Seeing the Wheels

A close-up of the armillary sphere on my altar. It is on top of a black wooden box, and flanking it on either side at the bottom are two burning jar candles.

I recently felt a deep, overwhelming need to change up my altar. Specifically, I needed a statue to represent my Lady, Arianrhod.

Thing is, I couldn’t find anything that fit Her. The most common statue of Her simply doesn’t work for me. Nothing wrong with it – it’s beautiful work – but I can’t get over my quibbles with it enough to put it on my altar.

Maxine Miller's Arianrhod statue, in bronze, on a black background.

Maxine Miller’s Arianrhod statue.

Then I had a completely different kind of thought. One of the first concepts my Lady shared with me is that of the Center. It’s been fundamental to my worldview since I figured out what it is, and I always associate it with Her. She is the Lady of the Silver Wheel, after all!

Which is why an armillary sphere to represent Her on my altar is perfect.

A close-up of the armillary sphere on my altar. It is on top of a black wooden box, and flanking it on either side at the bottom are two burning jar candles.

The armillary sphere on my altar. Isn’t it awesome?

Once I got everything on my altar sorted and rearranged I lit some candles and settled in to spend some time with Her.

And then I had a vision. I Saw the Wheels, my Lady’s Wheels, and touched a Mystery.

After recovering a bit, I realized that this vision can be shared. You can have it too!

So here it is. I invite you to See the Wheels with me. If you don’t have an armillary sphere of your very own Google some images (or simply use the picture above as a reference) to see a manmade model of what I’m talking about. It’s worth the time.

The Vision

I open my eyes and gasp. I’m floating in space, surrounded on all sides by velvety black skies spangled with gleaming stars. They’re silver, yes, but also icy blue and blazing red and warming gold. Celestial fires burning, beacons in the dark.

A picture of a field of stars taken by the Hubble Telescope. These are from the Sagittarius sector.

Like this, all around me.

I wonder if I can reach out and cup one of those fires in the palm of my hand. They look so close I think maybe it’s possible. As I reach out I hear a voice like bells say “Not today!”, and lower my hands back to my sides. Maybe tomorrow?

I feel gentle winds caressing my skin and fluttering my hair. I’m confused for a second – since when did space have wind? – but I’m soon distracted by a glow at my feet. First I see a dot of light, growing ever larger, until it forms an arc. It suddenly clicks that I’m seeing part of a ring spinning around me. It contains all the colors I think I’ve ever seen, and it rotates clockwise as it rises to meet me. 

This is the first circle of the armillary sphere, the Wheel of the Day. In this Wheel is contained every moment of a day in my life. I even see a section of the Wheel that looks like my current vision! Sunrise and sunset, work and home and worship and sleep and play, all the seconds that make up my day, spin around me in a dance of light and shadow. 

Beyond the borders of the Wheel of the Day I see another glowing ring of light. It too rotates clockwise, although much slower, and it’s angled differently. This Wheel encompasses both the Wheel of the Day and me, still floating in the Center. It’s the Wheel of the Year! I see, in glorious procession, the flowers of Spring melting into the verdant fields of Summer, which meld into the golden fields of Autumn and then the barren snows of Winter. Along the ring are eight shining gems of light, and in them I see the colors of the surrounding seasons magnified and clarified. And I understand sabbat celebrations in a way I didn’t before. 

In a different part of the star-strewn velvet in which I float I see another arc rising, another Wheel spinning. It’s further out, and that ring encompasses me and the other two Wheels too. It too spins clockwise, but it’s offset from the others and rises on its own plane. Peering at it more closely I see it’s the Wheel of my Life. All the years I live, all together, with my memories in gleaming color and my future in shadows that are broken with seemingly random flashes of intense light. I realize that even here I can’t see my future clearly, because it’s not set. Those flares in the shadows show me that events are coming that cannot be changed, only managed, even if I can’t figure out what they are yet. My Lady’s presence surrounds me and I relax, knowing She is preparing me for them even now and will be with me when their time comes.

In yet another part of the sky I see another Wheel rising, on yet another plane. It too spins clockwise, but more slowly still. It gleams red like blood and flows like water, with an infinite number of glittering flecks swirling through it. This is the Wheel of the Ancestors. Every person who has ever lived is represented here, and the glittering flecks that glow most brightly are the people who have directly contributed to my line. They’re family! I see some flecks growing equally brightly, but in different hues, and know that these are family members of the heart instead of blood. It’s humbling to see all the people who have died so that I might live, and I promise to lift them high by living with honor and purpose. 

Beyond that Wheel I see another, also spinning and rising. This one is green and gold, copper and bronze, the dark brown of rich soil and the glowing red of molten lava. It glimmers with hidden gems and shines with metallics as it spins with aching slowness. This is the Wheel of the Land, and since Land moves in a timescale that’s hard to comprehend it’s only here that I can see it moving at all. It makes sense that this Wheel surrounds the Ancestors too, because without the Land the Ancestors would have no place to stand. I see the colors getting paler and dustier as this Wheel spins, like they’re losing saturation as it turns, and realize with a sinking sensation that I’m seeing the effects of humanity on the Earth. I see shrinking habitats and strip mines, pollution and disease and death, and acknowledge my contributions to the fading while vowing to do my very best to ease them.

At the very edges of everything I see another arc rising, another Wheel encompassing the whole. This one is crystalline and iridescent, and so bright that the only reason I can bear to gaze upon it is because I’m being allowed to See. This is the Wheel of the Gods, where all the divinities who have ever been dwell. I see Olympus, and Valhalla, and the Otherworld. I see nations rise and fall as the Gods play chess on a board, except I know both chess and boards and this is too incomprehensible to be either. The more I try to understand the brighter the light, until I have to blink to get the spots out of my eyes. 

Far beyond the edges of the crystalline Wheel of the Gods I see the shadows of other Wheels spinning, other cycles of which I am vaguely aware but are too distant for me to grasp. I feel blessed to have seen them at all.

