How to Create the Altar You Want Even If You’re Low on Cash, Short on Space, or in the Broom Closet

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I don’t usually write such long titles, but I wanted to make sure I got your attention! Now that I have, let me tell you how to create a beautiful altar with little expense and the bonus of being easily disassembled and hidden.

First, let me say, it is absolutely true that you can create an altar with items you find on a nature walk and couple of candles. Nature walks are great ways to find things like attractive stones, pinecones, and seashells. (Please respect the rules of national parks/historic sites and don’t take items from them.) City parks and public beaches should be okay. I found a hag stone on a public beach.

If you’re like me, you prefer an attractive altar that combines both. Pagan objects are hard to find if you live in a tiny town like mine. When the holiday season begins, dollar stores are great sources of little pumpkins, cauldron-shaped candle holders, mini Christmas trees that can be used as Yule trees, reindeer, and a variety of Christmas ornaments that you can re-purpose into altar items.

You can use a fairy figurine as a Goddess figurine. You can use an angel. Figures to represent a male deity can be harder to find. Deer figurines can be a solution.

You can find amazing things in thrift stores, and the inventory changes every day. I found my carved wooden box designed to hold cards in a thrift store. I keep my first set of Tarot cards in it.

If you just can’t find what you need in a brick and mortar store, there’s always Ebay and Etsy. Pagan items are often very expensive, but they don’t have to be labeled pagan to be used on your altar.

My advice is to put your money into a small (I’m talking teacup small) real cast iron cauldron with three feet to ensure it doesn’t make the surface you place it on hot. DON’T burn anything but a candle in a candle holder. I had a heavy glass ashtray crack just from burning herbs. If you buy a cast iron cauldron, please read up on how to care for it so that you don’t accidentally ruin it like I did with my mom’s cast iron skillet.

If you’re looking for Goddess and God figures, you’ll quickly realize how expensive they are. My Rhiannon and Morrigan were $35 each. Here are two solutions for multiple goddess figures:

Goddess Paper Dolls by Dover Publications

Goddess Paper Dolls by Julie Matthews

I have the Dover book. If you want to know if a particular goddess is featured in it, please feel free to leave a comment and ask. It’s a high-quality book and the art is, to me, much better than the book that costs twice as much. Just please remember to keep your paper dolls safely away from your candles.

You can use a picture as a Goddess/God representation. Print out something you like and frame it. The Dover paper doll book has a Rhiannon doll. I have it in a frame on my Rhiannon altar.

I have a seasonal altar devoted to fairies. If you’re looking for inexpensive fairies, search for miniature fairies on Etsy. I bought three, one white, one black, and one Native American, and three little mushrooms with spirals on them. They’re meant to be decorations for potted plants and had thin metal stakes on the bottoms. I broke off the stakes by working them back and forth, then used a nail file to file down the stub.

In another Etsy shop, I found stars (pentacles) made from grapevines. They’re small, and you can run any type of ribbon or cord through them to hang them up. The same shop sold miniature fairy brooms. You can use a broom to represent East on your altar. It’s a lot less noticeable than an incense burner ;).

On Ebay, I found a seller who sells candles about eight inches tall in female and male forms and in a variety of colors. They’re meant to be burned in spells, but I use my green female figure candle as a Mother Nature figure. Again, keep them away from candles you’re going to light to avoid softening the wax.

Candles. Candles are often pricey and can bring on asthma attacks if they have intense fragrances. If you want a safe, unscented jar candle, check dollar stores and the “ethnic foods” aisles of grocery stores for candles featuring saints. You can soak off the labels in hot water. Just don’t submerge the candles, because water can run into pockets in the wax, making the candle unsafe to burn.

When you re-purpose Christian items into pagan items, you may feel as if you’re doing something wrong. This is leftover guilt from rejecting your Christian upbringing. Remember that these are inexpensive items sold in bulk. Unless it’s blessed by the Pope, don’t worry about it. I painted a white plastic statue of Mary meant for garden decor black and used it as The Crone. I have yet to be struck by lightning.

