I’ve been building altars for as long as I can remember—of course, I didn’t realize back in 1999 that my nightstand covered in journals, a dozen Tamagotchi keychains, love letters to Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and pieces of jade (it is my name, after all) counted as one. That’s the beauty of an altar: it’s an aesthetic manifestation of what you want it to be, look, and feel like—there are no rules.
Defined simply, an altar is a sacred place one can decorate, visit, and meditate on. If you want to sit at your altar and pray, that’s cool. If you want to sit at your altar and smoke a bowl, that’s cool, too. An altar can go anywhere: on bookshelves, in a kitchen cabinet, on a fireplace mantle, or on a bathroom shelf. Don’t feel insecure about using an “unconventional” surface. If it feels special, that’s what matters. You can build an altar to honor every Moon cycle or every season or whenever you damn well please. It’s completely dependent on what your intention for building it is. I love building altars to charge my sacred items—a new crystal, oracle deck, candle, or book. Using special items charged with a specific intention causes you to use them more consciously, with a higher purpose, so that they become even more magical.
The intention you have for your altar can guide what you put on it as well, whether that means building a money altar with green candles, coins, and pentacle tarot cards, or maybe a love altar, adorned with pink candles, roses, and honey. If you want to incorporate a sense of spirituality, invite the four elements into your space: use candles or incense to invoke fire, feathers for air, crystals for earth, and a cup of water for, uh, water. If all this seems extra, simplify by working with the element for your astrological sign first. Beyond that, feel free to decorate it with whatever you have that means something to you: Polaroids of your friends, love letters from your boo, stickers, records, plants, knick-knacks—think of it as a scrapbook that lives on top of a surface. My altars are always covered in a lot of special things (my tendencies border on hoarding): a dried rose petal a fellow witch gave me, a freelance check, a brass cauldron—the random list goes on. The only common theme is that the things you place on your altar should make you happy, fill you with light, and bring something energetically rewarding to your life.
In general, you can also think of an altar as a safe space—an area devoted entirely to you that makes no compromises for anyone or anything else. Be yourself and express your creativity—incorporate colors, textures, and scents that you love—and visit the space whenever you feel the need to reconnect to yourself. But most importantly: Have fun! Did I mention there are no rules?
By Jade Taylor
Photographed by Pauline Teel
This article originally appeared in the August/September 2018 print edition of BUST Magazine. Subscribe today!
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