I turn my attention back to myself, at the Center of all the spinning Wheels. With a bit of a jolt I realize that I too am a Wheel! I spread out my legs and arms like a starfish, like DaVinci’s Vitruvian Man, like a pentacle, and feel myself spinning within the Center of all the other Wheels. I peer into myself and see an endless number of Wheels spinning inside me too, each smaller than the last, and feel myself falling. Or am I flying? It’s hard to tell, and I start to get dizzy, so I pull my attention elsewhere.

I look at all of the Wheels together, for the smallest to the largest, and suddenly know that each and every Wheel’s spin is necessary to the spin of all of them. They’re interconnected and interdependent. Epiphany strikes. They’re not distinct Wheels at all! They’re all part of one big spiral! I hear my Lady’s laugh as Her hands continue smoothing and spinning the spiral, feel Her determination that it continues to spin, and know that I have a part to play in all of this too. But what?

I feel my Lady’s regard as She patiently waits for me to work through what I’m being shown. I gently spin for what feels like hours while I search for what She wants me to know, until suddenly it becomes obvious. By Centering myself, by opening myself to change while smoothing the spirals over which I have influence, I make Her job easier. In my own small way I contribute to the spinning of ALL the Wheels, even those I can’t clearly see, because I am one. I’m part of the whole. 

I hear her voice, full of pride, whisper “well done” as the Wheels flicker and vanish.

I open my eyes and gaze once more at the armillary sphere on my altar, serene and still as it represents this great Mystery.

 

Easy DIY Incense Stove

I adore incense. It smells good, usually, but it’s also a potent magickal tool of its own. Thing is, the ways we burn it tend to distort the scent, add undesireable elements to the mix, or both.

Using sticks is convenient, but when the wooden sticks in the center of the incense burns we can smell that too. That distorts the scent of the incense. Sticks are also usually doused in unknown chemicals.

Loose incense is great, and if we make it ourselves we know exactly what’s in it. However, the charcoal used to burn it almost always has saltpeter and other chemicals in it to make it burn. (Unsure if your incense has saltpeter in it? Light a block. If it crackles it contains saltpeter.)

Either way, the very act of burning adds an acrid, smoky undertone to the scent of our incenses. Burning also creates smoke that can aggravate sensitive lungs. (And, while smoke is sometimes necessary, it isn’t always.)

But what alternative do we have? An incense stove!

What’s an incense stove?

Have you seen the oil burners so common these days? They consist of a small dish on top with space for a tealight underneath. Put a bit of oil in the dish, put a lit tealight underneath, and voila.

oil-burner

Like this one.

The controlled indirect heat releases the scent without burning the oil. What a great idea, huh?

An incense stove does the same thing with incense.

Why not just use an oil burner for incense then?

Since oil burners and incense stoves function the same you might think you can use an oil burner for incense too. And technically you can. That technique comes with a pretty significant limitation, though.

The fragrance oils made for these burners all release their scents at about the same temperature. It’s done that way on purpose. However, loose incenses include everything from hard woods to delicate florals to wine and honey. Each of those require a different heat level to release their scents without burning, and combos have their own requirements.

To work with the wide variety of blends available we really require some way to adjust the temperature. I’m sure the fancy electric models out there are wonderful, but my budget doesn’t exactly run to fancy.

Time to DIY!

Make Your Own Incense Stove

As many of you know, DIY altar supplies are kinda my thing. My favorite projects all tend to be thrifty, simple, and effective. This one is now on the list. It cost me a whopping ZERO DOLLARS, because I already had everything necessary.  Even if you don’t have ANY of it, though, you should be able to make it for less than $5.

Bonus? It only takes about 10 minutes.

Supplies

supplies

The salt I used is not pictured here. Otherwise, this is everything!

* One empty and rinsed-out soda can. Obviously use whatever brand you have on hand. For those living overseas, US soda cans hold 12 ounces.
* A utility knife
* A pair of scissors (I used kitchen shears)
* A random bowl at least as big around as the can. Make sure it won’t melt! This one’s from my kitchen.
* Sand, salt, kitty litter, etc. Anything to put in the bowl to disperse the heat.
* An unscented tealight
* Loose incense of your choice. Don’t have any? Check online for recipes you can make from your spice cabinet, or hit your local magick shop for a variety of yummy blends.
* A lighter

That’s it!

(Note: I did not wear gloves, or eye protection, or anything else safety-wise in the creation of this stove. And hey, there’s fire involved. Please take whatever precautions you feel necessary when attempting this craft. Not for children.)

We’re going to use the bottom of the can. It’s already concave and everything! The top part with the tab has to go, though. So first, use your utility knife to puncture a few holes along the edge where the body of the can starts constricting towards the top. Like so:

utility-knife-punctures

That line there? That’s where you want to start punching holes. A utility knife will go through a can with the slightest pressure, so no need to be forceful about it!

Now take your scissors, slide one blade into one of your holes, and cut all the way around. You could just use the knife, but scissors are safer. Your call. *shrug*

You’ll likely have some bits come flying off, and your cutline will be a little jagged, but that’s ok. When you’re done you’ll have something that looks like this.

cut-with-burrs

Pretty, huh? Careful – the aluminum is so thin that you’ll get something like a paper cut if you slip.

Take your scissors and do your best to even out that jagged edge. Scissors will cut through pretty easily, so have at. I ended up sitting the can upright, holding the scissors in one place, and turning the can to get a straight line. When you’re done you’ll have something like this.

trimmed

Smooth like buttah. Relatively straight, even! WOOT!

Now for some “precision work”. Heh. Pick up your tealight and look at the cut edge of your can. You need to cut a hole big enough to slip the candle into. It both makes a nice glow and provides some ventilation for your tealight. I found that the nutrition label and the ingredients list together was the right size, so I cut a bit up each side until I had a little flap. Then I simply folded the flap up inside the can and pressed it along the side. Like so:

flap

The outside and inside view.

Set the can aside. It’s done! Not too traumatic, was it? Give your handyman self a pat on the back and bask in your accomplishment!

