[Lady Sheherazahde's Wiccan Ways : The Braided Wheel Tradition] Send comments or complaints to sheherazahde@yahoo.com
Eva Snyder last updated 10/24/99

Braided Wheel Altar Braided Wheel Logo

Braided Wheel Altar Setup

There are an infinite variety of correspondences and right ways to do everything. If you are working solitary, your meaning is the only important one, but if you wish to form a working relationship with others you will have to develop agreed upon symbols.

Symbols only work when the people using them agree on what they mean.

The Braided Wheel Altar symbolically represents the cosmos, every time you set up the Altar you recreate the universe.

Altar Placement
Altar Table
Altar Cloth
Altar vs. Shrine
Center candle
Goddess Candle
God Candle
Center Piece
The Quarters
Air - The element of the East
Fire - The Element of the South
Water - The Element of the West
Earth - The Element of the North
Kitchen Witches
Outer limits

Pay attention to what you are doing. Everything on the altar should be there for a reason. Know the reason for each piece and the meaning for its placement.

Altar Placement

For indoor ritual our altar is set up in the middle of the Circle forming the base of the vertical axis connecting the underworld to the overworld through our middle world. It is this axis that we ascend or descend to reach the spirit realm.

Altar Table

Choose an altar table that is big enough for all your tools but small enough that you can reach across it. It should be low enough so you can reach your tools while sitting on the floor but high enough that you can reach them while standing up. Coffee tables are a good height and size. A round table will reinforce the circular motif of the altar set up, but it is not necessary

Altar Cloth

A decorative cloth is a nice touch if you don't mind peeling the wax out of it, and a necessity if you want to protect the finish on your table.

Altar vs. Shrine

An Altar is a Ritual work table. It should be set up when you wish to begin work and taken down when you finish. A sacred space that is set up permanently is called a shrine. Long term spell materials and votive candles can be left running in a shrine. However, because much of Ritual is meant to prepare your nonverbal consciousness for entry into magical space if the Ritual cues are left on constantly they lose their power to alter consciousness. Preparing the ritual space is part of the process and the discipline of Ritual.

Altar Diagram 1. Center Piece
a. Goddess
b. Center
c. God
2. Censer
3. Wand
4. Fire Candle
5. Athame
6. Bowl of Water
7. Chalice of Spirit
8. Cauldren of Salt
9. Pentacle of Cakes
10. Third Degree Cord
11. Lighter

Center candle

At the center of our altar is the candle representing Unity. It represents the oneness that existed before all distinctions, the union of opposites, the union of male and female that produces life, the primal spark of creation, love, the void before creation. It sits at the center of the Ritual and marks the base of the World Tree.

The tree, pole or pillar is a very ancient and powerful symbol for the entrance into the nonphysical realms.

Goddess Candle

The Goddess candle goes to the west of the center, near the feminine elements of water and earth. It represents half of the first division of the Universe. Keep in mind that sex linked characteristics vary from culture to culture. In the Braided Wheel tradition the Goddess is embodied in the Earth, the ocean, the Moon, the night sky. She represents intuition and emotion and dream reality. Her metal is Silver.

God Candle

The God candle goes to the east of the center, near the masculine elements of air and fire. It represents the other half of the first division of the Universe. The God is embodied in the sky, the air, the Sun, the bright light of day. He represents intellect and will and measurable reality. His metal is Gold.

Center Piece

On either side of the Unity candle are the God and Goddess candles. You can use three separate candle holders but one, three candle, candelabra reenforces the unity of this triad. The masculine/feminine duality is the first split in the cosmic unity and it is the division that is healed in the Great Rite of sexual union. The Goddess and God arose out of unity and return into unity through sex. Neither dominates or is dominated, their relationship is one of passionate union.

The center three candles should be symmetrical; that is all three should be the same, or the candles of the God and Goddess the same, or all three should be different.

For example all three can be white, or the candles of the God and the Goddess can be white and the center candle black.

Here are some other (but not all) possibilities:
God's candle Center candle Goddess's candles.
blue purple red
gold black silver
green white red

White candles are frequently neutral. But watch it, they can't be symbolic meaningful and neutral at the same time.

