By: Lady SilverVixen
When it comes to the altar there are two things that need to be assessed. 1. Where are you going to put your altar, 2. What are you going to put on the altar and where does it go? and 3. Does your altar represent you and trigger the shift and allow for the focus needed to perform magic, and worship?
To get started, where is one going to put the altar. Geomancy can be a great help here, but it really comes down to where you feel the altar should be. An altar can be placed in the bedroom, or a room strictly dedicated to magical workings, and in some homes that are composed of entirely pagan families, can be placed in the living room. All have their own pros and cons but it really boils down to where, you, the practitioner, wish to place your altar.
The next question that comes up is what does one place on an altar, and where does it go. To begin with it really depends on what you want and the what the needs of the ritual you are doing is going to be. To begin with, you should have a flat surface if possible (unless youre altar is outside on a rock in which case youll have to take it down and set it up every time) such as a wooden table, or a stone table, or it can be as simple and cheap as a folding card table from the local wal-mart or grocery store. Make sure that once you have your altar table, you bless your altar space. Then you can begin choosing what you wish to place on your altar. Personally, I like to set up my altar then, purify the space Im going to be using, but I am more of a spur of the moment, type of person who usually does a ritual last minute. The proper way is to choose the area where you are going to be putting your altar and bless it before the altar table ever comes into play.
The altar cloth is a great choice to start with, though it is not necessary. An Altar cloth does protect the altar top surface though, and has since not only aided in adding beauty to an altar and aiding in a conscious shift, but also keeping kids out of trouble from ruining their dressers or their mothers new coffee tables. It is a good idea to use an altar cloth, but ultimately, like everything else that is going onto the altar, it is up to you as the altar is meant to aid your flow of energy.
The next thing you can add to the altar is some candles. Candles are great for many different reasons. Not only do they embody the element of fire, but they come in many colors, and can be used in many circumstances to aid in the shift of consciousness. A candle can act as a battery to give extra energy, or be the embodiment of the physical and spiritual. The wax being physical and the flame, being the ever burning spiritual force that empowers and enriches our lives. One other good thing is that candles are easily programmed to aid us with specific needs.
Incense can be a great aid as well. It is the element of air and is a great representation of how air fuels fire. Stick incense are the most commonly used, but usually powdered incense over charcoal is preferred. A thurible on a chain is a wise choice if using powder or cone incense.
Next you may want water and salt on your altar as well, water being the representation of water and the west, while salt is the representation of earth and the north. These too elements are usually mixed during ritual so having some close by to help with purification is a wise choice.
A Libation dish, offering dish and burning dish are also good choices to have as well. The libation dish used to offer drink to the ancestors, elements, and spirit; the offering dish for food; and the burning dish to keep everything from catching on fire.
Images can be very powerful. Usually these are set up towards the back of the altar to allow for plenty of room to place other necessities. Images of the Goddess and god or your patron deities can be very useful in triggering a consciousness shift. These images can be used as keys and very helpful to beginners.
Lastly, seasonal elements can be added. Green leaves and flowers for example, are great for your altar around the spring time. Colored leaves, and straw, or something that has been harvested for the fall. It allows for a better atmosphere for you, and creates a beautiful air to your altar and gives it a sense of purpose, and it also commemorates the wheel of the year.
The main thing to remember is that the altar is a personal thing to the person using it. It is a visible connection between you and spirit and it is up to the person creating and adding their own homey touches to it that makes it so personal. What has been outlined in this essay is just the basics of what can be added to an altar and how it could be set up, but ultimately the one who is setting the altar up should feel around the natural vibrations and add or place things where they see fit.