Why Do You Need An Altar?
Altars are something that isn’t exclusive to the witch community, they are used by many different religions and faiths around the world. When I traveled to a Buddhist monastery last year, there were altars all over the place. I loved looking at their beautiful statues and how they set up each altar. If you have been to a Catholic church I’m betting you’ve seen the area where there are a zillion candles set up and usually some sort of cross, statue, or at least a plaque with a verse on it. Then there are us in the witch community that use them for all kinds of purposes, including spell and ritual work. I have six altars set up in my home and most of them look rather inconspicuous, except for the space I dedicate to Hecate. I’m sure the black crystals, candles, and her stunningly beautiful but haunting brass statue looks a bit peculiar for someone that isn’t used to seeing things like that.
But why do we use them? There are many purposes for altars and today I’ll be focusing on the uses for witchcraft and spirituality in general. An altar is a space where your intention can be focused with spiritual tools such as crystals, candles, and incense. Some altars are as simple as a special spot in your house or yard that you meditate. An altar can be as elaborate or as minimalist as you would like. Some of mine are very simple and those are the ones that I see the most because they are in my living room.
A working altar is a space where you mainly do your spells and rituals. Mine is in my she shed. I used to have my working altar in my home before we moved, but due to the smaller size of our new home I moved it to the she shed. I also found that when I did big energy rituals and workings, I just couldn’t sleep well for about a week afterwards. I always close my circle and dismiss/thank any deity or energy I was working with afterwards but I think the amount of energy that is raised during a large scale ritual just can be too much if you are at all sensitive to energy fluctuations. I’m sure there are other witches reading this saying I just needed to ground myself or that I didn’t close out my ritual or spell properly. I do, and it still makes me feel like I’m on a ritual high for days after I’m around that altar. So my solution was to have my she shed my dedicated space for my working altar.
Here is where I do all my Sabbat and Esbat rituals, all spells, and when I really need to connect and need a safe space to feel protected.
Intention Specific Altars
The six altars I have scattered around my home are intention specific and I use them to boost the energy of each intention in my home and life. Let’s take my love altar as an example. It is set up on a little shelf unit that I have a couple other altars set up on. I have our handfasting braided cord in a cute glass candle lamp, rose quartz, malachite, a sage and rose sage stick, and a cute frame and saying that my daughter made for us. I use it to help keep loving energy in our family. I sometimes will meditate in front of it just releasing any tension that family sometimes creates and inviting love into that space.
Some other intention centered altars could be for prosperity, protection, intuition, deity specific, or really any other intention that you feel like you want to celebrate or represent.
Altar tools can be a great way to focus energy on the intention of your working. They also can be a way to represent your specific path, faith, or religion. I’ll be discussing the basic tools for witchcraft. Keep in mind, witchcraft is not a religion, it is a practice. If you are Wiccan or Buddhist, for example, your tools may not be the same and you may have more or less items on your altar that you work with.
Let’s start with what I feel is the most simple altar tool; the candle. Candles can represent so much in just one tool. You can choose a color to represent the intention, such as pink for love or gold for abundance. This tool represents the element of fire. You can have one candle on your altar to represent Spirit, or two to represent each the God and Goddess, or a color specific one to represent a specific deity. My very first altar was an end table with a white candle I bought from Walmart. That’s all I had and it worked just fine at the time. I used that candle to represent my intention, my divinity, and whatever else I needed it for.
Another tool that I feel is quite common is incense. There are different types such as stick, cone, resin, loose, and rope just to name a handful of them. Incense for me represents the element of air. I use incense specifically for each intention I’m working with. For example, if I were doing abundance and prosperity work I like to use cinnamon incense. For working with a full moon I love frankincense resin incense. Our olfactory system is linked directly to the limbic system, which by passes our conscious mind to evoke memories and emotions. When I smell frankincense I immediately feel calm, powerful, and connected. I feel the energy associated with the full moon. Nag Champa stick incense is what I use when I do my daily meditation. It slows my monkey mind down, my breathing slows, my heart rate lowers, and my body starts to relax.
Athame And Boline Knife
The athame and boline are two tools that are confused for each other often. The athame is a ritual knife that is dull and not used to cut physical items. They are made from many different materials, mine is a carved selenite athame. Traditionally, the athame represents the God, fire, and the Sun. It has a powerful masculine energy. I use my athame to cut energetic cords, draw and release my circle during ritual, and to direct energy during spell work or ritual. The boline knife traditionally has a crescent shaped sharp blade. It is used to cut herbs, ropes/ribbon/string, and carve candles.
The partner to the athame is the chalice. The chalice is basically a pretty cup of some sort. You can go as big or simple as you’d like with any of these tools. I use a small glass that looks a bit like a wine glass. It represents the Goddess, Moon, and water. I don’t drink out of mine very often, it is on my altar to represent the element of water mainly.
Sound Clearing Items
Sound clearing items such as bells and sound bowls are also found on altars. I have a bell I use to clear out energy before and after rituals. I don’t use it all the time, but it is nice if I feel like the energy in the space is dense or just needs more than a smoke clearing.
I also have an offering bowl on my altar that I use a lot. If I am working with a specific deity I like to leave herbs, crystals, or oils in the bowl as an offering for him or her. You can also use it to hold herbs to represent moon phases, spell intentions, or offerings to your ancestors. Mine is copper and has a triquetra on the side of it. I really love it and use it a lot!
I love using altar clothes as well. I have a couple of them that I use. I like a pain black one for my every day altar cloth but I do have some that represent each Sabbat. You can order them online or go to a craft store and get an oversized handkerchief to decorate yourself. I have both kinds; hand decorated and bought ones. I love them all! Each just deepens the intention of my workings. I love a bright vibrant one for Ostara and Beltane! My favorite to use is my Samhain one, it is black and glittery! I use a black lace overlay on top of it to add a bit of drama.
Statues And Figurines
Statues or figurines are a great way to add intention and decorate your altar. When I am working with Hecate, I will move her statue to my working altar to represent and help me connect with her. I have crystal animal carvings that I often place on my altar for various reasons as well. For Ostara this year I found little chick and bunny figurines at the Dollar Store to represent the season. It looked so cute and really helped me get into the mood of the season!
I know another thing that some witches use is an altar tile in the center of their altar. It is usually a symbol such as a pentacle, pentagram, or triquetra. I also have seen beautiful Green Man tiles as well. These are used as a center piece to symbolize your faith or represent the meaning to your practice.
Do You Need All The Things For Your Altar?
No, you don’t need to go online and buy all these tools to practice this path successfully. Cost, availability, location, and space limitations all factor in when deciding what you want to use in your practice. There is no rule that says in order to have a successful ritual or spell that you need to have every tool available. The intention in your work is the most important part! You could have every beautiful spiritual tool available and still fall flat when it comes to the results. Some of the most powerful rituals I’ve done have been with a single candle and outside with no other tools but the energy of nature. I tend to love beautiful candles and crystals that ooze energy for my altars, but being a witch, to me, means I don’t actually need those things to get my work done. It’s nature and my connection to energy is what creates outcomes I’m seeking.
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