Now take your sand/salt/whatever and pour it into your bowl. Make sure it’s at least 2″ deep. Nestle your tealight in the center of it, all cozy-like.

bowl-with-unlit-candle

The trifecta of incense goodness!

Light the candle. Pick up your incense stove, curved side up, and position it over the candle. Settle it into the bowl so it doesn’t tip over. Move fast – aluminum transfers heat REALLY well, and it’ll get too hot to touch in like 15 seconds.

Sprinkle some loose incense into the curved cup on the top of your new stove and wait a few minutes.

Can you smell the incense yet? If not, push the can lower into the sand/salt/etc (with a utensil – it’ll be hot like burning!). That will have the effect of raising the candle and upping the temperature. Smell burned? It’s too hot. Use a utensil to raise the can. If you can’t raise the can anymore without it tipping, push the candle into a divot in the sand/salt/whatever to move the candle further away from the top and lower the temp. It’s that easy!

final-result

Amber resin is my fave. Smells awesome in (on?) my incense stove!

It is absolutely, positively functional at this stage. If, however, you want to cover the soda label and make it pretty you have tons of options. Metal paints work, of course. A sleeve out of some spare scrapbooking paper to cover the soda label could look nice, too, and add a little insulation to boot. Or maybe try wrapping it with silver foil from the kitchen for a shiny finish!

You can also carefully cut some small shapes into the sides of the can. They’ll look pretty all aglow and add ventilation points, which is handy if you have to sink the can so low into the salt that it cuts off air through the flap. They’ll also reduce heat, though, so take that into account with the sizing.

Congrats! You’re the proud owner of a brand new functional incense stove!

Light Up World Tree from Ironwood Witch

I am a HUGE fan of applicable arts and crafts. Don’t we all love to use our hands to manifest an aspect of our faith? In that vein, here is a wonderful twist on the standard Christmas tree – how to make your very of Yggdrasil!

I am a crafter, and I am a Heathen, and often the two combine. Right now, it’s also holiday season, with Yule coming up, and Christmas ALL OVER the craft stores (well, all over since like September. Crafters, we are a couple of months ahead of all holidays because we need the time to get […]

via Heathen Holiday Crafts: Light Up World Tree — Ironwood Witch

Catching the Sun

As we officially enter 2016 I thought it would be fun to do something a bit different.

Most everyone is posting about the season, its meanings, their resolutions, and a retrospective of 2015. I decided to focus on arts and crafts instead. Specifically, making suncatchers! In this season of celebrating the growing light in the world, making something that uses light in a decorative fashion seems to perfectly fit the season.

And no worries – you don’t need to be an artist to make something completely gorgeous!

Painting Glass

There are several techniques for making suncatchers, of course, but many of them are aimed at children. My favorite grown-up technique is painting glass. Which is way easier than it might sound. And you don’t even need a lot of stuff to do it!

Paints
There are two main types of paint you can use, the kind that air dries and the kind that cures in the oven.

Air Dry Glass Paint: The cheaper and more-easily-removable option air dries. I think Gallery Glass is the most popular brand, although Martha Stewart’s paints have good reviews too, and most craft stores carry some version of it. With most types there’s a bottle of outliner that simulates stained glass leading and then a range of colors to make your design. Once it’s dry it can stay on the glass as long as you like and be peeled off/washed off when you’re ready to change it up. This is obviously the way to go if you’re doing windows or pieces too big for your oven. However, it is not washable, not durable, and in my experience these paints do not lend themselves well to detail work.

GG paint

This is from Michael’s, but the same set is available all over. Should be plenty for quite a few projects, and don’t forget your coupons!

Oven Cure Paints: The more expensive and permanent option – and the one I prefer – is using a paint that cures to the glass after you bake it. It’s like paint Fimo! Once it’s baked it’s way more durable. It can even be put in the dishwasher (although it’s not food safe). The colors shimmer more, and the method of application lends itself well to more intricate designs. My go-to brand is Pebeo, and I order it from Dick Blick Art Supplies. This line has several outliners for different effects, as well as brushable paints and paint markers.

02950-1129-1-2ww-m

This is the glossy set. This plus a black outliner is what I used for this project.

Here’s a tip: Whichever type you choose, you need a REALLY TINY amount of paint for this. Most every surface we’re used to painting absorbs some of the paint, so we account for that absorption when we figure out how much paint we need for a project. Glass is completely non-porous, though, so a little paint goes a VERY long way. I did most of the work with the paint that lines the caps of the little jars when they’re opened, and even after multiple projects you can barely tell that I’ve used them at all. This particular piece had a lot of outlining work, too, and I think I used maybe a third of a tube.

Paintable Surfaces

Anything glass can be painted this way, but a suncatcher needs to be in a window for best effect. That means it needs to be hangable or prop-up-able. And what’s easier for that than picture frames?

The glass that comes in picture frames is my favorite surface to paint. Thrift stores are your friend here. I get much higher quality frames that way than I could otherwise afford, and what I find is always a random surprise. The “well-loved” quality found in thrift store frames only adds to their appeal. I also find that the frame can sometimes inspire that art I paint in it, too.

The frame used in this demo is this really pretty gold color that looked expensive, so the design I chose to paint worked with that. It also cost me a whopping $1, and as a bonus I got to trash the truly awful “art” that came in it.

Note: If you’re planning on using oven baked paints, measure your oven before shopping for glass! Then take a tape measure to the thrift store with you to make sure the glass you pick will fit inside for baking. Ask me how I know this. *rolls eyes*

That’s simple enough. What else do I need?

