Altars 101 : A Guide to Altars and Building an Altar

Orange altar set up with candles, tarot cards, crystals, carrots, room spray, and purple decorations

What is an Altar?

An altar is a specific area within a space that is used as a focus for ritual, ceremony, honoring, offering, and for numerous spiritual and personal reasons.

An altar, generally, is on a flat surface and is adorned with specific and intentional objects that aid and contribute to the overall focus or intention of the altar.


Altars come in many forms, shapes, modalities, and purposes. Below we will discuss some of the common types of altars, but in no way will this include all types of altars and we urge you to further explore altars and their importance to different cultures, communities, and people.

Types of altars

Altar set up in black, red, and yellow with tarot cards, herb bundle, gold pentacle, a rose, a candle, and body oil

A Personal or “Working” Altar

A working altar is an altar that one finds themselves coming back to day after day. This is generally an active altar that is regularly tended to and worked with. This is a wonderful altar for those practicing witchcraft and for those working with setting specific intentions.

This altar may include but is not limited to,
-An altar cloth or covering
-Objects that you are currently working with or items that match the energy you are seeking. Such as crystals, talismans, amulets, and so on. Clear quartz and Selenite make for wonderful companions when performing altar work.
-Candles that represent your intentions, such as blue for peace, purple for divinity connection, pink for self love, and so on.
-Incense or a smoke cleansing tool to cleanse and soothe one’s space such as Lavender.
-Any divination tool that one works with. Such as a tarot or oracle deck, pendulum, scrying disc, etc.
-A journal or place to take notes

Close up altar with candle and huge amethyst

A Home Altar

An altar for the home is often created with the intention of protection, happiness, prosperity, and love for the space and those that reside within it. This type of altar can often times be found within the main family living space, or near the front door.

This altar may include but is not limited to,
-Photographs of family members, those residing in the house, and of any pets residing in the house.
-Items representing happiness and joy, such as souvenirs from happy places you have visited together, artwork depicting moments that bring your family joy, joyful and loving crystals such as Citrine or Rose Quartz etc.
-Candles representing joy (yellow), love(pink/green/red) 
-A smoke cleansing tool to protect, clear, and aid in prosperity such as Cedar.

ancestor altar with book of ancestors, black cauldron, dried roses, cat statue 

An Ancestor Altar

This space is commonly used to honor and remember family members who have transitioned, practices of one’s lineage, and honoring their family traditions.
This altar may include but is not limited to,
-Photographs of family members who have transitioned
-Items that one’s ancestors enjoyed. For example, a deck of playing cards, a bingo chip, a statue of their favorite animal, etc.
-Offerings of small meals and beverages are often placed on Ancestor altars. Depending on the culture, sometimes this is done at certain times of the year, month, or when the person feels called to do so.
-A candle representing ancestors and your roots (brown) and/or gratitude (white)
-A chalice, cup, or bowl for food offerings

Building Your Own Altar

Now that we have discussed a few types of altars, we hope that you have a clearer understanding of how an altar can be presented. 
Wherever your journey takes you, your altar will always specifically be yours. It could change and flow, just like you. Allow yourself to be open to allowing it to take its own shape and energy.

If you find yourself unsure of where to begin, we offer you the suggestion of starting small and simple. It is common to use the elements as a guide to assist in building an altar. For example:
-A representation of Water could be a chalice of water or a piece of Selenite
-A representation of Air could be a sacred smoke bundle or a blue crystal
-A representation of Fire could be a ritual candle or a piece of Carnelian
-A representation of Earth could be a bowl of dried herbs or fresh flowers, and any crystal/stone companion
-A representation of Spirit could be a divination tool or a purple candle.

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