A Year of Shrines

I’ve had an altar or shrine of some kind in every home I’ve lived in since I was 13. I love creating and tending them, and find it fulfilling to customize them for every new space I’m in.

This has been an interesting year, though, since I’ve been traveling. Each stay of longer than a month has required an established shrine, and each new space has presented new challenges and opportunities for me to create a shrine that fits the environment.

Let’s see how I did. (Useful links to my supplies are with the descriptions, but feel free to ask about anything I missed!)

Shrine #1: Ohio

In Ohio I had a TON of space for a shrine, and my shrine reflected that.

A sprawling shrine on multiple levels.

A sprawling shrine on multiple levels.

This picture was taken early in the process, before it was completed, so there are a pair of empty frames on the top I later filled. But even in this picture you can see my representations of Land, Sea, and Sky – the Tree on the bottom right for Land, the Ancestors on the bottom left for Sea, and the armillary sphere on the top center for Sky/Universal Order/my Lady.

It also had photos for honoring, offerings, incense, candles, crystals, cards, my tuning forks… there was a lot going on here!

It was big and impressive, but even with that it was still pretty space efficient. Yay levels! This is actually the second time I’ve used this setup and I’ve enjoyed it both times.

It’s remarkably cost-effective, too. The structure cost about $30 – I got the base entertainment center for free, and the smaller entertainment center on top came from Family Dollar or Dollar General (I forget which, but they’ve had the exact same model for years). The frames are all from the Dollar Tree, and the images in them were all printed at home. The cards on the wall were a gift, as were several of the other pieces. Most everything else was collected from various thrift stores over the years, although I did purchase my armillary sphere new from Amazon.

Eventually, though, my time in that space ended. Onwards!

Shrine #2: Boston

Ohio was one of my more elaborate shrine setups. Boston is perhaps THE most compact shrine I’ve ever had (that wasn’t a set of prayer beads, anyway!). It was built on top of a plastic drawer unit thingie designed to hold legal-sized paper.

A compact shrine with a wishing tree.

A compact shrine with a wishing tree.

Boston is when I started actively exploring the ADF, specifically Proto-Indo-European practices. I wanted to explore the Tree/Well concept in an incredibly limited space, so this is what I came up with.

The Tree was a wishing tree from a wedding, made from two flat pieces of wood that interconnected. It was placed on top of a cardboard riser made from a cut box that rested over a black soapstone “well”. For some reason I really felt the need for a vertical Well/Tree representation – still do, as a matter of fact – and this gave me that. (For a sense of scale the bowl is only 4″ in diameter and 2.5″ tall.)

The Tree had three tealights nestled in the “roots”, and a tiny incense burner sat in front for offerings. I used a piece of trimmed scrapbooking paper as a pretty cover for the whole.

In the front pencil tray of the unit I stored a baggie of ground amber incense for offerings and the tuning fork/striker I use instead of a bell. Excess supplies (like a lighter!) were stored in the drawers underneath.

Voila! Done. But I was only in Boston for the summer. Off to winter in the frozen north!

Shrine #3: Maine

I spent the winter in Maine, on the edge of the sea. By the time I got to Maine I was waist-deep in exploring Proto-Indo-European culture, and I felt drawn to a more lararium-style setup reminiscent of Rome. With some modern additions.

Space-wise I was able to use the top of a standing dresser. I covered the top with a gold-edged red scarf, and put a marble slab on top of that as a base. Then time to get creative!

The centerpiece here was a flag case I painted white, chosen to give me the distinct house-shape of many larariums.

Shrine3

My lararium in daytime mode…

It’s hard to see in this light, but I mounted a window cling of a four seasons Tree in the glass of the case. The Well sat in front of the case, with an incense burner in front of that. To the left was a jar containing xartos (a Proto-Indo-European offering described in Deep Ancestors), and the jar to the right held incense.

All the other dishes were used for offerings, and of course my tuning fork and striker had a place too.

I did want to incorporate a little of the modern in this one, so I added LEDs to the flag case. It worked out well, although if I were doing it again I’d choose a softer glow.

And nighttime mode.

And nighttime mode.

All excess supplies were stored in the first drawer of the dresser, with my clothes beneath that.

