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Creating Your Witch's Altar

Updated: Nov 11, 2023

The creation of your witch’s altar is a wonderful process that allows you to exercise your creativity, intuition and magic. We’re going to go over a basic altar that could be used for any occasion or working, but with experience and some knowledge of the Craft, you’ll be able to fashion an altar for a specific working or ritual. The main principle to remember is that the altar and everything on it should reflect, harmonize and empower your working. This is a very complete altar, well balanced, and I realize that not everybody is going to be able to put this whole thing together at first. That’s OK. Do what you can and add to it as you can. The Gods understand.

We’re going to assume that like many of us, you don’t have a place for a permanent altar, something that can be kept set up, and that you’ll need to break down at times, often after each use. The first thing is the altar itself. One of the best things I’ve found to use is an everyday TV tray. If you don’t have one, they run maybe $25 online or perhaps you can pick one up at a yard sale. They’re usually about 26” tall and 19” x 15.” TV trays are usually a bit light so take care around your altar. The size of the items on your altar should fit the size of the altar itself.

Next, I would suggest an altar cloth, which serve two purposes. One, a black altar cloth cloaks your altar in a solid color that is amenable to any purpose and two, if you get one with a white, silver or gold pentagram on it, you’ve got the right energy for practically any working you’ll ever do. Plus, you can wash it! You can pick up such an altar cloth here.

So here we can see our altar placed in the middle of your working area or circle. This is the optimum place for it to be, but if your situation precludes this placement and you have to have it against the wall (a pretty common place for a permanent altar to end up unless you can have a separate altar room. I’m jealous), try to have it facing the East, or as close as you can get it. Second choice would be to have it facing the North, or as close as you can get it. If that doesn’t work for you, any direction will do just fine.

Let’s go over what you should have on your altar. Number 1 are your Sentinel Candles. These are the guardians of your altar, watching over and purifying it. They need to be in candle-holders, if at all possible, as they need to be the tallest thing on your altar. They need to be white and I suggest that they should be of a goodly diameter, such as 1 ½, 2 or even 3 inches. Use a toothpick or other pointed tool to carve the following charge on the candles.

You can also paint or otherwise put this charge on the candle holders. These, like everything on your altar, should never be used for any other purpose from that point on. Next, anoint the candles with Altar oil or, if you don’t have such an oil, use a good quality olive oil. As you rub the oil on the candles from top to bottom, think on how they will be standing guard over your altar and your workings. Recite this cantrip three times as you do.

“Ever watchful, ever alert.

I allow no evil or hurt.”

Now set them up in their places as in the diagram.

Next, number 2 & 3 are your deity candles, silver for the Goddess and gold for the God. You can also use white for the Goddess and black for the God. You may have or acquire statues of your deities or symbols of them. If so, put them behind the candles and here the candles should be smaller then the statues, so you can clearly see the images when standing at your altar.

Your deity candles can have the god’s names inscribed on them, or the generic symbols for male and female will also do. Anoint the candles with those deity’s oil or a more generic deity oil. Again, if you don’t have such oils, use a good quality olive oil. Chant your deity’s name while anointing them.

Number 4, your incense burner, can be made of any appropriate material, brass, iron, ceramic or whatever, and needs only one feature. You’re going to be walking around with it during your cleansings and maybe other work, so it must be such that you can hold it without burning the crap out of your hands. It WILL get hot! A handle that insulates you from the heat is a must!

I like the type that looks like an iron cauldron. They’re heavy enough to be stable and the handles do a good job of insulating your hand. They’ll also last forever. I still have the one I bought 35 years ago. Put a layer of cat litter in the bottom to insulate the charcoal brick from the cast iron bottom. You’ll also need charcoal bricks with your powdered incenses. Mark or paint the following charge on it;

Numbers 5 & 6 are small containers of salt and incense, respectively. They can be open containers or have a lid, and they can be made of any material although wood and ceramic are probably the most common. Mark or paint the following charges on them.

For the container of salt:

And for the container of incense:

For the salt, I recommend Kosher salt and for the incense use an Altar incense, or even a Frankincense and Myrrh blend.

