You really never do know what you'll find some days. People seem to think that altars are supposed to be comprised of just things -- things bought specifically because they sold in a shop or on a website that are specifically 'Pagan'. I was in TJ Maxx the other day and I found a really nice vase-ish thing made out of purple glass. I put my pheasant feathers and dried lotus seed pods in there surrounded by the two deer antler sheds that I have. I also found what was supposed to be some sort of tea light holder, but was actually a really cool blue and silver bowl for pretty cheap. Threw a bunch of gems in there. There are a bunch of really thrifty things you can find if you just look -- and it would work.
I'm starting to appreciate altars like the above-pictured -- where they begin to be built more vertically. I found a small 6" tall cabinet -- which was an antique toy -- on etsy and had that reserved immediately. That will be perfect to start a mini curio collection if I so wish (and I have always wished, for certain.) There's also ways you can get things customized. Pagan-centric art shops on etsy might be more able to oblige, but you never know what an artist will try to make unless you ask. I ordered a set of "stairs" painted in a very pagan way to also build my altar upwards a bit.
Here's a photo of what it looks like now:
As soon as everything comes in (and mom hangs her witch ball she bought in the witch trials museum in Salem, MA back when I was a Junior in High School) I will take a better, clearer picture.
There is nothing that is entirely "essential" to every single altar. One thing you have to remember while building is that it has to be personal. Not just a clutter of "stuff" that looks witchy. (I mean it can be a clutter, but give it some meaning. Make it meaningful witchy clutter.)
Here's a few of my symbols -- hope you can see them all~
I'll write about the focal thing in the aforementioned vase at the corner --
My pheasant feathers are a symbol of protection -- not of invisibility -- but of shielding and guarding. They will walk as opposed to fly; their gift of flight would otherwise be a bit of a problem due to their bold plumage. (So for me, with empathy -- I have this gift/curse, but is difficult to deal with and sometimes can cause trouble or pain. So I shield and protect myself so I can better appreciate and utilize what gets through the shield when it does.) I also have the lotus pods -- and once I read somewhere that they symbolize a community that nurture creativity and progress. (So these symbolize O.S.P.A.) The deer antler sheds I bought recently. I don't have a specific use for them yet -- but I feel very strongly connected to wooded places that I can't always be in. They inspire scenes of the forest, of herds of deer -- ect.
What sort of things do you have on your altar? Why? How would you continue to build it? What is your dream altar set up? (Hey I don't even know that answer for myself -- I just periodically find things that work.)