To represent sunlight and moonlight I use metallic gold and silver respectively with black in the center to balance the light at the ends (black because white is too close to silver to balance it).

White and black are a common combination on two candle altars that emphasize duality. With red in the center black and white would balance for three candles. However, the combination of white, red, and black is usually associated with the three aspects of the Goddess (Maiden, Mother, and Crone respectively) and such a center setup might exclude the God completely.

The Quarters

The Braided Wheel altar is a quartered circle. Each quarter is associated with one of the four elements Air, Fire, Water, and Earth. Beginning with the lightest, Air in the East, and moving clockwise. The feminine elements of Water and Earth are next to each other in the West and the North. The masculine elements of Air and Fire are next to each other in the East and South. The creative elements of Water and Air are across from each other and the destructive elements of Earth and Fire are across from each other. Death is part of the Wheel of Life. It has a rightful place on the Wheel and ignoring it won't make it go away.

Sometimes we use the fifth element called either Spirit or Ether. It can be called in the northeast at the point were Earth rejoins Spirit. It is sometimes called the fifth point of the star and in which case its color is white.

If you need to use a plant or bowl of seeds on your altar they go in the north east at the point between death in the Earth and rebirth in the Air.

Quartered Circle Each quarter of the Altar contains the tools, symbols and other artifacts associated with that element. The tools are all human creations, products of art and correspond to the Tarot suits. If you wish to work with the Tarot chose a deck that associates air with wands to avoid getting conflicting associations. The symbols are representatives of the elements and occur in nature. Any object can be classified according to its predominant element to find its proper place on the Altar. We sometimes make a game of trying to decide where various household items would go.

Direction Tool Symbol
East Wand Incense
South Athame Candle
West Cup of Spirit Bowl of Water
North Pentacle of Cakes Cauldron of Salt

Never haggle over the price of your ritual tools. Always pay what is asked.

Air - The element of the East

The Tool of the East is the Wand. It represents the aspect of intellect. It also represents the life giving phallus of the God. The Tools of both the masculine elements are obviously phallic.

Wands are traditionally made of wood, a once living material. The Wand bridges the gap between Earth and Air the way a tree joins Earth and Sky. Trees commune with Air and are destroyed by fire. A staff would be classed with the Wands as would pencils and pens. Quill pens have obvious air associations. The enmity between the fire of passion and the cool wind of intellect is as old as paper books and censorious bonfires. The cool wind of reason is destroyed by the hot flames of passion.

Many traditions consider the wand to be a tool of fire, as a result wands are frequently available as copper tubes packed with crystals and herbs.

An incense burner is kept in the east as the symbol of Air. Any excess incense is kept in the east-north-east, near the element of Earth. A lighter or a box of matches is kept handy to the east.

A bell for announcing the arrival of astral guests is kept in the east-south-east because sound is one of the attributes of Air.

Reference books can be stored in the east.

Fire - The Element of the South

The Tool of the South is the Athame. It represents the aspect of will. It also represents the death giving or destructive aspect of the God.

The Athame should be forged in fire, metal blades are the most common, glass is acceptable. The Blade is the reminder that every gain has a cost, every path that is taken leaves another path untaken, one thing must be destroyed for another to be created.

An Athame should have a black handle for receiving energy, but bone, horn or hoof handles are acceptable. To give a knife cuts the friendship. Never give a knife as a gift. Never receive a knife without giving something in return if only a penny. Swords and other bladed weapons go in the south.

"Every established kitchen has one ancient knife, its handle worn thin, its blade curved like a banana, and so inexplicably sharp that reaching into the drawer at night is like bobing for apples in a piranha tank" Terry Pratchett, Witches Abroad p220.
A red candle is kept in the south as the symbol of Fire. If you cannot get red, orange is close as long as its not being used anywhere else.

A taper, loose candle, is kept in the south to light the other candles with. It should be white.

The snuffer is used to put out candles. I was taught that it insults the flame to blow it out. The snuffer is fire related so it is kept in the south.

