Monthly Archives: September 2013
Do you have an altar? That’s probably a silly question – most Pagans have an altar of some sort in their homes. It is where we worship, pray, celebrate, work our magic…
Is yours a permanent altar, set up all the time? Mine is. I used to only set up my altar for Sabbats and Esbats, but for most of the time I’ve been practicing I’ve had a permanent altar set up. I like having it there as a visible reminder of my path.
(Pack rat that I am, however, the top of it tends to become a catch-all for various bits and pieces of magical… stuff. Currently it contains (in addition the items that are supposed to be there) an assortment of feathers, rocks, and crystals, an extra athame or two (I’m an Air sign: I like knives), a leather pouch, an extra goblet (where did that come from?!), a few branches of sage (why?), and a small figurine of a horse (no clue, although I rather suspect that I put it there to keep it safe while I was working on my bookshelves).
(You know, there is something to be said for not having a permanent altar…)
A mess? Yes. But everything on it is, in some way, sacred. (Yes, even my little porcelain foal – I’ve had it for half of forever and it holds an emotional attachment for me.) And, yes, clearing the altar off for use is time consuming and sometimes I get irritated with myself about it, but it is also a chance to spend some time with my tools and other items, reminding myself to slow down and connect with the Sacred.
And that is one of the good things about setting your altar up each time – it gives you a chance to slowly enter into the right frame of mind for ritual as you bring out each tool and place it on your altar.
(Ha! My clutter serves a purpose! It forms a bridge between having a permanent altar and one that I set up each time.)
(More seriously, I just realized that most of the “not supposed to be there” stuff relates to either Air or Earth, the two elements that I tend to work with the most.)
Is your altar always the same? Mine generally is, minus the aforementioned odd items that congregate on it when I’m not looking. Sometimes I will decorate it for the Sabbats, but I don’t usually.
Whether I decorate it or do a separate Sabbat altar depends on how much stuff I’m decorating with – I still want my main altar to be useable and I just don’t feel overly comfortable with a candle flame and a burning incense stick next to dried cornhusks or wheat. (I set my besom on fire once when I was just starting out – I’m now very careful about what gets near the Fire element.)
(How did I set my besom on fire? That’s a story for another time!)
So, what’s on your altar? I’ll get some pictures of mine eventually, but in the meantime…
The altar cloth is a table runner that I embroidered ages ago and someone that my roommate used to work with crocheted the edging on. The fabric is white, the flosses I used for stitching are silky white and golds, and the crochet thread on the boarder is a yellow and white variegated.
My athame – the one I actually use – is a Depression Era glass cake knife. Hardly traditional, but I bought it at a flea market long before I’d heard of the Craft. I saw it, fell in love with it, and the guy gave me a really good deal on it because it was the end of the season. I owned it and moved it from home to home for a few years before I discovered my Path and it became my athame from that moment on.
My wand is a stick of wood found in a parking lot in downtown Pittsburgh. (Well, more in the Strip District than actually downtown.) There were no trees around, just this piece of wood that I walked past for a few days, each time thinking, “Hmmm. That would make a nice wand.” One day I stopped and picked it up, and it measured from the inside of my elbow to the tip of my middle finger. It was mine. (I still don’t know what kind of wood it is, how it ended up in that parking lot, or how it avoided being crushed beneath car tires for several days, but I do know that it is mine.)
There is a flat stone to represent Earth, and a small pottery saucer with a spiral on it that I use to hold matches until they cool, and an incense burner and “ash catcher” which never catches the ashes so there is also usually incense ash on my altar as well.
In the center there is a small cauldron.
For Fire I now use an oil lamp. (The trick to that is to remember to make sure there is oil in it before you start ritual – yet another story for another time.)
For Water I have a clear glass seashell that was originally supposed to be a candle holder. I put water in the hollow that was supposed to hold a votive candle.
And there is a goblet, of course. The goblet that I use does change occasionally, mostly because I haven’t found “the” goblet yet.
And, of course, there is a statue of the God, along with a couple pine cones and an antler that I found in some woods next to an old cemetery. There is also a statue of the Goddess, and an agate egg. I don’t usually use deity candles, but when I do I have a large variety of candles and holders to choose from. (Is there a witch out there anywhere who does not own enough candles to get through an extended power outage? Are there any others who could supply half the neighborhood with light during said power outage?)
