There are as many different ways to set up an altar as there are Wiccans, but I can give some useful hints and tips for a working altar.
Some people apparently assign the left side of the altar to the Goddess and the right side to the God. As a polytheist who doesn’t subscribe to the gender binary, my reaction to that is: Nope.
Others will try to tell you that there are specific things you should have on the altar and they should be in specific places. That’s not very helpful to people who are just starting out, as you don’t necessarily want to buy all your kit at once; it’s better to wait until you find the things that are just right for you.
It is a good idea to decide on a specific aesthetic for your tools, and stick to it. Do you like the rustic, home made, handcrafted look? Go for it. Or the high magic, very ornamental look? Or something in between? Have at it. I have ended up with some rustic looking altar items, and some silver ones. So now I have them on two separate altars.
Today our coven came up with three rules for how to lay out an altar.
- It’s your altar. Your choice.
- Put the things you’ll need first in the ritual nearer the front so you can get to them easily.
- Put the candles at the back so you don’t burn yourself reaching over them to get the things you need.
If you or your coven has a patron deity or deities, it’s nice to have something on the altar to represent them. If you’re working with a specific deity or pantheon, it’s good to have symbols associated with them, or images of them.
Some people like to put fresh flowers on the altar. Most people like to have some candles. I usually have three.
I also like to have the Wiccan tools on the altar but I don’t lay them out according to any scheme, except putting the things on the altar in approximately the order I’m going to use them.
Another type of altar is the devotional altar, where you create a sacred focus on a deity, a pantheon, your household deities, or your ancestors (they can be people who you find inspiring, genetic ancestors, or people who lived where you live now). Devotional altars typically have pictures of the beings to whom the altar is dedicated, plus candles and flowers and sacred objects.
There is considerable overlap between the two types of altar and both types may contain elements of the other.
Creating an altar
Creating an altar should be an enjoyable experience that makes you feel happy and connected to your Craft, not a chore or an exercise. You can put things on it that are sacred to you.