Painting of Circe
Some people feel that the left side of the altar is the creative, nurturing side, dedicated to the Goddess while the right side of the altar is the power and strength side and dedicated to the God. By going by this thought mind, one would place a candle and/or image representing the God on the right side of the altar as well as the athame which presents the male. The Goddess image and candle would go on the left side along with the Chalice. However, this reminds me too much of your conventional wedding ceremonies where the bride stands to the left of her husband of which at one time women were to "honor and obey" and the couple were pronounced "man and wife" at the end of the ceremony. Now "honor and obey" has been left out and most ceremonies pronounce it "husband and wife." Yet the bride still stands to the left of the groom. Does this denote male power over female? The Goddess and God both have strengths and power. The masculine strength is the physical strength and the feminine strength is the inner strength. If anyone does any type of art, they know it is the right side of the brain that is the creative side; the intuitive side; the artistic side, and the left side is more the restricted side and causes your work to be tight and less flowing. So, if the right side of your brain is the creative side and the Goddess is the creative and nurturing, then the Goddess should go on the right side of the altar.
For reasons above, I place the Goddess on the right side of my altar. Another reason is since I prefer to do Moon rituals which are in honor of the Goddess, whether it be a dark moon ritual or full moon ritual, I do not call in the God when I do moon rituals. As stated throughout this website, I feel that the Sabbats are more for celebrations and not for ritual purposes. Pagans of yesteryear did not do formal rituals and/or ceremonial magick during the Sabbats but held festivals and celebrated instead. Also, I feel that the way one sets up their altar depends on the individual. There are many books on Wicca telling you something different in how to set up an altar, and it can be quite confusing for the aspiring Witch, because in all actuality, I feel it depends on the person and the mood they wish to create. Also, funds can play a part in whether you have a simple or elaborate altar and/or temple.
Altars can be as simple or as elaborate as the Witch sees fit. The cloth in which you use should not be too expensive. We Witches must be practical and realize that we will be dripping candle wax on the cloth as well as spilling incense and even wine onto the cloth. Most Witches tend to use a plain black cloth or something celestial. Pagans who perform Sabbat rituals will change the altar cloth according to the Sabbat theme. However, since I am more Witch than pagan and tend to put more emphasis on Moon rituals, I use black cloths.
Some Witches set their altar up in the North, as they feel it is the direction of the divine knowledge and wisdom. However, most Witches set their altar in the East, as everything starts from there and ends in the West. They reserve the North for honoring and respecting of the unknown and which represents the mystery.
Besides having a candle representing the Goddess (and a God if so wishing), many Witches also have a triple candle holder wherein they place a white, red and black candle representing the Maiden, Mother and Crone and lighting those candles before invoking the Goddess. An evocation such as "I call upon the Maiden for inspiration and new beginnings (light the white candle); the Mother for compassion and nurturing (light the red candle), and the Crone for Her mysteries, wisdom and magick" (light the black candle).
Also, on your altar, you, at the very least, should have the following: Chalice, Salt in holder, incense, incense holder (censer), water in bowl, charcoals, wand, oil for the occasion, magickal knife for inscribing and/or cutting and athame as well as a wooden pentacle/pentagram. I use the wooden pentagram which I placed semi-precious in to give it that much more power. I use it to charge my candles for magick, parchment paper, poppets, jewelry, incense and oils, etc. I consecrate/cleanse the water first and then I bless the salt. I do not cleanse the salt, as salt is already cleansed. I have read many books where they tell you to cleanse the salt, which there simply is no need to. Salt is already cleansed and to me is adding insult to that sacred Element. I just simply say "I bless you oh Creature of Salt, and as I combine you with cleansed water may both as one create a sacred and protective circle" and then add the salt to your already cleansed water.
I use a reasonable size cauldron (censer) with sand in it to place my charcoal on and incense in, as charcoals tend to flare out with spirts of fire. Too small a censer can be disastrous. Please be careful in using a censer and make sure that it is not too small and that its handle does not get too hot. Practical, medium size censers such as a cauldron are more sensible than these brass ones you see in pagan stores to burn your incense.
The burning of incense plays many important roles. You burn incense to cleanse a room, to help in meditation, for dream work and for psychic abilities. Incense plays an important part in our lives and religion, and incense has been burned for such purposes for over 4,000 years or more. Incense was believed to sweeten the air and aide in protection and against diseases. Since the Goddess is of spirit and cannot receive the material body of a sacrifice, even if She wanted a sacrifice, which She does not, the essence is sent to Her by means of sacred smoke. Native Americans believe their wishes are carried to the Great Spirit by birds and most particularly an Eagle. Witches believe that prayers are carried to the spirit realm through the burning of incense. That is why I use a black cauldron to burn my charcoals and incense and at each ritual, the room is filled with the aroma of incense to carry my wishes to the Goddess. After I have inscribed and dressed my magickal candle, I hold it over the incense to charge it and send my wishes out and beyond.
Your magickal tools do not need to be elaborate and can be quite practical. After all, during the Burning Times, they used what they had around the house but most probably tried to keep these away from their everyday wear. I also tend to use my wand more so than my athame, as wands have the power to open doorways into other magickal dimensions. Wands draw energy (as well as direct energy) from these other worlds that affect what is going on in this world. When doing magick, the primary connection is between this world and the world of the Divine.
I have a white candle which is considered my "need fire" which means if any of the 45 or more candles in my temple go out, I re-light them from this candle, as the white candle is the first candle I light on my altar at the beginning of my ritual. I say a few magickal words before lighting the candle and all candles are lit from that candle. I was taught this, as was my High Priestess (HPS) before me, as her HPS taught her and so on.
I also have a crystal ball, a dragon and other magickal objects to help set the mood. On my altar I have objects representing the four Quarters. In the east side of my altar, I have a feather; on the south side, a red candle; on the west I have my consecrated water; and on the north side, my blessed salt is placed.
During ritual, I have music playing to help set the mood.
My temple, as well as my altar, is very sacred to me, and I do not let just anyone come into my temple and/or see my altar for that matter.
And remember, tools do not make a Witch; the Witch makes the tools and her main altar and temple is in Her heart. Also, many times I have seen Pagans spell the word "alter" in place of the actual word "altar." Please pay attention when spelling this word, as it is the place which is sacred for it where you practice your magick as well as where your candles represent the Goddess.
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