You have to work out what you actually want to achieve with an altar, once that is done then it is time to take action. Thought on its own achieves nothing…action and emotion is required.
We create an altar to focus your intention. To bring your intention into the the material world.
You probably have done many altars unintentionally. A kitchen worktop, an office desk, a book shelf or a hallway telephone table. All these surfaces have things on them to cause a visual reaction in your self or those around you. You try and make them as positive and welcoming as possible to trigger a feeling of what ever you are trying to achieve
Creating an altar is conscious act to trigger and unconscious response.
You are the only one who works with your personal unconscious so what goes on your altar is totally up to you. Many books will tell you that you need this and that but if you do not get triggered by this or that, there is no point.
Do not follow any book, work it out for yourself. Most of them are just guide lines anyway. Learn the reasons why they do an altar that way and work towards building your own to achieve the same goal.
You are looking for a response inside yourself, be very flexible and allow for some adjustment. I like black…I wear lots of it but I do not like black candles very much, personal choice there. But maybe I want to trigger an aversion to something, then black candles would work very nicely.
To create a successful altar you have to ‘know yourself’ very well. Anything that involves magical workings involve a lot of self exploratory adventures. What makes you tick? A browse around any Wiccan, new age shop will show you what you want, they can be lots of pretty things….but you don’t actually need to buy anything. What you have in house is fairly adequate for most altar purposes. The whole idea of old witchcraft was to use practical everyday items for creating magic.
Lets build your altar.
Clean a space of your energy.
Wash it down and sweep the area clean.
Use salt or smudging to clear the air and create some ‘sacred ground’ or ‘holy ground’.
I use a small coffee table at the moment but I can sit on the floor fairly easily, be practical, if you need a chair and normal table, go for it. Some rituals take time, you want to be comfortable.
I have children, my altars come down afterwards. It would be nice to be able to leave them up for a cycle but that is not practical for me.
Cover your surface with a cloth or scarf, something that will be only used for that purpose. I am not fond of patterns and distractions on this level but whatever you have is fine.
We are made up of elements inside and out there are the four basic elements of earth, air, fire and water. These can represent to you many different things..as above so below, building blocks of like elemental spirits and beings, gods and demon of the scared spaces. Whatever they represent for you it is a good idea to start with them.
The focus is on your subconscious here. Crystals are very versatile and can be programmed to the frequencies you need them to represent. The black and brown crystals can be earth, red and orange can be fire, yellow and clear air and blue and green water, for me this just cuts down on clutter. If not crystals use the actual things of a lump of dirt or stone, a small candle, small cup of water and an incense stick for air.
I like going beyond the basic four elements and adding another four.
Time and space, I have a small old watch and a little black sphere with sparkles in it, like stars. I think is is a man made crystal but it is like it has the universe contained inside.
Life and death is just an old yin yang symbol on my altar, but I have used the skull of a little bird and a sprouted seed before.
Eight triggers on a table. If you know how to divine you can run your eyes over everything and see what speaks to you today? It beats reading your horoscope in the daily paper.
Traditions are inside us. What went before us is imprinted on our body and minds. Two large candles are on the white god’s altars around the world. Duality of the material world, light of the gods..? It doesn’t matter, they are a good idea.
I used to have a black and white one but now they are both yellow.. They were on sale and the other ones where small stubs.. it just worked out that way.
So we have a clean space, holy ground.
The elements and two large candles.
Duality of the material world is covered now you need a leap to the divine.
Inside of us is a link to our Higher Self/god self ect. whatever your believe system is, there is something inside that needs to be recognized here. A figure of your representation of your god or gods. I used to have a man and women entwined candle that worked well, now I just have a picture of the earth. I should probably do something about that.
I like the Earth Mother, she is real and supports me and mine. If I have any gods, Then Mother Earth and Father Death represents the dual gods on this plane and their creation is awesome enough to be worshiped by little old me Your gods are your own, if you don’t have any that is fine…maybe put a mirror up?
Symbols and glyphs are also traditional, a symbol holds a lot of power over the unconscious mind.
I like my little offering bowl in the center. Very useful. I deal with a lot of nature spirits and I want to attract their attention. Be it grain, flowers, burnt paper or blood, the bowl takes center stage to whatever I am working towards.
A cup is traditional, representing the female and a knife or blade representing the male, use your imagination and you will work out why.
A book holder is also useful. You are not going to remember pages and pages of ritual, some paper is going to be involved..
I think that covers the basics of an altar, you are now ready to cast your circle.