Representing the Elements on a Pagan altar

Posted by Michelle Gruben on

Connecting to the powers of the Four Elements is a foundational practice for many Pagans. Earth, Air, Fire, and Water move through us and inspire us. As ideas, they help us to make sense of and to describe a complex world. Even the simplest of Pagan altars usually have some representation of the Elements.

The Four Elements

Some Pagans have specific ritual tools consecrated to each one of the Elements. (The Wand, Cup, Disk, and Sword are the canonical tools of the ceremonial magician.) Others take a more spontaneous approach, grabbing everyday items that symbolize the elemental powers. There are traditional and non-traditional ways to evoke the four elements.

Speaking of which, there are no rules when creating an elemental altar. There is no such thing as a “perfect” elemental tool. Remember that every object you might find on Earth contains more than one elemental energy blended together. Just choose things that are meaningful to you and that appear harmonious when brought together. The lists provided below are suggestions only. (Your tradition may have others.)

Here are some different ways to represent the Elements on a Pagan altar:

The element of Earth

The Element: Earth

Traditional Tool: Pentacle or Disk

The meaning of Earth: Earth is perhaps the most overlooked Element in Pagan magick. Earth is everywhere, and it appears passive. It doesn’t really “do” anything with the same force as Air, Fire, or Water.

Yet the Earth gives us our birth. While we live, it sustains us. When we die, it covers us. Earth encompasses a multitude of magickal ideas: Nourishment, protection, obstruction, wholeness, stillness, plant and animal life, interdependence, prosperity and rest. The objects that can represent Earth are similarly diverse.

Altar Objects for Earth:


The altar (base) itself

Plate, paten, or disk


Cast metal


Rock or stone

Dish of soil, sand or salt

Food (especially fruits, vegetables or grain foods)

Flowers or herbs



Gems (Garnet, Hematite, Jasper, Aventurine)

Candle (Green, brown, or black)

Deity statue (Gaia, Macha, Saturn/Chronos, Pan)

Horn or bone



Images of trees and mountains


Animal art (Cattle, Tortoise, Rabbit, Deer)

Oil (Patchouli, Vetivert, Evergreen)

Altar tile decorated with symbol of Earth

Tarot Ace of Pentacles

Element of Air

The Element: Air

Traditional Tool: Sword (or Wand, in some traditions)

The meaning of Air: As Air passes over the still Earth, the world moves into action and consciousness. Air is the Element of communication, exchange, and ideas. Air is invisible—we know it only through its effects on the world.

Air is also swift-moving, changeable and self-aware. It is the most human of all the Elements. Choose your Air items based on what Air means to you at the time you’re assembling the altar.

Altar Objects for Air:

Athame or sword

Wand or staff





Lamp or lantern (symbolizing knowledge)



Spoon or stirrer


Wind-blown flowers and seeds

Brightly colored ribbon or streamers

Crystals (Clear Quartz, Citrine, Smoky Quartz/Topaz)

Candle (Yellow or white)

Musical instrument (especially strings or woodwinds)

Images of clouds and sky

Animal art (Birds, Dragonfly, Butterfly)



Air freshener or diffuser

Deity statues (Hermes, Thoth, Saraswati)

Oil (Eucalyptus, Peppermint, Lavender)

Altar tile decorated with symbol of Air

Tarot Ace of Swords

Element of Fire

The Element: Fire

Traditional Tool: Wand (or Sword, in some traditions)

The meaning of Fire: Elemental Fire is the pure power of heat and light. The energy of Fire is strong, primal, and often dangerous. In Fire, we find the heat of passion and the warrior’s fighting spirit. Esoteric meanings of Fire include courage, willpower, lust, protection, spiritual aspiration, destruction and impending renewal.

