Of all kinds, the Altar is one of the most common pieces of lodge furniture in secret societies, usually placed at the center of the lodge room, draped with an altar cloth, and provided with one or more symbolic objects. The existence of altars in lodge rooms is one of the facts most often pointed out by Christian critics of secret societies to claim that the latter practice a non-Christian religion. In some cases this claim is justified, in most it is not; in all cases, though, the symbolism and function of a lodge altar set it apart from altars in Christian churches and Pagan temples alike. A lodge altar forms the symbolic focus of the lodge. The most important events in initiation rituals and other lodge ceremonies take place at it; core symbols of the lodge rest on it; new initiates go on symbolic journeys around it. In nearly all lodges, the line connecting the seat of the presiding officer with the altar is not to be crossed except when the ritual specifically directs it.
The shape of the altar, the color of the altar cloth, and the items put on the altar have provided the creators of secret societies with a wide field for their symbolic art. Rectangular altars are most common, but secret societies that use threefold symbolism, such as Royal Arch Masonry and the Knights of Pythias, commonly have triangular altars. Altar cloths range from solid colors, such as the plain black cover of the altar in a temple of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, to complicated patterns and designs with extensive symbolic meanings. The symbolic objects on the altar provide the lodge designer with enormous freedom, though it’s not always used. Most American fraternal secret societies, for example, simply place an open Bible on the altar. On the other hand, not all secret societies have an altar in the lodge at all.