How To Make A Pocket Altar: A Travel Witch's Companion
An altar can be a workstation as well as a centering point. If you’re a witch who does most of your spellwork at your altar, being without it can be disorienting. Life can drag us away for many reasons. Perhaps you’re a traveling witch, and carting around your altar is impractical. So what is the solution for the temporarily altar-less? Why, the fabulous pocket altar, of course!
The idea for a pocket altar came when I was traveling and realized how stranded I felt without my altar. An altar, like other tools in witchcraft, is not necessary to perform witchcraft. However, like other tools in witchcraft, using one can provide support and focus to a witch. It provides a ritual, which reinforces your purpose and lends a touch of gravitas to your work. Mood and emotions are so important when performing spells and witchy tools, although nonessential, help put you in the right mindset - which is essential. Actors can perform on a stage with no set or props, but there’s a reason most of them don’t.
A pocket altar is just what it sounds like — a miniature altar you can carry with you. This is an altar-on-the-go for any situation where you’ll be away for a length of time and want the comfort and vibes of your workspace with you while you’re on the move. Because I’ve recently covered how to build an altar in another article, and many of the same principles would be applied to a miniature altar, I’m going to be moving onto creative ideas that will help you build your very own pocket altar. So, on to the fun part!
Crafting Your Pocket Altar
We’ll start with a little case. If possible, try to find one that has a latch and secure closure so you can keep it in your bag without worrying it’ll spring open at any moment. Its size is up to you, though you’re going to start defeating the purpose if you go too big. Think jewelry box or paperback. My first suggestion is to call your grandmothers and aunts and mother because they absolutely dazzle in moments like this. Ask them if they have any small cases they don’t use anymore — they’ll probably surprise you!
A tiny family heirloom comes packed with personal history and passing down items from one generation to another gives your altar even more symbolic potency. If this is not an option, head to your local antique store. You know the one; it’s crammed to the ceiling with things that smell of the Fifties and it is clear from one glance that ghosts roam the stacks each night. A perfect hunting ground for a witch. If all else fails, hobby stores will offer these micro cases in lots of sizes and styles, and there is, of course, always the internet.
Next, you will need to stock your altar. I use candles and stones in nearly every spell I do. I love them. The problem with stones is that carrying them around can be a slight nuisance, especially if you’re like me and you’re a bit excessive. I was once at a doctor’s appointment and they asked me if I had anything in my pockets. I then proceeded to dump about a fishbowl’s worth of multicolored stones on the examining table along with a few silver tokens and two mojo bags. But no worries! You can get super tiny stones and candles that fit in your altar. The stones aren’t hard to find if you’re hand-picking them and know the size of your altar’s case. It gets tougher if you’re ordering online, but you can always ask the seller for their tiniest samples.
The candles, however, are a snap. Go to your grocery store and head straight to the baking aisle. Birthday candles! They come in a multitude of colors now, they burn very quickly, and they can easily be cut to fit most small cases. You can carry a variety with you for quick spellwork on the go, while still conserving space. They can also be easily replaced, which is something to keep in mind while putting everything together. Make sure your supplies are as handy as your altar.
Stones, candles, and art are what matter a lot to me with altar work, but naturally other witches have different preferences. Things like herbs will be easy to pack, but an athame or statue, for example, would obviously be more difficult. My solution is to draw or paint the items that won’t fit into your altar directly onto your case, or find a substitute for them in a much smaller form — like silver charms or beads. It may not always be the most economical solution, but you will at least still have the symbol visible and you will be able to position it to your liking. Statuary can be duplicated in miniature through personal drawings, pendants, and my favorite, prayer cards. If you use runes, but can’t fit them in, then draw them on or choose only those you know you’ll use often. If you work a lot with sigils, invest in a small notebook and pen you can keep in your altar at all times for sigil work.
As you put together your pocket altar, its size may seem like a disadvantage but it’s actually the best part. This space restriction leaves you no choice but to choose only those symbols and tools that are truly important to you and your magic. Get thoughtful. Get creative. Get really personal with your symbols. The results you see will reflect this extra work, and even though it’s small and technically an alternate, your pocket altar will be useful to you.
Not Just For Travelers
Even though the pocket altar was designed for the traveling witch, it’s certainly not just for them. Since your established altar is immobile, and the pocket altar can go anywhere, every witch can take advantage of its size. You could charge it under the full moon or set it up in the middle of the desert while camping and reap the rewards of casting under the stars. I live in the mountains and taking my pocket altar into the forest to absorb the crisp air and pine is definitely a great way to work.
While carrying your altar, you can collect tokens along the way, like stones or feathers, that you can add to your altar at that moment, building your collection of personal symbols, and transforming your altar from a useful toolkit into a scrapbook of magical memories. The possibilities are endless!
Please don’t take a pocket altar on a plane. I have no idea what the rules are about herbs, but I’m positive you can’t take a candle and matches. Be mindful, and maybe just save the pocket altar for road trips.
If you are a private witch, it may be a good idea to get a little lock for your altar if traveling with companions as they may not be able to help themselves from poking around. It’ll be something you have to think about while picking the case, so I mention it here.
Don’t forget some padding! Your altar is going to sound like a maraca in your bag with everything crashing around without a little buffer. This is a perfect use of an altar cloth if you’ve included one!
Periodically cleanse and reorganize your pocket altar for best results. It’s easy to clutter an altar and regular maintenance will prevent extraneous items from muddying the waters, so to speak.
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by SL Bear
I grew up in the Sonoran desert, then moved to Colorado where I spent my 20s and early 30s morphing into an adult in the shadow of the Rockies. My life has been a quilt of extraordinary landscapes and wild terrain, and I have seen some beautiful, impossible things. I credit this upbringing for my ability to see beyond the regular day-to-day, and find the hidden magic that is ignored by so many. I work mainly with art, sigils, candles, stones, weather, and moods. With my articles, I will always try to be positive and find ways to bring new experiences and new ways to practice a craft we all love so dearly. I hope you enjoy.