A few years ago, I found myself wondering how to create a sacred altar.
I had a beautiful morning ritual that would ground and centre me for the day ahead. And I loved it (still do). But I wanted the space around me to reflect the beauty and magic that I was conjuring and feeling on the inside.
And that’s how I found my way to creating a sacred altar.
What is a sacred altar?
An altar is a physical space that has been used since the beginning of time for meditation, spell-work, and worship.
They can be as simple or as extravagant as you choose; the most important thing is they’re a true representation of you, and your unique soul and spirit.
An altar is a sacred space for you to reconnect with yourself throughout the day. Some use their altar as a focus for their personal practice, while meditating, casting spells, or doing yoga. Some use it as a place to invoke a certain feeling, channel energy, or commune with source or a divine deity. Others will use their altar during new moon or full moon rituals, to let go of anything that needs releasing, to set new intentions, and to celebrate.
It’s completely up to you, and there is no right or wrong way to do it. The most important thing to remember is it should feel authentic and beautiful to you.
Here’s how to create a sacred altar
1. Choose a location and surface for your altar
The first thing to do is choose a location for your altar.
Some popular locations include a coffee or side table top, a bedside table, a window ledge, a shelf, inside a draw or cupboard.
Some people like to use large pieces of wood as their altar base, which can often be quite pricey. But getting creative can be just as effective. You could use an old shoe box or woven basket, a glass jar or tin, or even a storage crate.
Your altar can be as small or as grand as you like. Some people choose to devote an entire room to their sacred altar, while others house their altar in a small box which they keep at the back of their cupboard. This is a great option for anyone who lives with other people, and wants to keep their altar private.
And for those of you who travel often, creating an altar in a small, movable container is a great idea.
Think about what feels right for you.
If you enjoy doing your practice with lots of natural light, then consider placing your altar near a window. Or if you love practising outdoors, then perhaps there’s somewhere you can keep your altar outdoors – as long as it’s protected from the elements, and offers privacy.
Deciding on a direction
Many people – including witches – like to position their altar in a way that allows them to face north while practising. Others choose to set their altars up facing east or west, to weave in the rising or setting of the sun. And some choose to position their altar based on which one of the four elements they resonate with most.
- North = Earth
- East = Air
- South = Fire
- West = Water
You might choose to ignore the positioning of your altar altogether. This is completely up to you, and very much a personal choice.
2. Select sacred objects for your altar
All the objects I’ve outlined below are just ideas for you to pick and choose from as you wish. There are no must haves, or must dos.
You might already have some of these items around your house to include in your altar, and you might want to purchase one or two things that you feel really connected to. But there’s no need to go on a spending spree! Make do with what you have, or get your thrift on and see what you can find.
The most important thing when purchasing objects is to be selective in where and who you’re buying from. Try and purchase objects that have been made sustainably, with love and harmony; because this energy will seep into your altar.
And remember – your altar doesn’t need to be built in a day. You can add to it over time, collecting various objects from your travels, and play around with it to see what feels most powerful for you.
A Scarf or Cloth
A piece of fabric, cloth, or a scarf usually forms the base of an altar. This is a great way to cover an old table or uninspiring surface, and begin transforming it into something magical!
If you don’t have an old scarf or piece of fabric to use, head to a thrift store or an inexpensive fabric store and pick out a colour or print that you feel called to.
An athame is used in many Wiccan and Pagan traditions, and is simply a knife or blade used during rituals and ceremonies. It can be used for spells, energy work, cutting plants & herbs, and much more. If you don’t have one, you could upcycle an old kitchen knife, or even use a slightly different tool.
I’m a writer, so I have a pen on my altar to symbolise my craft. An artist might choose an old paintbrush. You’re free to use any implement you like, and personalise and embellish it to your own taste.
A Cauldron or Chalice
A mini-cauldron can be used for spell work, and is also the perfect place to burn incense or herbs, or even scraps of paper during a ritual.
A chalice does a similar job, and is often a type of vase or bowl filled with herbs or flowers or water; which is why many people will choose one or the other for their altar.
Different coloured and scented candles will often be used for different rituals and spells. Some women like to have a particular candle they use on the new moon, and a different one at full moon. But the best thing to do when choosing candles is to go for the ones you’re drawn to.
