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An altar (at its most basic) is a flat surface for performing ritual. It can be a table, a flat rock, a flat tree stump, or an intricate carved marble altar. Many Witches do not have a separate altar, but use the top of some ordinary piece of furniture as an altar. When this is done, there is usually a special altar cloth that is laid over the furniture top during the perfomance of ritual.
Exactly what goes on the altar varies by Witchcraft tradition. Some common elements include: candles, a bowl of water, salt, incense (and incense holder or censor), a statue or picture of gods or goddesses (either gods or goddesses related to the specific ritual being performed, or gods or goddesses that are special to you), flowers, berries, crystals and rocks, leaves, twigs, just about anything natural, wine glass (and ceremonial wine), representations of the elements (earth, air, water, and fire, for most Western traditions, or the five Chinese elements of metal, water, wood, fire, and earth), a ceremonial knife (called an athame), a wand, any ingredients for the rituals or spells to be performed, any special tools of your Witchcraft tradition, and anything that you feel helps connect you to the divine or to Witchcraft.
Some Witches set up a shelf or furniture top as a permanent altar setting. They may place a temporary flat surface in front of the permanent altar setting when using the altar. Or they might leave open space for this purpose in front of the permanent setting.
The permanent altar setting becomes a full time display honoring nature, the Lord and Lady, or anything else of interest to the Witch. Some Witches enjoy working on a permanent altar setting as a hobby or as artistic expression, continually refining it or changing it to match the wheel of the year.
Some Witches cant have a permanent altar setting (disapproving parents, pets, small children, etc.) and other Witches prefer to keep their magick more personal and out of public display.
In the Burning Times, Witches had to either cleverly hide permanent altars as just displays or had to use only temporary altars.
Whether permanent or temporary or some combination of both, the altar becomes a personal expression of your spirit, your spirituality, and your magick. Your altar should be both decorative and functional. Your altar should feel right to you.
Many Witches cast a circle when using their altar.
Feel free to submit JPEGs of your personal altar. Indicate the season, deity, Witchcraft tradition, or other special information that may help understand your altar.
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updated May 15, 2003
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