The present extract is from Buckland's Complete Book of Witchcraft which is a really great book and I'd recommend it to ya all(especially if you're starting now with magick)
You can use virtually anything as an altar. If you
are holding your Circle outside, then a large rock or a
tree stump is ideal. If you are indoors, then you can
utilize a small coffee-table, a wooden box or even
some boards resting on bricks.
It is better to have an altar that does not contain
any steel, so a ready-made table is not really the best
(unless glued or pegged together). If there has to be
metal in the table, brass is acceptable. Why is this? It
has to do with conductivity. The Witch's Knife and
Sword (and Wand, if used) are the only tools that are
used for storing and directing energies. They, then, can be
of a conductive metal?iron or steel. All other items
should be non-conductive?silver, gold, brass, stone,
wood?since they are not used in that fashion.
But why not have a little aestheticism with your altar?
Why not do things properly? You are working in a circle, so why not a
circular altar? To me, a rectangular altar in a circle always looks somewhat
incongruous. This is one of the reasons a tree stump is so ideal. In fact a
beautiful altar can be made by putting legs on a section of tree-trunk. The
legs should be glued on. One such altar I have seen was made truly
beautiful by the maker?a Craftsman in both senses?carving figures
of the God and the Goddess into the legs.
The "Altar Furniture" consists of a candle, or candles; incense
burner (known variously as a "censer" or "thurible"); two dishes, one for
salt and one for water; libation dish; goblet(s); and figures to represent
the deities. Of course this is not a hard-and-fast list. Feel free to add or
subtract according to your needs (it is understood, also, that individual
traditions dictate certain items, e.g. Gardnerian has cords and a scourge).
Most Witches "do their thing" in the evenings (not a necessity, of
course) and so illuminate with candles around the Circle and on the
altar. A candle on the altar is also helpful so that you can read from the
book of rituals. Whether you have one candle or two is up to you.
An incense burner is pretty much a necessity. Incense has been
used in religious rites for thousands of years. The old belief was that.
smoke of the incense carried your prayers up to the gods. Certainly it
adds immeasurably to the atmosphere of the ritual. Since there is frequent
need to move the incense-burner about the Circle (e.g. to cleanse, or
"cense" the Circle itself during the consecration part of a ritual), a simple
dish to hold a cone or stick of incense is not ideal. It is far better to have a
hanging (swinging) censer. These can be bought or can be made. A
special charcoal briquet is then placed in the censer and lit, then powdered
incense is sprinkled on the charcoal. This is much more economical than
burning cones or sticks and one briquet will burn for two hours or more.
Both briquets and powdered incense can be bought at most church supply
stores. There is nothing against cones or sticks, of course, if you prefer
them. Choose an incense that you enjoy; nothing too sweet and sickly. If
you feel you must have a specific incense for a particular ritual, fine, but
generally I find it doesn't make any difference which ones you use. I
personally enjoy a good sandalwood or frankincense or one of the better
"high altar" mixtures of the Christian Church. Incidentally, if you have
nothing else, you can burn incense in any saucer-like vessel. If you are
using charcoal briquets and are afraid of the vessel cracking, simply fill it
with sand and that will absorb the heat.
Salt and water dishes are found on most Witch altars. Salted water
represents life (salt itself symbolizes semen, as is detailed in an interesting
essay by Ernest Jones, titled The Symbolic Significance of Salt). Baptismal water,
or "Holy Water", is nothing more than salt and water. The dishes you use
can be of any type. Some people even use sea-shells as containers.
During rituals it is usual to drink some wine (or fruit-juice, if alcohol is
not possible). To toast the gods, a libation is always poured first. When
meeting outdoors this can simply be poured on the ground. But when
indoors the best, and usual, way is to pour the offering into a dish; the
Libation Dish. Later?after the ceremony?the dish can be taken outside
and the wine poured out on the ground. Like the salt and water dishes, the
libation dish can be of any type.
' The wine goblets of the Priest and Priestess stand on the altar; those of the
other celebrants are placed on the ground at their feet. Again the goblet
can be to suit yourself. It could be simply a glass or it could be a
decorative drinking horn. The latter can be made from cow-horns
(obtainable from handicraft stores, such as the Tandy Leather Company
chain), with stands either separate or attached, made from bent silver or
copper wire or from wood. Some Witches refer to their goblet as a
"chalice" but, to my mind, this smacks of the eucharistic cup of Christianity so
I tend to avoid it.
Some Witches do not care to have deity figures on their altar. The
majority, however, do. You can seek out actual statues, though good
ones are not easy to come by (copies of Boticelli's "Birth Of Venus"?
irreverantly known as "Venus On a Half-Shell"!?are ideal for the Goddess).
Many Witches search for years to find a statuette that exactly fits the
mental image they have of the deity. Antique stores and flea markets/ swap
meets seem to be the best places to look. Some Wiccans use symbols, such
as a sea-shell for the Goddess and an antler for the God. I have seen candles
used, also various chess pieces, rocks, plants, etc.. One
possibility is pictures. I have seen beautiful deity
representations made by decoupaging appropriate
colored pictures to attractive pieces of wood. If you
have the talent, of course, there is no reason why you
shouldn't sculpt or draw your own figures.
Love and Light xx