20 Clever Altar Ideas

Do you have a small apartment? Do you share your space with someone who doesn’t respect your privacy? Do you prefer to keep you altar out of the way of prying eyes, or be able to bring it with you on the go? Use some of these ideas for creating a Pagan altar that will fit into the smallest spaces, be portable, or hidden in plain view.

Portable Altars

1. A Box Altar: Get a medium-sized wooden box or large cigar box. This can be used as a small altar upon which to set up your tools for prayers and ritual, and, best of all, the tools can be stored inside of the box when not in use! If you like, paint the inside with colors and symbols you feel are significant. Some good things to keep in it are: a small altar cloth (old cloth napkins are the perfect size), a small stick consecrated as a wand, a small, flat pentacle, shot glasses (great for holding salt, earth, water, or ritual drink), a lighter, a small bag of salt, some cone incense and a miniature cone censer, and birthday candles.

2. A Crystal Altar: Small crystals and gemstones are easily portable in a bag, and can represent just about any altar tool or symbol you can think of. A small, terminated quarts makes a great wand or ritual knife. Geode slabs make good pentacles. Choose a stone that is associated with your deities to symbolically represent Them, such as moonstone for Goddess and sunstone for God. Crystals can represent elements: malachite or onyx for Earth, carnelian or rhodonite for Air, bloodstone or lava rocks for Fire, and pear or coral for Water. Wrap your crystals in a small cloth that can act as an altar cloth and tie them up with a ribbon, then carry in your purse or glove compartment.

3. The Tarot Altar: You can keep an altar handy if you just carry around a deck of tarot cards. Use different cards for different symbols: The Emperor and Empress as God and Goddess, the aces of each suit for the four elements, and any other cards you wish to represent the ritual observance.

Out of the Way Altars

4. Kitchen Cabinet Altar: Devote a shelf in one of your cabinets as space for your hearth altar. This will be out of the way, but can be opened whenever you want to use it.

5. Altar in a Drawer: Clear out a drawer. Line with a thin fabric (altar cloth). Place non-burning items in it for your religious symbols, such as a lava rock for fire in place of a candle, a bowl of potpourri instead of incense. Pull out the drawer for a quick, readily set-up altar whenever you need it.

6. Wall Altar: Get a plaque representing your deity, such as a Green Man or Maiden wall plaque. Hang it, along with a candle sconce (fire), and small knick-knack shelf to house your other ritual tools.

Elemental Altars

7. Water Altar: If you have a multi-tiered shower caddy in your bathroom, create an altar to the sacred element of water on one shelf. You can place on it a sea sponge charged and consecrated to absorb negativity (wash it and recharge periodically), a shell as a representation of the ocean Gods and Goddesses, and a bottle of sea salt to add to your cleansing bath. Every time you shower you can use it as an opportunity to pay homage to the sacred element.

8. Earth Altar: Set up a window box filled with soil. Add a few small plants you can care for, some rocks, stones or sticks you have found. Place a slice of tree stump, geode, or a sea shell upon it as a pentacle or to hold offerings. When praying or meditating for grounding or strength, go to your Earth altar.

9. Air Altar: Begin a collection of feathers found from your nature walks. Take a small bowl filled with salt, sand or rice and stick the feathers into them so that they stand up. Keep a small stick or cone censer nearby. When you wish to draw energy from the element of Air, light the incense and fan the smoke toward yourself with a feather.

10. Fire Altar: Somewhere in your kitchen — next to your stove, a small shelf, on top of the microwave — keep a candle, and a vial of cinnamon oil and a cinnamon stick (cinnamon is an herb associated with the Sun). When you are busy cooking or cleaning in your kitchen, take a moment to anoint the candle with oil and light it, calling for the energy of fire to be channeled through the flame and fill the room. Use the cinnamon stick as a wand to direct those energies.

Altars That Don’t Look Like Altars

11. Desktop Altar: Keep a small altar on your desk at work without drawing attention. Get a small decorative plate or tray. Place upon it a representation of your deity that is not obvious: a stone, small plant, a small figurine that looks like just another desk ornament. Place on it a decorative candle for fire (even if you don’t use it, you’ll know why it’s there), a stone for earth, a feather for air, and a sea shell for water. Use a letter opener as a wand or athame. Keep a small cup on it for a ritual drink at lunch, or to house a mixture of water and salt (get a bunch of packets from the cafeteria and keep them in your desk) that can be used to purify your space and yourself of negativity when stressed.

