1. Get a table
Find a sturdy table that doesn't wobble, something with a solid surface that is not too big and not too small. It should be dedicated solely for the practice of magic, so make sure to never use the table for anything else. If you’re re-appropriating some furniture for this purpose, just cleanse it with sage, incense or holy water. Many witches insist on having a sacred cloth to cover the altar, so you may want to get a fabric that suits you. It can be monochrome or patterned. Make sure to cleanse whatever you choose before draping it across your table.
2. Choose your theme
Next, decide the theme of your altar. You have many options here. Most people center their altars around their chosen deity, patron saint or guardian angel. Obtain an image or statue to use as the centerpiece of your altar. The Buddha, Ganesha and the many Catholic saints and Yoruba Orisha are all popular choices. And if you’re making an altar for a loved one who is sick or has passed on, you can use their picture.
3. Obtain the Four Elements
Acquire four items representing the four elements: Fire, Water, Air and Earth. For Fire, you can use incense, a candle or tea-light. For Water, you can use a bowl or glass of water. For added oomph, use holy water or water gathered from sacred rivers or lakes. For Air, you can use a feather and for Earth, try crystals, stones or sand.
4. Align to the Four Directions
Align your four elemental totems with the four directions. You can use your intuition or adopt a traditional method, but know that there is no official right or wrong way to align the elements with the directions. A common alignment is to place Fire in the East for the rising sun, Water in the South, Earth in the West, and Air in the North. Find a system that’s meaningful to you.
5. Consecrate sacred tools
Now gather your sacred tools. Practitioners in the Western Magical Traditions will need a ritual cup or goblet; a consecrated sword, knife or blade of some kind; a plate or shield, usually inscribed with a pentagram symbolizing Earth; and a wand, staff or stick. All of these tools should be cleansed before use. Additional tools include a cauldron, bowls, mortar & pestle, lamp/lantern, candles, incense, sage & feather.
6. Place your Book of Shadows
Lastly, you’ll want to reserve a space for your Book of Shadows. Any serious practitioner will keep a book of records documenting their magical workings to keep track of their successes and setbacks. Keep this sacred book on your altar to amplify its power and the altar’s.
Further decorate your shrine with flower petals, gems or written affirmations. You can add seasonal items to represent the year’s changes. Or even arrange a crystal grid or medicine wheel for rituals and specific spells.
Altars can range from simple to complex: from merely a Buddha surrounded by four stones to an elaborate arrangement with every imaginable tool and trinket. The important element is that you choose a centerpiece that is meaningful to you so you can create a sacred power spot wherever you need. You can set up a detailed altar at home or a bare-bones one by a river under the moonlight. Altars centralize your magical energy like a physical thought-form, becoming sacred shrines and personal refuges over time. If you need to bring more magical and spiritual energy into your life, building an altar is a great place to start.