The Wiccan Altar
The first thing you need to decide is if you can have a permanent altar or if you will have to put it away each time. The kinds of things you use for your altar are very much up to your own personal taste and preferences. It's important that your altar be a reflection of your own spirituality.
The first item of a permanent altar is the table. Some people prefer round tables as they are easier to get around in the midst of a ritual circle. Others like a square table that fits easily into a corner when not in circle. I personally like having storage space under my table in the form of a cabinet or shelves so I can store some of my ritual items. Some people use a large wooden chest. They can store everything inside and then use the top of the chest as an altar when in use. Many think wood is the best medium for an altar since it's from the earth. But I think metal or stone work just as well. I personally wouldn't use plastic or some man-made material, but that's just me. Whatever you decide on it's a good practice to cleanse and consecrate it before use. Wiping it down with saltwater or smudging it with sage are quick ways to do this. Also exposure to the sun or moon will work equally well.
After selecting and cleansing a table or area for your altar, you should think about an altar cloth. These are usually decorated with symbols or images that add to your sense of magic or spirituality. Some people use different cloths depending on the season or sabbat which is approaching. It's traditional to set up your altar facing either North or East (depending on your tradition). I personally prefer to set mine up facing North. You might want to use a compass for this if you aren't sure which way is which. After this, you need to decide which tools best suit your needs and set up your altar with them and other things which help you in your personal devotions or rituals. See my Magical Tools page for more specific information about the tools and what they are for. To find unique or affordable tools for your altar, visit my wiccan online store.
Below are some sample layouts that are commonly used in setting up altars.
This altar setup below is a common one. It divides the Altar in half with the Left side being related to the Goddess and feminine tools associated with the elements of Earth and Water. The Right side is related to the God and the masculine tools associated with the elements of Air and Fire.
Side of the Altar (Goddess)
Side of the Altar (God)
Candle (White or Silver)
Chalice of Wine
Bowl of Water
Asperger (used to sprinkle water)
Crystals or Stones
Libations Dish (for Cakes and Wine)
Candle (Gold or Yellow)
Censor with Incense
Bowl of Salt
Athame (Magickal Knife)
Boline (knife used to cut things)
Lighter or Matches
Oils, Herbs and other Candles can be placed anywhere convenient. You may also want to include your Book of Shadows and Ritual Pen for inscribing spells.
Another popular altar set up is based on the Elements and their associated tools and directions. This is the setup I prefer to use.
Pentacle, Bowl of Salt, Stones,
Plants, Flowers, Green Candle, Offering Cakes.
Bowl of Water, Seashell, Chalice with Wine, Blue Candle, Cauldron
* Green Candle BTW
Goddess and God Candles or Statues
Book of Shadows
Incense, Feather, Bell, Wand, Yellow Candle
Red Candle, Athame, Boline, Anointing
Oil, Candle Snuffer
* BTW = British Traditional Wicca (Gardenarian, Alexandrian traditions etc..)