A Wiccan altar is functionally no different from an altar of any other religion. It serves as the focal point for the ritual, it holds icons which are important to the religion or the purpose of the specific ritual or season, it is a place from the celebrant (priest/priestess/rabbi/minister/etc) to work and perform the symbology of that religion, and is a place to set things down used at some point in the ceremony. With Wicca or almost any other solitary or small group rituals, there are different types and sizes of altars. That’s basically a matter of taste and what’s available. They should be made of wood or stone. The MOST traditional material is natural stone in its natural setting. That’s usually not available, so wood is good. An altar may be made of any material though. Some of us like something which is a height where we can reach it well standing up. Others like things low to the ground so they can reach it sitting. It’s a matter of taste and how you work. You should have an altar cloth as I described before. It’s not a requirement though.

A Hindu altar serves the same purposes. I will describe both types of altars, and how I overlap, blend, and use the similarities and differences in my own worship for Samkhya Wicca.
Traditional Wiccan Altars
In a Wiccan setting, you have a working candle that can be anywhere. It is to light other things, including other candles and incense. There are 2 other candles on the altar; a power candle and protection candle on the side away from the priest/priestess and on either side of the altar. There are the god and goddess statues. These are just next to the power and protection candles, with the goddess statue being on the left side of the altar and the god statue being on the right. The thurible/censor/incense burner is in the middle of all of that. The pentacle is in the middle of the altar and a bowl of salt is on top of it. The priest and priestess can set their athames down on the altar. The wand, bell, book of shadows and scourge can go anywhere they seem to fit. Someone may hold the book of shadows while someone else is reading from it. Generally the working knife and cakes & wine are kept under the altar until or unless used. The size of the altar depends on what’s available to someone and their tastes. The limitations are that it has to fit inside the circle, which can be of different sizes and that the altar has to be big enough to hold everything that it needs to. Other than that… do what you want. The altar can be of more than one use, such as when it’s not being used for ritual purposes to be a table in someone’s home. It can be a kitchen table, a coffee table, an end table, a wooden workbench, or anything else. Of course, if it’s used for a mundane purpose, all of the ritual oriented things must be removed and put away.

The above is an indoor Wiccan altar. Positions of all of the altar tools can be readily seen. Figures representing the God and Goddess are near the back. Photo courtesy of Moss Bliss.

The above is an outdoor, Wiccan stone altar, being used in a public ritual. Similar items are on this altar, although more traditional figures of the divine are being used. Photo courtesy of Moss Bliss.
Hindu Altars
An altar for Hindu worship is strikingly similar to the “traditional” Wiccan altar. It’s simpler though, or at least it can be. There is only one statue of a divinity representing Who that particular ritual is for. Within Hinduism alone, there are a choice of 30,306 deities but NO ONE has that many statues! What is often done is the person have at least 2, one of their favorite god and one of their favorite goddess and use these to represent Whomever. Personally, I’ll either have White Tara/Kuan Yin (Chinese version of the same thing) or Ganesh on the altar. These are the Goddess of Compassion and the God of Luck, respectively. There is one light, which is traditionally an oil lamp. A candle will do fine though. You do have an incense burner. You do have water although without salt for the Hindu ceremony. You drink it in the Hindu ritual. You use a wand similar to the Wiccan wand to draw the circle. You use a bell for summoning things or focusing energy which is just the same whether Hindu or Wiccan in pure form. In a Hindu altar you have 2 extra pieces of cloth because part of the ritual involves welcoming the god you choose as you would a welcome houseguest in that culture. You offer washing of feet, bath, clean clothing, food and drink. You set aside some prasad, or food to be offered to the gods. Within Hinduism, this is usually more complex than the Wiccan “cakes and wine”. This is traditionally fruit, but vegetables, baked things, and bread is fine too. You also offer milk. As an aside, there was a period of about 10 days about 10 years ago where statues of Ganesh and Shiva worldwide were drinking the milk! It really WAS working! In fact it can be any type of food whatsoever so long as you offer it in love. This food is eaten by the worshippers during or after the ritual or given to the poor. At the end of a Hindu ritual music is performed for the gods as part of it. In a Wiccan ritual the music is very often done afterwards but not as part of the ritual.

The above is an indoor, altar for solitary puja use. The altar itself is made of wood. The deity on the altar is Lord Ganesha, and the murti or statue is already wearing a string which is symbolic of clothing. On the far left is a bowed psaltry, used for making music to offer the divine. Next to that is a censor for buring incense, and a pear for offering behind that. There is one candle. The brown cup contains a mixture of tilak. Essensial oil is next to that, and a clear cup of water is next to that. On the right are the wand used for casting the circle, and a red, cotton cloth to be used symbolically in the ritual to wash the deity's feet. A wooden wand used to cast the circle is at the very front.

This is the same altar as the one above, although arranged differently. At the back is the addition of a drawing of Shiva and Parvati. Otherwise, it contains the same items for the same purpose.
Thus, the details are slightly different but the imagery is strikingly similar. To me, Hindu circle feels much lighter and more open and airy. I can’t explain any better than that. Since they are so similar in both form and purpose, it follows that they can easily be harmonized. That is precisely what I have done and am doing.
Samkhya Wicca
Within Samkhya Wicca, I can use either because they combine so readily. For a simple, solitary Samkhya Wicca ceremony, I will generally use the Hindu altar. For a more formal ceremony, I’ll often use the more complex Wiccan altar. Most often though, I will use the simpler altar of the Hindu puja, regardless of whether I’m invoking Indian, European, Native American, or African Gods, or what words I’m using. I personally like to put the most focus on just what it is that I’m doing, rather than the details of how the altar is set up.
Copyright 2004, 2007 by Elizabeth Harper
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