And I have a bell. I really want to find a small gong but there isn’t any place here that sells them and I want to hear it before I buy it. Meanwhile, the bell has a fairly good sound that isn’t too jarring.
Sometimes there is a crystal ball. (I have a few crystal balls but I don’t know why – I can’t scry to save my life.)
The altar itself is an old secretary desk that I bought from a second hand shop. Closed up, it rather looks like a chest of drawers, and I love that I have the drop down desk for extra working space, not to mention all the storage of its drawers.
And that’s about it. (You know, I didn’t realize I had so much stuff on there…)
The fall equinox is this weekend, the second of the three harvest festivals of the Wheel of the Year. It is a time to look at what we have harvested in our lives, to give thanks for abundance, to celebrate the fruits of our labors.
But it’s more than just a harvest festival: it is also the equinox, a time when day and night are equal. To me it almost feels as if the Wheel pauses for a moment, giving us a chance to catch our breath before rolling us into the dark part of the year.
The equinoxes always lead me to think about balance, and how to achieve it in my daily life.
It isn’t easy. I always seem to be juggling too many things: work (or the search for it, currently), my spiritual life, home and housework, my creativity (writing and counted cross stitch). Inevitably it seems that one or more of these ends up taking a back seat to the others.
Lately I have been able to devote more attention to my spirituality, thanks in part to this blog: posting every week does wonders for focusing on a subject.
And not working helps: it’s a lot easier to focus on spiritual matters when the mundane isn’t dragging you here and there and everywhere in a mad rush to get somewhere. (My challenge is to maintain that focus when I go back to work.)
There is also the ever-present challenge of my creative pursuits, primarily writing and counted cross stitch. I need to learn to type with my toes so I can do both at once, but since that isn’t likely to happen, I would ideally love to find a way to feel like I am making progress on both crafts. (We won’t discuss the other crafts that I also never seem to have enough time for: scrapbooking, dollhouses/miniatures, jewelry making, etc.)
And, of course, the guilt that there are so many other things that need to be done, that I should be doing instead…
I could, I suppose, make a schedule of sorts, but that feels too regimented and forced and compartmentalized. And not balanced.
For me, true balance means that all aspects of my life are united, that I’m not feeling pulled in different directions, guilted into doing this or that or the other.
But I’m not even sure if true balance is obtainable. After all, the Wheel only pauses: it doesn’t remain poised on border between light and dark, and that’s not the lesson that it teaches.
No, the lesson of the Wheel is that there is always movement – but we always return to balance.
Sometimes you can find unexpected bits of wisdom in unexpected places. Poetry, for instance. And especially in the words of one of my favorite poets, William Wordsworth.
Say what? Isn’t he some old dead dude?
Well, yes. He died in 1850, but his words ring true to the Pagan soul. Don’t believe me? Have you ever read “The Tables Turned”?
Don’t care to wade through the whole thing? Have a few excerpts:
(Note: emphases are mine.)
Books! ’tis a dull and endless strife:
Come, hear the woodland linnet,
How sweet his music! on my life,
There’s more of wisdom in it.
And hark! how blithe the throstle sings!
He, too, is no mean preacher:
Come forth into the light of things,
Let Nature be your teacher.
She has a world of ready wealth,
Our minds and hearts to bless—
Seriously. How many Pagans do you know who can quote long passages from many books on the Craft or religion or whatever, but who never venture out into nature, who have never sat next to a stream to hear its song, have never merged their energy with a tree, or grounded into a boulder?
Or maybe they’ve gone out, but have never taken the time to notice what is all around them, have never thanked the sun and breeze for their caresses, have never smiled at the flash of color as a bird flits across the path in front of them, and never stopped to ponder the message that they have been given?
Sweet is the lore which Nature brings;
Our meddling intellect
Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things:—
We murder to dissect.
We tend, I think, to over-think. Maybe it’s the nature of our world today, but many seem unable to just to accept what is. We have to murder it, tear it apart, shape it to our will. And in the process, we destroy the very thing that makes us whole.
