Creating a magical altar is an essential part of being a Wiccan. It provides you with a special place in which to practice magic.
All religions use altars, and the items that are placed there, such as cups, plates and candles, are imbued with a holy significance. The altar is a place "set aside" from daily life and is used as a focus for the meeting of spiritual and material worlds.
The Role of an Altar
Altars are used for different means. You may have a permanent altar set up in your house. You could also create a permanent altar outside in your yard, with statues of deities surrounded by beautiful flowers near a small pool. Or you may choose to construct a temporary altar for a specific magical purpose--perhaps for a seasonal spell or a ritual with friends.
Altars in Ancient Times
In ancient times, the hearth was the first altar. It was the "lifeblood" of the home, a place where the family would gather as the fire provided light and heat. Even today, people still keep their family photographs and other mementos on the mantlepiece above the fireplace--unknowingly maintaining this tradition.
In Ancient Rome, people maintained shrines in their homes dedicated to the household deity. They worshiped there at ever lunar quarter and decorated it according to the phases of the Moon and seasons.
The Wiccan Altar
In the same way, Wiccans maintain altars and keep their magical tools there. The flames of the hearth are recalled in the lighting of the ceremonial candles.
Setting Up Your Altar
There are many ways of setting up an altar, for which the sequence below serves as a guideline. The most important ingredient for any altar is magical intent.
You will need:
*Colored cloth--The color of the cloth may be appropriate to the purpose of your spell, such as pink for a love spell, although white is a good choice for most magic.
*Candles--The four elements should be marked out in the four directions: North/Earth (Green candle), East/Air (Yellow candle), South/Fire (Red candle), West/Water (Blue candle). This is a typical Wiccan set-up, other colors or correspondences could be used depending on traditions followed or the particular hemisphere you reside in.
*Pentacle--I used a flat disc of wood and burned my own pentacle into it with a woodburner knife, I have also used a smooth, dark, flat stone that fit the palm of my hand and marked a pentagram on it with silver marker. You can also purchase brass altar pentacles online or in metaphysical shops.
*Salt (represents Earth)--I use Sea Salt, which is readily available in the spices/baking aisle at most grocery stores.
*Feather (represents Air)--I have also used a pumice stone in place of this, since it is full of air. A censor (a type of incense burner that hangs from chains) is also proper to represent Air.
*Wand (for Fire)--I have used an athame (ath-a-may), which is a dark handled, double-edged (dull) blade, used for directing energy when casting a circle. I also have a wand that I made myself from a fallen branch of an oak tree.
*Bowl of Water--should be self explanatory. I tend to use lunar water, which is simply water I have left out in the full moon light for a few hours and then store in a special container for ritual use.
*An incense block, as an altar offering, and an item to hold the incense, such as a shell, or a censor.
The items you choose for your altar should only be used for magical work.
1. First purify yourself by having a bath. This will help make the break from everyday activity to magical work. Focus while bathing on the purpose for which you are setting up the altar.
2. Decide if the altar is to be placed centrally so that everyone can see it, or if it is to be at one end of a room or garden so that the energy is more focused. Choose whether the altar will be raised on a table or on the floor (closer to earth energies), then locate the four cardinal directions: North, East, South, and West.
3. Lay the cloth on the altar and mark out the four directions with the green, yellow, red, and blue candles. Place the salt, feather, wand and bowl of water next to the appropriately colored candle.
4. Place the pentacle in the center with a candle in the appropriate color for your spell, such as blue for a protection spell. Place the incense block in a shell between the center and the south. Light it so that it just smolders.
5. Dip the wand in the water and the salt, and walk around the altar, pointing the wand at the ground to make a magic circle for your spell. Imagine a shield of light from the ground creating a bubble around you and your altar.
6. You're now ready to start your magic work. When you have finished, "close down" your altar by reversing all five steps. Take away all your tools, to clean and store them away for next time.