I’ve had several people contact me with questions about altars. How to set one up, what kind of items are needed, where do you place things, etc. The fact is that an altar is a completely individual project, there will be as many different ways to set up and decorate an altar as there are Pagans to do it.
To begin with, any flat surface will work, whether it’s a stone for an outdoor altar, a dresser top, coffee table, bookshelf, end table, a large serving tray, etc. You have to work with the space you have and the resources available to you.
The items needed don’t have to be expensive boughten pagan paraphernalia, and for many of us with the economy the way it is, that would not be practical. Natural or handmade objects make just as beautiful, magickal, and inspiring altars as the most expensive witchy objects you can buy. Personally, I have used flowers from my garden, rocks and stones, sea shells, bowls of herbs and salt and water, pine cones, feathers, dried flowers, candles, old family photos, my grandmother’s silk scarves, a swatch of cloth from wal-mart’s fabric center…you get the point.
How do you choose the color and other correspondences, as well as what type of items you want on your altar? That depends– What theme are you choosing? What deity do you want to honor? What holiday are you celebrating?
For instance, with Imbolc, we’re honoring the Irish fire Goddess, Brighid. For the herbs and flowers you could display carnations, rosemary, or chamomile. You could fill a lovely bowl with an offering of milk and burn red candles. The next major holiday coming up is Eastra, which has the potential for a lovely altar! You could decorate with all the soft spring colors. Your altar cloth could be pink, light green, lavender. Include images of bunnies and eggs, plant new seeds in small pots and place them among white candles, sprinkle petals from dried flowers throughout this altar. Decorate with fresh jasmine, daffodils, lotus, or any new spring flowers that come up in your area.
You want an altar, not commemorating a holiday or a deity, but an Element? Say you wish to call upon the Element of Water to empower and enrich your intuition. Blue, aqua, silver, or purple can be your colors—for your altar cloth and your candles, water your physical element—displayed in a bowl or a seashell. You can display on this altar images of dolphins, mermaids, or any other aquatic creatures. The stones you can lay among the other items could be moon stone, lapis, aquamarine, rose quartz. You can buy inexpensive bags of sea shells at wal-mart and sprinkle them among the altar cloth and candles. Offer bowls of the herbs yarrow or violets.
On some of my altars I have displayed many of the tools of my Craft—my athame, cauldron, pentacle, and other items I’ve accumulated over the years. But the idea I’m trying to get across here is that simple natural things around you can be just as inspiring and uplifting– and welcomed by Divinity. You are only limited by your own imagination. Let the spark of creativity touch you, and see the beauty in many natural objects that you find around you, whether it be a stone, the shed feather from a bird, or the twisted limb of a broken tree branch.
(The altars displayed above are original photos of altars in my home.)