Shrines and altars have been an essential part of religious practices since early humans first became aware of the divine. Religions, cults, and mystics around the world rely on altars and shrines as sacred places to worship and practice their faith, and in fact they are central to many key ceremonies within those beliefs. The purpose of altars varies widely, from baptisms and weddings to human sacrifice, but they are always built in places of significance. Their grandeur varies, too, from the opulent Catholic altars and golden Buddhist shrines, to the ancient stone altars of the Celts that are simple, smooth boulders.

There are subtle differences between shrines and altars. An altar is often a place where something is accomplished. A shrine is a sacred place where worship and prayer are practiced. For our purposes, this distinction will be made, but should you decide to take your research further, know that many sources will use these terms interchangeably.

For witches, altars are typically designated as workspaces for performing magic. Shrines can be constructed to honor ancestors, deities, spirits, or simply built as a sacred space to reflect, meditate, cleanse, etc. Before you begin creating your altar or shrine, you must decide its purpose, and this will help determine whether you need a shrine or altar.

Action Steps

Grab a piece of paper and answer the following questions:

  • Will I perform magic in this space?

  • Am I dedicating this space to a specific being, person, or deity?

  • What will be the main function of this altar/shrine?

  • Do I hope to achieve something from building this altar or shrine?

  • Will this shrine or altar be a place for spiritual growth or magical action?