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What is an altar? Do I need one? : Ask a Bruja

Hello witches,

Today’s question comes from Instagram, where a baby witch has asked, “Do I really need an altar?” Allow me to dive in to this, along with, well, do you really NEED anything to practice witchcraft?

What is an altar?

Let’s start at the beginning, what is an altar? An altar is a sacred space within your home; a tiny portal to the divine. Here you can connect to your deities, perform rituals, leave offerings, or go to meditate/pray.

What is it in a literal sense? It’s whatever you make it to be! It doesn’t have to be the giant marble tables found in high holy places. It can be a table top, shelf, dresser, carved out tree stump in your backyard; literally anywhere you feel called to make a space for your spiritual practice.

If you’re still in the broom closet or don’t have room to make a permanent space, witches have been known to make a “traveling altar”. This can be a box or container where you keep your spiritual supplies, set up when you’re ready to work, and hide away when you’re finished. Spirit will appreciate the effort you put in to connect with them, not put off by the lack of grandeur.

Do I need an altar?

The short answer is no. You don’t technically NEED anything when it comes to witchcraft, and an altar is included in that. Social media will have you thinking you need every crystal, tarot deck, and herb in order to be a “real witch”, but that’s just not true. But, before half of ‘witchtok’ comes at me, allow me to explain myself a bit further.

Witchcraft is deeply personal and unique to the practitioner, and therefore the tools and rituals that make up it will differ from person to person. While there are specific paths (Wicca, Hoodoo, Stregheria, etc.) with their own sets of tools, holidays, and rituals, there is also the option of being an eclectic witch, or practicing a craft unique to oneself. As an eclectic witch, it’s completely up to you what you believe in/utilize, and an altar is one of those things.

Now, with that being said, many religious/spiritual people have an altar. I can recall my devout Catholic grandmother having an altar full of saint statues on her dresser. Every morning she would pray the rosary at it, and my young self was always captivated by the strong energetic pull of the space. This is my first memory of an altar outside of a church.

For the first few years of my practice I didn’t have an altar. I shared a room with my sister, wasn’t totally sure what to put on one, and didn’t feel it entirely necessary. Still I had great results with my rituals and prayers. My altar came about organically; I slowly found myself putting statues and herbs on the same shelf, and one day I thought, “Oh, this is like an altar.” And so I suddenly had one.

Here is my altar. Earthy with Catholic, Latin, and Portuguese influence; a direct reflection of me!

What goes on an altar?

I’m going to sound repetitive here, but unless you are following a specific path, nearly anything you want! My current altar, situated on some storage drawers, has my dog Coco’s ashes, my green anole’s tank, statues of Mother Mary, São José, and Our Lady of Guadalupe, some crystal towers, and a pothos plant. This may sound completely random to some, but all of these things have a special meaning and purpose to me.

Other things often found on altars include: seashells, rocks, pictures, candles, incense, fresh water, an athame, offerings, and more! Be creative, and put what resonates with you. I encourage research of what other witches/paths put on their altars for inspiration. But be sure not to compare yourself; everyone is different, and your altar should be a unique expression of you.

Do I need to clean my altar?

Yes, like any other space in your house, your altar should be cleaned and cared for. As well, it is a portal to the divine, and therefore we want to keep it free of both physical and energetic clutter.

In witchcraft, we speak of “hot” and “cool” places. Not referring to literal temperature, but rather the energy of the space. If a space has “hot” energy, it can be a conduit for malevolent spirits and negative ritual results. A space with “cool” energy calls in positive energies and allows for an ideal spiritual environment.

Some things that cause “hot” energies can be dust, bugs, cat hair, dying plants, old offerings, etc. The same way you don’t want dust and hair on your tables, Spirit doesn’t like it on theirs.

How do I clean my altar?

While it should be clean like the rest of your home, it also should not be cleaned like the rest of your home. Your altar is a sacred space and should be treated as one. There are many ways to clean your altar, and most are good, so long as dust and energy is cleared by the end.

There are 2 ways I clean my altar. For day to day cleansing, I like to spritz my Cleanse & Protect Spray around the altar, and then wipe off what falls onto the exposed surfaces with a paper towel or cloth. This is a great, quick way to forgo a whole smoke cleansing ritual, while still keeping the integrity of your space! The sage and oils in the spray clear the energetic mess, while the grain alcohol lightly cleanses the surface.

For a deeper cleanse, I start by removing everything off of my altar. I then sprinkle some Florida water onto the surface, and wipe down with a paper towel in a counterclockwise direction. You may also choose to add holy water to the Florida water, but I recommend using something in addition to holy water, as you need an alcohol or astringent to physically clean the space. In this case, Florida water has a high enough alcohol content that it works. I then may either smoke cleanse or spritz the Cleanse & Protect Spray in the area/room around it; this takes care of the energetic cleansing. I then either place the items back, or switch them out depending on the time of year, ritual, or feel of the moment. Always trust your intuition to guide you.

How often do I clean my altar?

I recommend cleaning your altar about once a week, or more frequently as you find clutter/mess. You may also choose to ritualize the process, cleansing your altar surface weekly, but more deeply on New Moons. Do what feels right for you!

If there’s 1 thing I hope you take away from this, let it be that witchcraft as a whole is incredibly intuitive and personal. There really is no “right” or “wrong” way to do it. Experiment with different styles and tools, and find what suits you best. Witchcraft is a lifelong path; feel free to change as you grow and learn! That’s part of the fun; your spiritual path can be as unique as you!

Stay spooky,

Alexa Branco

Head Bruja In Charge

Want more content like this? Follow us on Instagram! @thebrujastomb

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1 Comment

Jose Branco
Jose Branco
Jul 30, 2021

I love your detail and thorough explanation of everything, very well written & it comes from the heart.

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