Altar Objects for Fire:


Flame (candle, lamp, or brazier)

Lighter or matches

Spicy foods



Cactus or thorns

Candle (Red, orange, or gold)


Images of flames or the sun

Volcanic stones or ash

Bright yellow or orange plants

Gemstones (Ruby, Carnelian, Amber, Opal)



Oil (Cinnamon, Frankincense, Dragon’s Blood)

Deity statues (Ra, Vulcan, Brigid, Pele, Sekhmet)

Animal art (Lion, Lizard, Phoenix)

Altar tile decorated with symbol of Fire

Tarot Ace of Wands

Element of Water

The Element: Water

Traditional Tool: Cup

The meaning of Water: Water is the great partner of Earth in creating life as we know it. Like Earth, Water appears gentle, but contains immense potential power. It is cleansing, calming, and healing. Elemental Water also governs the magick of love and emotion, intuition, pleasure, and introspection.

Altar Objects for Water:

Chalice, cup, or goblet

Beverages (especially water or wine)

Scrying bowl or crystal ball


Blessed or holy water



Driftwood or seaweed

Gemstones (Aquamarine, Lapis Lazuli, Sodalite, Amethyst)




Images of ocean, rivers, or lakes

Candle (Blue)

Oil (Rose, Lotus, Jasmine)

Animal art (Fish, Dolphin, Frog)

Deity statue (Poseidon, Aphrodite, Yemaya)

Altar tile decorated with symbol of Water

Tarot Ace of Cups

I hope you enjoy putting together your elemental altar! Read more articles here, or go to the main store page.


Share this post

← Older Post Newer Post →


  • I’m using this as a source for our beginner’s witch learning group. I didn’t use your images, but the list of altar supplies was almost verbatim because you wrote it perfectly. I’m also including a link to your page as a source so if they want to come back and read the original material, they can. Is this ok with you?

    Melissa Hipple on
  • For me,
    Earth is North and Pentacle – represents logical thought and nurturing connections
    Air is East and Wand – represents creative thought and opening perspectives
    Fire is South and Sword – represents passionate feel and hyper sensitivity
    Water is West and Cup – represents compassionate feel and heightened emotions

    I have never made an altar yet – but I love the elements and the symbolism within them…
    I did this “chart” recently, and it makes so much sense for me that I can’t believe it took me so long to figure out. Looks better with symbols, but here is the jist:

    Feminine -— Earth -— Mind’s Eye
    Water -— Yin Yang -— Air
    Heart -— Fire -— Masculine

    Feminine is represented by the combo of Earth and Water
    Mind’s Eye is represented by the combo of Earth and Air
    Heart is represented by the combo of Water and fire
    Masculine is represented by the combo of Air and Fire
    Yin Yang is the center piece and is all about the balance of it all but also has the polar opposites directly across as follows: Feminine – Masculine, Mind’s Eye – Heart, Earth – Fire, Water – Air

    I’m probably rambling way off topic, but this stuff excites me ;)
    Thanx for sharing the article :D

    John on
  • Hey Kathy – just wanted to reach out. Just as we observe our seasons as we experience them, like casting a circle deosil many pagans in the Sth Hemisphere do set up their altar to their experience – as you said the equator is in the north so fire makes. Other, like myself, set up according to their specific location – for example as the coast is only a couple of k’s sth, for me that is water. Basically, there is no ‘right way’ of practising. Do what feels right and natural to you. BB.

    26Lillies on
  • Great article, thank you. I just have a question. I’ve read in most articles and books that the elements should be set up according to direction – earth in the north, fire in the south, air in the east, and water in the west. I live in the Southern Hemisphere. I heard that it’s opposite here, but I’m still not sure. So, I heard that here in the south, we should put the earth in the south, fire in the north, air in the west, and water in the east. That kind of makes sense as we have the hot equator north of us, and the ocean east of us. Although it makes sense, I’m still not sure that it’s the right thing to do as the books all seem to have the standard directions for a Wicca altar.

    Kathy on
  • This was super informative, thank you!

    Maggi on

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published.