Traditional Witchcraft: How to Create an Altar
How to Create an Altar for Traditional Witchcraft Purposes
by Sophia diGregorio
In traditional witchcraft, an altar is a place to which you accumulate power and draw upon that power in the course of a working, therefore, how you construct an altar will depend on what you plan to do with it and how you plan to do it.
There is no one right way to create an altar and how you construct one will be based solely on your purpose. You may, also, have multiple altars for different purposes. The following are only some examples:
There are basically three types of altars:
1. Those that involve the powers of the elemental forces.
2. Those that are dedicated to the powers of a spirit or spirits
3. Those that involve a combination of both of the above.
In traditional witchcraft, altars do not serve a decorative purpose, rather each item on the altar adds something to the power of the work you do there. You must first decide what you plan to do at your altar. Will you cast certain types of spells? Will you use it to connect to a particular spirit or spirits? Then, you will place the items on the altar that are useful to you in this endeavor.
For example, if you plan to perform spells at your altar in which you work with elemental forces, then you might place representations of these things on your altar. For example, a candle to represent the element of fire; a bowl of water to represent the element of water, a sturdy incense burner to burn resins, herbs and commercial incense in to represent the element of air and a bowl of salt to represent the element of earth.
If you plan to connect with an ancestral spirit, then you would place those pertinent items on an altar for that purpose. If for example, you have a knowledgeable matriarch in your family who has passed on, you would place a photograph of that person, along with something of theirs that was significant to them in their lifetime upon the altar. If you have grandmothers or great grandmothers who made bracelets of their hair, which was popular in the 1920s and ’30s, then you would place items like this on the altar. If you have bones, teeth or an urn, place these things on the altar. Also, place a candle there and a little bowl of water, salt, flowers and some food (which you change daily or, at least, every three days) for the spirit. Choose the favorite flowers, foods and other items to attract the spirit and use this altar as the place where you communicate with this spirit. If you need help with something, for example, the casting of a spell, then place the pertinent items on the altar and request help.
Similarly, if your altar is to be used to communicate with the spirits of saints, Vodou spirits, the Orishas or the “gods” of Western Europe, then set up an altar much the same way as you would for an ancestor. If you are working with a particular spirit, learn about about him or her and what she likes and place these things on the altar as offerings. The offerings strengthen the power of the altar, which creates an energy field for you to use when you need it to accomplish something.
Some traditional witches are ceremonial magicians. If you have an altar for ceremonial purposes, it might contain a wooden wand; a bowl; a magic mirror, crystal ball or a bowl of water; an incense burner for burning herbs and resins. Various old grimoires detail the specific types of lamen, sigils or pentacles that should be designed and laid upon altars to attract particular spirits.
Colors of candles, altar cloths, gemstones, flowers and other items are important in many spells and rituals. If you have an altar for a particular purpose, you may leave the items of the corresponding color there, however, if you use one altar for multiple purposes, you may change the colors based on your purpose at the time.
In the modern Western witchcraft of English-speaking countries, some of the colors and their associations are as follows (Color associations differ in folk magic concerning other nations in the West and the East.):
Black: Banishing; to repel negativity; revenge; reversal of spells and curses
Blue: Communication; telepathy; focus; concentration; healing; wisdom
Brown: Court cases; contracts; legal affairs
Gold: The sun; masculine energy; wealth; happiness, especially family happiness; success
Green: Abundance; prosperity; good luck; success; growth; financial concerns
Orange: Cleansing; healing; harvest season; abundance.
Pink: Affection; family; love; selflessness
Purple/Violet: Spiritual energy; healing; advanced psychic abilities; peace and calm
spiritual protection and healing, psychic ability, protective energy.
Red: Love,; vigor; aggression; strength
Silver: The moon; feminine energy; abundance
White: Protection; healing; exorcism; peace
Yellow: Knowledge; learning; focus
If you are working with a particular spirit, use colors that pertain. For example, if you were working with the Hatian Vodou spirit, Erzulie Fréda Dahomey, who is a spirit concerned with affairs of the heart, you would erect a special altar just for her, place an image of her or her symbol (veve) on it and dress it in her colors, which are red and pink. You would purchase gifts for her as offerings and place them on her altar to empower it. In her case, you might buy jewelry or lacy, frilly knick-knacks in red and pink. You would place red and pink flowers on her altar. Spirits like Erzulie Fréda require dedication, so your altar to her would be permanent.
If your primary concern is protection from enemies and revenge, then you will want to have a permanent altar, dressed in black upon which you place your spell items to charge them with the elements or allow them to be charged by the spirits you work with.
If you have one altar that you use for different purposes, change the colors to correspond with your purpose. A white altar cloth is generally considered neutral and will suffice in most instances.
Furthermore, your altar and the items you place upon it should be used only for this purpose. Your altar and the items you use can be dedicated and charged for this purpose by simply speaking over them reverently, as follows: “I charge you that you are now dedicated to my service.” You can use a more elaborate ceremony or wording, but the idea is that the altar and the items on it have a singular purpose.
There is no one right way to construct an altar in traditional witchcraft, but the main thing to keep in mind is your purpose in doing so. An altar is a place where energy and power for a particular purpose accumulates. It is a device and a tool, in itself, which you can use to achieve your goals.
Learn more about traditional witchcraft with the following Winter Tempest Books available at Barnes & Noble and other fine online retailers:
Practical Black Magic: How to Hex and Curse Your Enemies by Sophia diGregorio
How to Write Your Own Spells for Any Purpose and Make Them Work by Sophia diGregorio
Black Magic for Dark Times: Spells of Revenge and Protection by Angela Kaelin, the only spell book especially written for crime survivors.