A witch’s altar is the witch’s “sacred space” – a part of her world where no-one else goes, where spells can be left to do their bidding, where the Sabbats can be honoured and where her magickal equipment can be safely stored from harm’s reach.
It can be permanent or portable, fancy or plain. I am sure every witch has a different interpretation of what belongs on an altar, but every witch should have her altar. This is my interpretation and how I have set up mine.
To be honest, I have two altars – my personal magickal one in my bedroom away from prying eyes and inquisitive fingers, and my fireplace in the lounge. At one time, the mantel was everyone’s altar and the centre of the household. It was the place where people kept their favourite items, burnt candles and, of course, the fire itself was the centre of the room and people’s focus. Now it is the TV, but it would have been the warming flames of the fire. My mantle contains all my favourite crystals (which also helps the health of everyone who comes into the room), lots of candles, flowers, incense, a salt lamp and a wonderful natural sculpture that I tripped over when performing some outdoor magick during the full moon. This is my family altar that faces north – the direction of Earth – and is used by me as the north centre of my magickal circles when I perform indoor rites (the moon looks straight in the window and I can see the sea as well).
My personal magickal altar is my own sacred space. However, it is in the west – possibly the wrong direction to have it, but the only place in my room to put it. To me, having the altar is far more important than only setting it up correctly.
On your altar should be, as far as I am concerned, a representation of the Lady and her Lord, a representation of the 4 elements plus your magickal knife, wand, chalice, scrying ball and anything else that you wish to put there. Each of these things will be discussed separately. I also change the altar every Sabbat, cleansing, decorating and refreshing it all.
Our Lady and Lord.
The altar is a very personal thing and should represent what things mean to you. My oldest son bought for me a straw doll with a basket, from a holiday at his grandparents. This was perfect as my Goddess. The corn dolly represents the harvest and the basket abundance and the cauldron. My younger son then found me a small one in a charity shop whilst on an excursion with his dad. So, now I have the maiden and mother, and am yet to locate a crone. But the aspects of the triple goddess are represented, as this is whom I personally work with. You can use a goddess figure, a crystal, whatever is your personal representation of the Goddess.
A stone found on the beach, again by my older son, represents my Lord. It is a tall, dark, male standing stone. My youngest made me a tree from plasticene when he was only 3, and this also represents the forest and Lord of the Greenwood and has a place on my altar. These are personal to me and no one else, but have been given by my children and are just as important as anything that can be bought in a shop. These are important points to remember – it doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive, but personal to you.
The 4 Elements.
Working again personally, Earth is represented by a series of crystals that I keep on my altar. They are a mixed bunch of small crystals to aid any spells I may be working there and they change constantly.
Air is represented by a feather and by incense, which is always burnt during any magickal work.
Fire is represented by candles – nightlights make up the working light (I don’t use electricity if I am working at the altar) and candles are burnt to represent whatever work I am doing.
Water is in the shape of a wonderfully large chalice surrounded by oak leaves and made of iron. This is used to hold water during magickal work or even float candles in. This is not my actual working chalice.
On the wall above my magickal space is a slate pentagram to protect my workspace from evil or harm. I believe every witch should have a pentacle somewhere on the altar, whether it is in the form of a disc for putting candles, spells, etc, like the ones amongst the Green Witch products, or as an offering dish of some kind. Even a stone from the beach with a hand-drawn pentagram on it would suffice at the start.
Athame and wand.
On the altar is kept the magickal items you would use for your practices. The athame is one such item. It is a double edged, black-handled knife used only for magickal practices such as casting circles. I am a firm believer that your items will come to you when the time is right. I started my magickal career with the typical Scottish blade – the skein dubh, a £2 knife found anywhere up here. After about 3 years, another knife got my attention – still a skein dubh but with antler horn as the hilt and much finer.
That did me very well until a meeting with a blade-smith in the Isles. In the old ways, he produced blades of all sorts in hand-built equipment. He bore the 7-pointed star – the symbol of the magician – and it was like a meeting of the old ways, old traditions all at one time. A wonderful experience and after a chat, he agreed to produce a knife for me. As he worked on commissions only, he said to go away and come up with a “Green Witch” design and he would construct the knife for me. I went away with the task in hand, but didn’t get round to anything when a package arrived and there was the most powerful athame I had ever had the pleasure to experience. It was my knife. An image had come to him after I had left. He produced the knife and sent it to me, trusting that I was who I said I was and that I would actually send him some money for the item (I did of course, straight away). The power in the knife jolted through my arm like electricity. My knife had found me and it now has pride of place on my altar.
My wand is also on the altar – a piece of fallen wood, which has been stripped back and fitted with a crystal in both ends to direct the power. I don’t use it that often as my knife does all. I work as the village wise woman has always work and I don’t believe she would have had lots of equipment. I don’t possess a boline either – my athame is used for all my magickal work, including the magickal gathering of herbs.
Another piece of equipment every witch should have is the chalice, used during magickal work to contain the wine or water during circle work. Mine is a simple glass sundae dish with a stem that sits in my cupped hands perfectly, but can be silver, fancy, plain, whatever is right for you. I always meant to replace it but never did as it is just perfect for my needs. I also use my chalice every full moon to capture the light of the Lady of the night in and make my wishes for the next 4 weeks.
This is the one tool that all witches want, instantly. I did without one for a long time, and then found a cute copper cauldron, just tiny, in a charity shop. It hangs now from my family altar. I never needed another, as I knew one would come to me when the time is right. And indeed it did, courtesy of a couple of customers who thought it would look great in the shop until they next needed it. They themselves found another one and the cauldron has remained as part of the shop ever since- thanks to Anne and David. You don’t always have to search – when the time is right, these tools simply find you – remember that.
Spells and wishes.
The altar is your safe place for carrying out spells. On the altar, I keep my wishing pyramid – a glass pyramid that I wish on daily to make things materialise. I have candleholders for fire magick and oils above my altar to enhance any work with candles.
My scrying ball is kept out of sight in a black cloth on the altar, surrounded by 12 empowering, protective crystal points. Also, on every Sabbat, I perform certain divination tasks with various sets of cards, and the cards chosen remain on the altar until the next Sabbat as a reminder. My daily angel cards are also placed on the altar.
Your altar and the Sabbats:
You should refresh the altar every Sabbat, re-arranging things, adding flowers and symbols of the Sabbat. Don’t let it stagnate – this is your magickal working area and should be treated with the utmost of respect. I also keep my magickal jewellery on the altar in a silver box again given to me on my 40th by a customer (thanks Fi). This is consecrated jewellery worn during circle work, magickal work and during the full moon and Sabbats. And all this fits on a small space on top of a chest of drawers that is covered with a green cloth, decorated with moon and star symbols.
And that is my altar the Green Witch way. Simple. Personal. Magickal.
Yours can be fancy, portable, simpler, whatever you want, but make it yours and how you want it to be. It is your magickal space and should be your place of power. If it is done with the right intentions, even the simplest of things out the cupboard can become magickal and powerful. It is whatever you make it. Expensive doesn’t make it any more magickal – the power is in your hands, not how costly the tools are. The witches of old used what was available and to hand. Everything was simple and hand-made. Enjoy.