As a hearthwitch - a lone practitioner who follows her instincts along the path, rather than any guidance from a book or instructor - I don't usually have a formal altar set up. I do, however, nearly always have a little corner of my home with a few everyday items, that will be my place for quiet reflection and small rituals.
In summer, any 'altar' I have will usually be a small table or perhaps the 'hearth' itself, upon which sit a few small items to represent each of the elements something which reflects the season for which I am giving thanks. At times, dependent on the rituals I am conducting or the things most prevalent in my mind, I may also have other things, such as photographs of loved ones or small pieces of paper upon which I have written lists of intentions and hopes.
For those of you who are taking your first steps along the pagan or wiccan path, I would urge you to do as feels right for you. Choose items for your altar which reflect your feelings or which you have an instinctive connection with. An altar should - and does - represent who you are and your state of mind, as well as being a practical place in which you will want to feel calm, focused and at ease. Often I feel like my mind is 'cluttered' and I will look at my altar space and think 'No wonder!', for it hasn't been dusted or there are too many objects which have been left there and no longer reflect the goals I wish to achieve or the things I wish to reflect upon and give thanks for.
So, trust your instincts and don't feel like you have to follow anyone else's guidance. Remember, it is your personal space.
With that said, I am happy to share with you some of the items which often find their way onto my altar.
To represent the seasons:
For early Spring or Imbolc - a small vase of snowdrops, white candles.
For late Spring or Ostara - painted eggs, daffodils, yellow candles.
For early Summer or Beltane - a candle decorated with white and red ribbons to represent the 'May pole' and the coming together of the male and female, bright summer flowers, white and red candles.
For Midsummer or Litha - bright summer flowers, green candles.
For late Summer or Lammas - wheat stems, bread, blue candles.
For early autumn or Mabon - apples or apple seeds, black or brown candles.
For late autumn or Samhain - pumpkins, autumn leaves, pinecones, orange candles.
For Midwinter or Yule - holly berries, evergreens, dark green candles.
To represent the elements:
Earth - salt, stones, living plants in soil, the colours brown or green.
Air - feathers, fans, a woodwind musical instrument, incense, the colours white or yellow.
Fire - candles, crystals, the colours red or orange.
Water - small bowls of water, sea shells, the colour blue.
I'd love to hear about your altars - what they mean to you and how you like to set them up. Please share a link to your own post about your altar in the comments to this post.