  • Paint brushes. Pebeo recommends super soft natural fiber brushes for their paint, to reduce the appearance of brush strokes. I’m cheap, so I went with a set of mixed media synthetic brushes. I grabbed them at Michael’s with a coupon. If you’re using air dry paint pretty much anything goes.
  • A piece of paper or cardboard slightly larger than your glass (which means the backing that came with the frame is too small). The oils on your hands can interfere with the paint’s ability to adhere to the surface, but I find that I need to frequently rotate the glass I’m working on as I paint. Putting the glass on something I can touch lets me easily move it around without oiling up the surface. It also protects my table from any paint that might go over the edges of the glass, and gives me a solid-colored surface to better see my design. The lighter the color the better. Spare wrapping paper, white side up, would be perfect.
  • A design to paint. This technique is really best with simple line art. Think coloring books. Luckily adult coloring pages are all over. You can download something for free, of course, but there are other options. The design I use here came from Etsy. Whatever you use, print it out on a piece of white paper.
  • You’ll also need: tape, acetone and q-tips, glass cleaner, a cup of water, paper towels, pliers, a palette if you plan on mixing colors, a “scraping implement” or two (explained below), and hanging hardware for your frame.

All supplies assembled? Let’s get started!

  1. Gently remove the glass from the frame. If it’s a fine art frame you’ll need to rip through the paper on the back to get to the glass. You might need your pliers here to remove some staples or tabs so you can remove the backing. Carefully do what you need to do, and then set the frame aside.

    frame

    Here we can see the ripped paper, the staples, and the paper remnants clinging to the frame. Don’t worry about those remnants – we’ll catch them later.

  2. Clean one side of the glass with the glass cleaner and let thoroughly dry. Carefully center your printed design, design-side down, on the glass and tape to secure.
  3. Turn the glass over (handling as little as possible from the edges!), put it on your craft paper, and clean that side too. You can now clearly see your design through the glass. Huzzah!

    design frame

    Like this! I forgot to snap a pic of mine, so here’s one I found online. Visualize the wrapping paper underneath this glass.

  4. Using your outliner, trace over all the lines of your design. It’s easy to overlook a line here, so double check. (Hint: If your design has some intricate line work, like Celtic knots, you might want to consider either printing your design with colored lines or using an outliner that’s not black.) The line thickness is determined by the pressure you use, so you might want to practice a bit first. You can also trim the nozzle a smidge to make it wider if you like.
    outliner

    Here we can see the gold outliner being used. You can get thin, thick, and patterned lines depending on the pressure exerted on the tube.

    If you screw up, use a q-tip dipped in acetone to remove the paint and start over. Stubborn lines might need to be scraped a bit with something like a nail file – the outliner is harder to remove than the paint. Allow to air dry before proceeding (about 30 minutes should be fine).

  5. Color! This is the fun part. Fill in the empty spots of the design with paint. The outliner is three-dimensional, so as long as you’re moderately careful the paint will stay in the lines. If it doesn’t, carefully clean up the error with a q-tip dipped in acetone.Here’s a tip. Using the brushes in typical paint-brush fashion leaves brush strokes. A stippling technique – bouncing the brush up and down instead of brushing it back and forth, like you do with a stencil – works way better. Real stained glass has splotches of uneven color too, so focus more on concealing brush strokes and less on trying to make it look completely uniform.
    Edges

    See the difference here? You can still see brush strokes on the bottom, but they are WAY less obvious.

    Also keep in mind that the paint will contract as it dries, meaning it’ll pull away from the outliner and leave a line of clear glass at the edges. I find that leaving a “puddle” of paint in each cell of the design gives me better results, and I usually have to paint sections twice for the coverage I like even so.

    Allow to air dry for about an hour. Then very carefully pick up the glass by the edges and hold it to the light. See anything to fix? Now’s the time! After you’ve made all the corrections you deem necessary, set it aside and allow it to air dry for 24 hours.

  6. Now that that’s done you can turn your attention to the frame! When you put this in a window the back of the frame will be visible to passer-by. If it’s a new ready-made frame it’ll likely be good to go. However, if you’re using a recycled frame you’ll have some work ahead of you.First, of course, you’ll need to remove any remaining staples and other undesired hardware. Then you’ve got to remove all those paper remnants! You tore out the paper in the middle to get to the glass earlier, but unless you are incredibly lucky you’ve got little bits of paper clinging all around the edge. That looks messy. And who wants that?
    messy frame

    This is just not attractive.

    I’m sure there are other techniques to remove the paper and glue, but here’s what I do.

    Place the frame pretty-side-down on a table. Dip your paintbrush in clean water and “paint” the paper all the way around. Let it sit for a few minutes, and then take a scraping implement and scrape the dissolving paper.

    knife

    My “scraping implement”. Don’t hate me, Julia Child!


    When you finish the first pass repeat the process. Once the paper is pretty much gone, move your fingers in a circular motion all along the back of the frame to make the remaining bits ball up. Then scrape those off. Repeat all steps as needed.

    You can either leave your frame here – bare wood can be pretty, and that’s what I went with – or you can decorate it. It’s wood, so whatever you’d normally do to wood can be done here too. Paint is the easiest way, but you can also do woodburning, add decorative nails/tacks, etc. Be creative!

  7. Once you’ve got it how you want it, attach your hanging hardware and wipe down the whole thing. Set aside to dry. If you started the frame as soon as you set the painting aside to dry they should both be ready at the same time.
  8. After the 24 hours are up on the paint drying process follow the manufacturer’s directions and bake your masterpiece in the oven. Allow to cool.
  9. Carefully return the glass to the frame. Many mass-produced frames will have bendable tabs that can be used for the purpose. Custom frames don’t. You can get hardware to hold the glass in, but I say “eh” and glue it in with E6000. That means it can’t be put in the dishwasher, though, so think it through before taking that kind of step.
  10. Hang in a window and admire! You’re done!
    FullSizeRender

    This is the finished product on the table…

    IMG_1251

    And this is the finished product in a window. See how the brush strokes look different with light coming in behind it?

Beyond Suncatchers

Suncatchers, and the making of suncatchers, are wonderful additions to any of the “increasing sun” rituals. I find them particularly awesome for both the Yule and Midsummer seasons.

Don’t be shy about branching out beyond suncatchers, though – you certainly have enough paint! You’ll be surprised at just how useful this technique is for ritual and magickal purposes once you become aware of the possibilities.

