creating an altar for witchcraft

Your guide to creating an altar / sacred space for witchcraft (or just to chill at).

Welcome back to another sunny day in isolation! (That’s how it is here in California, anyway.) Let’s face it, the world is in chaos, and we are in solitude. It is more important than ever to learn the skill of creating a peaceful oasis for yourself. YOU NEED A SANCTUARY! So why not start by creating an altar / sacred space for witchcraft, inner peace, or even just for sanity’s sake!?

Why do this, you ask? By creating an altar or sacred space, you are designating a magical oasis just for you and your spiritual practice. This will serve as a sanctuary for you to retreat and relax as well. Never underestimate the power of creating a physical manifestation of your magic! When you set aside a location for meditation and magical workings, you infuse it with the powerful energy of your intentions, which will allow you to go about your magical workings with enhanced focus and calm. No matter how much or how little room you have to work with, you can create the perfect altar or sacred space for you!

And if you think you don’t have space for this, think again! Get creative! A favorite local tree can be your sacred space. Whatever form it may take, a sanctuary is something you deserve! You can even create an imaginary altar and sacred space in your mind through visualization. I recommend you have both, so you always have a personal oasis to retreat to, physically and mentally.

Just a quick note, I realize I am using altar and sacred space almost interchangeably. To clarify, a sacred space is any space designated as sacred (for meditation, contemplation, magical workings, or chilling) and an altar is specifically a designated surface used for magical / spiritual practices and purposes. Feel free to incorporate whatever details of this work best for you; the important part is that you establish something somewhere that feels sacred to you.

A LITTLE BACKGROUND:

Since some of our earliest recorded human civilizations, people have used the intentional placement of natural objects to mark certain locations as sacred. Accounts of altars made from stone or other organic materials have been used all over the world since the most ancient times. These altars were often erected in nature, in caves, forests, or by water. They have been used to present offerings to gods, goddesses, and nature itself.

Today, we create sacred spaces and altars as both a sanctuary and a focal point to gather our energy and intentions before going out into the world.

CHOOSING A LOCATION FOR YOUR ALTAR:

Where should you put your altar? Wherever you can put it! If you are limited to a very small space, worry not! Even a tiny little shelf can work! When I first created an altar in my last apartment, I set a wooden plank on top of a storage crate and put a few crystals on top. (My boyfriend at the time would push the crystals off to set his beer down on it. You can probably guess that relationship did not work out in the long run, and neither did that space.)

Fast forward to several years later, and I have now built a bookshelf / altar situation that dominates an entire corner of my studio apartment (hey, in San Francisco that is considered is A LOT of space). Heed my warning, you will definitely want to add to and expand your sacred space over time! But there is no need to go absolutely crystal-balls-to-the-wall here straight away (unless you want to). It is fun and WAAAY more affordable to build it up over time.

However, it is important to point out that creating a fixed location for your altar is not entirely necessary. You may choose to have a “mobile altar” – a collection of sacred objects you can set up wherever the need arises. If this is the case, you may want to invest in a nice box or treasure chest to keep your magical goodies in. Having an altar cloth – a large piece of fabric to lay down on a surface to designate it as your temporary altar – also helps to make anywhere you set up feel special.

You can also go the traditional route and create a natural altar or sacred space outside! If you choose this route, you can subtly designate your chosen location with natural objects – perhaps an arrangement of stones or trees. Or you can simply know in your heart that it is sacred – this is more than enough! Keep in mind that weather may meddle with your setup, but you will certainly have the infusion of nature energy accompanying you no matter what happens!

Some considerations for choosing the location of your altar / sacred space include:

What does the energy feel like here? Is it a calm, quiet place where you can breathe deeply and relax?
What kind of surface is available? (If possible, it is always nice to choose a natural surface such as stone or wood. But it is certainly not a requirement!)
Is your chosen surface easy to clean, or are you okay if it gets a little messy? (If you are going to be burning incense or lighting candles, ash and wax add a hearty amount of both character and mess to your space.)
Is it somewhere that your things will be undisturbed? (AKA, make sure your boyfriend isn’t going to convert it into a beer shelf.)
What direction would you be facing? If your location allows you to face in multiple directions, fantastic! I usually hear about altars being set up facing north to represent oneness with the Earth, which is associated with the North. This also allows you to easily place objects related to the elements in their corresponding directions, should you choose to do so. Because I am pretty much ALL water energy (Pisces with Cancer rising, heyyy!), my altar faces west towards the nearby ocean. So if you have the option of choosing which direction to face, perhaps choose the direction based on the corresponding element whose energies you most want to draw from.
-The directions and element pairings are: North for Earth energy, East for air energy, South for fire energy, and West for water energy.

