As a pagan religion, Wicca is centered around nature and reveres a suite of gods and goddesses -- there is no centralized church or governing body. Rituals take on a personal significance for Wiccans, sometimes called witches, and can vary from person to person or between groups of worshipers called "covens." The altar, however, is key in the performance of Wiccan rituals, and it includes some combination of significant objects such as candles, incense, knives and flowers in a specific arrangement.
The altar can be erected at home or outside, and is the site where Wiccans perform religious rituals or spells. Objects are placed atop the altar as "tools" for completing specific rituals or offerings to the gods. Objects can include goblets, cups of water or salt, figurines, bells or a type of ritual blade called an athame.
Candles are an important part of Wiccan altars as they represent fire, one of the five sacred elements in Wicca along with water, air, earth and the universal spirit. In Cantrell's diagram of a Wiccan altar there is one Goddess candle and one God candle placed on opposite corners. A "maiden candle" can also be included, to be used in lighting the other candles on the altar.
Incense & Oils
Incenses are included on the altar and are integral to Wiccan rituals. The fragrant smoke produced by burning incense is thought to charge the atmosphere for religious rites and facilitate communication with the gods. Anointing oils made fragrant with mint and other herbs are also placed on the altar to bless objects for holidays, initiation rituals and other special ceremonies.
The pentagram -- a five-pointed star inscribed in a circle -- is the symbolic focal point of an altar, representing the life force and the five sacred elements. Altar tools can also change depending on the purpose of the ritual -- an altar for the Earth goddess, for example, would include a number of different plants, seeds and rocks. Food can also be placed with pictures of deceased loved ones as a type of offering during religious holidays.
- BBC Religions: Wicca
- Wiccan Beliefs & Practices: With Rituals for Solitaries & Covens; Gary Cantrell
- Wicca for Life: The Way of The Craft from Birth to Summerland; Raymond Buckland
- Neo-Pagan Sacred Art and Altars: Making Things Whole; Sabina Maglioco
- Magical Religion and Modern Witchcraft; James R. Lewis ed.
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