For starters, this exact same technique can be used for creating anchors for shields/wards, both in your home’s windows and hanging around a dedicated ritual space.

You can also try painting different shapes. Glass Christmas balls can be painted this way and make fantastic witch balls. Craft stores often have a plethora of hanging glass crystals (like for chandeliers?) that are easily customized with paint, too, and can be used in many different ways.

Dollar store/thrift store glassware can become beautiful custom ritual vessels with some creativity and paint, and if your altar has glass shelves this is another great way to add some character/magickal intent. If you are interested in making your own floating wick oil lamps, glass paint is a fabulous technique for that too.

Like this whole idea, but need to paint ceramic instead of glass? Maybe because you want to make a standing wick oil lamp? You’re in luck – these paints work on ceramics too! They provide a transparent finish. If you want something more opaque Pebeo offers a line of opaque paints too, and they’re used the exact same way. How useful is that?

Oven cure paints don’t work well with mirrors – the metallic backing does not bake well – but air dry paints are just fine. That can add a whole new dimension to mirror-based tools!

The Pebeo markers are particularly suited for painting runes on decorative glass gems, too. Just bake and they’re more durable for divination use than Sharpies are, and you can incorporate the baking process into their magickal making.

Pick up some small glass pendants/beads, or ceramic disks, and paint those too. This can make some truly exceptional ritual jewelry.

See how useful this is? I could go on and on. I hope you have lots of fun with this, and I look forward to seeing some of the creative uses y’all come up with. Happy crafting!

Building Woo Spaces – Working Altars (Pt. 3)

While shrines are the backbone of a devotional practice, altars are the place magick happens. They are a physical manifestation of the energies with which we work, and as such are comprised of the tokens and tools we need to facilitate that working.

Altars can be hugely elaborate or incredibly simple, depending on the use and the user. Some are temporary setups on the coffee table, and others are permanently-arranged spaces full of Very Magickal Objects and bling. No matter how they’re set up, however, they tend to be more rigid and logical in layout than a shrine.

Why is that?

A shrine is a space to honor and enjoy. Think of it as a beautifully decorated parlor in which you entertain your guests. The entire setup’s purpose is to be visually appealing and comfortable, designed to delight the senses and exude a sense of welcome. That’s artistic, creative, and pretty free-flow.

An altar, on the other hand, is a working space. It’s more like a laboratory than a parlor. Instead of entertaining guests we’re manipulating energy with the help of allies or colleagues. Like any lab, there are specific tools that help accomplish our goals, so those need to be present. Extraneous things that are not directly useful can be present, of course, but they’re often more of a hindrance than a help.

What specific tools are common?

There are many styles of magick, and each one seems to have specific tools associated with it that not everyone uses. However, here are the tools I personally see/use most often.

Altar Cloth: It’s a cloth. That covers the altar. The color usually corresponds to the purpose or the season. Getting wax out of them sucks. They really make things look more finished, though, and provide a nice base. If the altar itself cannot be permanent, using the same cloth or set of cloths every time can create a similar effect.

Elemental Representations: The exact forms vary quite a bit, but most altar setups tend to have a representation of Air, Earth, Fire, and Water on the altar. Air is often represented with incense or feathers, Fire with candles, Earth with pentacles and/or stones, and Water with a dish of water or wine.

Spirit Representation(s): Some traditions work with Spirit as a fifth element. Candles (or other items) representing the masculine and feminine principles, as seen through deity, are common. Specific deity representations are used too. I’ve also seen things like unicorn and phoenix figurines used for Spirit.

Athame: This is a ritual blade associated with the element of Air. The stereotype for this tends to be a smaller silver-colored double-bladed knife with a black handle and dull edges, but I’ve seen a wide variety that don’t look like that too. The dull edges reference the fact that this tool is used to cut energy only, and a separate tool (the bolline) is used to cut things like herbs. Some people, however, say “screw that” and ditch the bolline. Their athames are sharp. I’m in that camp.

Wand: Used to direct energy and associated with the element of Fire. Some people use these in preference to an athame, some people use an athame instead of a wand, and some people use both.

Bell: Bells are used to clear a space of energies not conducive to the working. They can also signal transitions in the ritual. Gongs fulfill a similar function. I use a tuning fork for this.

Cakes and Ale: This is food and drink shared among ritual participants to wrap things up. I see a ton of variation here, and I tend to skip it personally – to my mind that’s what after ritual space is for. Offerings are a different thing.

Circle Casting Mixture: This is a container of flower petals or seeds or confetti or whatever else someone sprinkles as they walk to create a magick circle around the altar.

Illuminator Candles: These candles are used strictly for light. Some people rely on them as the only light source, while others use them for ambiance only.

Working Tools: If you’re doing a candle spell you’ll need candles for that. Scrying? You’ll need crystals or water or whatever you’re using. This can be pretty much anything, as long as it’s used to accomplish the goal of the ritual.

As you can see, making sure all of that is present can limit creativity in designing the space. That doesn’t mean you can’t put your own spin on it, though! There are so many versions of each of those things that altars can look wildly different even with the similarities. Here are a few examples.

My Working Altar

In the last post I showed my altar/shrine space in its standard “shrine” set up. This is how I rearrange things if I need actual altar space.

photo(1)I leave the Land/Sea/Sky in place as usual above. However, here I’ve also hung my perpetual calendar in the space normally occupied by flowers. I use specific sounds for correspondence work, where almost everyone else uses herbs and stones, so my tuning forks and whistles are up there too. I have a central “working” candle in the center, flanked by crystals and stones and a small bottle of blessed oil. My athame is placed horizonally across the front center. The incense burner is at center right, a red striker and 4096 Hz fork (my version of a bell) at center left, a chalice with skull beads at far left, and my current tarot deck (until I finish the one I’m making anyway!) is at the far right. Other items present include my amber/jet ritual necklace (worn during ritual, but laid out as prep work), a lancet, a pendulum, prayer beads, and illuminator candles. If necessary I have other tools for other purposes, but I only pull out what is specific to the working at hand.