You’ve probably got quite a few candles lying around in your house already. But if not, opt for candles that fit into the space you’re working with. Tea light candles are a great option for smaller spaces; or you might even want to have a go at making your own candles!
I now only buy candles (mostly from Etsy) that have been made with soy wax, because they’re much better for your own health and the planet – but this again is a personal choice.
Incense is most commonly used before beginning any kind of ritual or practice, as a way to cleanse the space and purify the air around you. Sage and palo santo are favoured for cleansing and purifying, and clearing negative energy or spirits. I also have an Abalone shell for smudging.
You might also want to burn an incense of your choice during your whole practice. While I was living in Bali, every time I attended a group meditation or yoga practice, our teacher would begin by lighting some incense. And this would burn on an altar throughout our class together.
Pouring a couple of drops of essential oil into a diffuser is another way way to purify your space before beginning your practice. And it’s also less messy than incense.
I also love essential oils for rubbing into my skin, to evoke or channel a feeling, or to add to a chalice of water as an offering or a blessing.
A traditional wand was always made out of wood, but this is your altar, so I invite you to pick a wand that feels most magical to you.
You could use a fallen branch as a wand – just make sure it has dried out, and is hard enough to avoid breaking. Or you might want something more modern like a selenite wand.
And if a wand doesn’t feel right to you, feel free to skip it.
Minerals, Crystals & Rocks
All minerals, crystals and rocks possess different properties, and can be used for different rituals and spells, or to simply invoke a particular energy or feelings.
Apart from in new-age shops, these can also be found naturally in different parts of the earth – you just need to know where to look.
If you’re new to crystals, instead of getting overwhelmed by all the different types and meanings, I recommend going for one you instinctively feel drawn to. Trust that whichever one your heart picks is the one you need.
And if you’re someone who has a lot of crystals – and not enough space to display them all on your altar – find another box or basket that you can keep underneath or near your altar; and put all your extra crystals and other objects in there.
Plants & Flowers
There’s something special about having a living plant in your altar space. Plants literally breathe oxygen into your space, and new life into your practice. They symbolise health, vitality, and grounding.
If you’ve chosen to create a sacred altar on a window ledge, or somewhere with lots of natural light flowing through, then this is perfect for a plant to live and grow. If not, you could always take a few cuttings from a plant or grab some fresh flowers, and pop them into some water instead; and replenish these as often as needed.
Dried Herbs & Spices
The best herbs and spices are ones that have been grown and picked organically. So if you know how to forage, you might wander around your local area and see what you can find. Or if you enjoy gardening (and you’re lucky enough to have one) you could plant a few of your own.
A wide variety of herbs and spices are used in many different spells and rituals, and often have ancient healing properties that can be used to soothe and heal dis-eases.
And you can find small vials and jars to store and organise all your dried herbs, flower petals, and plants, ready for when you need them.
You probably own pieces of jewellery that you were drawn to because of a powerful feeling they conjure; when you look at them, and when you wear them. Rings, pendant or crystal necklaces, rosary beads, talismans, ornate broaches, earrings, and bracelets.
If you have a piece of jewellery you love, that makes you feel a certain way that you want to feel more of, then placing it on your altar can work wonders.
I always keep my eye open for new pieces of jewellery that speak to me when travelling, wondering through market stalls, and perusing in boutiques off the beaten track.
Drawings & Crafts
While working with Christine Arylo in the Feminine Wisdom Way, I learned how to create a vision altar, which is a piece of art filled with my heart and soul desires for the year. And this is something I would definitely place on my altar.
Seeing your art every day can help bring your intentions and wishes to life, and is a beautiful way to decorate your sacred space in a very personal way.
And if you don’t have any drawings or art of your own, then you can always include a piece of someone else’s art that you love. Sometimes, I also like writing out a quote or one of my own affirmations, and placing it somewhere on my altar.
If this all feels a little overwhelming, I’d recommend you focus on choosing just 5 – 10 objects, and starting with those. An altar is more about the quality and intention of your objects rather than the quantity of them.