But, like all things, the Maine setup came to an end when my time there did. Time to ditch the snow and head south!

Shrine #4: Texas

I was raised in Texas, but it’s been awhile since I’ve called the Lone Star State home. I always think of family when I’m here, and that was the inspiration behind my current shrine.

Tree setup part 2.

Tree setup Part 2. Sorry for the weird angle – the sun kept screwing with my shots.

There is some obvious similarity here between this setup and what I did in Boston.

The Tree has been updated to a lovely silver and crystal version I got from Gaelsong (yay clearance sales!). It was designed to be a family tree that held photos of relatives. I repurposed it. The frames of my tree showcase symbolic representations of the Three Realms as well as representations of the Nine Virtues celebrated by the ADF; I put them together on my computer. I see the Virtues as the seeds of the Tree and relationships with the Realms as the fruits, so this way I represent both. I also find it really useful to represent complex concepts with simple images, so figuring all that out was educational too.

The Tree rests on an acrylic riser over the Well, which is the same soapstone bowl I’ve used for that on the two previous shrines. An incense burner and a representation of Fire (crystal candle holder) sit in front of the Tree/Well, with the jars and offering dishes from my lararium setup serving the same purposes here.

Bonus: Kitchen Shrine!

One of the things I’ve most enjoyed exploring over the last year is a relationship with Wéstyā, the Proto-Indo-European goddess of the hearth. I make offerings to Her every time I use heat to cook a meal. Before I made those offerings on my main shrine. Now I make them right in the kitchen!

While She can be perfectly well represented by a flame alone – as Hestia was in Greece – I found a statue on a local resale site that I immediately knew would be perfect as a kitchen shrine.

It took a bit of work to get the statue ready for the job, though. The statue had seen better days. So I refreshed it a bit.

A Before and After comparison of my kitchen shrine.

Here’s the before and after. The original just looked tired, a little worn and cracked. The new and improved version required a little TLC, but the difference is night and day!

The supplies were all either bits I had in my stash already or picked up from Michael’s. The white was one bottle of Martha Stewart’s Multi-Surface Acrylic in the color “Wedding Cake”. The bowl was done with variegated copper and gold leafing and Modpodge; the latter was also used as a final coat to seal the paint. The pendant and necklace were made for me in Scotland but were way too small for me. It worked out to be ideal for this, though – so ideal that I wonder if this was the plan the whole while!

Flanking that statue are the cups and saucers I use to make offerings to Xáusōs and Négwntī, the Proto-Indo-European goddesses of Dawn and Dusk. I got the cup sets and the stands from Amazon.

My kitchen shrine.

My kitchen shrine. To the left is the teacup and saucer used to honor Xáusōs, in the middle is the statue before which I make offerings to Wéstyā, and to the right is the cup and saucer for Négwntī.

I love having this setup in the kitchen. Wéstyā, in particular, feels so much more present this way, more a part of the rhythm of the house. Having Her so visible also works to remind everyone here to live a life of hospitable piety, which I thoroughly appreciate.

Shrine spaces are, among other things, physical representations of our relationships with the Powers. As our relationships with the physical world changes (like during a move), and/or our relationships with Them, so too should our shrines.

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Welcoming the Sisters – Dawn and Dusk Devotionals

Devotional activities can run the gamut from simply sharing tea with the Powers to performing full-on choreographed theatrical productions. I leave the theater to the High Days. I prefer something much more low-key for daily devotions, and over time I’ve learned that it’s best if they’re tied to some activity I’d already be doing anyway. It’s also the best way I’ve found to seamlessly integrate devotions, and thus honoring the Powers, into my day-to-day life.

I’ve discussed mealtime offerings before. Now it’s time to talk about offerings for dawn and dusk. Like mealtime offerings, they’re fairly quick and easy. They’re also way more meaningful than we might otherwise think.

The Herald of Dawn 

The dawn goddess pops up all over the Indo-European world, indicating that She was very important. In fact, the case can be made that She was the most important goddess of the Proto-Indo-Europeans. She’s certainly the most easily reconstructed!