A Northern Tradition Working Altar

In my post on personal shrines I was privileged to show Ulfdis’s shrine space. Here is a picture of the entire shrine/altar combo.

UntitledThe wall shelf, and everything above it, is shrine space. Below the shelf is altar space. I really enjoy this layout, because it keeps the shrine near the altar but the spaces are easily distinguished.

One of the best features of this particular space, in my opinion, is the chalkboard. It’s used for reminders, runes, sigils, chants, affirmations, whatever might be needed at the time. I’ve never seen that before, and now I really want to incorporate that idea into my own space!

The base for this working altar looks to be a desk. The majority of the space is kept clear. Tools are placed to the back of the working surface, for accessibility, but they don’t overrun the space. The drawers provide additional storage. To quote Ulfdis, “that altar is my day to day meditation/divination/general witchery space”, and is a permanent installation.

An Egyptian-Themed Altar

This beautiful altar space is used by an eclectic practitioner with Khemetic influences.

10937481_796033367099405_302304743_nHere we can see a bowl for water, candle for fire, incense holders, a stone pendant, illuminator candles, and jewelry in addition to a goddess statue (Hathor), sunflowers in Her honor, and a lovely representation on the wall. Tucked underneath the table is a drum used during ritual. This is a simple set-up, but works for a wide variety of purposes.

An Eclectic Home Altar

This is a permanent altar on a mantle.

10937510_796033350432740_1079594303_nIn this shot it’s between rituals – during rituals it’s dressed up a bit. The plaques on the wall depict both Earth and Sky (Sky is also inclusive of all celestial phenomenon, like day/night, stars, and the sun and moon). In the center on the altar itself is a Goddess representation. Various tools are arranged in the rest of the space, and handfasting cords hang below.

An Altar for Divination

This is something I don’t see every day – a dedicated altar space for divination!

photo 1The Ouija board on the wall is vintage and for display purposes only. It’s flanked by illuminator candles. On the altar itself we have a chalice to represent Water that is also occasionally used for scrying, feathers for Air, a chrysalis and bone for Earth wisdom, and incense for Fire. The candles flanking the table are occasionally used for scrying but more often simply for light. There’s a Celtic Cross tarot spread in the center, with the deck to the right, and what looks to be a decorative strand of silver stars and beads across the front.

And that’s it! I will do an entry on travel altars and some point and wrap this up, but for now I’m going to focus on the other awesome projects I’ve got going.

Building Woo Spaces – Personal Shrines (Pt. 2)

Personal shrines are the backbone of a devotional practice. They are a physical manifestation of the relationship between the Power and the person, and as such serve as a site for honoring, contemplation, meditation, petitioning, and connection.

Not that you can’t do all of these things perfectly well without a shrine, of course. A shrine just helps everything along! Personally I find that just being able to see the shrine makes me more inclined to Do the Work. They’re reminders, and that’s one reason my shrines now stay in my living room instead of being tucked into a closet somewhere.

Why do we need reminders?

Just as a relationship requires regular maintenance, so too does a shrine. But it goes beyond that. Devotion is something you practice. Honoring is a verb. In the day-to-day rush it’s sometimes easy to forget shrine tending, or tell yourself “I’ll do it tomorrow”. Too much of that leaves you without a shrine at all, just a dusty collection of stuff on a shelf.

Now how often you use your shrine depends on your relationship. *shrug* I have friends I talk to every day, and friends I talk to once every couple of months, and some that I can go a year before contacting. Some get a quick IM and others get hours on the phone and still others get week-long visits. Interactions with the Powers are no different, and the frequency and intensity of shrine usage will depend largely on the individual relationships involved.

That being said, if you’re not doing it frequently or intensely enough for Them, They will certainly let you know!

So how do I build one?

Short answer? However you like.

Better answer? There’s a lot of freedom, but within that freedom there do tend to be some commonalities. Most (but not all) start with some sort of visual representation of the Power to be honored and a candle. After that people add offering dishes, incense (another type of offering), pretty décor, items that somehow connect with Them, etc. They can range from fairly utilitarian spaces to lushly ornate ones. There is no “this is how you do it” guide, are no hard-and-fast rules. Since shrines reflect personal relationships, they’re as unique as T/those involved. No two are exactly alike!

What are some options, then?

FIguring out what to do can be pretty overwhelming,  especially if shrines aren’t something you’re overly familiar with. So I contacted some people and got some examples. Below are shrines I received permission to share, used by people from a variety of traditions and honoring a variety of Powers. Hopefully these can help jump-start you if you don’t know where to begin, and inspire you if you want to freshen up shrines you already have. Because yes, shrines are not static. So don’t be scared to jump in and get to it – you can always change it around later!

A Collective Shrine Space

This happens to be my shrine space. Apologies for the blur!

 

The pictures at the top – photographs from Winter Wind Photography – represent the Three Realms of Celtic cosmology. The picture on the left represents the Land, the one on the right represents the Sea, and the picture in the center represents the Sky. Each picture has a shelf underneath, holding offering dishes and a candle. The shelf under Sea also contains rocks from Wales, where some of my Ancestors are from.

 

The middle of the setup is the working surface. There’s a crystal ball and a crystal skull flanking the central flower vase, representing the concept of cycles. The red powder in the glass jar is loose incense (amber resin), while the carved grey soapstone is my beloved incense burner. The black box on the left contains some specialized offering supplies, while the figure on the right holds my prayer beads in her hands and my ritual necklace in her lap. If I need any additional space for anything, including a full magickal altar, I either rearrange this shelf to free up the space or do the more space-intensive stuff elsewhere.

The cubbies underneath are all shrines and storage. On the top row I have storage for candleholders, my Lady Arianrhod’s shrine, my small need-based “working altar” space (for things like prayer requests), and candle storage.

The second and third rows are shrine spaces. At minimum each one has a picture representing the honored Power, offering dishes, and a candle. This time next year they will look very different, but this is now.

