The first thing you need to decide is if you can have a permanent altar or if you will have to put it away each time. The kinds of things you use for your altar are very much up to your own personal taste and preferences. It's important that your altar be a reflection of your own spirituality.
The first item of a permanent altar is the table. Some people prefer round tables as they are easier to get around in the midst of a ritual circle. Others like a square table that fits easily into a corner when not in circle. Some people use a large wooden chest. They can store everything inside and then use the top of the chest as an altar when in use. Many think wood is the best medium for an altar since it's from the earth. But metal or stone work just as well. Whatever you decide on, it's a good practice to cleanse and consecrate it before use. Wiping it down with saltwater or smudging it with sage are quick ways to do this. Also, exposure to the sun or moon will work equally well.
After selecting and cleansing a table or area for your altar, you should think about an altar cloth. These are usually decorated with symbols or images that add to your sense of magick or spirituality. Some people use different cloths depending on the season or Sabbat which is approaching. It's traditional to set up your altar facing either North or East (depending on your tradition). You might want to use a compass for this if you aren't sure which way is which. After this, you need to decide which tools best suit your needs and set up your altar with them and other things which help you in your personal devotions or rituals.
Below are some sample layouts that are commonly used in setting up altars.
This altar setup is a common one. It divides the altar in half with the left side being related to the Goddess and feminine tools associated with the elements of Earth and Water. The right side is related to the God and the masculine tools associated with the elements of Air and Fire:
|Left Side of the Altar
|Right Side of the Altar
Another popular altar setup is based on the elements and their associated tools and directions:
Pentacle, Bowl of Salt, Stones, Plants, Flowers, Green Candle, Offering Cakes
Bowl of Water, Seashell, Chalice with Wine, Blue Candle, Cauldron
|Goddess and God Candles and Statues
Book of Shadows
Incense, Feather, Bell, Wand, Yellow Candle
Red Candle, Athame, Boline, Anointing Oil, Candle Snuffer
SOURCE: Blessed Be: Online Wiccan Resource Center
IMAGE SOURCE: Magickal Moon