The PIE name She’s given in Deep Ancestors is Xáusōs, or “Rising”. PIE-descendant cultures honored Her too: She appears as the Greek Eos, the Roman Aurōra, the Vedic Uṣás, the Lithuanian Aušrine, and the Germanic Ōstara.

The ubiquity of Her worship in the ancient world makes total sense for a traveling, migratory people. After all, no matter where you go She still appears in the east to open the Gates of Dawn and usher in the coming day. PIE-descended hearth cultures sometimes associated Her with spring, too, as the dawn of the planting season out of the chaotic Fallow Time.

Which brings us to the topic of liminality. Honoring the dawn was incredibly common because it was a transitional, liminal period.  And that made it dangerous.

We hear the most about the ambivalence of betweens from Celtic tradition, but the care necessary when navigating treacherous liminal spaces is part of all PIE-descended cultures. Dawn is a between, a transition zone between night and day, and as such it’s a dangerous opening through which chaos could enter the world. By opening and closing dawn’s gates, though, the dawn goddess controls and safeguards that opening. She’s on the front lines, defending existence itself against the agents of chaos.

The Goddess of the Dawn, in all Her pastel glory.

Pretty heavy stuff for a Goddess almost invariably shown clad in pastel rainbows.

In the Vedas She (as Uṣás) is also associated with prosperity. We see that with the Germanic Ōstara too, through a connection to the fecundity of rabbits and chickens. Every new dawn brings us a new chance for success, prosperity, and acclaim in our lives.

The dawn goddess also illuminates and “wakes up” the world with Her coming. Because of that She pushes back the darkness of the unknown and heralds the coming of enlightenment, strength, action, and activity. She energizes and inspires us.

With all of that in mind it makes sense to respect Her and Her role in the world with every new day that dawns.

Twilight’s Mistress

I’ve been using Deep Ancestors as my primary guide to exploring PIE religious practice. It’s what inspired me to start working with the dawn goddess Xáusōs in the first place. The more I did, though, the more frustrated I got. It felt incomplete.

Celtic lore holds that dusk is just as much a between as dawn, just as dangerous. Dusk too is a liminal time. Simply ignoring the danger inherent in an unguarded liminality seems entirely out of character for the Proto-Indo-Europeans, especially considering the emphasis they put on guarding dawn. However, the surviving lore doesn’t mention the dawn goddesses pulling double duty here. Who guarded the gates at twilight?

So I did some research.

In Vedic lore, the dawn goddess Uṣás has a sister goddess called Ratri. Ratri is usually seen as a quieter, more restful figure than Uṣás. Still beautiful, spangled with stars as She is, but more reserved. She protects us against all night-time dangers, guarding the earth as it sleeps. She’s also associated with dewdrops, and together with Uṣás is said to boost vital energies.

Uṣás and Ratri together are considered “weavers of time and mothers of eternal law”, and in their progression illustrate the cohesion of the created order that sustains the earth. I found that rather significant to PIE practices in general, personally.

We get something similar from the Baltic region, where we have another set of sister dawn/dusk goddesses – Aušrinė and Vakarinė. Aušrinė (associated with the Morning Star) saw the sun goddess off on Her journey through the sky every morning, while Vakarinė (associated with the Evening Star) made Her bed every night.

Another example is found in Slavic lore. The Zorya are yet another set of sister-twins. The first – Zorya Utrennyaya, or the Morning Star – opens the gates to the Sun Palace at dawn. The other – Zorya Vechernyaya, or the Evening Star – closes the gates to the Sun Palace at dusk.

In addition to these duties the Zorya are together the guardians of a winged doomsday hound named Simargl. If Simargl breaks the chains binding him to the northern star Polaris, he’ll eat the constellation of Ursa Minor and end the world. Like Uṣás and Ratri, the Zorya are crucial to maintaining universal order.

The Roman goddess of the dawn, Aurōra, doesn’t have a twin sister. However, She was married to Astraeus, the god of dusk, and together They birthed the four winds. In an interesting link to the Baltic and Slavic lore, Astraeus was also seen as the father of the five “wandering” stars, one of which is the Morning/Evening Star Venus (not to be confused with the goddess of the same name, although there might be some syncretism there). In another interesting link, the Zorya sisters were also collectively called the Auroras.

