Many cultures and traditions have various forms of altars within their practice. Within Wiccan traditions, the altar serves as a place to house your magical tools, a place to commune with the God and Goddess, and of course a place to make magic. My path does not follow one particular tradition within Wicca so there are of course differences, but also many similarities. The first thing to consider when constructing an altar is whether it will be up permanently or if it will be set up and taken down as needed. This will determine the size and location of the altar. My altar at home is facing east, in the north quarter of my room. It is erected as a permanent altar and therefore the items are left on it and I use them when I am doing work or honoring the God and Goddess.
After selecting the table or fixture you wish to call your altar, you will need to first physically cleanse it as well as energetically. I use a bit of Florida Water and a clean towel to wipe down my altar. Because the Florida Water contains alcohol, it can physically clean as well as energetically because of its magical properties. You can also burn incense to energetically cleanse and bless your altar.
The next thing is to select an altar cloth. This protects the surface as well as adding a decorative touch. The first items that should be placed on your altar are representations of the God and Goddess. These can be a gold and a silver candle, statuary of deities you connect to, or symbolic representations of those energies such as a shell and antlers. The God representation goes on the right side of the altar and the Goddess representation goes on the left.
The next thing that should go on your altar are elemental representations. This also includes your sacred magical tools. The four tools associated with the four elements are the wand, the athame, the chalice, and the pentacle. The wand carries the energy of fire. It is about passion, change, and will. The wand would go in the south portion of the altar if you were to draw an imaginary compass. The athame carries the energy of air. It is inspiration, control, and directive. The athame would go in the east portion of the altar. Now, in some traditions, these two are switched and you will have the wand for air and the athame for fire. Find what make sense to you and work them accordingly. Another item associated with the east is the altar bell, another tool that is used within Wicca. It carries the energy of harmony and sound. You will typically ring the altar bell at openings and closings, circle casting, and calling the God and Goddess. The chalice belongs to the element of water so it is placed in the west portion of the altar. It carries the energy of the goddess, of healing, renewal, and wisdom. The final tool is the pentacle in the north. It represents form, abundance, and consecration. With these items in place, you have a standard altar. One thing to always keep in mind is that your altar is sacred and personal to you. Collect the items as they come to you and don’t feel rushed or obligated to purchase all your supplies in one shot. They are special magical tools and will call to you when they find you so keep your eyes and ears open.