Originally written for The Crying Clown Zine (c. 1998)
Just picture yourself, in mid ritual, suddenly your Book of Shadows falls to the floor with an unpleasant sounding thud. Silly you, you forgot your altar!
The Wiccan/ Pagan altar is not just for eating your breakfast on anymore. Also, those looking forward to virgin sacrifices are in for a disappointment. But, look on the bright side, now you don’t have to save yourself for that big moment on the stone slab, just go out and have fun!
So, what should you know about constructing your very own altar? Start with all natural ingredients and assemble them inside a circle. Those are the basics. Your altar can be outdoors for all the little bugs and squirrels to see or it can be inside and easily pushed under your bed for those with parents who like to make room inspections still. An altar can even be made on your desk at work. Just use some creativity and no one will suspect you have brought Pagan influences to concrete jungle.
The altar itself can have a circular base or square, depending on how natural you want to go with it. Outdoors, a fire can substitute for an altar. Make sure you are prepared to safely extinguish it before you leave. Face your altar in a direction of power, generally that’s north, the direction associated with Earth. Some Wiccan use east and west, the direction the sun rises and sets. Lastly, everything on your altar is positioned in a pattern. The arrangement is very individual and can be kept track of in your Book of Shadows. (The Book of Shadows is a book or some other form of note keeping Wiccan use for their exploration and discoveries along their path of learning.)
Just raring to go and get Medieval, I mean creative? To dedicate your altar to the Goddess and God, something you can choose to do. Set up put the tools dedicated to the Goddess (pentacle, cup, bell, crystal, cauldron and others) on the left side of the altar. The tools dedicated to the God (athame, censer, white handled knife, etc) are placed on the right side. In the middle of the altar, you please yourself; at least that is how I see it.
If you don’t follow the ‘standard’ altar plan with God and Goddess on either ends you can fill those areas of your altar with things to represent the elements: Earth, Air, Water and Fire. The idea is to stick to natural ingredients but you can do a lot with those. A natural altar contains assorted leaves, stones, drawings/ pictures, candles, seashells, feathers, flowers/ herbs, a glass of water, your pet guppy, tissues (handy if you have a cold) and a pirate’s treasure map (assuming you can find one). Keep in mind the elements. The feather and leaves can represent Air. The candle and maybe some burnt offerings from breakfast can represent Fire. Water is easy with seashells or a glass of water. Earth can be represented by the stones or leaves (think compost, just don’t put it on your altar unless you are ready for the smell).
The altar is the physical centre of a ritual. Its a place of power and magick. To think it is mostly a flat surface to work at is a mistake. Some of your energy and magick will remain in your altar after each ritual. You will be bringing a lot from yourself to the ritual and your altar. Because of this, your altar must have special meaning to you. Use your own sense of style, things that are important, have meaning to you, and design your altar to suit yourself and your needs.