Other objects you might want to include in your altar:
- Objects symbolising all four elements (earth, air, fire and water)
- Statues or figurines of deities (Goddesses, angels, fairies etc.)
- A pentagram tile
- Tarot cards or an oracle deck
- Handwritten notes or mantras
- A mirror (this is great for creating light & abundance)
- Anything else that is significant to you
3. How to create a sacred altar: Make your altar personal to you
You’ll find many lists on the internet and in books that give you all the meanings of different crystals, herbs, candles, and tarot cards. But I often find there are so many different meanings for one item, which can leave you feeling confused about what an object represents to you.
And when you’re confused or you have too many meanings for something, it will often dilute all of those properties, or create a pull in the energy you’re channelling.
By all means, check out the various meaning on the web, but what I’m saying is don’t rely completely on them. Instead, look to your own life and find your own personal symbols that mean something to you.
Here’s an example. If one of your intentions is to attract more money into your life, and feel more abundant, then think about what feels most abundant to you.
Maybe there’s an object in your home that creates this feeling for you. It could be a piece of jewellery, a crystal, or some kind of trinket box. Or maybe a hand written check for $1 million, or a $100 bill will do the job. You might want to include a photo of a physical item like your dream home, or car, or even a designer handbag you love.
This is how to create a sacred altar that is totally personal to you. It’s all about your intention – and this is how you create a wildly magical altar.
4. Time to assemble your altar
Once again, there are absolutely no rules when it comes to putting your altar together!
Go crazy, have fun with it, and just play. Move things around, experiment, and see what you like. You won’t know until you try different layouts out.
You’ll know you’re done when your altar:
- Makes you feel the way you want to feel
- It makes you want to spend time at it
- It reminds you of your soul desires and intentions
- And it helps you direct and channel your energy
Here are some of my favourite sacred altars that I found online, to give you some inspiration:
The more consistently you show up each day, sit in your sacred space, and work with your altar; the more you will receive from it.
But you have to show up and do your practice. And hopefully now that you’ve created such a beautiful space for yourself, you’ll want to spend as much time as you possibly can here!
Even if you can only devote 5 minutes to meditating, or reflecting, or some gentle yoga, that’s so much better than nothing.
And remember – this is a practice. So don’t be hard on yourself, or wonder why you haven’t manifested everything you want from your altar in the first week, or month, or even a year.
The truth is, it doesn’t work this way. You’ll often find your way to things, or receive opportunities that are slightly different to what you asked for, but they’re what you need at that time. And just like meditation, the benefits will often be gradual, and unnoticeable at first.
So I urge you to keep going. Melt and deepen into your practice, and see where it takes you.
I usually light the candles on my altar first thing in the morning before I meditate, and often leave them burning the whole day – except when I go out – and then blow them out before I sleep.
6. Cleanse your sacred space regularly
Your sacred altar is essentially your temple. When it’s clean and organised, it functions at its best. But when it’s left to gather dust and negative energy, this will have an effect on the intentions, rituals, and spells you’re creating.
Some people will clean the whole room before setting up their altar, and use salt water to scrub the walls, and purify every part of it. Others will regularly burn sage or palo santo like I mentioned above, to cleanse the energy and get rid of any negative energy or spirits.
Do what feels right for you, and whatever helps your altar space feel like a sacred temple.
7. And finally: have gratitude
When it comes to any kind of ritual, spellwork, or intention setting, many of us constantly focus on what we can receive.
But we forget gratitude – which is actually one of the most important parts of inviting more of whatever it is you want into your life. Because when you focus on everything you already have, and all that you’re thankful for, that helps create more of an abundance feeling.
So don’t forget to regularly give thanks as you sit at your altar. You might do this at the end of each ritual, or once a week – whatever feels right to you.
This is a wonderful way to show your appreciation to the divine, and create a beautiful flow of energy and partnership between you.
And that’s how to create a sacred altar of your own!
So, the most important takeaways are:
- Make your altar personal to you
- Trust your intuition, and always do what feels right to you
- Have fun with it!
Praise for Bloom by Shani Jay
“I read Bloom in one night. I started feeling hopeless and pushed down. Shani picked me up, dusted me off, and guided me to self-love in a few short hours with only print. Truly inspiring” – Rebecca Barnoff