I suppose the first question would be, what is the value in having an altar?
Some obvious answers would be, "for prayer," "for worship," etc. I think yes, the common understanding and use of altars would fall under that category.
But that doesn't really resonate with me. I am one of those people that feels a connection to something more, something I am willing to name Source, but I don't really want to get into the details of trying to understand, name or even worship something I have no way to truly comprehend.
But that doesn't mean I don't want to feel and honor that connection. My altar is meant to be a space where I try to make that connection concrete, for me. It's not actually concrete, but I'm a physical being and physical things make sense to me, so I use them.
In my altar, I have a mirror, some stones, a bird, a ring and incense. I can add to, subtract from or entirely change my altar at any time--this is just want I wanted there, right now.
These things can symbolize anything we want them to. At the moment, I'm feeling a deep connection with the moon and everything it represents in our culture. The mirror and the ring are both silver and moon-shaped, and are meant to symbolize mystery, femininity, mysticism and changeability.
The bird is there to remind me to fly, and be whimsical.
That's all wonderful, but it feels a little unstable, so I brought in some stones. These are smooth quartz and volcanic basalt; opposing ends of the rock spectrum. The ground me, but bring fire, as well.
To be honest, I've never been a huge fan of incense, but a dear friend gave me the burner, and another gave me the white cloths beneath, and I wanted to incorporate them. I've been burning the incense sparingly, only when I really want to enhance my feeling of connection with something more.
And, as you can see, my altar is just a little corner of my dresser. It's nothing ornate or fancy--it's all that I want or need it to be.
So...how do you make an altar?
However you want, with whatever you want, that speaks to you and helps you feel whatever it is you want to be feeling. You can use a smudge stick, you can use an infuser, you can use candles. You can use crystals or stones or drawings from your childhood. You can use pictures or figures of gods you want to invoke, or people you want to emulate, or people you love--who have passed, or who remain.