Setting up an altar to a particular deity can be challenging. I recently discovered a line of vintage ceramic animals, people, and objects called Wade Whimsies. A figurine was included in boxes of Red Rose Tea, sort of like the toys in Crackerjack boxes, but really charming and collectible. Luckily, there are so many on the market that you can usually find a handful for less than 10 dollars on Ebay. Last night, while working on my seasonal altar, I decided that I wanted a mermaid to represent West. I got on Ebay and searched for Wade (not Wade’s) Whimsies mermaid. They made a mermaid! Several people were selling only the mermaid for eight dollars. Then I found a seller who had the mermaid and several other nautical-themed items for eight dollars. Free shipping. Now, please understand that these Wade Whimsies/Red Rose Tea figurines are TINY. They’re smaller than a quarter but nicely detailed, and many have “Wade England” inscribed on the base.

You may be in a living situation where you can’t keep your altar up permanently or can’t openly display pagan items because it would create conflict with roommates or family. Or you may not have space for a large altar. These situations call for “stealth altars.” Miniature and innocuous items are ideal for such situations. A candle is just a candle. A miniature fairy is just a miniature fairy. A pocket knife with a black handle is just a pocket knife with a black handle. You can hide little items easily if you have to. You do not have to have an altar cloth with pagan symbols. You don’t have to have an altar cloth at all. If you want one, you can use a scarf or placemat. I have my fairies on a wicker placemat. Just don’t use it for any other purpose.

There are many simple ways to cleanse objects of old energies. One way is to burn sandalwood incense and pass the item through the smoke. You can also burn a sandalwood candle. Your intent is the key. Another is to leave the item sitting on your windowsill in sunlight all day or moonlight (preferably full moon moonlight) all night, depending on your intent for using the item.

I don’t usually write such long blog posts. I’ve just been remembering times in my life when the people I lived with attacked me for being Wiccan. And, even now, working as a freelance writer, I still find myself looking for the least expensive items. Sometimes I can afford to spend $35 on a statue. Sometimes I can barely scrape up $4 for a book.

I haven’t discussed books yet. As a teen, I checked out books about Wicca from the library and hand-copied the most important parts into a big, multi-section notebook. I still have it. Hand-copying information about the deities, the pagan holidays, spells, and reference lists about herbs and stones and candle colors is actually a great thing to do, because you’re creating your personal grimoire or Book of Shadows. Right now, I’m dealing with cold-weather utility bills and I’m in a freelancing dry spell, so I don’t want to spend money on printer ink rather than a book. I’m writing things down, saving them in Word documents, and saving images with info into my camera roll. When I my marriage was dying a slow death and my ex-husband was going through my things on a regular basis, I created a virtual vision board for my books on my iPod. I was able to keep the iPod out of his hands.

I am strongly against stealing art, books, and music. You can find Creative Commons imagery. You can make notes from online articles and library books. You can buy a song on iTunes. Don’t pirate eBooks. It’s the same as stealing a book from a store. 99.999% of published authors aren’t wealthy. Even if they are, don’t steal from them. It’s wrong, and it’s not acceptable behavior for a pagan or Wiccan or witch. We are better than that.

Items you can find at thrift and dollar stores:

  • Vintage funky candle holders
  • All types of figurines
  • Unused candles
  • Incense burners
  • Bells
  • Art
  • Books
  • Handmade things
  • Holiday decorations
  • Blank books/journals
  • Scarves
  • Vintage fabric items originally used to dress up dressers, vanities, and chests of drawers
  • Goblets
  • Seashells
  • Mirrors (for scrying)
  • Geodes (large rocks broken in half to display the crystalline interior)

If you’re lucky enough to live near a used bookstore, you can find all sorts of books about witchcraft, and novels. I have two copies of Triad, the book that inspired Stevie Nicks to write Rhiannon, that I got for less than five bucks apiece at a used bookstore. One is hardback with the dust cover, the other is paperback. Most thrift stores have a used book area. Unfortunately, stores affiliated with religious organizations weed out occult books. They often miss novels. Just remember that anything you intend for your altar or for ritual use must be cleansed, because it carries the energies of previous owners.

Are you artistic? The most wonderful and powerful objects are those you make with your own two hands.

I remember vividly what it was like to hide the pagan part of my life when I was young and when I was married. I remember wanting an altar that reflected me and honored the Goddess at the same time. I remember hiding books. I remember sitting in the library copying things by hand from books.

Now I don’t have to hide anymore, and sometimes I have the money for a pricey Tarot or oracle deck, or a figurine, or a cauldron. I just hope that this post helps you if you’re in the same position I was 30 years ago.

-Robin

P.S. Again, please ask any questions by leaving a comment, or follow me on Twitter and send me a DM.

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