how to set up an altar

Creating some sacred space for your spellwork can be a daunting task if you are new to witchcraft.  I’ve run across diagrams, very precise step-by-step posts with no wiggle room, and even altar kits on Pinterest. My approach is a lot more forgiving. So, if you are new here, I should tell you that I practice lazy witchcraft. This means that I have a simple, yet effective approach to the craft. It is a more modern, dialed-down witchcraft, for the most part. Every once in a while, I do #allthethings.  For the purposes of this post, I’m going to walk you through the basics of how to set up an altar. This will be a working altar, not one set up for a specific intention, like abundance. Because I have been practicing for a while, I have little altars scattered all over my house for specific workings (love, success, etc.).

I’m going to give you a basic overview of what I include on my main altar, but that doesn’t mean you have to do the same thing. Remember, there is no right or wrong way to practice witchcraft. As always, take what resonates with you and leave the rest.

By the way, if you don’t have access to entire table for your altar, clear off the top of a dresser, or a shelf. Or you can create a box with sacred items you pull out for rituals.


If you don’t include deity in your spiritual practice, just skip this part. My matron goddess is Artemis and I have a specific candle dedicated to her on my altar which I light as part of my daily spiritual practice. Some people utilize statues of their deity instead, or they use some other form of artwork. If you are an artistic witch, consider drawing your deity.

The Elements

For an added boost of power, I incorporate the four elements on my altar. You can do this in several ways. For the element of fire, candles are the easiest option. Although, incense is another good one. And, bonus, the smoke would also be the element of air.  For earth, crystals or stones are great choices. For water, I have several options. I sometimes keep a dish of moon water for Artemis. And I also have an essential oil diffuser on my altar. Rosemary is the one I diffuse most often because it is protective.

Protective Items

I also have a few protective items on my altar like a piece of black tourmaline and a hidden sigil. This protects both your spellcraft and your home. I also keep some white sage and palo santo there for smudging/smoke cleansing. This clears the negative energy. But you can choose anything that makes you feel secure and safe.

Objects that Resonate

This is a pretty broad category. Some people prefer to use natural items on their altars like feathers, stones, bones, and other things they find while out in nature. Others, like me, use a mixture of natural elements and store-bought ones. This can also vary depending on what type of witch you are. For example, I like to keep a mirror on my altar (mirrored tray) because it reflects/amplifies power. For this one, you’ll have to use your intuition and place some items on your altar that feel right to you.

Wheel of the Year

Many witches, myself included, rotate items on our altars to celebrate a specific sabbat. You can see examples of my Yule altar, my Lammas altar, my Mabon altar, and my Samhain altar. Since the early Catholic church superimposed Christian holidays on top of pagan festivals, this is really easy in most circumstances. You’ll find many seasonal items in stores that will work for you. For example, Easter is a celebration of a springtime fertility goddess, Ostara.  So, things like bunnies, chicks, eggs, are appropriate. For a holiday like Beltane, which doesn’t have a Christian equivalent, I celebrate the connection with faeries. I could do this by making a faerie garden or a lamp. Since, I’m on a budget, I pick up a lot of items at the dollar store.

To make things simpler, I divide up the holidays by seasons (fall, winter, spring, summer). For example, Lammas, Mabon, and Samhain are all fall harvest festivals. There are items I use on my altar for all three of these sabbats, and then I simply add/subtract items as the season progresses. For example, I have a pair of tiny little straw bales I placed on my altar for Lammas, which transitioned nicely to both Mabon and Samhain. I will do the same for Yule and Imbolc, and so forth.

Optional Witchy Items

This part is all about your own preferences. Some people like to keep a bell on their altar for sound clearing. Some witches, like me, keep a cauldron on their altar for burning items, like herbs or petitions. Altar cloths are another popular item. I prefer to use the natural wood of my table, but that is down to preference. I also have a wooden container for mundane items like lighters, tea lights, and matches to disguise them. I find that trays are helpful to corral items.

So, there you have it, a very basic working altar you can use for just about any magical purpose. How do you decorate your altar? Tell me in the comments. If you haven’t made one yet, tell me what you are planning to do.

how to set up an altar