Enough of Science and of Art;
Close up those barren leaves;
Come forth, and bring with you a heart
That watches and receives.
Last week I wrote about coming out of the broom closet and why I did it. And I said that maybe I’ve just been lucky, but, despite living in a small town in Pennsylvania, so far nothing drastic has happened.
In fact, most of the things that have happened have been funny.
I started venturing out of the broom closet by wearing my pentacle. Granted, I tended to keep it tucked in when I was home in Kittanning and only wore it openly in Pittsburgh where I worked at a variety of temp jobs.
Well, for one thing, I have dark hair and dark eyes, and if I had a dime for everyone who asked me if I was Jewish I could take everyone who is reading this out for a nice dinner somewhere.
And this includes one of the “Pamphlet Pushers” in downtown Pittsburgh. (I’m sorry, but if you’re going to stand on a street corner impeding the flow of pedestrian traffic during lunch hour when people are trying to get something to eat and get back to work on time, I’m not going to say nice things about you.)
Anyhow, I saw her looking at me as I made my way past her to Wendy’s. On my way back, sadly, the light was red and I had to wait to cross the street. I was careful not to make eye contact, but she came up to me anyhow and tried to give me a piece of religious literature, which annoyed me to begin with – I hate people shoving their beliefs on others. I never thought it was right when I was Christian and I’m even less tolerant of it now.
But I politely said, “No thank you.”
She replied, “But this one is written for Jewish people.”
“Ma’am, I’m not Jewish.”
“But you’re wearing a Star of David.”
“No, ma’am. A Star of David has six points, this has five.”
Fortunately the light changed and I managed to get away before I had to explain any further and probably give the poor dear a heart attack.
(Seriously folks, if you’re going to try to convert someone, please know what you are trying to convert them from. Trying to turn people away from their religion is bad enough, but to be utterly clueless about what that religion is… All I can do is shake my head.)
Not all my (mis)adventures happened in Pittsburgh though.
The one that sticks out the most from Kittanning was a trip to the ER at Armstrong County Memorial Hospital. I don’t remember why I was there, but the person doing the intake was going through the standard questions and came to:
Taking a deep breath I replied “Wicca.”
*frowning at the screen* “How do you spell that?”
The frown deepened and her fingers tapped some keys, and to this day I am probably listed as “other.”
But my favorite out of the broom closet stories came from one of my least favorite temp jobs in Pittsburgh.
It was a miserable working environment, but it was there that I met Robyn. I’d noticed her looking at my pentacle and I knew it was only a matter of time before she asked me about it, so when she approached my desk one day I knew it was time. I didn’t really know Robyn yet so I braced myself for the usual conversation. (If you’ve never had it, the usual conversation starts with “Nice (or interesting) necklace.”) Robyn, however, was a little more forthright than that. She marched up to my desk, looked me in the eye, and said, “Are you a witch?” Well, there went my prepared speech, right out the window that we didn’t have. (We worked in a vault in a basement.)
Robyn — and her mother — both ended up finding their paths as well, and Robyn and I had a great time at work. (Well, as great a time as was possible there.)
One of our other co-workers, Valerie, was very involved in her church. She kept saying that she “didn’t believe in VooDoo.” (Um, okay, but one: we’re not asking you to, and two: that’s a whole different religion.)
Anyhow, at Samhain I put a plastic cauldron on my desk — the kind that kids use to go trick or treating — and I kept it filled with candy which was available to anyone who wanted some. Another co-worker related the following:
Valerie had helped herself to some candy and the other (more tolerant) co-worker commented to her that “For all you’re afraid of them you sure don’t seem to mind eating their candy.”
Valerie’s reply? “It’s wrapped in plastic. They can’t do anything to it.”
(Plastic stops magic. Who knew?)
Anyhow, Robyn and I had a great time imagining Valerie coming to work wrapped in Saran wrap so we couldn’t do anything to her.
So, yes, most of my experience have been funny, but I do realize such is not the case for everyone and that many still feel uncomfortable with the thought of coming out – or unable to for a variety of reasons.
But for those who are out, I’d love to hear your stories about what happened when people found out.