There’s just too much material here for me to ignore. I’m perfectly comfy moving forward with the idea that there once was a god(dess) associated with twilight who has been lost over the years. I’m also perfectly comfy with considering that deity to be a female sibling, if not an outright twin, of Xáusōs.

I needed a name to call Her, though, since whatever the PIE peoples might have called Her has been long forgotten. After oodles of searching I finally broke down and contacted the author of Deep Ancestors,  Ceisiwr Serith, with a plea for assistance. I simply don’t understand PIE language and linguistics well enough yet to figure this out for myself. He graciously helped – even showed his work with verb conjugation so I could follow! – and suggested “Négwntī”.

This name has a lot going for it. Xáusōs means “Rising”, while Négwntī means “Becoming Dark”. They mirror each other nicely in translation. I also like that both are verbs, action words, because for me that really brings home the fact that They represent a process instead of something static. They embody abstract concepts of Time, Cycles, and Order. So Négwntī’s what I decided to go with.

Welcoming the Sisters

I honor three goddesses as part of my daily devotions, in addition to my Lady.

First of those is Wéstyā, the Proto-Indo-European goddess of the hearth. I honor Her with the mealtime offerings I introduced in a previous post. She helps us maintain order in the domestic sphere, in our homes and families and day-to-day life.

I also honor Xáusōs and Négwntī – They who maintain the progressive order of Night into Day and Day into Night. I love the way they bookend everything. My shrine reflects that.

My kitchen shrine.

My kitchen shrine. To the left is the teacup and saucer used to honor Xáusōs, in the middle is the statue before which I make offerings to Wéstyā, and to the right is the cup and saucer for Négwntī. I’m debating switching the cups around, to reflect the sun rising in the east, but I haven’t decided yet.

Morning Offerings

When I wake up I take care of my immediate needs, walk my dog, and blearily try to activate my brain. Prior to now, my waking up process has been sitting in front of my computer with a cup of tea until the caffeine jolts my system awake.

Now I wake up with tea (coffee would work too) and Dawn’s Lady instead.

It’s really simple. I set up Her cup and saucer, fix the tea, fill Her cup, and say the following over it:

Good morn to You, Herald of the Dawn!
I welcome Your rising as I welcome sun’s glory. 
May I meet all on my path with
An open hand, an open heart, and an open mind. 
Praise to Your name, She Who Opens the Way!

Then I fix a drink of my own, sit down, and quietly think about my day as I wake up. No computers, no distractions, just communing. It takes around 15 minutes.

When I’m done, I empty and wash the dishes I used and return them to their places.

Evening Offerings

Evening offerings follow the same pattern as the morning. Instead of going for the caffeine, though, I go for a nightcap. It’s usually something like Egyptian licorice or chamomile tea.

Whatever it is, I set that to brewing while I prepare Négwntī’s cup and saucer. Then I pour Her a cup, over which I say the following:

Good eve to You, Twilight’s Lady!
I welcome Your presence as I welcome night’s repose.
May You guard my sleep and guide my dreams
That I awaken refreshed and renewed when next I rise

Praise to Your name, She Who Closes the Day!

After that I quietly sip my own cup and cuddle my pupper – without computers or books or anything else – as I calm down enough to sleep. Sometimes that takes another cup of tea, and that’s ok. Whenever I’m ready, though, I clean the dishes I used and return them to their places.

By doing simple devotional activities at dawn, for meals, and at dusk I do up to five devotional activities per day. They’re so simple, though, and so integrated with what I’d already be doing, that I do them with a sense of joy instead of feeling obligated or pressured.

And that – prioritizing joy over pressure – is to my mind the key to regular devotional work. I don’t even have to memorize anything! As with my mealtime offering prayers, the prayers for Xáusōs and Négwntī are written on little cards I can just read off (which is especially handy before my morning caffeine!).

What might/does work for you? I’d love to see your takes in the comments!

 

It’s the Little Things: Rethinking the Lighters on Our Altars and Shrines

When I was learning magick back in the day I was warned away from using matches because they contain sulfur on the tips, which was said to introduce “unwelcome energies” to whatever workings most of us were doing. I was steered to lighters instead, and have used them since.

It’s time to rethink that.

