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Now that I’ve set up all these ground rules for you, let’s break them. One of the best things about altars and shrines is how deeply personal they are to their creator. They are versatile and complicated, huge and glorious to behold. They are also small and discreet, hidden and simple. To follow an exact blueprint would be an insult to your creativity and so, I encourage you to think outside the box. Venture outside and construct an altar under your favorite tree, use only natural elements, and tend to your altar daily like a bowerbird. Build a shrine next to a stream dedicated to the spirits of water, using only smooth stones and mud, and then decorate it with flowers found nearby. Access the youthful side of yourself and let your imagination awaken in this process.

The spirit with which shrines and altars are made, and their purpose, can exist in many forms — just like witches. Say you’re a cottage witch who does most of their magic in the heart of the home. The kitchen itself is your altar, isn’t it? Here, surrounded by herbs and wooden spoons and copper pots, you are in your element, and so this is where your altar has organically grown. Cleanse this area. Add some candles if you wish and ask your deities to visit you here and guide your hand.

Are you a witch that loves the ocean? Do you feel more at home by the sea than anywhere else? Then collect seashells, select a sacred place, and build a shrine to the water gods right where the waves meet the shore. Sure, it may wash away every single day, but re-building it can be a calming ritual for you. Instead of offering libations or food, offer your effort on a daily basis. Let this be your gift and your way of saying thank you to the gods who watch over you.

Secret witches can’t very well build an elaborate altar in their homes, especially if they have roommates or spouses that don’t know about or accept their beliefs. Maybe they just prefer to keep their witchiness to themselves. You can still have an altar, secret witches, but you can disguise it amongst your belongings. It can look like just a simple set-up of candles on a shelf. Visit the altar while reading a book. Add crystals to it when you’re working, then keep them with you in your pockets when you have to be away. Build a secret, portable altar in a metal tin and open it at your leisure.

Witches who practice outside, or prefer the element of air, can build their altars in trees by hanging natural cords from branches, and affixing pentagrams and blue crystals to them. Turn the whole tree into a shrine to air by adding bird feeders and bird boxes to encourage new life and lots of feathered spirits. Practice your magic in the morning as the sun is rising, and ring the tree with smooth, pale stones. Bonus points if this tree happens to be an aspen, maple, or pine.   

While committing a space in your home to your altar is the preference of many witches, there are others who are constantly on the go. Portable altars are one option, but being able to set up quick altars is another way these traveling witches can make their workspaces as adaptable as they are. Keep your treasured artifacts with you — a witch first aid kit, if you will — and set up your altar at the drop of a hat. Are you spending the night in a hotel room? Place your candles in front of the bathroom mirror, and arrange your crystals, herbs, and tarot cards around them. Keep some blessed water with you in a small vial or spritzer bottle to cleanse the space and work your magic wherever you happen to be resting your head. You only need the essentials, anyway. Never forget the magic comes from you, not from tools — they are only conductors for the magic you already have.

Building on this idea, practice becoming independent from tools altogether, and work only in your mind — a strong talent for any witch to possess. You can create an astral plane where your altar resides, free from any physical disruption at all. Make it as grand or as modest as you’d like, and whenever you need to spend time contemplating a problem or working through a spell so it’s just right, visit this plane that only belongs to you, and work in your personal witch temple. Add to the altar, memorize what it looks like, and then think of ways to make it better. Any crystals or materials that were prohibitively expensive in reality can exist here, larger than life.

I love a beautiful altar with lots of candles and idols and beads and bones. But it’s not the only way.