How to Build An Altar: Step-by-Step

how to build and altarBuilding an altar is one of those things that may seem a little esoteric and strange at first, but it’s possible that you already have one.

Have a shelf where you keep your crystals? Keep stones and oils and other spiritual tools at your desk? Have a bedside table filled with lavender oil and selenite. 

Then you already have altar spaces.

In fact, most people who get into the spiritual, metaphysical and witchy have several altars around the house. 

Today we’ll talk about the kinds of altars you can create, plus step-by-step instruction on how to build one for yourself.

Or you can go ahead and download this altar creation cheatsheet and it’ll go straight to your inbox so you can check it out later.

What is an altar? 

An altar is any space that holds a special or spiritual meaning, whether you’re a witch, a Buddhist, or a Christian. 

It’s a designated spot where many traditions place offerings like fruit, flowers, stones, jewels, wine, or holy water.

Many Pagans or witches use an altar as the center of their spiritual and spell work, in addition to using them as a place of honoring or offering goodies to gods, goddesses, and ancestors.

You’ll even see altars in meditation and yoga studios, usually with some candles, crystals, and flowers.

Altars don’t necessarily have to be religious, but they’re always spiritual.

Who needs an altar? 

You don’t have to be a witch or even super spiritual to have an altar.

An altar can hold many meanings and purposes, from religious significance to a simple, clear energetic space for you to meditate, read, or practice yoga.

An altar will help you to focus your energy and make your offerings, whether it’s for an intense ritual or simple daily meditations.

If you’re getting deep into your spiritual practice and you have the space for an altar, I highly recommend one.

In short, you need an altar if:

  • You want a place to focus your energy
  • You’re trying to solidify a daily ritual or meditation practice
  • You’re deepening your ritual, spiritual, or spell casting practice

You may already have an altar or two without realizing it. Maybe you cover your workspace with crystals and potted plants. Or maybe you have a shelf dedicated to family photos.

In both of those cases, you’re creating a space that holds a specific energy or makes you feel a certain way. And that’s the beginning of some powerful altar creation right there.

Benefits of building an altar

Creating a separate physical space for your spiritual practice can be a game-changer for habit formation and the ability to tap deep into your intuition and psychic awareness.

It’s also an excellent place for daily meditation, gratitude, and offerings to ancestors and guides.  

Your brain creates strong associations with your activities and physical spaces. It’s why you work better in that one café or from your couch, or why you think best when you’re in the shower. 

This is the same reasons you shouldn’t work from bed. If you finish a big project propped up in bed, you’re telling your brain and body that your bed is a place for stimulation and, let’s face it … stress.

If you only sleep, relax, cuddle, and have sex in your bed, then that’s your mind’s strongest association when your head hits the pillow. Then, you don’t have to worry about any subconscious association with answering emails when you’re trying to sleep or get it on.

Some benefits of having a select sacred space are:

  • Having a concentrated area where your mind can relax into prayer, meditation, divination, or ritual
  • Creating a sacred space that brings good vibes to your home
  • Making a specific space where you keep all your metaphysical tools, books, and cards
  • Having a place where you can make offerings to your guides, ancestors, and particular gods and goddesses

How to build an altar, Step by step

Step #1: Choose your altar’s purpose

There are many reasons to build an altar, from honoring your ancestors to celebrating a specific holiday. Maybe you just want a beautiful space for meditation or reading.

If you know anything about the Mexican holiday Dia Del Los Muertos, then you’re familiar with the idea of making altars for a specific person or purpose.

On November 1 and 2, people are encouraged to remember the dead by creating elaborate altars with photos of their loved ones, plus foods, drinks, and other things that their ancestors loved.

The altars are then covered in bright marigolds to guide their loved ones back to this earthly plane for one night.

What a beautiful reason for an altar! And you don’t have to wait for Dia De Los Muertos to honor your loved ones!

Here are a few other reasons to build an at-home altar:

  • Meditation
  • Yoga
  • Writing time
  • Reading time
  • Spell work
  • Specific spell work, like prosperity, love, or healing
  • Honoring your ancestors
  • Honoring a specific holiday like Imbolc, Ostara, or Samhain
  • Honoring and balancing the four elements
  • Calling in a specific element
  • Honoring a specific god or goddess

There are about a million reasons to make an altar and a dozen or more different themes you could choose.

Step # 2 Choose your space

An altar can be anywhere, and every altar varies in size and scope.

If you have more space, I’d definitely consider dedicating a whole table as an altar. If you have a separate room, like an office or a guest room where you can focus your spiritual practice – fantastic!

The energy and feel of a space are essential – it can be tough to turn your magic on high in the same place where you work, eat or sleep.

But, let’s be real – not many of us can dedicate an entire room or even half a room to spiritual practice.

If you’re dealing with a smaller amount of real estate, consider using the top of a dresser as your altar, or dedicating a narrow bench or hanging shelf.