Every year 1.5 BILLION disposable lighters end up in landfills, they can’t be recycled, and there are gruesome pictures of birds that have eaten them and then died – the shineys look like fish. (Don’t Google “albatross chicks” and “lighters”, y’all. It’s horrible.) And all that’s before we even get to the carbon footprints of both the manufacturing of the plastic lighters AND burning the fuel within!

Refillable lighters save the lighter from entering the landfill (at least temporarily), but what about the plastic bottles the refillable lighter fuel comes in? That’s usually considered hazardous waste, so recycling can be dicey depending on local rules. Butane has to be kept under pressure, which makes their containers more process-intensive to manufacture and even worse from a recycling perspective. And, again, refillable lighters still burn petrochemicals, which add to our carbon footprints.

Either way, THAT is energy I don’t want to bring to my workings!

So, back to the humble match. I did some research, y’all. Diamond Greenlight matches (the only brand made in the US) are made from either sustainably harvested trees or 100% recycled paperboard.

For wooden matches, one tree can make up to a MILLION matches, and they can even grow back from the same root system after being felled. Burning wood is carbon neutral*, too – the same carbon is released whether it’s burned or it naturally decomposes.

The paperboard ones are a little more flimsy, but they’re made from completely recycled material and, again, they’re carbon neutral*.

The tips of both styles do have trace elements of sulfur on them, in addition to a couple of other things like glue, but the amounts are so minimal per strike we can’t even calculate a toxicity on them. They pretty much burn away instantly, relying on the wood or the paperboard to maintain the flame until being extinguished.

As an aside, I’m not a fan of big business or anything, but back in 1911 Diamond voluntarily released the patent on its safety matches so competitors would stop using the way more dangerous white phosphorus in their products. I can approve of that!

Still concerned about the sulfur on the tips? Sulfur is often used in banishing magick, sure, but that’s because it’s associated so strongly with protection and purification workings. An infinitesimal trace of it when we light candles or incense isn’t necessarily a bad thing!

I just picked up 320 small wooden Diamond Greenlight matches for $1.49 at the grocery store. Better deals are available on Amazon, though – here’s 1000 of the paperboard ones for $5. The latter is both made of recycled material and recyclable.

Why does this even matter? Because the little choices we make echo through our lives and our world in ways we often don’t consider. Getting into the habit of thinking about these kinds of things in relation to our sacred and magickal work will hopefully help us learn to be conscious of the choices we make in other parts of our lives too. That can only be a good thing.

*Note: There’s some hedging about whether burning biomass is truly carbon neutral, and most of that hedging seems to revolve around sustainable forestry practices. In this particular case I’m inclined to go with the carbon neutral take, especially for the paperboard matches since they’re recycled to start. However, that’s me. Please do your own research and choose accordingly. 

Daily Devotions – Mealtime Offerings

Honoring the Lady of Home and Hearth was the heart of regular day-to-day practice in ancient times. Taking place in kitchens across the Proto-Indo-European world, it was carried over to the descendent hearth cultures too.

For the most part, our ancestors were practical people. They understood that regular practice couldn’t be maintained if it was approached like a full seasonal festival every time. Seasonal festivals can only be lavish and complicated because they’re done seasonally. As our day-to-day lives are much simpler than a three-day festival involving the whole town, so our daily devotions are simpler than a full High Day ritual.

Perhaps that’s why one of the most pervasive types of regular devotional activity is the humble mealtime offering. Even those of us raised in non-religious households are familiar with the idea of bowing our heads in thanks before a meal. If you’ve ever done it yourself feel blessed – you’ve taken part in a practice that was prevalent before Christianity and has survived remarkably intact to the present day.

Mealtime offerings are one of my absolute favorite types of regular devotional work. Mine only take about sixty seconds per meal and still manage to resonate throughout my whole day. That’s a lot of bang for your buck!

Intrigued? Read on!

Why Mealtime Offerings?

Oh, the many reasons, y’all. This type of devotional work has some serious traction behind it.

  1. It’s a time and type of devotion we’re already accustomed to in modern American culture. Granted we might not see it out and about very often, but if someone bows their heads over their plate before eating we know exactly what they’re doing without having to ask. Some of us may have even grown up doing it. It’s a familiar place devotion-wise, is what I’m saying, and if it ain’t broke why fix it?

