Altar Tools and Setup

An Altar set for Imbolc

You don’t have to have any tools at all if you don’t want to, a finger pointed with intention can work just as well as any Athame or Wand! Paganism and Witchcraft are very much based around the individual. You don’t even need to have an altar if you don’t wish to. If you do, it very much depends on what you are going to use it for whether or not you want any “tools”. Some use it for all their rituals, prayers or spellwork, some just as a quiet place for contemplation or meditation. It can be as elaborate or as simple as you wish. I have seen some that have everything listed below (and more) and some just consisting of items that have meaning to the individual person. Some have a large dedicated space, some a tiny corner of a window sill, some permanent and some temporary. Some have candles, seasonal flowers, gemstones, feathers or Goddesses and Horned God statues. It really is a personal choice about what, if anything, you decide to have. However, the following items are usually thought of as traditional:-

Athame – a double edged blade or dagger, usually with a black handle. You can substitute the traditional dagger with a letter opener or standard knife if a dagger proves difficult to come by. The Athame is used for directing your personal energy. It can also be used in place of a wand, for drawing your circle and for metaphorical cutting, especially when warding against negative energies.

Couldron – The cauldron is usually made of cast iron or brass and is used to burn loose incense on a charcoal disc, to make black salt, for mixing herbs, or to burn spells or petitions to activate their intent. The cauldron symbolises the Goddess and is all about femininity, as the womb in which life begins. Although it usually represents the element of water it can represent all four elements. It is filled with water, stands on the earth, is heated by fire and releases steam into the air.

Wand – Used for casting circles (in place of the athame), divintion and directing energy. A wand is traditionally made of wood. All woods have different magical properties, so you could choose Apple for example, which is a generally considered a favorite witch tree and is associated with the goddess, healing and love. However, a wand can be made of anything of your choice.

Chalice – The Chalice represent the water, the Goddess or the Mother and is used to hold a ceremonial drink or any other liquids you may wish to use in a ritual, such as water or even salt

White representing purity, unity and perfection.

Pentacle or pentagram – Used for protection and to guard your altar, it can also help you focus energy and strength in your rituals and spell work. A pentacle is a pentagram within a circle. I personally just use a pentagram. I make my own and choose the colour either for the time of year or to enhance my intention in spell work. The pentagram is a symbol of spiritual shielding, it symbolises infinity, the binding of the five elements, and protection of the self. The upward point of the star is representative of the spirit. The other four points all represent the elements of earth, air, fire, and water. It can also be used as the North, South, East, West and the Spirit as well as the God and the Goddess.
The Pentacle is a symbol of light and love, it represents purity and white magick. The outer circle bringing together all aspects, forming unity and combining the elements and our ultimate love for Nature. Some use the pentacle to hold other items but that depends on your type of pentacle which can be a tile, wooden, brass or simply drawn with salt or chalk.

Broom – Also known as a besom. Used for cleansing and purifying a space. A traditional besom is too large for an altar, smaller decorative besoms can be used as a representation or you could have it placed nearby.

Candles  – Candles are often required in rituals and spells, so are therefore thought of as an Altar necessity. Many believe you should have one black candle and one white candle. The black candle to absorb negativity and the white one to provide or enhance the positive energy. Black and white stands for light and dark, good and evil. As in all opposites they are representative of balance. You can also use other coloured candles to represent different things as appropriate for your different spells or rituals. However, remember that our ancestors would not have had the choice of colours we do today and white can always be substituted for any other colour. If you are on a tight budget or short on time, you can always use birthday candles for spells or rituals that require you to let the candle burn to the end.

There are many other things that could be added here, an altar cloth, bell, incense and holder, working knife (with white handle), sword, crystals, salt water, offerings, deities, the list goes on. Or you could just have something simple. I have even seen an altar as simple as 4 small glasses, one with water, one empty, one with earth and one with a tiny candle. This being a representation of the elements Water, Air, Earth and Fire. There is no right or wrong so whatever you choose, make it your own!

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