12. Stang: Basically, an altar on a stick. Get a forked branch. Set it in the dirt outside, or in a flowerpot filled with kitty litter or sand indoors. String dried flowers (earth), feathers (air), cinnamon sticks (fire), and sea shells (water), and hang it from the branches. Hang ornaments representing your deities as well. If done nicely, it will look more like a decorative element than an altar.

13. Scented Oil Burner Altar: Get a scented oil burner that uses a tea candle rather than electricity. They come in many shapes and designs (crescent moons, Egyptian statues, fairies, animals), so choose one that represents your deity to you. On the spot where the candle goes, place a small layer of salt (Earth). Put the candle (Fire) on top of it. The water (Water) is added to the bowl with the scented oils (your offering to Spirit), and, when heated from the flame, creates steam (Air). There you have your mini altar to use during small rites or for meditation.

Special Altar Designs

14. Drop Down Table Altar: Take two large wooden window boxes and stack them sideways on top of each other, both openings facing toward you. Attach them to each other by drilling a hole through the sides that lay flush against each other, and using a screw and bolt to secure them. It should resemble a small bookshelf. Measure the front of the structure’s height and width and have a piece of wood or particle board cut to that size. Attach the board to the bottom edge (the side of the window box laying on the table) with a pair of hinges so that the board can be lifted up to cover, or dropped down like a table. Put a small cabinet latch at the top so that when the board is up, you can secure it. Paint the outside of the structure, adorn it with decoupage or stencils. Inside, house your ritual supplies. When you want to have a ritual, simply drop down the front board and set your supplies up on it.

15. Drop Down Wall Altar: Create the same structure as above. On the top inner corners of the drop-down board, put in screws or eyelets. Do the same at the top, inner, underside corners of the top window box. Attach the left side of the board to the left side of the window box, and the right side of the board to the right side of the window box using some thin chain or twine. It should be just long enough to hold the board horizontal when open. Then, hang the structure on the wall by drilling through the back of it and hanging with some heavy duty screws and wall studs. When you want to use the drop-down altar, simply drop the board, which the chain or twine will hold up like a shelf.

16. End Table Altar: Get one of those inexpensive end tables that are storage boxes with covers. Often, they come on wheels. Keep your altar supplies inside in smaller baskets and boxes. When you wish to hold a ritual, wheel it out to where you want it, lift the cover and take out the supplies you need. Replace the cover and set your altar up on top of the table.

Vehicle Altars

17. Car Altar: Keep a small altar on your dash board in your car to commune with your deities when driving and to protect yourself on road trips. Use little bits of Velcro to keep small figurines or stones in place, hang feathers or power beads from your rear-view mirror, burn cone incense in your ash tray.

18. Bike Altar: If you ride a bike frequently, keep a small basket on your handlebars for a mini-altar. Fill it with non-sharp, non-burning tools such as dried herbs, stones, and gifts from nature that you find on your way. Use it to pray for protection before setting off on another trip.

Disguised Pagan Altars

19. Hidden in Plain View Altar: A Pagan altar can be sitting in the middle of your living room and, as long as you don’t have a giant pentacle hanging over a statue of the Horned God, most people would be none the wiser. Set up your altar on a shelf, mantle or table by using decorative candle holders, small potted plants, and artistic expressions and no one will guess that your 18th century floral porcelain plate is a pentacle or your elaborately carved medieval dagger hanging on the wall is a ritual knife.

20. The Decoy Altar: If those you live with do not know you are Pagan, or are not accepting of Pagan beliefs, you can set up a shrine using the tools and symbols of another religion to represent yours. Remember that no tools or symbols belong to any single faith or tradition; what they represent to you is what will be important. For example, if your parents are Catholic and you are not yet ready to tell them you have begun practicing Paganism, get a statue or picture of the Blessed Mother or St. Brigit (who, in pre-Christian times, was a Goddess rather than a Saint) and put it on your dresser. Surround it with your candles. Hang a Celtic cross above it — that is, an equal-arm cross (sometimes surrounded by a circle). The Celtic cross was originally a Pagan symbol but adapted for Christian use. Keep a set of rosary beads made of a crystal, stone or wood charged with magic. Instead of using them for Christian prayers, use them for meditation, chanting, or empowering objects by surrounding them with the beads.

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