A Wiccan of 25 years, Sage likes to put her background as a writer and teacher to use by helping people learn about this NeoPagan path.
In many religions, the altar is the heart of sacred space. It’s the seat of worship, where you lay out the sacred tools, call the Gods, make offerings, or do your magical workings. In most religions, there is a distance between the altar and the general practitioners; it resides at the front of a temple or church. If anyone uses it, it would be the religious leaders. In Wicca—mainly Solitary Wicca—the altar is a very personal place. You’re not sharing one with an entire community; it’s meant as a place for private communion with your Gods and celebrating the sacred.
Building your first altar can be both daunting and exciting. For some people, it’s so daunting that it gets put off longer than it has to while the person agonizes over where it should go, what should go on it—the fear of doing it ‘wrong’ can be intimidating. Then on the other side of the spectrum, there is over-excitement when a shelf or table gets covered in dust-collecting trinkets to the point that it looks like it wants to collapse under the weight of them. Instead of an altar, it seems more like a New Age flea market display, and it loses all functionality.
With a little forethought, you can create the ideal altar. One of the first steps is deciding what type you want.
Box Shrine to Hecate
The shrine is mainly a space for veneration. It’s a great place to go for prayers and meditations or pay honor to a specific deity, spirit, household guardian, ancestor, or the like. A shrine doesn’t need to be elaborate at all since it’s more of a focal point. A representation of the object of worship—such as a statue, an image, a candle—is a good start. A little decoration, such as a vase for flowers or a plant, is also an excellent way to decorate. If you use incense for ritual, a censer is a must. It’s also nice to put out a cup, bowl, or basket if you like to give offerings.
That’s all you need on a shrine. You can always put crystals, herbs, candles, and other decorative items if you like, but it’s good to think through anything you want on there to avoid the risk of it just becoming a junk collection. Is the object you want to put on the shrine meaningful to you? Does it have a purpose? There’s nothing right or wrong, as long as you think it through.
There are times when you might like to make a shrine more elaborate. For example, at Samhain, my family puts up an ancestor’s shrine in the dining area on the buffet table. It’s full of photos and their personal belongings, seasonal decorations, candles, bowls, and baskets piled high with offerings and other such items. For the occasion, this full and cluttered shrine feels fitting to us, but only at this time of year. The rest of the year, we lean towards minimalism for our shrines.
Simple, Permanent Shrine to Hermes
Cute Tabletop Altar
Elaborate Temporary Ancestor's Shrine for Samhain Season
A ritual altar is a little bit more elaborate usually because it’s for full-blown rituals, usually Esbats (general moon rituals) or Sabbats (solar holy days of the Wheel of the Year). The full set of ritual tools would be lain out on the altar. A full ritual altar is usually a little larger than a permanent shrine, especially when using the traditional tools like an athame, wand, cup, pentagram, incense, candles, etc.—it requires a bit of space.
Some people keep out a permanent altar and use it both as a shrine and for rituals. If you can’t keep a full-blown altar set up permanently somewhere in your home, it’s a good idea to make a small shrine for your simple daily prayers, meditations, and devotionals, and then set up a temporary altar for big rituals.
A working altar is explicitly designed for magical workings. Some workings can be done in an evening, but other times more intricate workings towards long-term goals can require a set up that goes undisturbed for a while. If you’re using an altar specifically for magic, it should be the least cluttered of all. If all you need for it are the essential components for the working, that’s fine. The fewer distractions, the better.
It’s perfectly fine to have three or more different altars—one (or more) shrines, a ritual altar for Esbats and Sabbats, and a working altar for regular magical endeavors.
Of course, one altar can suffice for all three purposes if you prefer keeping it all in one place. You may have limited areas where you can have privacy and can ensure that no one will fiddle with your things when you leave them out.
Determine your needs and preferences, and make it functional for what you plan to do there. This will help you determine what kind of altar(s) you want, the best place(s) to put the altar(s), and what to put on them.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2013 Mackenzie Sage Wright
Eros Lunarsoul on April 23, 2017:
Send Mackenzie Sage Wright
I'm have just started learn about Wicca
But I'm Vietnamses so it's difficult to learn and to cast spell , to fing tools ,...
Can you teach me ?
Thank you very much
Mackenzie Sage Wright (author) on February 08, 2015:
Hi Jeremiah; sorry, I can't help you for a couple of readings. First, I'm not doing psychic readings, I'm writing articles to help teach people about Wicca. Second, I don't believe in soul mates. And third, I believe whatever path you and your love take will be what you decide together. I wish you the best of luck.
jeremiah on January 11, 2015:
Is me and my soulmate going to come back joined as one after we hhave finished these difficult months we have had to do alone