What is a Tarot Altar? How to Set Up Your Sacred Space

tarot altar

A tarot altar is a special, spiritual space for you to read tarot cards. It’s a small personal sanctuary where you won’t be distracted, and where the energy and magic of the cards is maximized and intensified.

For most people, it’s a small table-top arrangement in a nook somewhere at home, where you can be alone with the energy of your tarot cards. For others, it may be an entire room. And for others it may be a travel-kit that can be set up on the go.

The Tarot Altar Table

For most of us, choosing a tarot altar table is a balancing act of “what kind of space do we have?” and “what kind of space is special?“.  Keep in mind, that your altar is just for you. It can be extremely modest and simple. It can even be a small box or tray.


simple tarot altar

Photo by Jen Theodore

Most importantly, your table should be at a height you feel physically comfortable with. When reading tarot cards, you’ll want to be relaxed, and thinking only about the cards. If you’re cramped or hunched over your cards uncomfortably, you’re going to be thinking more about your awkward body position and less in-tune with your tarot cards.

A tarot altar table is any flat surface which you will re-purpose either temporarily or permanently as a space for reading and meditation. Ideally, it should have enough space for you to spread your cards out and do your readings, but for many readers in urban apartments, it’s more of a place to store your cards and any neighboring tabletop will suffice as a reading space.

If you have limited space, an excellent strategy is to dedicate a very small amount of counter or shelf-space as a permanent altar, and unfurl an altar cloth on a nearby table when it’s time to do your readings.


The Tarot Altar Cloth

What’s a tarot altar cloth? An altar cloth (also called a “tarot spread cloth”) is a cloth covering which sets the spiritual tone for tarot readings in your sacred space.  The most important role of the tarot altar cloth is to define the dimensions of your special place.

The most important role of the tarot altar cloth is to define the dimensions of your special place.

From an energy standpoint, an altar cloth defines the space that is cleansed, purified and sacred to you. Within this space your energies are focused, and outside energies are restricted.

There are hundreds of styles of tarot altar cloths, and choosing the one that appeals to you is a personal decision. Generally speaking, it’s a good idea to have one that sets a special mood for you, but doesn’t have too many loud or jarring patterns which might distract you from the tarot cards themselves.

You can purchase an altar cloth online, or make your own DIY altar cloth using any piece of fabric. Many artistically oriented tarot readers will embroider their own altar cloths, or decorate  them with tie-dye, batik or other techniques. There are also dozens of beautiful tarot altar cloths available on Etsy, designed by artisans all over the world.

tarot altar cloth design

Altar cloths are also great pieces of travel-gear. You can wrap your tarot cards in a simple tarot spread cloth when you’re on the go. Then unwrap your cloth, and use it to sanctify your tarot reading space wherever you are.


What goes on your Tarot Altar?

What do you need for your tarot reading? When setting up your tarot altar, there are a few things you’ll want to consider include. There’s no requirement to include these things. Many tarot altars are minimalist, including just an altar cloth and a candle. Others are more elaborate, including one or more of the following favorites:

  1. Candles – There’s really nothing more relaxing and focusing than candles. These can be scented or unscented, depending on your tastes.
  2. Incense – Incense is not only an excellent way of setting a relaxed mood for your tarot reading, but it also doubles as a great way to cleanse your tarot cards.
  3. Crystals – Crystals (especially quartz crystals, selenite crystals and tourmaline crystals) are favorites for focusing energy, cleansing tarot cards and setting the mood of your tarot altar.
  4. Salt – A bowl of salt is a common addition to tarot altars. A bowl of salt is not only a popular place to store tarot cards, but salt is an excellent absorber of random energies which can interfere with a reading.
  5. Flowers and plants – For many tarot readers a connection to the natural world is extremely important.  Living flowers and plants are favorite altar additions. This can potted plants, hanging plants overhead and even cacti.
  6. Dried flowers and herbs – Dried flowers and herbs, particularly sage and ancient medicinal herbs, are often included on tarot altars. Sage is also frequently burned prior to a reading to cleanse the tarot deck.
  7. Mortar and pestle – A small mortar and pestle are often included on a tarot altar in order to crush fresh or dried herbs.  Crushing herbs is a common part of cleansing rituals.

In addition to those traditional tarot altar inclusions, there are many other favorites which are included simply because they add to the personal experience. These items might include a favorite old piece of jewelry, an old photo, bones, a cherished trinket or even an old toy or stuffed animal.  The spiritual value of any of these additions is entirely personal, and up to you.


Should your tarot altar be permanent?

There’s no requirement to make your tarot altar a permanent installation in your personal or living space. Many tarot readers prefer a permanent altar. Others will set up their altar and reading space when it’s time to read tarot cards.

If space is limited, a happy middle-ground is to dedicate some personal shelf-space to store your cards somewhere sacred, but set up a larger reading space for laying out your tarot spreads. Many tarot readers will also use a small wooden tray or a Japanese bento box.

A travel altar is typically little more than an altar cloth wrapped around your tarot deck.

If travel is a big part of your work or lifestyle, then of course your altar is going to be more of a travel altar. A travel altar is typically little more than an altar cloth wrapped around your tarot deck.


Do I need a sacred space or tarot altar to read online tarot cards?

Ideally, you’ll want to be as relaxed as possible and as focused as possible for any tarot reading, including an online tarot reading. While the beauty of online tarot cards is that you can read them anywhere (in a restaurant, in a taxi, on your commute, etc.), if you can it’s nice to light a candle or burn some incense even when doing a free tarot reading online.

Needless to say, that’s not always possible or convenient and there’s no requirement to do so. Keep in mind however that you’ll do your best tarot readings when you’re fully focused and relaxed.

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