    A family praying before a meal.

    Many of us might have taken part in this over the recent Thanksgiving holiday even if it’s not part of our usual practice.

  2. Mealtime offerings aren’t time- or labor-intensive, and there’s no expectation that they should be. We want to eat while it’s still hot! There’s no pressure to make them longer, or fancier, or hugely profound, or whatever else. We’re hungry. Get it done.
  3. They’re not intimidating because we know they vary, and that’s ok. Some folks have a set prayer every time, others make it up as they go, some adults go on forever with it, and some kids use quick nursery rhymes. It all works, so we can feel confident in knowing that whatever we come up with works, too.
  4. Eating is when we take the produce of the Earth and consume it, our foods dying so that we might live. When we die we’ll become part of that same cycle, feeding the earth for those who come after. Recognizing that most fundamental of truths is about as nature/earth/cycle centered as we can get, making it an excellent anchor for devotions.
  5. Mealtime offerings are in the lore! Not only can we draw on our own experiences with this, we know for a fact ancient polytheists did them too. Greek and Roman families made offerings from every meal on their household shrines/in their hearth fires, for instance (which is what my personal approach is based on).
  6. Mealtime devotions continued from ancestral practices right through to the present day (albeit in different forms). Because of that, they connect us directly to what our ancestors did regardless of the faith they practiced. There’s not much else in our lives that can do that. Nifty, huh?

With all of that going on it makes all the sense in the world to take a minute or three out of our day to join the party!

Timing 

We all eat. Ideally, we all eat multiple times a day. We don’t need to look for opportunities to do mealtime offerings. We’re kind of spoiled for choice!

I make offerings at every meal that involves heat to prepare. Some folks might be more comfortable with something else, though, and that’s ok too. Other timing options include only meals eaten in your home, only the evening meal, only Sunday dinner, breakfast every other day… Honestly, they’re your meals and your devotions. What works for you?

My Mealtime Offerings

In my practice meals are the dominion of Wéstyā, the Proto-Indo-European Lady of the Flame and Goddess of the Hearth. She is naturally the Goddess I look to for all domestic matters, and it is to Her that I make mealtime offerings.

I have two versions: one for when I eat at home and one for when I don’t.

At Home: In the old days Wéstyā was always present in the hearth fire. Few of us even have hearths anymore, though. That’s ok. All it takes is a candle or oil lamp in the kitchen, lit when we start preparing our meal and extinguished when we’re done with clean up. Can’t make the kitchen candle/lamp work, for whatever reason? Put Her candle on your shrine instead. I have roommates and limited counter space, so I honor Her on my shrine.

Anyway, when I begin preparing my meal (or when I start ordering delivery), I take a moment to light a candle for Wéstyā. As I do, I say:

Wéstyā is here, heart of my home. 

When the food is ready to serve/arrives courtesy of the local pizza joint, I offer Her a small bit of whatever it is before anything else is served or eaten. She gets first dibs. I just take a bite-sized piece of whatever (no meat, though – She doesn’t care for it) and put it in the little dish I keep ready for the purpose by Her candle. As I do, I say:

Burn on our hearth, Wéstyā, source of all that is holy. Bless us who dwell here, and smile on our home, and give special care to guests that our care of them might honor You.

Then eat as usual. When the meal is done, collect Her plate along with all the other dishes and clean up. Return Her cleaned dish to Her shrine while saying:

I welcomed You into my home with the offerings due a guest, Wéstyā, but I know that I am ever a guest in yours. May Your flame always shine bright. Blessings to You, Lady of the Flame!

Blow out Her candle, thus scattering Her blessings around the home. Done!

What I particularly like about this setup is that it reminds me to consider Her during the entire meal, from preparation through cleanup. However, at no point does it feel overwhelming, scary, or difficult. When I first started with this approach I kept little cards with my lines by Her candle (since everything is said there), one for each section, so I didn’t forget or stumble. After a while I naturally memorized them, but I didn’t feel like I had to. And I still keep the cards underneath Her candle, just in case.

Westya's place on my shrine.

