As you embark on your magical journey, you may feel the impulse to go a bit overboard, trying to do everything at once and buying a variety of fancy items for every imaginable occasion and need. Or you may feel at a loss and not know where to begin. Starting off with the basics while you are still learning is an easy way to test your knowledge and your skills. A beginner’s altar is a very personal workspace – and some simple basic items can set you on your path to success.
Altar Cloth – an altar cloth can be small and simple (a handkerchief, an embroidered napkin) or large and elaborate with symbolism. It really is your personal choice, and its main purpose is to protect and dedicate the space that you have set aside for your altar. You may have dripping candles, some burning herbs or some dark colored salts or incense ash that may harm the surface of the altar, so a durable and washable altar cloth is important.
Candles – you don’t have to buy an 8-hour giant pillar candle to work with candles in your spellwork. Chime candles are an excellent choice for beginners – you can buy them in sets of 20 candles, in a huge variety of colors. Most chime candles burn for about an hour so they are perfect for new spell casting, as you should let your candles burn in entirety. Even seasoned witches love chime candles, as they burn quickly, are inexpensive, and readily available. However, dollar store candles, tealight candles, even birthday candles are great for making magic! White candles are a perfect substitute for any color, and you can bless or anoint your candles with essential oil (or a very light cooking oil and herbs) to increase and enhance their power.
Burning Vessel – a small ashtray, metal heatproof container, or mini-cauldron is an altar essential, as burning is part of many spells. Whether you are burning a charcoal disc to sprinkle herbs, spells written on paper, slips of paper with intentions, bay leaves or incense, having a safe heatproof container is necessary. Many a spell has been ruined by a dish shattering with the heat generated by burning spells, so ensuring that you have something heatproof is critical.
Herbs – You most likely have everything you need to create simple spells in your kitchen cupboard! Some great herbs to start with are basil, rosemary, bay leaf, table salt and sea salt, You can dry your own flowers (lavender, hibiscus, rose petals) and grow and dry your own herbs. Using green tea bags or black tea bags with herbs are also a wonderful shortcut for herb magic. For more information on using kitchen ingredients in spellwork, please see my previous blog post.
Book of Spells or Journal – This can be as simple as an unlined journal or binder from the dollar store, or it can be as elaborate as a leather bound journal with handmade pages and a lock. Its purpose remains the same – to document your magic attempts, state your intentions, create and write spells, practice sigil work or create artwork. It is a very personal book, much like a magical diary, and should be for your eyes only. It is important to write down what you have done, the herbs you used, the words you used, and any results or ideas. Wouldn’t it be awful if you created a money spell that worked like a charm, and you forgot how you did it?
There are many other items that you can add to your altar, depending on your personal preference. You can have an athame, a statue or two, bells, incense, pendulums, crystals and stones, altar tiles, and on and on. All of them are useful in their own right, and can help enhance your magic. But for the beginner, just starting out, they may be things that you want to add as you get more comfortable, or you may discover other items that you feel you will need to create more focused or more difficult spells. You may want to change and add to or take away from your altar as the seasons change, or as you change and evolve. Remember that your path is a journey, to be taken step by step, and you will always be learning and teaching as you go.