One of the most important things you will do as you progress in your studies of magic is gather and/or create your ritual tools. It just so happens that one of the most important tools you will need is an altar.
Now, I will be the first to admit that in many respects, the whole making and building things “thing” is beyond me. I have been known to shout “I can’t build this! I’m an ‘intellectual’ not a carpenter dammit!” This would be one of the reasons it is a good idea to make your own tools whenever possible. If, like me, you look for perfection, you will soon learn that it is an impossible goal, but if you persevere, you will end up creating surprisingly acceptable tools.
In almost every book that tells of the altar of the magician you will find that they say it is a double cube. Why a double cube? We’ll discuss this in a moment. The top and bottom are square and its height is equal to two times the size of the top and bottom. So, if the top and bottom of your altar are 18″ x 18″ squares, the height should be (2 x 18) 36″. Crowley suggests that the height of your altar should be roughly equal to the distance from the floor to your navel. Anything taller than that could be cumbersome in your work.
The reasons for the altar being a double cube are symbolic. When you create a magic circle, you are actually a small version or microcosm of the universe or macrocosm, inside your circle. The two cubes are symbolic of ALL things, the microcosm and the macrocosm.
Additionally, when the two cubes are stacked on top of each other, the bottom of the top cube and the top of the bottom cube meet and cannot be seen. This is symbolic of the Tree of Life and everything that it represents, the “All the things” referred to above. How? On the top cube you can see the four sides and one on the top, five total. On the bottom cube you can see the four sides and one on the bottom, five total. Five plus five is ten, the number of Sephiroth on the Tree of Life!
Rather than buy two cubes and simply attach them to each other, I chose to make one large altar and then insert a shelf to create the “double cube” idea.
For my altar I used birch. I was able to get all the pieces needed from one 3/4 in. x 4 ft. x 8ft. sheet of birch plywood and still have some left over. I had the folks at Home Depot cut the pieces for me because I do not have the necessary tools. The pieces break down like this:
- 2 – 18 in. x 18 in. pieces for the top and bottom
- 4 – 18 in. x 36 in. pieces for the sides and door
- 1 – 16 5/8 in. x 17 1/8 in. piece for the center shelf*.
*Please note that you should wait to cut the center shelf until you have assembled the altar so that you can be sure to have the correct size for the shelf. (This will create the “double cube” as well as serve as a shelf to store ritual items.)
Experience has taught me that you should sand all of the pieces before assembling your altar. I say this because… well… I did not and it proved to make the sanding more difficult.
I would definitely suggest using screws rather than nails to assemble. Also, although I forgot to, it doesn’t hurt to add a light amount of glue before putting the edges together. Helpful materials to have are: a screw gun, an orbital sander, 1/8 in. x 1 5/8 in. wood screws, wood glue (I had, but forgot to use Gorilla Wood Glue), 150 and 100 grit sandpaper, 2 or three hinges, a magnetic latch, and if you like, a fancy pull (handle) for the door.
It is also a good idea to have a helper in the initial assembly process. What you end up with should look something like this:
Now that everything is assembled, give it one more go over with your sander and then use tack cloth to remove all the remnants of the sanding process before you start painting.
The “standard” and recommended color is black, but hey, it’s your altar. In order to avoid having to use a primer coat I used Rustoleum Satin Black paint. It only took 1 quart to get a decent paint job.
Once the paint has dried and cured, usually 24 to 48 hours to be sure, you can attach the the hinges and magnetic latch to the altar and door.
Now would be a good time to measure for the center shelf, should you choose to install one. Measure inside the altar from the back to about 1/4 in. from the front edge and the inside edges from left to right.
Sand it down and paint. After it is dry, lay your altar carefully down on it’s back. Slide the shelf into place and you can use either nails or screws to lock it in place.
I also attached wheels to the bottom in order to make moving the altar easy.
You have an altar!
As far as decorating your altar, it really is up to you. You can find all kinds of suggestions as to what you should do. Choose something that means something to you and your Great Work.
I chose to use the Rose Cross Lamen. I ordered a large sized decal, carefully cut away the “white space” with an X-Acto knife and mounted it in the center of the top of my altar.
Once I got it placed correctly, I used a product called Envirotex Lite Pour On High Gloss Finish. This is the same kind of coating that restaurants and bars use to protect wood furnishings.
Technically, I suppose you should do such things before you actually assemble the altar, but hey… don’t judge me. Yes, I had to be wary of dripping down the sides and especailly the front edges where the door meets the rest of the altar. It just doesn’t close right after a buildup of this epoxy resin! So I ended up having to do even more sanding and touching up paint.
After this product cures, just look at that shine!
Not only does it look sweet as all get out, it will also protect your altar from the inevitable spills and scratches, not to mention wax drippings from candles!
Finally, add your tools and whatever else you like, to the top and enjoy what you have created!
Here’s a final couple shots of mine:
So there you have it! Now, as I said, “I’m an intellectual, not a carpenter dammit!” So I am sure there are better, perhaps even easier ways to do this, but it worked for me!