A Witches AltarCoven of the Goddess
I like to think of altars as a witch’s “home base.” They are the physical foundation of a witch’s spiritual practice and can be erected on a permanent, a semi-permanent, specific, or even spontaneous basis. This section of the class will talk about the various ways and reasons to create altars for our practice.
Like meditation, many spiritual traditions utilize altars. The altar becomes a focal point of the ritual or practice. It is also a work space where the elements of the ritual are combined. Altars are also used to leave offerings to the God(s)/Goddess(es). They are a manifestation of sacred space.
Unlike many of our religious brethren, however, Witches don’t have a church or holy place of worship (outside of the natural world, of course!). As a result, we are responsible for creating our own altar/sacred space to meet our own needs. How, where, when, and why you create an altar will vary depending on you, your practice, the space you have available, whether or not you’re “out of the broom closest” with your family and friends, and what you intend to use the altar for. There is no right or wrong way to build an altar.
A Permanent Altar
When I was starting out on my path, one of the first things I wanted to do was erect a permanent altar in my home. I wanted to have a place where I could cast a permanent circle, where I could keep my tools, where I could go and sit and be immediately at one with the Goddess.
My altar is located in the walk-in closet just off of my bedroom. It’s not ideal, but it works for me. I have heard many other Witches put their permanent altars on top of their dresser/bureau, on a shelf of a bookcase, on the mantle above their fireplace, on a small table in one corner, on a windowsill, in the kitchen, on a shelf in the pantry….Witches are a creative bunch.
Over the course of some time I collected the things I wanted to have on my permanent altar. Here are some suggestions (and suggestions only!) for things you might want to include:
- A representation of the Goddess – This could be a statue, or it could also be something from the natural world that connects you to Her, like a stone, or a feather, or a seashell, or all of the above!
- Representations of all the elements – Again, this could be whatever calls to you. It could be the totem you’ve made, something you’ve found, an item that really called to you…whatever works for you!
- Your tools
- An altar cloth
- Anything else that you feel belongs on your altar!!
Don’t forget to regularly cleanse & consecrate your altar. Dusting, adding fresh flowers, or changing your altar with the seasons are ways to keep your sacred space alive.
One of the hardest parts for me was finding the right altar. I bought a wooden box at Dragonfest a few years ago and it is what I use. I store infrequently used items (like candles) in the box and create my altar on top of it. Over the years, my need for space has grown and my altar now overflows onto a bookcase, a rolling file drawer, and the floor, but it is still the center of my practice. When I sit down to meditate or pray or do divination, I sit at my altar.
A Semi-Permanent Altar
Those of us who are not out of the broom closet, or for other reasons, may not want to erect a permanent altar. That is okay!! You may instead want to create a semi-permanent altar. This is an altar that you leave up some times, but can also easily dismantle.
The items for the altar might be the same, or it might just include a representation of the Goddess; your tools can be kept elsewhere.
Our ancestors of the Craft used to have to disguise their tools and altars; even today it’s a lot easier to tell someone about your Goddess sculpture than to have to describe everything on your altar.
Just remember that when you store your tools or sacred items, they should be stored with care. Statues & tools can be wrapped in pieces of natural fabrics (like cotton, silk, linen, wool, muslin) to protect them from harm as well as excess energy.
You may not realize it, but the creation of an altar is a magickal act, a spell working. A specific altar can be erected for a specific, magickal purpose. In the case of a specific altar, the items on the altar will be geared toward your goals. The altar will be erected as a part of your working and can be maintained either for a specific length of time (like a moon cycle) or for the duration of your spell and/or ritual.
Here are some suggestions for creating specific altars:
- Looking for prosperity or money in your life? Decorate your altar with a green cloth. Use a statue or photograph of a prosperity Goddess, like Lakshmi. Scatter the altar with coins or even dollar bills. Include an object that reminds you of why you are hoping for prosperity (do you need a new car? What make & model do you dream about?). Place a bowl of basil & bay leaf on the altar. Make offerings to Lakshmi in the form of food and flowers.
- Hoping to start a family? Create a baby altar. Use a baby’s blanket for the altar cloth. Add diapers, toys, baby blocks, baby food. Put baby’s breath in a vase on the altar. Add a statue or picture of a mother goddess, like Demeter, on the altar. Throw in a pregnancy test for good measure!
- Need a bit of justice to come your way? Put a scale and a picture or statue of Athena on your altar. Write down what it is that you need or want to have happen and use this as your altar cloth. Burn blue candles. Find a Judge Judy doll and put her on the altar for help!
- Create an altar for each of the elements or each of the Sabbats and/or moons as you work with them. For a water altar, use a blue altar cloth. Call upon a water goddess like Yemaya Put your cauldron or chalice front and center. Scatter the altar with seashells. Play water sounds or add a rain stick to the altar. For Litha, decorate the altar with bright colors and sunflowers. Build a fiery wreath. Make an offering to the fairies.
Specific altars are awesome and are a powerful way to make magic! Remember—there is no right or wrong way to build an altar! Do what feels right for you.
Sometimes the most beautiful, provocative, and magickal altars are those that are created without planning, particularly when used in a group ritual. A fun activity is just to ask people to bring what they want to add to the altar and see what gets created! One year, I put together a beautiful magickal altar from bits and pieces I had floating around my house, including an apple and a pomegranate.