Most Witches have a working space at home — an altar. The altar is a representation of the astral plane, and represents a link between the physical and the ethereal. The altar can be set anywhere, or on anything, but common places include the mantelpiece, a bookshelf, or a coffee table. An altar that can be neatly packed away can be a useful alternative for small spaces.
Altars have been a traditional part of most religions around the world. Most eastern faiths involve home shrines, and shrines were in clear evidence in Roman Europe, Ancient Egypt and beyond.
In the southern hemisphere, a standard altar would usually be set in the North (representing Fire, and Spirit), or in the East, for Air, the Dawn, and new beginnings. A typical Pagan altar in the Southern hemisphere normally contains the following tools and implements.
Representation of Air on the Eastern side of the Altar. Representations of Air can include a bell or small drum (or anything that makes sound), or a Wand. Feathers are also a representation of Air.
Representation of Fire on the Northern side of the Altar. Representations of Fire can include a Candle, a light, or Blade. If your altar is large enough, your ritual knife belongs here; if not, at the nearest edge. If your altar is on a shelf or mantel, brackets can be fixed to the wall above to hold your athame, which can be a convenient alternative.
Representation of Water on the Western side of the Altar. Representations of Water can include a Chalice or Cup filled with fresh spring or rain water; or a mirror. Anything glass or crystal can be used to represent Water. Shells are also ideal representations of Water. If a candle is placed on this side of the Altar it should be held by a glass or crystal candlestick.
Representation of Earth on the Southern side of the Altar. Representation of earth can be a small bowl or cauldron filled with earth or salt. Living plants to represent earth can also be used, but this is only advisable if your altar is placed in the East; if your altar is in the North, the plant will be on the side of your altar closest to you and make working awkward.
Representation of the God, or Male aspect. A statue or something representing the God should be placed at the top of your altar i.e. the edge of the altar farthest from you. Most women feel comfortable placing the God to the left of Center, whereas men usually place the God to the right of Center. Suitable statues might include a stag (see the photograph below) or an image of the Green Man.
Representation of the Goddess, or Female aspect. A statue or something representing the Goddess should be placed at the top of your altar next to the God. If you have placed your God to the left, your Goddess belongs to the right, and vice versa. Suitable representations of the Goddess include a female statue of any sort, or an animal identified with a Goddess or femininity.
A smaller version of an altar (for travelling, for example), might include an incense burner (representing Air and Fire) in the North-East corner of the altar; and a bowl of salted water (representing Water and Earth) in the South-West. God and Goddess might be represented by gold and silver pendants of the Sun and Moon respectively, or even appropriate Tarot cards or photographs. The tiniest portable altars might contain a wide-mouthed shell (representing Water), filled with a bed of salt (Earth), upon which incense is lit (Fire and Air).
One consideration to take into account when travelling is that Blades cannot be carried in many public places in most Western countries, and most airlines forbid sharp objects to be carried on board. In instances such as these, a Wand is a much more practical alternative.
Finally, every altar is a reflection of the person who uses it. Don’t be afraid to decorate it with fresh flowers, or keep bowls of scented rosewater nearby. Your altar is a place where you should feel comfortable working.