’m not at my altar. For example, when I’m on my bed, or in the lounge where I’m most comfortable, and I can take time to do my reading. But I have seen many Wiccan altars, that do have the tarot deck, or a pouch of druid runes available on the altar to use in rituals, spells and ceremonies. You may prefer that because the protective energy and power of your altar may help to strengthen your reading when doing a tarot card reading or throwing / drawing runes. I have also seen some Wiccans, who like to place specific runes on the altar table for a particular spell, to help provide additional focus, or to represent a particular thing for that spell ritual. In terms of placement, normally somewhere near the side of the altar table would be good to keep them out the way until they are needed. Also, you might not use them for every spell or ritual, so keeping them to the side would be more practical. Generally, I like to keep Wiccan tools that I use the most around the centre and to the bottom of the Wiccan altar so it’s within easy reach.

Temporary Altar or Permanent Altar?

Okay so there is some debate in the community about whether a temporary altar or a permanent altar should be created. But in most cases, it will come down completely to your own preference. If you don’t have the space for a permanent altar in your house, it will most likely make more sense to create a temporary altar each time before doing a spell or ritual. I am quite lazy so that wouldn’t work too well for me, so I have a permanent altar set up for myself. But when I go out into the woods or to a park, I may set up a small temporary altar to do my spell work on. If you are going to do a temporary altar, it might help to have a small bag in which to carry all the things you need. You should carry in it at least an altar cloth, so that you can keep your altar area clear and clean during your ritual. I found some beautiful altar cloths on Amazon which you could have a look at in this article, and not only are they colourful but some of them are beautifully decorated as well. In addition, in my bag, I would normally have at least my Goddess and God candles (and statues of your God and Goddess if you have those), and at least a plain candle or some coloured candles depending on the spell I will be doing. I also carry some herbs, incense, notepad and pen, and a smudge stick, a cauldron, my Book of Shadows and any other small additional items that I might need for my spell or ritual.

Of course, there are also some people who need to only use their temporary altar at home, in that case it might make sense to keep all of your altar equipment inside a draw, or in a bag like I described above. And then for each ceremony, ritual, or spell work you would then set up your altar temporarily on your dining room table, on the ground, or any space that you can find in your home or garden. There isn’t anything wrong with doing it this way, I personally do like to have a dedicated place in my home for my altar and all of my ritual equipment. It inspires me to use it as a focal point to do all my Wiccan related activities. But again, like I mentioned, I also do like to set up a temporary altar outside in the garden or when I am away from home such as at a park if I will be doing a spell away from my dedicated altar.

Seasonal Altars

seasonal-altar

Okay so you could for example have a permanent altar, or a temporary altar, to use for most of your main rituals and ceremonies. But there are also many Wiccans who like to also create an additional altar, just for a Sabbat. You could for example for the Lammas Sabbat, set up an altar that is specifically decorated for the Lammas ceremony and rituals. You could have bread, or a basket of bread on your altar to represent the bread and harvest. And then you can decorate your altar table with all the colours that represents Lammas, and any fruits or vegetables and berries that might be represented by that particular season. Or similarly for the Beltane festival, you could create a mini ‘maypole’ on your altar to represent the Beltane Sabbat. Or at Yule, you could place a small tree on your Wiccan altar with little lights around it, and decorate your altar table with lights and lots of tea candles.

If you’re willing to make the extra effort, it can be quite fun to create a seasonal altar for each Sabbat, or at least for the major Sabbats. But these would be set up in addition to your main altar. I just find that for me personally I prefer to have my main altar unchanged (except for small items I need for each spell of course) with its main tools and accessories that I like to keep together, structured in a certain way to make it practical to use each time, rather than changing my main altar table for each season. So, if I really want to have a seasonal altar, it makes more sense to set up an additional seasonal altar somewhere else in my house, or garden, temporarily for a particular Sabbat, and then to remove it again once the Sabbat or ritual is over. It is also a great activity if you have pagan kids who also want to join in and help decorate it for the season.

Wiccan Altar Offerings and Altar Box

altar-box

I do also like to keep a small wooden box on my Wiccan altar table. Normally I keep in there any offerings that I want to offer to the elementals and deities after I have completed my spell work. You could of course just keep some offerings in small bowls on your altar just for that spell or ritual, such as a small bowl of grain, or a bowl of dried flowers, and so on, that you can provide as an offering. It is also totally fine to just leave the offerings on your altar cloth if you prefer, and you may instead want to use your altar box to hold other items such as pentacles, amulets, feathers, or potion / spell ingredients. I find that an altar box that has little separated dividers works best since I often want to keep different ingredients in there and don’t want them to mix.

Final Thoughts

There are so many things that I can talk about when it comes to an altar, and how to set up a Wiccan altar table. But I think if you just stick to the basics it will be really easy to set up an altar table for initial spell work. Just remember, it doesn’t have to be a permanent fixture, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be on an actual table. It can be on the ground, or in any place in your home where you have space for it. It can be a temporary thing that you set up each time, and it can even be a seasonal Wiccan altar if that is what you prefer. Go with what feels natural to you, and what you feel is right, there is no wrong or right way to set up an altar. I think at the very basic level, an altar should at least have a cloth, because that provides you a working area and focal point on which everything will be placed. I think it might just be psychological, but the cloth always just makes something feel a little bit more formal. And on top of that I would say at the very least you should have at least something representing your God, and something representing your Goddess. Keep it basic if you prefer and have just your altar cloth with your God candle and your Goddess candle on there be lit and burn during your ceremony.

The rest of what you place on the altar is up to you, you might not even want to place every single piece of equipment that you have on your Wiccan altar. You might only want to place on your altar specific things that you will need for your small ritual at that specific time that makes sense for the occasion. That is totally fine as well. Of course, you don’t necessarily need an altar table as a Wiccan or witch, but I think it is something that provides you with extra focus and just helps to make the ‘religion’ part of Wicca a little bit more formal and provides a little bit more structure to your ceremonies and rituals. And I must say it is a lot of fun to set up an altar. Even just to go shopping for all the little things that you want to add onto the altar at your local stores, or browsing online shops for example, to find all kinds of great, beautiful little trinkets to add to your altar to make it person is super fun. I hope you enjoy setting up your altar, and remember, it’s all about personal preference and most importantly just have fun doing it. Merry blessings to you!