The most important things to consider when choosing your space are:

  1. Is it in a quiet spot with very little foot-traffic?
  2. Are you able to take alone time without interruption in this space?
  3. Is there a door you can close?
  4. What else is important to you? For instance, I love opening a window when I’m in meditation or ritual so I can feel the outside air on my skin. I also love the trees outside my window and the houseplants on my altar need the sun. Maybe you crave a quiet, dark space where a window isn’t necessary. Figure out where you’ll feel the most focused an at peace and choose that spot.

Step #3: Keep your altar space clean

This means literally and energetically.

Having a messy, dusty, dirty altar is disrespectful to Spirit and to your spiritual practice. Make sure to clean, dust, and purge your altar regularly.

I purge crystals, plants, and fruits regularly to make sure everything is fresh. You can donate crystals and other natural matter that no longer serve your practice, given them to friends, or return them to the earth by burying them in parks, the beach, or potted plants. 

Regularly cleanse your altar energetically with sacred smokes, resins, or sprays. You can even use sound or a wave a clearing crystal like selenite or clear quartz over your space.

As you cleanse, picture the energy of the space clearing out and leaving a blank slate for your spiritual work.

#4: Choose the contents of your altar

So, you already chose the theme and purpose of your altar in step 1. Now, you can begin to fill your space with your tools.

Most altars consist of a mix of:

  • Cleansing tools like sacred smoke, incense, and resins (and matches), cleansing spray, selenite, sound healing bowls or tuning forks, or rattles
  • Crystals and other stones
  • Candles and candle holders
  • Essential oil diffusers
  • Potted plants, cut flowers, or fresh or dried herbs
  • Fruit
  • Cups or bowls of water, salt water, or alcoholic beverages like wine
  • Photos of loved ones, deities, or even your goals (like a vision board)
  • Jewelry that you want to charge and bless
  • Ritual oils
  • Statues
  • Other natural or found objects like shells and feathers
  • An altar cloth or other covering

If you’re having trouble choosing what to put on your altar, think of:

  • The energy you want to call in: Prosperity? Add some dollar bills or coins. Love? Add fresh roses and pink candles
  • Objects that represent the four elements: earth, air, water, and water. Having all four creates balance and honors mother earth, which we all need more of.
  • Things that your spirit guides love (just ask them)
  • Things that specific gods or goddesses love. For instance, if you’re trying to conjure the help of Lakshmi or Kali, simply google their names + ritual and you’ll find laundry lists of things to add to your altar.
  • Things you want to manifest: Photos of a new car or a new home.
  • Objects that remind you of the highest version of yourself.
  • Anything inspiring or uplifting. 

Step #5: Set up your altar

Nature is actually very symmetrical and the Universe loves balance. Keeping that in mind, having an organized, symmetrical altar may help focus your magic.

A central focal point can also help. I like using candles as the focal point, or a vase of fresh flowers.

Some people like to represent all four elements in a balanced way on their altar. That might look like:

  • Earth: A stone, crystal, sand or bit of dirt
  • Air: A feather
  • Fire: A candle
  • Water: A cup of water

Place each object toward their corresponding directions:

  • Earth: North
  • Air: East
  • Fire: South
  • Water: West

Build a portable altar

Not everyone has space or maybe feels safe building a sacred altar in their home.

No worries -- portable altars are a thing.

For a portable altar, choose a few things from the “tools” section of this article and store them wrapped up in an altar cloth or in a special box or bag.

When it’s time to sit in ritual, bust out your cloth or box and lay everything out. Cleanse and clear your space and you’re ready to roll.

You can even use a Manifest Box and all of its tools as your portable altar. Shameless plug. ;p

How to Maintain Your Altar

Some altars are temporary. Maybe you’re honoring a loved one around their birthday. Perhaps you need a prosperity altar to call in some quick cash.

Feel free to change your altar, refreshing flowers, herbs fruit, and stones frequently. 

Changed things around as you see fit, add or subtract photos, and always check in with yourself to see if it all still feels right.

Most of all, make sure your altar is clean and looks fresh. 

How Many Altars Should You Have?

Let's be real. I live in a small apartment with another adult. There's not a lot of space for more than one altar, so I usually only have one going at a time.

But I have read of people that keep several - one in every room, maybe even one in every corner!

You can have a shrine for your ancestors, then a separate altar calling in a loving partner, if that’s what you’re working on.

Or, you could have a space for meditation, journaling, and yoga, then a separate place for spell work and ritual. It’s totally up to you.

Lately, I'm toying with the idea of multiple altars more, but for the most part, I just clean and change up my main altar every month or so to keep things fresh and refocus my goals. 

Sometimes I even pack everything away for a few days or weeks and start fresh when I’m feeling called.

When everything we’re working with is energy, it’s important to listen to your heart and your instincts.

I hope this article is helpful! Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions!