Creating Sacred Altar Space Without Stress

One thing I hear from a lot of people who are just starting with their spiritual practice, especially if it’s a magical one, is that they feel a little shaky when it comes to creating and working with an altar.  Some people find themselves in living situations with people that don’t agree with their practices while others find they just don’t have the room.

They look at pictures of other people’s altars  and a little fear and envy sets in. They see altars with grand statues of Gods and allies, pretty wands, potions, oils, incense, piles of herbs, feathers and crystals. Some people start to feel that if they can’t have these things on display or can’t fit it all in one place that they can’t have their practice.

Nothing could be farther from the truth.

I’ve had altars on bedside tables, shelves attached to the wall, the corner of a desk, the top of a cardboard box, on a large round wooden table, even carefully perched on the cover of a plastic storage tote.  Some altars are obvious while others blend in with the room in such a way that nobody notices them.  There are traditional ways an altar can be set up with certain spiritual practices but if you’re forging your own path you can create your altar however you’d like.

There are also all different kinds of altars.  If you’re a magical practitioner you might have a working altar but you may also have a personal altar, a mediation altar, a home altar, an ancestor altar, or any combination of these. For a lot of people once they start learning to create altars they do it all over the place because it’s a fun, creative way to work some magic and express your spiritual path.

If you don’t have any formal magical training and you aren’t sure what to do when it comes to creating an altar there are two approaches you can take.

Go to Google or Pinterest and look at other people’s altars

Go with your gut

Also consider the kind of altar you’re making.

  • A working altar is used specifically for a ritual you’re doing or will be doing.
  • A personal altar holds items that reflect your spiritual journey.
  • A deity altar is created to honor any specific Gods or Goddesses you’re working with, giving them a special place in your home where you can connect with them or leave them offerings.
  • An ancestor altar is similar but is created for those who have passed on from your bloodline and used as a place to remember and honor them.
  • A meditation altar is a space used to hold incense, candles, mala beads, statues, spiritual symbols and other items that may be used as focal points for your meditation work.


The working altar is the one that people get tripped up with the most.  The others are a little more freeform and self-explanatory when it comes to what will go there. But for many people the working altar is seen as something that needs to have a specific structure, a certain way it has to be done. This is really only true if you’re practicing a specific magical tradition with your ritual work.

Your working altar will hold tools you’ll be using to work a specific ritual This means things like candles, crystals, herbs, oils and the like go here, as well as ritual tools like wands or feathers. Pretty much anything that is needed for your ritual work is placed here and arranged in a way that either fits a tradition or that works for you.

If you’re going it alone and not working within a tradition, you can look at how big your workspace is and see what the best way to set up your tools will be so you can reach things without knocking stuff over to catching anything on fire. I’ve seen people knock over candle and light their altar on fire, so be sure you’re not over-crowding things.

With any altar that you create there is really only one rule – nothing goes here that doesn’t belong there. Simply put, if it doesn’t serve a purpose with your altar, it doesn’t go there. No resting your keys on an altar near your front door, no putting your coffee cup on your meditation altar during morning meditation. Treat these surfaces as sacred spaces separate from everything else in your home.

There’s a reason we do that. When we sit at an altar, whatever the purpose, it should help pull you out of “normal consciousness” and bring you into a type of altered state. There are two things I always tell people about altars and they serve two purpose – to explain what they do and to help you remember how to spell it correctly.  {Yes, massive pet peeve alert! It drives me crazy when people mix up “altar” and “alter”.}


When you sit at your altar your consciousness is altered.
You can alter your reality when you work magic on your altar.


This is a space that will gather energy and will resonate and radiate a certain vibration over time. This will become a place of true solace when you need it. By treating like something special, separate and sacred you help to cultivate that energy.

Sometimes you may need to “take down” your altar. This means putting everything away either for privacy when you have guests or so you can do some cleaning. This is totally fine and you don’t need to worry that you’re going to destroy the energy of the space you’ve created. Be sure to carefully and mindfully pack up your sacred items and tuck them away safely until you’re able to bring them back out again.

There’s no requirement that you have to have a permanent and unmovable altar space in your home.  For some people altars that can be moved around actually work better. This may mean keeping your tools and sacred items in a special bag or box and setting them up when you need them. Again, this is fine, and there’s a big reason why.

The true seat of your altar is in your heart.

Truly your altar is carried within you all the time. Your tools and sacred space are great to have and they definitely serve a purpose, but you are your altar…your heart and soul is the altar of all the magical work and manifesting you’ll ever do. Your tools, while we see them as sacred and special are only tools. Physical objects with only as much power as we give them.

But don’t let this stop you from delving into the amazing and transformative work of creating altars in your home. They are wonderful spaces that help you to build the altar of the soul, the most important altar of all.

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  • Nicole Elliott
    February 1, 2017 at 3:24 pm

    This is a timely find… I have been trying to figure out how/where to set up an altar(s). I was thinking in the box and attempting to only have one. I wanted something personal and sacred in my bedroom, but don’t want to burn things there (which is when my fireplace comes in handy! – also, second spot considered for an altar.) Also, I like to have items handy when I meditate in a different room. So, thank you for reminding me to break the idea of *one altar* and to set up what will work for me.

    • Jess Carlson
      February 1, 2017 at 3:27 pm

      If I were going to have just one altar that thing would need to be the size of a 12 person dining table…lol. Altars everywhere! Altars in every room! That’s my motto. 🙂

  • Chase Clark
    February 1, 2017 at 4:32 pm

    I have several altars with several purposes in my home, including a miniature travel altar in a tin, & I adore them all. Each room has an altar & whether it is a working altar or not, my eyes drift to it & ground there when I am in that room. I can’t imagine confining myself to just one or just one type! Great article.

  • K
    March 13, 2017 at 7:43 pm

    I’m new in all of this (sorry if it’s sounds a little rude), but was thinking in using a hard suitcase or porfolio to make my first altar in order to “taking down” the altar without properly taking down all; sadly, I’m still living with my mom and she’s not exactly the kind of woman who undersand this sort of stuff (not to mention that the cleaning lady who comes once a week when I’m at the school might throw away something by mistake or on purpose.)

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