WHAT DO I NEED TO MAKE AN ALTAR?

Here’s the thing: you don’t really NEED anything at all. You certainly don’t need to buy anything, either. But you can if you want to! Again, the important part about this space is that it feels magical to you, so feel free to fill it with things that feel magical. The space itself can possess all the magical things you need. Perhaps you have found a tree stump in the forest surrounded by flowers, or a sand dune over the ocean with stars above your head. Your perfect space might be on a mat by your window with moonlight shining in. What feels magical to you?

Traditionally in modern witchcraft, altars can include any or all of the following:

-An altar cloth or mat (this is optional, but it is often nice to set something down to designate your altar whether or not you will be moving it). You can use a scarf, blanket, or any fabric or mat-like material. It is lovely to have something beautiful, but maybe use something you don’t mind accidentally dripping candle wax or spilling incense dust on.
-A book of spells / “book of shadows” or any number of texts helpful to your spiritual purposes (they may not necessarily sit on your altar, but perhaps in the general vicinity of your sacred space)
Objects to represent the elements:
Earth: plants (try potted plants, air plants, fresh cut or dried flowers, branches, leaves), crystals and stones, coins, wood, bones (ethically obtained of course)
Air: feathers, wands, knives (a ritual knife representing the element air is called an athame), blue crystals and stones
Fire: candles, incense, lanterns, a cauldron, lava stones, citrine, red / orange / yellow calcite, sunstone, carnelian
Water: shells, silver, a chalice / goblet, stones from the ocean, carvings of sea creatures, glass, a bowl of water, aquamarine, lapis lazuli, moonstone, pearls, amethyst
-A crystal ball or scrying mirror for divination
-An offering to the universe / divinity / divine within: fruit, water, wine, tea, oils, perfume
-Anything else felt to be sacred: statues of goddess or green man figures, paintings or pictures of loved ones, Tarot cards, art, anything that has magical meaning to you (I have a few unicorns on mine because how could I not).

Feel free to arrange, rearrange, add to, and change up your selection as you see fit. It can be fun to add seasonal plants and decor at the change of the seasons as well! Before you know it, your entire home might become your sacred space, and then your whole life! (It feels that way with crystal collections, at least. If you’re not already addicted to collecting them, you have been warned, you will be!)

For some ideas, check out how my altar has evolved over the years! It has come a long way:

altar for witchcraft
My altar back in 2016…
creating an altar for witchcraft
My altar at home today makes me happy! Books are sacred to me, so it feels magical to have my bookshelves and altar all in one place.
creating a sacred space
Side view! As you can see, I have a thing for books and air plants.
altar for witchcraft
I collect prayer candles, crystals, and shells and they have taken over!
sacred space altar
That is what it looks like. A sacred object!
creating a sacred space
Prayer candles, air plants, and crystals, oh my!

BLESSING YOUR ALTAR:

Just like the sacred ritual of breaking a champagne bottle over a boat (kidding, please don’t do that, there is enough glass in the ocean), it is only fitting to break in your sacred space with a ritual designating it as the most magical place ever (or something like that). It will feel amazing to perform some kind of symbolic clearing of any previous energies so you can manifest only the energy you want!

Some ideas to energetically clear your space:
-Burn incense / sage / Palo Santo / sweetgrass. You may want to walk counter-clockwise with it first to dispel any unneeded energy, then clockwise for positive energy attraction.
-Smoke a joint there (in California at least, it’s pretty much the same thing as burning sage).
-Spend time simply being there. You can meditate and perhaps light a candle to set the mood.
-Say out loud: “I hereby designate this space as a sacred sanctuary for my magical workings. Only supportive and loving energies and blessings are welcome here.” The energy will listen. Trust me, poltergeists have better things to do.

Now what? Meditation, and magic! If you make it a regular habit to simply light a candle and breathe in this space, I promise that magic will happen in your life. And if you would like to try your hand at making that magic, check out my free Build-A-Spell Workshop to create fancy witchcrafty spells of your very own!

I hope this has given you inspiration and guidance to create a sacred altar space of your very own! You deserve a magical sanctuary to express the sanctuary of magic that lives in your heart!

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