Wéstyā’s place on my shrine. On the left, you can see the cards tucked underneath and the dish I use for Her offerings. On the right, the cards are spread out so you can see them. Unless I’m burning the candle the top covers it – I like this particular candle holder because the handle part looks like a flame too!

Away from Home: The process doesn’t really change, just the actions. I say the things I’d normally say, but in my head instead of out loud. Instead of lighting a candle I visualize it. And instead of putting Her offering on Her shrine I set a small plate up for Her to the side. I’ll either bring one with me or, if I’m in a restaurant, I’ll just request an extra saucer from the wait staff. I’ve never once had anyone not dining with me question it. Not a plate-type meal? That’s fine. Use whatever is being used for whatever you’re eating.

Variations

What I use is obviously not the be-all/end-all of possibilities for mealtime offerings. It’s totally ok if you want to change it up. Hell, I based what I actually say in large part on prayers written by Ceisiwr Serith in Deep Ancestors. Feel free to adapt what I’ve provided here to reflect your practice, the Powers you honor, and the way you take your meals. Or write your own!

I usually prepare, eat, and clean up my meals solo, so my devotions are written that way. Want to involve more people? Have the head cook do the first part, whoever’s in charge of clean up do the third, and maybe rotate the second. Or have the oldest/youngest do it. Or rock/paper/scissors for it. Or draw lots. Or roll dice. Be creative!

Want to honor a different Power? Feel free! An obvious substitution here would be the Greek Hestia or the Roman Vesta, but any home and hearth goddess would be a perfectly suitable choice. Want to honor Ancestors or Land Spirits instead of a goddess? Go for it!

Really like the candle part and want to use one away from home too? Or live somewhere that candles are absolutely prohibited (like a dorm)? Consider dedicating one of those battery-operated tea lights to Her and using it instead. Switch it on when you would usually light the candle, leave it on during the meal, and click it off when the plates are cleared and you’ve given thanks. Use a real candle if you can, but if you can’t by all means use what works.

A package of 2 LED tea lights.
Two for $1 at the Dollar Tree. Complete with “flickering effect”.

Really, the sky’s the limit here.

Devotional work doesn’t have to be difficult, complicated, intimidating, or time-intensive. It always, always goes back to hospitality – being ready and willing to entertain, offering food/drink, and being respectful. As long as you hit those three points you’re on the right track!

Prayer Ritual Basics

Since posting about my upcoming Prayer Ritual I’ve gotten several requests for a how-to guide. I figured the best place to start would be an explanation from the one who inspired me to do this, Stevie Miller over at Feathers in Amber. She graciously provided the below explanation and photos of her techniques. One of the things I most like about her practice is that she’s not afraid to experiment with different approaches, so you’ve quite a few examples to start with!

Starting an Open Prayer Ceremony
Stevie Miller

If you have spent any amount of time on social media–and really, who hasn’t?–you’ve probably seen a surprising amount of people asking for prayers. It might not occur to you, as it didn’t for me, until you start looking for it, but these requests are everywhere: sick and injured friends and family, job searches, hurting relationships, house fires, cars breaking down. In a circle of just a couple hundred people, things like this can be going wrong every day.

As a spirit worker, I seem to have something of an “on duty” sign that lights up when people specifically ask for prayer. Even if the people making the request are from different traditions than mine, or outside of polytheism altogether, I often feel moved to help. But since I didn’t want to impose my beliefs on others, I wanted to come up with a way to figure out who wanted that kind of help from me, and how I could offer it on a regular basis without it taking over my life.

A simple prayer ritual to Odin with an offering of mead and incense.

A simple altar layout for a prayer ritual, featuring an offering of mead and incense.

Enter the weekly open prayer ceremony. I let people know that I will be lighting candles and reading out petitions once a week and that I’m open to requests. Suddenly, those requests came flooding in from every direction–more than I even had candles for! People loved the idea, and I even got asked if others could pray for me in return, and if I wanted donations to be offered to any charities in return for this sacred work. I was also asked to write the article you’re reading now.

