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!

Advertisements

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.

19787525_10155016198656939_8935482493483566081_o

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!

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.