Altars have many uses within witchcraft, they can be used in spells, as a way to display the turning of the Wheel of the Year, or just as a place for contemplation and meditation.
Altars can vary in size and form as much as magic practitioners themselves do. They can be a small wooden box containing a few items, right up to a 6 by 4 foot carved oak slab. I’ve seen many altars set up on windowsills, shelves, bedside tables and mantelpieces. Altars also do not need to by in a fixed place, or permanent. Tree stumps make excellent outdoor altars (just be careful with any candles).
The important thing is to stop worrying about how your altar 'should look', and think about what you actually want an altar for. There are a few things that a lot of altars do include, but an altar is your personal work space, and it should include what you feel necessary, not what anybody else does.
Below are a few things that you typically find on an altar;
Elemental representations - These can be anything that represent Earth, Air, Fire and Water. These do not have to be anything elaborate it could be, a small crystal or bowl of soil for Earth, a feather or incense for Air, a candle for Fire and a small cup of rain/stream water or a sea shell for Water.
Deity representations - Statues or pictures of a specific Deity. If you are not working with a specific God or Goddess then you may still want to light a candles or have representations or general male and female energies.
Seasonal representations - Foliage, flowers and symbols representing to time of year, especially if altar is set-up to celebrate one of the Wheel of the Year festivals.
Pentacle or Pentagram - Often people put a Pentacle or Pentagram at the centre of their altar. This is often either as a tile or sewn onto an altar cloth. On smaller altars you could paint one on a pebble or shell.
Magical tools and diaries - If people have tools they use for magical purposes, wands, runes, athame, tarot decks, crystals, etc, then they often like to leave these displayed on permanent altars. Even if you do not have permanent altar leaving these tools on altar (especially during a full moon) can be a simple way of cleansing them.
This is by no means any kind of definitive list, you can put anything on your altar that you feel has a significant meaning to you. Have fun with it remember that setting up and maintaining your altar should be something that you enjoy, not something to worry about or view as a chore.
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