The following was written by Vosh, Councilor in the Council of Earna Coven.
"What is an altar"? An altar is a space which is used for three main purposes in common modern practice. These are: as a place to make sacrifices to deities, as a place of worship, as a place to cast spells and channel energy. Often in the latter two the place also serves as a place to leave ones ritual tools in times of nonuse.
I am often asked "what should be sacrificed on an altar"? That largely depends on what you are worshiping. Someone for instance who is making an offer to elemental air may burn incense at the place. Someone who is worshiping an ancestor may leave a food item that the ancestor in question liked. It all depends on the purpose of the altar.
Now on to construction. A traditional altar is usually made from stone and is adorned with symbols of the faith it represents. an example would be a Christian altar which is draped in crimson and has crosses on it plus more. Altars are cleansed spaces that have been blessed. Altars do not have to be set in one location. they can be moved.
Picking a space or object to act as an altar. Despite tradition altars can be set up on almost anything. I wood tabletop might serve as an altar or even something as simple as a board you slide under your bed when done. Once you have where the altar is going to be set up the question becomes what should I put there.
Most altars have a few common objects that help in channeling energy. These are a bowl or place to burn sacrifices such as incense. A place for candles. A chalice for liquid offerings. A symbol appropriate for the religion. Some have stones attributed to the deities that the altar is dedicated to such as bloodstone for Christianity. Most altars have a cloth to separate these items from touching the base the altar is made on, aka the table/board.
what else goes on the altar is again based on the deity of the altar. For altars that don't follow a particular deity many of the above items would be great for the altar as well as things that represent ideas you believe in. Things such as athames and wands are often put there as well.
when you have everything together it is time for a ritual cleansing of the items and area. There are many ways to cleanse areas so I wont cover it here. if you have any question please ask below.
Once the area is cleansed it can be blessed. this is an important part of altar construction but it can vary greatly on belief. For this article ill show a simple elemental blessing as well as giving tips for other belief systems. For the elemental blessing the first step is obtaining something to represent the four elements. An example would be a lit candle for fire, water in the chalice for water, burning incense for air, and a rock for earth. I would then say an elemental prayer while directing energy in the area to push back the negative and retain the positive. The prayer is most useful if written by yourself. You may also decide to hold each object that is going to be on the altar and bless them each separately.
When my prayer has been said and the items and space blessed I would take each of the offerings and bury them in the night. In This way a show an end to the ritual and I don't use those objects as blessings again. This above is just an example of my own beliefs but are not truly necessary to do and each belief has different ways of ending a ritual.
Other belief systems follow similar methods but replace the sacrifice with some appropriate for it and change the prayers. Those who follow deities may ask that deity to come and protect the altar or in other ways the person may dedicate the altar firmly to the deity.
The altar is now finished.