So, you've decided to embark upon a path, and you're trying to figure out what all is necessary to set up your Wicca supplies. You would like an altar, but you aren't quite sure how to go about it. There are lots of "instant altar and tools" kits you can find on the Internet. We have a few ritual tool kits ourselves, but where to start? What to include? Where to put it? How to set it up? With all the possibilities, how do you go about choosing what is right for you?
An altar can be as elaborate as a custom carved church style massive affair with ornate ritual tools placed in specifically measured positions. An altar can be a stump of wood in a forest, a tv tray in your living room, or anything in between.
One of the first considerations for your altar space is likely whether it can be displayed openly, If you feel that your practices would bring unwanted scrutiny on you, you might decide that discretion is the better part of valor, and find a small cabinet you can hide your altar tools and ritual supplies in, and close.
Kestra's altar is placed in an armoire with doors that close. Not because she wishes to keep things "secret," but more that she feels it is more respectful for the altar tools and ritual supplies to be kept for the eyes of those who would appreciate them rather than gawkers wondering if the athame is used to murder small animals.
Other possibilities for an altar can be just a regular table with an altar cloth, a nightstand, a bookshelf, a tree stump, or just about any other surface you desire. It can be as large or as small as you are comfortable with, that will hold your Wicca supplies, and where you can work with them appropriately.
Once you have chosen your altar, then you can decide which ritual tools you wish to place on it. Of course, you CAN choose the ritual tools first, THEN find an altar that will fit them all, but in either case, you can modify the advice to suit your particular situation. See, that's the fun part about being Eclectic....very few instances result in the accusation that you "aren't doing it right."
First comes the altar cloth. I always choose a cloth that is pretty, functional, AND not too difficult to get wax off of. You know you're going to be dripping wax from time to time. It's inevitable. That's why I personally don't buy very expensive altar cloths, since I know I am a clumsy witch. The altar cloth is generally used to protect the altar, and is not "necessary" but can be meaningful (depending on its symbology) or merely functional.
One of the things I always put on my altar is a statue of the Matron Goddess I am working with at the time, and, depending on the ritual I am about to perform, I may include my patron God. Well, what if you don't HAVE a Matron or a Patron yet? That's perfectly fine. You may always choose to exclude a statue, or to instead include a generic statue of the Spiral Goddess and/or the Spiral God. I place my statues in the top center of the altar, just because I like them there.
Next comes the candles. My personal taste is three candles, one white, one red, and one black signifying the Goddess in her maiden, mother and crone phases respectively. These I put in the top center right in front of the statues, making sure they are far enough away from the statues not to drip wax on them or to set them on fire. There's nothing more annoying during ritual than having things catch fire when you do not intend them to :-)
My cast iron cauldron with a chunk of charcoal in it goes in the center of the right hand side of my altar. I prefer cast iron cauldrons and charcoal to stick or cone incense, but your milage may vary and you can use what suits you best, of course. If you'd like to learn more about the different kinds of cauldrons and how to use them, read About Cauldrons. You can also place it anywhere you like, as I am merely using my set up as an example. For more advice on incense, you can check out our article entitled Wiccan Ritual Incense
So we have our Fire (candles) and our Air (incense). Where's our Earth? For Earth, I use an offering bowl . And in said offering bowl, I place some sea salt . So why would sea salt signify Earth instead of Water? Well, to me it's a little of both. Salt comes from the earth and mixes with the water of the sea. You can, of course, put dirt in there, or anything else that signifies Earth to you. I put the Earth to the center left side of my altar.
And then, the either totally elaborate, utterly plain, or maybe even paper cup chalice . Anything that can hold water can be your chalice if it has that meaning for you. As we have said, the chalice holds the element of Water that you can use for your ritual. Whether you add salt to it to purify it or not is up to the type of ritual you are doing and your personal preference. I put the chalice in the center center part of the altar, in front of the candles and the statues.
That just leaves the athame and/or the wand. I like to use both, the athame to cast the circle, "cutting" out a sacred space beyond time, and the wand to direct power. (If you would like to read more about how to choose the appropriate wood for a wand, check our article on magickal woods). I generally carry my athame on my degree cord around my waist, OR in the center of the altar to the front, in front of the chalice. I put the wand next to it.
So, that, in a nutshell, is the Kestra altar set up. If you feel that your correspondences (i.e. must put Earth in the East, etc.) do not agree depending on the position of your altar, that's all right. The important thing is that you understand WHY you are placing things where you are placing them, not that you copy someone else exactly. If it doesn't have specific meaning to you, the ritual itself will not be as meaningful or powerful.
Feel free to write with any questions you might have to Kestra at enchantedworks dot com.