The bottom row is all storage, containing “working altar” supplies, incenses, altar cloths, etc.

A Shrine for the Morrigan

The man who uses this shrine credits the Morrigan with saving him and guiding him through the darkest times of his life. For him the shrine serves as a thank-you, a reminder to BE thankful, and a place to ask for further guidance.

 

The raven sitting on top of the tree branch was purchased at a local-to-him Pagan shop, where he felt called to purchase it. The “chalice” is temporary, used every dark moon or so for liquid offerings when he provides Her a “champion’s plate” of red meat, potatoes, etc.

 

A Shrine for Eleggua

In the words of the gentleman who sent this to me:

This is my shrine for Eleggua, the Orisha of the crossroads, opening doors, and liminality.

2015-02-11 09.05.17His shrine contains His keys, coins and money that is either found out on the world or given to Him in offering or thanks, some small personal gifts and objects that I have given Him, and a lithograph of St. Anthony of Padua with the Christ child. While Eleggua is represented with a few different saints, St. Anthony with baby Jesus resonates because, to me, I see it as showing our relationship.  I particularly like this image because St. Anthony is carrying Christ while he walks down a road, which speaks to the nature of Eleggua as both the master of the road and as always moving.

On Mondays, I give Eleggua a shot of rum, some fresh water, and I light His candle and spend some time with Him. I try to give Him something else as an offering when I can, and when I took this photo, I had given Him a cup of Cuban-style coffee, which He enjoys.

Eleggua is traditionally kept on the floor and near an entrance, which is where He lives in my house.

A Shrine to Blodeuwedd

This is Anne’s shrine to Blodeuwedd – yes, the same Anne who shared her prayer beads!

AP3There is a picture to represent the goddess, a rose-scented candle in a flower-shaped holder, and a cute owl. The cup is full of chamomile flower tea, with 2 sugar cubes and a stirring spoon on the saucer. Also offered are a few spoons of honey in the cupcake liner and a chocolate.

A Northern Tradition Shrine

Úlfdís of Ironwood Witch shared her shrine space with me (her working altar will be in a later post).

First, the overall setup:

NT overallThe painting over everything is one Úlfdís did herself, and depicts the Nine Worlds of Norse cosmology arranged around the World Tree. The shelf below the painting serves as a collective shrine space for all the Powers she honors.

 

On the left we have a shrine for Freya and Frey. Freya is in the picture to the far left, while Frey is in the the smaller picture to the front. Both have candles. The boar tusk bottle opener in front of Freya’s picture has a story – it belonged to Úlfdís’s ex-husband, but kept winding up on the floor in front of Freya’s shrine. So why fight it?

 

 

Odin and Frigga are in the center of the shelf. In front of Frigga’s picture are a key to Úlfdís’s house and twelve blue stones representing Her twelve handmaidens. Both Odin and Frigga have a candle as well.

 

 

The far right of the shelf is for Loki, Sigyn, Narvi and Vali. Loki’s candle is visible on the left, and you can see sparklers and a bowl of candy as offerings.

 

A Shrine to Lakshmi and Ganesha

This shrine has an interesting story behind it. The creator is an eclectic practitioner who had never really considered working with Hindu-specific Powers until she began sponsoring a child in Nepal. As she began research she “fell into the Hindu deity void for a bit”, and felt called to establish a shrine for Lakshmi and Ganesha as two Powers relevant to her life right now.

 

Lakshmi

A shrine for Lakshmi and Ganesha.

It’s still a work in progress, with some additions and changes slated for the next few weeks, but this is the current honoring/meditation space.

 

And that’s all of them!

Hopefully you enjoyed seeing these shrines as much as I did. Next up are working altars!

*Note: Have a magickal altar, special occasion shrine/altar, or travel shrine/altar you’d like to share? Feel free to send me a pic or 5 along with a brief description for inclusion in the next post!

Building Woo Spaces – Altars and Shrines (Pt. 1)

I recently moved from Seattle to upstate New York. I’ve spent the last few months redoing a tiny house and replacing my furniture, so settling in has taken a bit of time. But as always, pride-of-place in my house is my altar/shrine (together known as my “woo space”, because I’m all about technical language).

I had so much fun putting it together, and found such fulfillment in doing it, that now seemed like a great time to start a series on altars and shrines: what they are, how they’re different from each other, how to construct them, and how to customize them for any need. I’ll provide examples of larger permanent installations, temporary ritual spaces, small private shrines, and portable mini altars for those with limited space or who travel frequently. I’ve even reached out to people of different traditions for pictures of their setups, to really go in depth with the topic.

But before we can get into the examples it’s time to look at the nuts and bolts.

Aren’t altars and shrines the same thing?

Nope! It gets confusing, I know, especially when people so often use the terms interchangeably, but they ARE different. Basically, altars are primarily working spaces and shrines are primarily devotional spaces.

Altars

We use the term “altar” as both a collective term when talking about all our working tools arranged to do workings and when we’re talking about the surface itself.

“Working tools” are all the items used in magick. They can be tools we reuse regularly (like athames and chalices), or one-use items (like candles and cords). Anything used for a spell is lumped together in this category. Gathering all of these tools together in one spot with the intent to use them for a magickal working is also known as putting together an altar.

This is a wonderful diagram of a basic Pagan altar. Candles representing the Goddess and God at the top, elemental representations around a central pentacle, cakes and ale for after ritual, a bell to cleanse the space, and three tools for cutting and energy manipulation all together. The Book of Shadows – the book containing all the spellwork – would either be off to the side or underneath the altar, depending on setup.

This is a wonderful example of one way to lay out a basic Pagan/Wiccan altar. Candles representing the Goddess and God at the top, elemental representations surrounding a central pentacle, cakes and ale for after ritual, a bell to cleanse the space, and three tools for cutting and energy manipulation all together. Assuming the person using this altar also uses a Book of Shadows, it would usually be either off to the side or underneath the altar, depending on setup.

