So you’ve set up your altar or shrine, you’ve given it a purpose, and learned how to keep it well maintained. Now comes the fun part! Figuring out how to best represent your intentions on your altar — i.e. decorating it!

Because there are about a million different correspondence lists out there, I thought it would be helpful to organize a quick guide here with a specific focus on how these could be useful in altars and shrines. Now because such emphasis was put on which direction to face your altar, we’re going to build on this concept, and these correspondence lists will be based on direction to make things easier.  

North - Earth

This element is associated with the feminine energy and Goddess. The earth represents fertility, stability and a nurturing presence. Items that can represent this on your altar include the colors green and brown, pentacles and coins, pentagrams, salt, cords, iron, lead, ivy, lichens, and any plant gathered from the forest. Animal tokens to include would be bears, wolves, horses, deer, and rabbits. Keep a small bowl of dirt near your altar and use it to bury items in for cleansing. Seeds and plants from your garden can be placed on the altar as offerings. Items made from clay or sticks are also wonderful additions, especially when you’re making the altar base.

The earth represents abundance and prosperity so an altar with a focus on the earth will be ideal for spells performed for money and work advancement or job attainment. Home spells and spells for warding will also be more successful when performed at this altar. Binding spells and banishing spells can be performed right at the altar by burying items in the dirt, or crushing them with stones gathered from your garden. You can also work on grounding, simply by placing your fingertips right in the dirt and centering yourself. If you enjoy plants and growing things, bring a few inside and keep them by your altar. Let them flourish in the presence of this earthy altar and bring good vibes to it. Zodiac signs represented by earth include Taurus, Virgo, and Capricorn. The symbols for these signs can be added to the altar to channel their strength. Runes should also be considered, as they have particularly strong ties to the earth element. Perform spells at midnight or at night for best results.

East - Air

This element represents the soul and powers of the mind. Air symbolizes communication, so it is naturally the element of Gemini, Libra and Aquarius. Air colors are yellow, white, and blue, so finding feathers in these colors will be a great addition to the altar. The tarot suit associated with air is the Swords. Air’s time of day is dawn, so magic performed in the morning will be most successful. Incorporate symbols of clouds, birds, and smoke. Build the altar next to an open window with a good breeze. Topaz, alexandrite, tin, copper, myrrh, lavender, and cloves are all associated with air and can be placed on the altar or carried with you to keep the spirit of your altar on hand. If you have the resources to choose what your altar is made from, acacia, maple, aspen, and pine are all woods associated with air and would make a great structural base. Include images like eagles and ravens. Hanging items from your altar from thin cords will make it look great while showcasing air. Perform cleansing by tossing altar objects over your shoulder or holding them in your hands outside on windy days, and by softly blowing on the altar before and after use.

South - Fire

Fire is commonly used in purifying spells and summoning energy. It’s good for spells for being strong in a crisis, bringing about a sudden change, winning a disagreement or conflict, and the destruction of an enemy or a likewise negative source can be performed on a south facing altar. The tarot suit for fire is Wands. Colors include anything incendiary; red, orange, and gold especially.

If you are seeking inspiration for art or writing, passionate lovers or lasting romance, summoning these desires from an altar of fire is the way to go. Incorporate fire by burning objects, and anything involving heat to bring about a transformation: Baking, lighting candles, burning herbs, heating objects like stones or clay, or warming the altar in the sun at high noon. Zodiac associations are Aries, Leo, and Sagittarius — powerful signs that can be invoked by painting their symbols on your altar which are particularly potent if you happen to fall under one of these signs. Rubies and fire opals can be added around red and gold candles to reinforce their intentions.

Traditional altar items like daggers and athames will be strong on an altar dedicated to fire and brass (an associated metal) can be used in the form of offering bowls. Hang ropes of garlic above your altar for protection and offer hibiscus, red peppers, cinnamon, and coffee to your offering bowl. Perform magic during lightning storms and keep any ash created at your altar in a glass vial for use in warding spells. If you have the option, create your altar out of the woods associated with fire: Cedar, chestnut, juniper, mahogany, oak, holly, or walnut. Animals that can make an appearance on a fire altar include dragons, snakes, cats, lions, horses, crickets, ladybugs, bees, scorpions, coyotes, and foxes. Associations to the desert are a good idea, particularly if you live in this environment.

Collect rain water from the monsoons as a way to break hexes, gather creosote and cactus needles at high noon and place them on your altar or grind them with a mortar and pestle to use in banishing spells. String instruments are linked with fire, so why not try to find an old guitar at a secondhand store and build your altar on that? Fire can create as well as destroy, never forget, so healing spells, energy work, wood, paper burning, and candle work are great ways to bring about change in your life when performed at this altar.

West - Water

Water spells center around healing, cleansing, and purification. Keep a bowl of blessed water or moon water next to your altar whenever you need to quickly banish bad energies, center, or as a way to absorb negativity that might settle in this space. Water also rules emotions, and emotional love. Fittingly, Cups are the suit of tarot associated with water, and any card in this suit can be put to use on your altar as the need arises. The color blue should be prominent.

Water is representative of the subconscious, movement, and emotional wisdom. Related spells can be performed by pouring water over objects, ritual bathing, and dropping objects in water to cleanse them. Be mindful of where you get the water. Although tap water is fine, of course, sea water and river water would be a nice choice if you have a way to get it for your altar. Healing spells using blessed water made at the altar can be done by simply mixing in a few herbs in a silver cup and adding the water while blue candles are lit. Creatively add references to the oceans, rivers, and rain by painting your altar or playing natural water noise soundtracks while at your altar. Perform spells as the sun is setting for best results, as dusk is associated with water, and incorporate blue stones like turquoise. Pearls, though expensive, can be placed in your offering bowl and are obviously quite significant to both the deities linked with water and the ocean spirits themselves.

Cancer, Scorpio, and Pisces are our water signs, so if you happen to be one of these signs consider building a water altar as your spells, especially those focused on family and emotions, will be more successful. If you prefer things more traditionally “witchy” add a cauldron and create potions at your altar. Mirrors will be useful on an altar of water, and can be made to look like crystal clear pools hidden amongst candles and stones. Metals you may consider incorporating: Silver and copper. If you have access to them, lotus flowers are also a favorite among the gods and spirits of water alike. Offer apples and  apricots if you like, and build your altar out of birch, cherry, elder, elm, rose, or willow wood. Dolphins, fish, frogs, turtles, swans, waterfowl and crabs are just a few animal symbols of water you can add, but if you have a favorite sea creature, include that instead! Water altars are great for divination work, but they can also help lucid dreaming and any magic connected to the subconscious. Try building your altar around a physical source of water in some way, like a silver bowl of rainwater in the center, and keep a vial of this water handy in case you need to work away from your altar — the spirit of your magical space will still be with you and available if you wish to cleanse on the go or sprinkle a specific area for protection.