Setting up an altar...for practically nothing

Posted by Theresa Mennig on

The thing I enjoy most about pagan paths to spirituality is how customizable it is. Arguably, in any religion there are many ways to worship or practice, but I find the more organized the religion, the more rules and dogma necessary to be a “good (insert whatever label here).”

For those new to the pagan path, welcome! You are in for an intensely personal adventure, but I promise you will come out knowing your capabilities, strengths, and weaknesses better than you ever imagined.

Now, I am sure many of you have spent time pouring over beginner’s books and internet articles on the best way to start your journey. This is not that kind of post. I can’t tell you the best way to do anything in your spiritual life. Only you know what is right for the path you are on. What this post is going to do, is help set up your sacred space. Bonus, I am not going to tell you to buy anything!

No matter what you see online or in books, your altar or sacred space does not have to be elaborate or crammed full of mystical artifacts and special tools. Remember, a majority of those altars are from long time practitioners that have spent years cultivating their space. Also, some may be dressing up their altars to make an extra good shot for Pinterest…you never know!

Now what do you need to set up your first altar? Nothing. That’s right; you don’t need anything at all. A spiritual path starts inside of you and is only limited by your mind. That isn’t to say you can’t set up an altar, but don’t let anyone tell you what HAS to be on it. Only you know what makes your space right.

If you want to set up an altar in your home, here are some tips.

  • You need a surface. Any surface will do, it can be a table, a shelf on the wall, the top of a dresser. Anything that can hold your stuff safely.
  • Many people like to lay down altar cloths, which serve many purposes. The cloth can transform the top of your everyday dresser into something sacred, which will help ready your mind and the energy around you for what you are about to do. It also helps protect the surface from candle wax, salt, dirt, or whatever you are about to put on it. Are altar cloths necessary? Nope, but they can be helpful and pretty.
  • Now candles on your altar can serve many purposes. They obviously embody the element of fire (hello…flames) but they don’t have to be fancy spell candles loaded with crystals and herbs. They can be dollar store tea lights. If all you need is flame, any candle will do. Other people like to use candles to help focus during meditation. Again, these simply need to be candles that burn. Pleasantly scented candles help with aromatherapy and can make finding the right mindset easier. Different scents and colors can align with different magick and rituals, but you can ignore all the traditional correspondences and use whatever feels right.

  • Salt is a typical representation of the element of earth. If all you have is iodized table salt, but it works for you, that’s okay. I personally don’t like using adulterated things to represent elements, but that’s me, not you. If you don’t want to use the salt you have but want to represent the element earth just step outside. A handful of soil, a rock, leaves or grass, flowers…if it came from the earth it can represent the earth. Also, much of this costs you absolutely nothing!
  • Similar to the salt, tap water will work just fine if it is what you have. Can’t put a bowl of water out? (hey I have asshole cats too, I’m not going to judge) Try a picture of the ocean, an audio track of the sound of rain (free on YouTube). I have small vials of rain water and snow melt (with lidsJ) because I like the thought of using something given to me by nature itself.
  • Incense is typical to represent air but anything from found feathers, audio files of the sound of wind, pictures of clouds, an open window letting in the breeze can work. Again, you don’t need anything special at all, just thinking of the power of air (life giving breath or destructive tornadoes) can be enough

  • Representations of the divine are absolutely optional. You can use a small pentacle charm from a piece of jewelry, a printed picture, paper with the name of your chosen deity on it. Are you crafty? You can sew, weave, crochet, knit, model clay…anything that brings to mind what you want to focus on.
  • Book of Shadows. This is essentially a witch's bible. It's a journal of sorts, and can be treated as such, with a focus on your spiritual path. I do recommend at least writing during your initial journey. Don't feel pressured into creating elaborate rituals or finding all the words that rhyme with newt for a midnight anti-wrinkle spell. It isn't about that. It is a chronicle of your path, trials and triumphs alike.

Your altar is your personal sacred space. It can be a cushion in the corner where you meditate, it can be a beach towel or blanket you sit on in the woods or at the beach. It can be a specially carved wooden table covered in symbols and loaded with crystals, statues, tarot cards, and more. Altars can change seasonally, with the days of the week or phase of the moon, or can stay the same year round. It is up to you.

What’s an absolute must for your altar?


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