Number 7 is a stone of a convenient size. It can be a plain stone you found by the roadside or a special stone, perhaps a geode. It represents the element of Earth and helps to balance the altar elementally. Like most anything else, if it is the way of the working that you are doing, it can be moved after the cleansings are done and the circle cast.

Number 8 is a red votive candle. Votives are small, short candles and should be placed in a votive candle holder before lighting. The candle holders are usually glass and can be clear or red.

This candle represents the element of Fire and serves to balance your altar, much like the stone does. You can paint the following charge on the votive holder.

Number 9 is your Pentacle, one of your major tools. As such, you should get or make something that significant to you. A Pentacle is a disk, made of wood, ceramic, leather or other natural material, that has a pentagram on its surface. Again, make sure that it’s size fits well on your altar. It represents the element of Earth, but also is the focus of your altar and your workings. It is integral to many of the workings you will be doing; cleansings, spellwork, consecrations, rituals etc. You can make your own or purchase one. Its dedication and consecration is in its use over time.

This is an example of a good basic Pentacle, one that you can paint or finish as you like, if you like. I would suggest Earth colors such as browns, tans, greens, or black. You can put your name, magical or mundane, on the reverse side, which will help you to ground when you approach your altar and still keep your name unseen to others. If you want to be all witchy and secretive, you can paint your name on the reverse side, wait for the finish to dry, and then paint over the entire back. In this way, your name is part of your Pentacle and completely unreadable.

Number 10 is a cup or bowl filled with water. This represents the element of Water and helps to balance your altar as well as being used to do your opening cleansings. I say cup or bowl because a long-stemmed wineglass tends to tip over, and that’s just a mess. It can be made of most any material, although I would suggest avoiding any metal as they tend to corrode with use and keeping them clean and shiny is unnecessary work. It should be of a size that fits easily in the palm of your hand. Mark or paint the following charge on it;

Number 11 is a candle snuffer, used to safely extinguish the candles when the work is over. There are many types and anyone will do. I recommend you get one with a swivel-head because sooner or later you’ll be using the type of candles that come in a tall glass jar or cylinder, and now you’ll be able to reach down into that jar.

Number 12 is your wand, if you have one. If you’ve yet to make or purchase one, don’t worry about it. When you need one, you’ll get one and there’ll be a post on making a wand up here sooner or later. Wands are usually of the Fire element and this is a good place to put a Fire wand. If you get or make an Air wand, you probably want it up in the Air quadrant and that’s fine too.

I’m sure someone will ask “Where’s your Blade or Athame?” I keep mine on the cord I wear around my waist. If you want to put yours on the altar, that’s fine. I’d recommend that you place it above your Pentacle pointing to the North, if you’re right-handed, or to the South if you’re left-handed.

So that’s your basic altar that you can use for most any working. It’s balanced with the Elements all represented and no strong leaning to any usage. Can you embellish this altar? Yes, of course. In many ways, such as adding something to represent a specific working. Certain flowers for your deity, seasonal items for a sabbat, lunar items for a Full Moon can all be added when needed. But it’s also possible to muddy the balance of the altar with too many things so be certain that when you add or subtract something that you know exactly why, what the new item represents and how it works with everything else on the altar. It takes practice and knowledge as well as an artistic sensibility. A working altar is a composition, a song, so sing a beautiful song.

If yours is an altar that must be broken down when your work is done, have a special container to hold all your item until you use them again, and please, not a plastic one. Plastic is not a good material to have around your magic. Have a wooden box or even heavy cardboard instead. I’ve known people who used an ottoman with a compartment to store their altar items. Treat them well.

Thanks so much for reading this. I know it got a bit lengthy but there was a lot cover. I hope you got something out of it and as always, this is my take on the subject and not universal law. It’s worked well for me and my students but there’s many approaches that work. If you have a different way of setting up an altar, please let us know in the comments! That’s what they’re there for! And please subscribe down below to get alerts when a new post goes up, or there’s an event or whatever else happens!

Blessed Be!

Sterling Knight


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Oct 08, 2023
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Great information! It's also good to do some historical research if you're working with a particular deity, tradition, or pantheon so you can add special touches to your altar.

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Very true! Thanks!

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