The Unicorn Shoppe

Where Myth Meets Reality

The Essential Ingredients For A High Magick Altar

by Christine Hall

So you want to be a Ceremonial Magician? You've bought a copy of Donald Kraig's book Eleven Lessons In The High Magickal Arts as well as a copy of Regardie's The Golden Dawn. You've studied many of the High Magick sites and asked questions on their forums. You've taught yourself the Middle Pillar meditation and the Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram. All that's left for you to do is to set-up your altar and fire-up your temple.

In most cases, a magickal altar is established in the east, the quarter for the element of Air. If you have the space, a permanent altar is best, since an altar that's always set-up will continue to move sacred energy, even when your temple is not officially in use.

Since the altar itself is basically just a platform to hold your magickal tools, you can use practically anything to be your altar. A table, an old dresser, even a night stand can be called into service as an altar. The important thing is that whatever you choose, it should be used for no other purpose than to be your altar. Remember, an altar is sacred and should not be used for any mundane purpose.

If you don't have room for a permanent altar, you can purchase table-top altars from ritual supply stores like The Unicorn Shoppe. These can be conveniently stowed-away, out of sight, until needed, then brought out and set atop a table for the duration of a ritual. This is not a best-case scenario, but if your temple must do double-duty as a living room, this may be the best solution for you.

After you've chosen your altar, you will need to place upon it your consecrated magickal tools. There are four tools that are essential for any high magick altar, one for each of the elements.

For Air, the element of the east, you will need a dagger (also called an Athame) or sword. Usually, you would want to choose a double-edged blade, representing the Divine Intelligence's ability to cut through to see both (or all) sides of a situation. If you choose to use a single-sided blade as your Air tool, you are cautioned to remember that you are being one-sided in your outlook.

Other than that, pretty much any dagger or sword you choose will suffice. Th important thing is that your choice attracts you or “speaks to you.”

For Fire, the element of the south, you will need a wand. Because the wand is the implement most used during a ritual, used for drawing pentagrams and hexagrams, etc., this is often the first tool obtained by the neophyte magician.

There is a lot of lore associated with the wand. For example, the turn-of-the-century Golden Dawn folks said that a wand had to be cut froma tree in the middle of the night with a single swoop of a knife. The moon was to be in a particular phase. Then the branch had to be hollowed-out lengthwise and a magnetic rod inserted.

Since becoming a magickal adept, I've had the privilege of meeting many practicing magicians, and I've yet to meet one who's gone to so much trouble. Most wands these days are either wood (often a dowling rod), or made out of a metal such as copper or silver. At the far end of the wand, the end that points to the quarters as you draw your pentagrams, should be a clear quarts crystal of reasonably high quality, to amplify your intent. At the other end, you will often find an amethyst crystal, or a grounding stone such as hematite.

Although many people still make their own wands, most people either have one made for them or buy one ready made at a magickal shop. Remember, don't be in a hurry and buy the first wand you see. Wait until you find a want that “just seems right” for you.

For Water, the element of the west, you will need a chalice. There are no hard and fast rules regarding the chalice. Many people use a simple wine glass, others buy ornate silver cups that are engraved with a sacred symbol, like a pentagram or triquetra. However, your chalice should only be used within sacred space. Don't use your consecrated chalice to imbibe at the dinner table, for example.

Finally, for Earth, the element of the north, you will need a pentacle. Basically, a pentacle is a circle with a pentagram inside. Although Wiccan and magick stores sell pentacles made from both silver and wood, my thinking is that silver is somewhat inappropriate for the Earth element, since silver is lunar and the moon is watery. Wood, on the other hand, is about as “earthy” as it gets.

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Even though these four tools are considered “essential” for any magickal altar, there is room for creativity and it's possible to find replacements for these tools as long as the magician keeps in mind that there needs to be a tool for each element.

For example, for many years I didn't have an athame or sword on my altar because I'm not especially fond of knives. Instead, I used a unique shaped and very large quartz crystal which I consecrated as my Air tool. Likewise, I have never owned an altar pentacle. For Earth I use a large piece of petrified wood that I found on the property where I live.

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