Altar Elevated place where religious ceremonies are
conducted and where offerings are made to a deity or
deities. The altar has ancient associations with the Goddess
and Mother Earth, who rule the wheel of birthdeath-rebirth.
In Wicca and Paganism, the altar is placed within a
magic circle. It usually faces either east or north, depending
on the tradition and practices of the coven.
There are no set rules in the Craft for the construction
of the altar. If the ceremonies take place out of doors,
rocks or tree stumps may be used. Indoors, the altar may
be a table, a wooden box or a board placed on boxes or
bricks. Whatever the form or materials, the altar should
not contain conductive metals such as iron or steel, since
they could interfere with the energy of the ritual tools
made of iron or steel (see witches’ tools). Since many
covens meet in homes or apartments where space is at
a premium, the altar may not be permanent but erected
only during ceremonies.
The objects of ritual and worship placed on the altar
vary, depending upon the practices of the coven and the
rituals to be performed. They may include an athame (a
black-handled knife that is the Witch’s primary magical
tool), a white-handled knife, a sword, a wand, candles,
a cup or goblet of wine, anointing oils, dishes for Salt
and water, a necklace without beginning or end, a censer,
bells, scourges, dishes for offering food and drink
to the deities and images of the deities, such as figurines,
wax statues or drawings. If a broom and cauldron are
needed in rituals, they are placed on either side of the
The altar is never used for blood sacrifice, which is
prohibited in Wicca and Paganism.
In the Great Rite, which is actual or symbolic ritual
sex, the body of the high priestess is considered an altar
of the sacred forces of life, which echoes back to the ancient
connection of altar to the Mother Goddess.
During the witch hunts, it was believed that at witches’
sabbats, the woman who was high sorceress or high
priestess served as both living altar and sacrifice to the
Devil. “On her loins a demon performed Mass, pronounced
the Credo, deposited the offertory of the faithful,”
observes historian Jules Michelet in Satanism and
Witchcraft. According to Michelet, the eucharist at these
sabbats consisted of a cake baked upon the altar of the
woman: “It was her life, her death, they ate. The morsel
was impregnated already with the savour of her burning
These accounts of sabbats were extracted under torture
and were fiction to satisfy inquisitors.