Water - The Element of the West

The Tool of the West is the Chalice of wine (or juice). Water represents the aspect of emotion. The Chalice represents the life giving aspect of the Goddess. The Tools of both the feminine elements are obviously Yonic, representing the womb.

It is important that the drink in the Chalice come from a once living source and alcoholic beverages are said to have "spirit".

A bowl of water is kept in the west as the symbol of Water. After the purification it will be salt water. The oceans were the first source of life on this planet and we still carry the reminder of that in our amniotic fluid and blood. Life can not exist without the ocean the only life could leave the ocean was to take the ocean with it. Our blood is a saline solution very close to sea water. The oceans are the womb of the Goddess.

A corkscrew and the rest of the bottle of wine or juice can go under the altar in the west. Any extra drink goes to the west.

Earth - The Element of the North

The tool of the North is the Pentacle with bread or cakes on it. It represents the aspect of strength, endurance and prosperity. It represents the death giving aspect of the Goddess.

The Earth is the source of our food, all wealth comes from the Earth, it is also the resting place of the dead. The dead and harvested grain is buried in the earth and rises to live again. Life feeds on life, for us to live others must die. We plant our dead in the earth that they too may be resurrected.

The cauldron of salt is kept in the north. It is the symbol of Earth. One of the legends of the Goddess Ceridwen's cauldron is that the bodies of the dead go into it and are brought back to life. It is usually crones and hags, death goddesses, that have cauldrons.

Any extra food goes at the north edge of the Circle.

Kitchen Witches

"What might be called the classical witch comes in two basic varieties, the complicated and the simple, or, to put it another way, the ones that have a room full of regalia and the ones that don't. Magrat was by inclination one of the former sort. For example, take magical knives. She had a complete collection of magical knives, all with the appropriate colored handles and complicated runes all over them. It had taken many years under the tutelage of Granny Weatherwax for Magrat to learn that the common kitchen breadknife was better than the most ornate of magical knives. It could do all that the magical knife could do, plus you could also use it to cut bread". Terry Pratchett, Witches Abroad p220.
In ceremonial traditions there are very formal rules about all the tools. Braided Wheel is more folk based than ceremonial.

By tradition a Wand should be the length of your forearm from your elbow to the tip of your longest finger. It should be made of wood and you should give a gift to the tree that gives you its branch.

The Athame in ceremonial tradition is a double edged knife. In the tradition of weapons a double edged knife is a stabbing weapon used primarily by assassins. In the Braided Wheel tradition a single edged kitchen knife is considered more appropriate. The ceremonial tradition also forbids using an Athame to actually cut anything. This rule protects the magical device from being contaminated by earthly matter. Because we are an Earth centered tradition we consider using the athame to cut things reinforces its cutting nature.

The Chalice is a cup of plenty. It is the archetype behind the trophy cup and the wedding cup. The chalice is related to the caldron in germanic tradition. At a feast there would be one caldron of drink and one of boiled meat.

The Pentacle is the platter. It holds abundance.

In practice it is nice to have formal tools with mystical symbols engraved all over them, but in a pinch any stick can be a wand, any knife can be an athame, any cup can be a chalice, and any flat rock or paper plate can be a pentacle.

Outer limits

At the outside edge of your Circle you will need quarter candles to mark the boundary of the Circle.

The East candle should be yellow, the color for Air. The South candle should be red, the color for Fire. The West candle should be blue, the color for Water. The North candle should be green, the color for Earth. The quarter candles should be in the colors of their quarters or all in a neutral color like white.

Watch your correspondences. If any of your center candles are the same color as your quarter candles check your altar for overall balance.

Keep in mind that this is only one way to set up an altar. There are many types of altars and all are equally valid.

Outdoor rituals usually have a bonfire at the center and a much more informal altar off to one side. When we are surrounded by nature it takes fewer tools to make the connections. Stay flexible to the opportunities that nature presents. And if it all looks to intimidating or if you have a great need and few resources just remember the words of Granny Weatherwax:

"You don't need none of that," she said. "You need headology...You just use whatever you've got." Terry Pratchett, Wyrd Sisters p.90

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