The spot we put all the tools together on is also called an altar. These surfaces can be beautifully carved tables or a cloth on the ground, of natural or man-made materials, specifically set aside as a permanent altar or a corner of the kitchen counter set up when necessary. I’ve seen all manner of flat-ish surfaces used and they all work just fine.

If a specific piece of furniture is often used as an altar, it can become something more than “flat area that holds my tools”. Over time it can also become a potent magickal tool. It is present for a wide variety of magickal workings, after all, and will absorb the energies of the area with no direct effort on our parts (although we can help this along!). The longer and more intensely we use the same altar the faster this effect will manifest and the stronger it will be. With repetitive use a given altar can become a big battery, providing a still pool of energy from which we can draw at need.

While an altar can be used for honoring the Powers, that’s the exception instead of the rule. The space reflects that.

Shrines

Shrines are designated spaces to honor a specific Power or group of Powers. They can be permanent or temporary, and can look as different as the Powers they honor.

The basic set up is usually a representation of the Power – a statue, a painting, a bunch of flowers, whatever works for Them – and a candle. That’s it. After that, though, the sky’s the limit. They’re often filled with/adorned by offerings or décor items that are either associated with Them or that They appreciate, so shrines can run the gamut between simple and lavishly ornate.

Here we have two very different shrines, both to the Virgin Mary. The one on the left is very simple, just a picture/icon and a candle. It hangs on the wall, so there’s not even a table! The one on the right is much more ornate, with flowers, vigil candles, and tributes from believers. Notice the complete absence of anything like a standard “working” tool in both of these spaces.

Here we have two very different shrines, both to the Virgin Mary. The one on the left is very simple, just a picture and a candle. It hangs on the wall, so there’s not even a table! The one on the right is much more ornate, with flowers, vigil candles, and tributes from believers. Notice the complete absence of anything like a standard “working” tool in both of these spaces.

Just as a commonly-used altar can be charged with magickal energy, so too can a commonly-used shrine become charged with the energy of the Power the shrine honors. Eventually a stone or amulet can be placed in the shrine to passively collect some of the energy with no interference on our parts (although I do suggest asking first!).

While shrines can be used for magickal purposes, that’s the exception instead of the rule. Also, magick done at a shrine is nine times out of ten done there specifically to request the associated Power’s assistance in the purpose of the working. The space reflects that.

I’m a form-follows-function kind of girl, so my altars tend to be pretty basic. If I’m going to use a particular item for a particular working, it’s present. If I’m not, it’s tucked away somewhere and not “cluttering my space”. I arrange what I use in a visually pleasing way, but usability is always priority.

Shrines are very different. Their function isn’t to do anything, necessarily, just be. Because of that my shrines are WAY more whimsical and varied. My altars are rather utilitarian. My shrines are where I get to be creative.

Both altars and shrines are useful and important spaces. One isn’t better than the other – that really is comparing apples and oranges. They just fill different functions.

That makes sense. So why are the terms interchangeable?

Simply put, making a clear distinction between working spaces and honoring spaces isn’t all that common in Paganism. Designated spaces for any “woo stuff” are just collectively called altars. *shrug* It might sound a little odd to some, but it actually makes all kinds of sense when you think about it from a standard Pagan perspective.

Pick up any of the most commonly-recommended general Pagan books and flip through them. Overall you’ll see much more focus placed on spellwork than on connecting with the Powers. The closest they get to honoring at all are usually seasonal celebrations, and those are more directed towards honoring the season itself than anything else. (Trad-specific books are much more likely to delve into working with the Powers, but those books generally aren’t as accessible to newbies.)

Discussions of woo spaces are no different. The emphasis is invariably on collecting a wide variety of Very Important Things to use in spellwork. They might suggest having a silver candle to represent The Goddess/Goddess energy and a gold candle to represent The God/God energy, but that’s usually as far as it goes. The focus is always on working tools.

That emphasis, in my opinion, reflects how many Pagans relate to the Powers in their personal practice. It’s been my experience that Pagans often think of individual Powers less as individuals and more as just another correspondence with which to bolster their intended working. They choose Powers for a given working the same way they pick herbs and stones. The only real difference is that Powers are generally thanked afterwards, during the Cakes and Ale portion of the working, and stones aren’t.

With that in mind, it’s no surprise that someone more used to Pagan-style workings would simply add an honoring function to the altar they already have if they feel the need. They’re never really taught that honoring a Power can be a completely separate activity from doing magick.

If and when someone starts wanting to honor a particular Power outside of a working, that’s when they start edging over onto the Polytheism side of things. And once that happens, well, Polytheism’s relationship to altars and shrines is also reflected in the different ways in which Polytheists engage with the Powers.

What if I don’t have an individual relationship with a Power? Is this still a useful distinction to make?

Thing the first, if you don’t have a personal relationship to a given Power and are ok with that, this distinction is probably less important to you because you won’t be using shrines. It will be useful if you’re working with other people, however, who might have spaces set aside to nurture those relationships. (Conversely, if you’re strictly devotional and don’t do any magick at all, the reverse of course applies.)

Thing the second, if you don’t have a personal relationship to a given Power and are not ok with that, there’s no time like the present to work on exploring your options. If you don’t know where to start I recommend my series on Devotions. (The link leads to the last in the series, and all the previous posts are listed in the beginning.)

Thing the third, if you do have a relationship or multiple relationships with Powers already, and you do magick too, this distinction can be very helpful. If nothing else it helps when it comes to conceptualizing how to structure your space. Multiple shrines plus an altar can get a bit overwhelming without a plan! It also helps keep shrines clear of altar clutter, and altars clear from shrine overflow, which I find makes both spaces more effective. And if our spaces aren’t effective, there’s really no point to having them in the first place.

So settle in for what will be a fun and informative series on making these spaces work for you, regardless of how you practice!

*Note: Is your personal “woo space” useful or cool or pretty or interesting? Would you like to see it included in this series? Send a pic to mystiknomad AT gmail DOT com, with a brief note explaining what it’s for and what’s notable about it. Do it quickly, though – I’m already working on the rest of the series!