The altar is the magical heart of your home.
This is one of the most important aspects of my own magic, and one that will hopefully create a home for your magic.
But first, let’s answer the question: what is an altar?
An altar is a designated, physical place where offerings are made to Spirit. It is a physical reminder of our spiritual commitments. This is where you can leave offerings to the spirits, where you can keep your active spells. It is a connection between you and the Otherworld.
Different spiritual traditions use altars in different ways, but many modern witches use them for fairly eclectic purposes.
These are the altars that I usually have going in my house:
- Central altar – for connecting with deities and familiar spirits daily
- Money altar – for drawing in abundance and stability
- Ancestor altar – to honor the beloved dead and radical queer ancestors
Depending on the energy of my home, and what I’m up to spiritually, these altars may be in different rooms, or they might be next to one another, or all a part of the same altar.
Choosing a place
There are several things to consider when you choose a space for your altar. Obviously, I like to pick a place that is safe. Many witches are not able to be “out of the broom closet” or open about their craft. This is particularly true if you live in the Bible belt or a similarly religious, conservative community, or if you still live at home and your family wouldn’t approve. In that case, I recommend smaller or traveling altars. Altars that fit in a shoebox, or that can live in a special bag, can work wonders.
There are varying degrees of privacy needed in our different magical lives. Perhaps you don’t want to have your altar in the living room, but instead would like to have it in your bedroom where you can close the door. Or maybe you want a constant reminder of your witchcraft in the main living space, and so you make room for an altar in the living room.
All of these are valid options for you.
You may also want to consider the energy of your home. I believe that as we move through our homes, we create a specific kind of energy. The kitchen is often a bustling space, where nesting and work gets done, whereas the bedroom is where we sleep and need to be at rest. All of these rooms will naturally have different different energy, and what specific energy you bring to the home will also impact all of these things. I usually don’t set up my altar until I’ve lived in my space for several days – it takes me that long to figure out where the “heart” of the home is.
If you want to work with your own house spirit, you can ask the house where an altar would work best.
What items do you need for your altar?
There is no right answer to this question. The answer is really: Whatever items make your altar feel like an elevated space in your home.
I like to center my altar space around a candle, which you can light whenever you want a little extra support in your day. Many witches choose to have elements that represent each of the elements: earth, air, fire, and water. These can be different colors (red for fire, blue for water, etc.), or they can be more physical representations. Many people keep crystals or rocks on their altar to represent Earth, the candle can obviously represent Fire. Incense often stands in for air – specifically because it make air visible with smoke. And you can keep water on your altar as a literal offering.
You can keep any representations of divine on your altar that you actively work with. That last is important – if you aren’t a Buddhist, putting a Buddha statue front and center doesn’t make too much sense. The altar is a space between you and your Gods/Guides. For example, I work with Odin. I have a grandfather candle on my altar. I ritualistically carved out the left eye and have blessed it in his name.
You don’t need to do anything that dramatic – just anything that speaks to you that makes sense as a representation. For example, if you work with Persephone, you could put a pomegranate on your altar for the full or new moon.
Another thing you can use: representations of your ancestors or beloved dead. I keep my grandmother’s funeral program on my altar, and a photo of my uncle. Family is challenging, so I definitely understand if ancestor veneration isn’t your thing. But if it is something you’re interested in, placing photos on your altar is a great way of bringing ancestors into your practice.
There is no one right or wrong way to create an altar, as long as your altar is useful for you and specific to your practice.
Here are some other ideas for things to place on your altar:
- Favorite art works
- Offering of water
- A wand
- A ritual knife
- Tarot decks or individual cards
Some Example Altars to Inspire You
This is the altar I will be working with this summer. I’m focusing on healing myself, and working with life’s cycles. This particular version of the Lover’s card is a very good representation of the kind of love I want to build in my life. The moon tile is something I crafted myself, and the rose quartz bowl on top of it holds Vervain, Lavender, and Red Rose herbs. I also have my central altar candle, and an ostrich feather to encourage ostentation.
This altar is just the first picture of a transformative practice I did over Pride this year. It was inspired by the Queer Ancestor Elevation practice, as outlined here. For seven days, I said prayers and called upon my queer ancestors. I added a different book to the pile each night. The objects I chose represented healing. The ostrich feather again represented opulence. The mirror itself was used to act as an amplification, as others were doing the ritual at the same time.
I hope that these examples help inspire you to think about the different ways you can work with altars in your own space. There is no one way to create an altar. As long as the objects you place on your altar have meaning, you will find yourself more centered. Experiment with this on your own – and share your thoughts in the comments!
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