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.
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 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.
Within Samkhya Wicca, I can use either a Wiccan set-up or Hindu, 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.