I also found that this practice has benefitted me. The routine is fantastic for ensuring that I’m offering to and talking to my Powers regularly. Social accountability–that is, other people expecting that you’re going to do something, and your posting evidence of it–is great for establishing and maintaining a good habit. It has also made me feel much more connected to others. Spirit work, especially when you serve a really niche tribe–and in my case, a discarnate, non-human tribe–can be an extremely lonely path. But with this, I’m using my skills to do good for others, and hearing back about how it has helped them. It has been starting to make me feel like I really do have a community, and they need me.

This picture shows the Odin candle, an offering of mead on top of a prayer list, and a piece of knot magick representing all the prayers made.

This picture shows the Odin candle, an offering of mead on top of a prayer list, and a piece of knot magick representing all the prayers made. She kept the cord on the altar for a week so that the Gods could watch over everyone’s intentions.

The Gods, Ancestors, and Spirits seem to enjoy being needed too. I’ve consistently gotten messages over the years, both intended for myself and intended for others, along the lines of “Ask Us! Come to Us when you are in need! We want to be a part of your lives and your works. You don’t need to do this all alone.” Calling on the Powers regularly for the people has strengthened my bond with Them too.

I wholeheartedly believe the world will be a better place when more of us are praying for each other and offering to the Powers. So if you’d like to start an open prayer ceremony of your own–which I would strongly encourage!–I’d like to offer some tips.

Define your community: Maybe you just want to open your ceremony to people close to you, or maybe you want to make it public. I post publicly on social media about it, and, odd exceptions aside, accept every prayer petition I receive. You may want to do it differently. Whatever you choose, figure out who you’re offering this service to and how you will let them know about it. An alternative is to simply gather up the prayer requests you see and hear in day to day life. You’ll be surprised how many you encounter once you start looking for them.

Set your boundaries: What Powers do you want to work with? Will you let people request prayers to a specific deity or spirit? What kinds of prayer requests will you accept? When will you accept prayer requests? What is your maximum capacity? These are all things you will need to define for yourself and your audience if you’re going to do open prayer ceremonies.

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A beautiful altar layout utilizing nine candles to represent the collective prayers said. Note the rune stones in front of the candles – she drew a general omen for everyone she prayed for and shared the results.

Create your ritual: I’ve found that it’s easiest for me to deal with open requests if I keep my ritual format simple. I do a simple invocation, I make offerings to the Powers I have invoked, I read the petitions of the people while lighting candles, and I thank the Powers for Their blessings. Sometimes I will add a component where I take an omen, such as a three rune pull or a card draw, or a component where I meditate and listen to see if the Powers have any messages for just me personally or for all the people being prayed for. That’s it.

Distance offerings: Since I’m praying for people who are scattered all over the country, I took up a practice that seems to be gaining popularity in polytheist circles: I promote offerings to charity in the name of the deity being honored that week. For example, the last couple times that I have worked with Odin, He has made it clear that He would like offerings in His name to be made to Alzheimer’s research. This allows people who are not present at your ceremony to take part if they feel so moved by giving something in exchange. Reciprocity is important in many traditions. It also helps you work on causes your Powers find important, which can only improve your devotional relationships, right?

Simplify: I keep the whole process simple because it’s easier for me to focus on the petitions, and to keep this process going without getting burnt out. For example, you don’t have to light an individual candle for every single petition. I sometimes use 9 which is a symbolically important number in my tradition; for many 3 is also a sacred number.

An image of nine tealights arranged in a pattern centered on an Odin jar candle.

Miller’s use of nine candles during a prayer ritual.

Offerings can be low key, like a nice beverage or some incense. I use Wednesday as my day of the week because that day is named after my Patron Odin (“Woden’s Day”). Keeping it on the same day each week makes it easier for me to remember (I’m lucky if I know what day it is!) and also makes it easy for people to know when their prayer requests need to get to me by.

After my prayer ceremony is over, I usually share a quick snapshot of the lit up altar just to let people know that their petitions have been spoken. I’ll share any commentary that I have from the rite itself, especially if I took an omen and want to share my reading of it.

In the future, I plan to work with different Powers and offer prayer ceremonies focused on particular intents, such as healing and abundance. I’m hoping to foster connections between people and deities or spirits they may not be as familiar with too.

I hope that this has been helpful and that you are inspired to start your own open prayer ceremony! Blessings to you and your communities.

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!