Through a particular issue (okay, issues. They just have to come in clusters), I've had to do a lot of shuttling back and forth and doing spellwork in the midst of it all (so I can get rid of my issues on a metaphysical level as I handle them on a physical level. I'm Pagan. It's how we solve our problems. Christians take it to the cross, we take it to the spellbook (generally)). In that, and even when I wasn't shuttling back and forth and causing columns like Absent Black Witch, I never had a dedicated altar for 'crafting'.
I don't own a wand, a cauldron (though if I had a mini-cauldron, I would only have an urge to burn dried herbs in it and a stronger, insatiable urge to chuck it at somebody. It's got some weight to it.) I don't own a Witch's pantry, a shelf dedicated to spell work, or anything like that. To be honest, most witches that I know of don't have the prescribed altar that are spoken of in so many witch books, beginner, intermediate and advanced. To save me a bunch of space explaining what an altar is or looks like, I'll take a leaf out of vlogger Shazzypbear's book and show her vid about it to you:
and here's another vid about altars from another Pagan, TheMorganFire (The altar is about halfway in and based on Lammas, a Pagan holiday)
Yep, altars are diverse and they all may look a little different, depending on the Pagan. I don't have one because I'm deftly accustomed to living in a household where I had to hide my beliefs from my pretty Christian family. That, and not having a lot of money would put a dent in any altar to have, so I'm used to DIY'ing it to adapt to my environment and situation. Plus it's mad helpful when I travel because you can't drag a whole altar around with you and there are just some restrictions (i.e. can't carry a lot, gotta travel light) that you can't help. Here's some of what I use:
Birthday candles - Alright, I actually have candles you put on menorahs given to me as a gift from my Jewish friends (shalom, pplz!) but I mostly use birthday candles because they come in so many colors, even black! Birthday candles are very easy to find, cheap and very discreet for spellworking or any other religious function. They take roughly 30-40 minutes to burn so they're about the length of a spellcasting session. Very cute too!
Aluminum foil - Spectacular for bundling everything together for traveling or storage. They can be meld into fire-safe creations such as candle snuffers, candle holders and placemat for them for easy clean up. Also easily accessible and not expensive.
Incense - Useful for wand work because they are long and wand-like but you can specify them for whatever spell you're doing or pick a general "wand" and throw it away after once it all burns out. Useful instead of using salt to cast a circle for the smoke can be a visual aid for the same effectiveness (a note: have an incense with some protective quality such as dragon's blood if you'll be casting with the same wand that you draw the circle with, otherwise, just let that incense sit somewhere else to burn out and use another one for the spell. I usually use the same incense for circle drawing and spellcasting.)
Sticks, stones, plants - if you can't burn anything or don't want to draw attention, that's what the readiness of nature is for. Use a stick or general stones to put down a circle (I haven't said use salt yet because salt can be messy and I don't use it for myself for that very reason) and use particular stones for the four quarters, such as fire agate for fire (south), aquamarine for water (west), topaz or clear quartz for air (east), and hematite for earth (north). Instead of a stick of incense, just use a stick roughly the length of your forearm for a wand (where do you think wands come from?) or a pointed stone. Since you'll be using nature, best to learn nature and be creative!
Cloth - This is a method that I personally don't use but author Lauren Manoy mentioned in her book Where to Park Your Broomstick. You design a cloth with six or nine foot circle marked out as well as any enchantment symbols you pull to. I don't use this method because it is too much work for me to find a piece of acceptable cloth big enough, paint on it, let it dry (undetected) and pack it and use it. Frankly, some spaces may not be big or clear enough to accommodate the cloth. Then there's walkin on it, laying it down, cleaning it and other arduous things that I rather not trade up my current methods for. However, if this is a spiffy method for you - and it does have its upshots such as an already defined sacred space so you just have to put it down, do your thing, clean up, pack up and continue on. Can't argue with that.
Cups - another method that I don't use but has been vouched for. These, of course, should be glass cups because they will be use to hold the symbols of the elementals/directionals: a white or red candle (fire/south), salt or dirt (earth/north), nothing or filled with sand to hold incense (air/east), water (west). These cups don't have to be spectacular, just small and clear. This method could also be used for holding candles (gold and silver) or incense to represent the god and goddess if you so choose. They're small for easy storage and easy for clean up and keeping everything all to the same place.
Tub o' dirt - This method a friend of mine introduced to me recently and since using it, I find it to be incredibly awesome. She reused a plastic food container tub, washed it out (which should be done anyways), and poured sandy dirt in it to weigh it down and uses it to keep lit incense and able to put it anywhere. I believe that small candles can be used just as well, just skim out the remainder wax. For incense ashes, just sift and shake until the soil looks new again. There's no need to skim that out because everything is of the earth so it all can stay - plus who want to dredge, skim and sift out fine ash from sandy dirt? Very much a waste of time.
Bookbags - This is a method I used for the longest time to store my witchy things while living at home. Get a bookbag, preferably with lots of pockets and compartments to better section stuff up. It doesn't have to be pricy, a simple and cheap one worked fine for me. Store your books, herbs, stones and other things there and store that somewhere you believe the bookbag will remain safe. I would say put a lock on the zippers but nothing screams "Suspicious!" quite like that.
These are some of the methods that I use and then some. Now, of course magick can still be done without materials but materials can help focus the mind. The ability of spellcrafting is from within, not in the products that you use, they only amplify the intent you're trying to pass into the universe. To do magick without materials, meditation and visualization is all that is particularly needed since that garners energy that is going to be raised later on in the process of the spell.
Now, spells work best with personal connection, there's nothing wrong with taking materials from the world around you if they bear a natural connection to you already (materials, not life. No killin'; Just throwing that in there for the possible newbie who somehow missed that modern -and even some back then- witchcraft does not tolerate killing for spellwork; and please, no using your cat somehow, they're animals, not insta-altars). That means if you see those little brightly multi-colored pebbles outside and they remind you of magick or whatever that may be important, go for it. That's part of why I actually don't use salt and dirt in my circles although it is greatly recommended. I don't feel much connection to salt and it would upset my OCD to use dirt - yay for disorders - so I much rather use incense to draw my circles and use stones to resemble the earth because otherwise I would feel disconnected and out of focus. That's not useful at all.
Magick is what you make of it. It isn't 100% arbitrary and definitely you should restrict yourself so steadfast to the book if you know something better. This doesn't mean destroy and reinvent the whole system - unless you're a chaos magician, which is an entirely different matter altogether - but to modify what you see to who you are. It wouldn't be incredibly sincere if it were any other way, unless you were super scared of making a mistake. Being scared of messing up in Witchcraft is perfectly natural, just don't tightly adhere to the rules and regulations for an extremely long time and way beyond the learning curve; gotta branch out someday. That means figuring out and finding out what that means for you.
That's all the Black Witch for this week, next week are the installment posts, starting with The Arts. Who will be featured: