If you’re new to practice Wicca, Paganism, or witchery in general, you might be wondering where exactly to start with all this. A religion/spirituality dating back over a century, there’s a lot of history and especially a lot of variations when it comes to Wicca. So it’s no surprise that it can be incredibly overwhelming when someone is first getting started in their practice and their own personal magic journey.
One of the most basic and simplest things that every witch needs and can easily implement in their practice is an altar. Altars can be as simplistic or as elaborate as an individual wants. It’s entirely up to the witch creating that space to make the altar that best suits them, their home or where they’re worshiping, and their own personal practice.
Altars are sacred and special spaces that symbolize your innermost self and spirituality. It a representation of your hopes, your wishes, the things you’re working on improving and/or releasing, and a place to set intentions and celebrate and practice. Altars are also focal points for your practice—they’re a space to send your energy and intention to whatever deity or being or energy you’re currently working with and channeling. As stated before, an altar can be as simple or as ornate as you choose. Some witches choose to have an entire room devoted to their altar, others have a smaller more modest space. The choice is entirely up to the witch making the altar.
Wiccans and Pagans are certainly not the only religions or spiritual beings that use altars in their faith. Altars are seen all across religions in churches, temples, and from religion to religion. But that’s what an altar is—a physical representation of one’s practice. Which is why they can be such a powerful tool for a witch to utilize. Altars act as a physical space for the “regular” world to meet the spiritual world. A place to harness and access powerful source energies, the gods, ancestors and the rest of the spirit world, and even our own higher selves.
To start setting up your altar you’ll first need to determine what sort of surface you want it to be on, the best location for your altar, and which direction you would like it to face. Remember the four directions North, South, East, and West, each represents a different element:
- North: Earth
- South: Fire
- East: Air
- West: Water
Many witches choose to face their altars North as Wicca is a heavily Earth-based belief, however, depending on your own personal element that you find yourself gravitating towards you may face it in any other direction, or in a non-descript direction if that’s not of particular importance to you. Always remember that altars are personal, so it’s always your personal preference and practice above all else when assembling your altar.
Surfaces for altars can be lots of different pieces of furniture or places. Cabinets, corner tables, shelves, repurposed desks, tables, or even something some like a section of a kitchen counter or a nightstand can all make excellent places for an altar. It can be as big or as small as you choose, and in any room of your house. Many witches also practice with “travel altars” that can be stowed in a basket or container and brought out into nature to practice. Trust your gut and the energy that surrounds you when you’re creating your space. Whatever feels the most right for you and your practice, probably is.
Once you’ve decided on the basics like what surface you’re using and where your altar is going to be, comes the fun part: choosing what talismans, candles, and pieces and things you’re going to put ON your altar.
Because Wicca is such an Earth-based belief, many witches incorporate natural elements into their altar. This can include things like herbs, plants, dirt, sand, shells, seeds, or anything from nature that speaks to you.
If you’re using different flowers and herbs on your altar, here’s a beginner’s guide for what you can use to harness and manifest different energies at different times:
- Thyme: Activation
- Acorns: Life and Immortality
- Sage: Long Life, Good Health, and is frequently used to cleanse a space
- Rose: Love and Affection
- Cinnamon: Healing, Cleansing, is also used in psychic work
- Heather: Protection, Granting of Wishes
- Lavender: Overcoming mistrust
- Basil: Good Riddance and Releasement
- Elder Berries: Strong protectant against evil and negative energy
- Poppies: Pleasure
- Ferns: Sincerity
- Jasmine: Emotional Love, Kindness, and Romance
- Oak: Protection, Power, and Strength
Some may even choose to have an item for each element such as something from nature for earth, a candle for fire, incense for air, and shells or blessed water for water. It’s entirely up to you!
Other sacred items may be tarot cards, books, a tapestry, statues or totems.
One popular item that many choose to have on their altars (as well as around their home an in their practice) are crystals. Crystals, charged by the sun and the moon, attract and hold different energies that can be manifested and provide healing properties.
If you’re using different crystals on your altar (or in life!) here’s a beginner’s guide for what crystal you should use in order to harness the energy you’re seeking:
- Amethyst: Calming and Intuition
- Onyx: Protection, Absorbs and Transforms Negative Energy
- Pyrite: Protection, Shields from Negative Energy
- Clear Quartz: Clarity in Thinking, Improved Awareness and Memory
- Rose Quartz: Forgiveness, Peace and Compassion
- Tiger Eye: Confidence, Strength, Courage, and Good Luck
- Selenite: Clarity of the Mind, Anti-Anxiety, Soothing, Concentration
- Moonstone: New Beginnings, Intuition, Enhancement of Psychic Abilities
- Hematite: Energy and Vitality
- Jade: Emotional Balance, Peace, Purity
- Aquamarine: Closure to Unresolved Situations, Calming, Purity of the Mind
- Obsidian: Deep Psychic Cleanse and Protection
Remember that there are no limits to what crystals or other sacred objects you place on your altar. The design and objects are entirely up to you to create your most optimal sacred space.
Once your altar is set up you’ll need to cleanse your space. It’s important to cleanse your altar because when we bring in objects and crystals that have previously been elsewhere they can bring other energies with them into our sacred space. By cleansing with sage and performing a small smudging ritual, you’re ensuring that your tools and altar are free from external energies and ready for your practice.
To perform a smudging ritual you will need:
- Sage Bundle
- Fireproof bowl, container, or shell
Performing a smudging ritual:
1. Light a candle (or candles) on your altar and set your intention. Take a moment to meditate, say a prayer, or ask the universe to surround your space with love, openness, and to be a guide to your practice.
2. Light your sage from your candle or a match. It will start glowing red and ash may fall, in which case hold your fireproof container beneath it to catch the ash.
3. Say out loud, say a variation of a cleansing incantation. It could be something like either of the following: “With this sage, I cleanse this space and my tools of any negative energy so that they may be used for the highest good and purpose,” or, “Air, fire, water, earth. Cleanse, dismiss, dispell.” Regardless of the spell you choose, make sure to focus on and visualize the idea of your space being cleared of negative energy, and being open to the positive.
4. Gently blow the smoke from the sage over your altar and tools continuing to visualize the smoke cleansing the space of negative energy.
5. Once you’ve cleansed your entire space and all of your tools, you can either allow the sage to burn out on its own on your altar in a fire-safe bowl or container, or you can smother it out or extinguish it in salt.
Now that you’ve cleansed your space the last thing you’ll need to do to finish setting up your altar is say a blessing and consecrate the space. This can be done by simply saying a short blessing like, “I consecrate this space in the name of [insert deity/ancestor/spirit/god here]. May it be a space of spiritual growth. Blessed be.” Or if you’d rather, you can meditate and set your intention silently, visualizing the good work you’ll do there.
Now go forth and practice with your altars, witches! Blessed be!