The Pagan Altar
Like most other religions of the world, those that follow that path of Paganism usually erect altars were sacred rituals, daily devotions, and religious paraphernalia are held. The uses of the altar varies from Pagan to Pagan. Some use it merely for aesthetic qualities or as a daily devotion to their deity. Others create working altars where they can practice magic or perform divination. Due to the overwhelming plethora of beliefs and deities within Paganism there are a wide variety of protocol for altar crafting. There are, however, similarities in altar design and layout that run relativity mainstream among Pagans.
The Pagan altar is something that is very personal to the individual Pagan. They are usually set up in bedrooms or living rooms, but Pagans with the available space may create an entire separate room for their altar. Similarly, many Pagans have several altars throughout a room or house. One may be to honor ancestors while another is erected in dedication of a certain god or goddess.
Most altars have the same basic setup. They can be crafted of literally any material from a cardboard box to elaborate wooden dressers. The altar is broken up into four sections that correspond with the cardinal directions north, south, east, and west. Pagans believe that each cardinal direction has a corresponding element. For this reason representations of these elements are placed in each section related to the direction. For example, one might place a bowl of salt or crystal in the north to represent earth. In the south, it is typical to place a candle or other representation of fire. The east is considered the element of air and is usually represented by a feather or incense. The west is commonly thought of as water and is represented by a chalice or bowl of spring or tap water.
Since the altar is considered a sacred space, a Pagan will usually keep their ritual tools here for cleansing of negative energies and to discourage tools from becoming tainted with negative influences. Tools such as the wand and athame (a blunt knife thought to aid in moving energy) as well as things such as incense, crystals, and herbs are often found on an altar. Most altars have representations of various deities whether that be the god and goddess or more specific deities such as those found in Greek, Roman, Norse, Celtic, or Egyptian mythology. These deities are usually represented in the form of shaped candles, statues or images. Then again, some Pagans do not believe in any particular deity and may decorate their altar with fresh flowers or other things found in nature.
One of the most common accessories of the Pagan altar is candles. Colored candles are often used to represent the elements. Also, different colored candles are considered magical in that they have different meanings that when burned can bring about changes in the life of the user. This is often referred to as candle magic.
Other than representations of elements, decorations, deities, and ritual tools many Pagans personalize their altars in various ways. For example, some pagans draw pictures or leave notes of thanks to their respective deities for prayers granted. Others decorate with elaborate altar clothes and altar accessories available at alternative religion stores. Most Pagans practice spells or divination. Remnants of ongoing spells or various divination tools such as runes or tarot cards can be found on some altars.
Whatever the reason and whatever the setup, the Pagan altar is a sacred tool to those of this highly spiritual and individual path. If you are considering creating your own altar remember the most important aspect is that it replicates who you are and what you believe.