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!

 

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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!

Striking the Spark – Using Oil Lamps

This is the final post of a four part series. Posts one, two, and three need to be read before reading this entry for clarity.

Now that we’ve made (or are thinking about making) an oil lamp, what do we do with it?

Like most things you’re pretty much limited only by your creativity. They’re so easy to customize that there are more options than I can possibly list. Think of them as having the flexibility of candle magick with a bit more permanence. LOTS of options!

I’ll hit a few of the uses here to get you started.

One thing to keep in mind? Oil lamps have two usable parts – the flame, and the fuel. That expands the techniques quite a bit.

Meditation and Dreamwork

This is perhaps the most widespread use of the oil lamp in spiritual practice, especially those that burn olive oil. The flame is incredibly steady, making it ideal for use as a meditative focus. It’s also dimmer than petroleum flames so it’s easier on the eyes (important to me, since I’m photosensitive).

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A simple Buddhist altar, with an oil lamp for meditation.

Oil lamps give some flexibility to meditation beyond what candles can offer. For instance, it’s incredibly simple to mix a few drops of essential oil into the olive oil, offering a light scent and a way to boost the correspondences of the oil used.

One of my favorite techniques is to anoint my third eye with oil from the lamp as a boost to my meditation, especially when I’m trying to deal with a specific issue. I’ll say a short prayer prior to lighting the lamp to ask for clarity, light the lamp, and then anoint with the oil before I settle in to my meditation session. This can also be done before sleep to enhance dreamwork.

Divination

Simply use the flame to illuminate the divination surface/tool. This is especially useful during crystal or mirror work. The steady flame that’s so useful for meditation is a natural fit here. And again, just like with meditation the oil can be customized with essential oils and used to anoint both the reader and the tools.

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For this lamp the base of the crystal ball also helps support multiple wicks.

It is also good for fire scrying. The steady flame doesn’t offer the shapes some people look for when scrying in things like campfires, which can take some adjustment. However, the flame itself plus the meditative headspace it creates, when focused on a topic, can provide a wonderful divination method.

Cleansing and Blessing Work

Back in the day the Greeks didn’t have soap (soap was a Celtic thing). The Greeks cleaned themselves by covering themselves liberally in olive oil and then scraping it off. Olive oil still has that association with cleansing, and with olive oil being the primary fuel for these kinds of lamps cleansing uses seem to be a no-brainer. Especially since the flame itself of course brings in all the transformational and purifying qualities associated with fire.

Add a little rosemary or sage oil to the olive oil already being used and you’ve got something that literally “burns away” destructive energy in a given space. It’s similar to a smudge stick, without all the smoke that is difficult to breathe and the bits of sage falling away that can start unintended fires. It can even (carefully) be carried around to “shine its light everywhere” if that’s desired.

I greatly prefer this to candles. For one, adding a few drops of sage oil to the olive oil is much neater than rubbing oil all over a candle and then having to carry it around. *shrug* That matters. The lack of smoke from this kind of lamp is also a huge bonus, especially when cleansing a sickroom. A dedicated lamp used for cleansing also carries that cleansing intent between workings, which is a bit harder to get from anointed and carved candles.

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The blessing of St. Jude Oil at a shrine in NYC. St. Jude Oil is used as a protection against evil and healing for both mind and body.

Another technique – one I use every time I do any altar work at all – is to incorporate a lamp into personal cleansing work. I light the lamp, use the flame to help calm and center myself, and then “breathe in” the flame. I visualize the flame burning away any impurity inside of me before I address myself to the Powers. Visualize the flame radiating through you to your immediate environment and you can cleanse that too.

And of course the oil can be used to anoint people and objects for cleansing.

Shielding

Light the flame of the lamp. Everywhere illuminated by the lamp is shielded, either by the flame itself or by the Presence it signifies (discussed below).

Honoring, Offering, and Presence Lamps

Oil lamps are foundational tools used around the world for shrines and temples. The lit lamp symbolizes the presence of a given Power. The maintenance of the lamp – trimming the wick, filling the lamp, meditation time before it – is also often seen as an offering to that Power.

A related use is providing a definite start/stop time for a specific presence. There are some Powers that you really don’t want lurking around. If Their presence is tied to a lamp, so They are only present when it’s lit and are not present when it’s not, you’ve essentially got a switch. It’s not foolproof, of course, and it needs to be set up, but I find it works rather well.

Using the same lamp over and over again, and simply topping it off as needed, keeps that “setting” going strong. And, as always, the oil can be used for anointing. In this case it can connect you to a given Power and convey blessings.

Spellworkings

Just as a lamp can provide an on/off switch for a given Presence, so too can it provide the same type of service for a given working.

Set up any working you like, especially if you plan on repeating the same working. (I find this particularly applicable to shielding and other defensive work, but that’s how I’m wired. YMMV.) Incorporate the creation of a dedicated lamp into whatever spellcraft you’re doing. When you want to “activate” the working, light the lamp. When you’re done with it, extinguish the lamp.

Memorials

Oil lamps are often lit to honor those who have passed during tragic circumstances, especially after disasters, battles, or terrorist attacks. This is a wonderful tradition to add to Veteran’s Day and Samhain observances, as well as working well for specific memorials throughout the year.

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A girl lights oil lamps at a Buddhist temple to honor those killed in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami in Sri Lanka.

Uniting Groups

If a group is working in separate physical locations, individuals lighting oil lamps similar to those lit by others in the group can help unite them, especially if the lighting and extinguishing follow a set liturgy/ritual. It doesn’t have to be long – a sentence and gesture might be all that’s needed – but it works. One person can purchase wicking, hack off pieces, and send them to the other members, so the wicking is all in common. Another way to unify the lamps is to have one person bless and add essential oils to a gallon of olive oil, and then mail smaller bottles containing that oil to everyone else. Remember, one one-liter bottle can burn for 250-300 hours, so a little goes a long way!

Signifying Initiation

Let’s say a group uses oil lamps on their personal altars. If someone new comes into that group, lighting their brand new lamp from the flame of an established member is a way to make them part of the group – they’re sharing the same flame.

Signifying Graduation

This is similar to the above. When someone has graduated their teaching and is qualified to teach others, their oil lamp is lit from their teacher’s to show that the knowledge has been passed on and the new student now has authorization to share that knowledge with others, eventually lighting other lamps themselves.

Passing the Torch

When one person takes over the roles/duties of another in a group setting, lighting the incoming person’s lamp with the outgoing person’s lamp is a highly visible way to “pass the torch”. If done with a perpetual flame, the same flame might burn through terms of office, regardless of who fills the role.

Etc, etc, etc

There are even more uses than these, of course. Feel free to experiment and come up with something that uniquely fits your practice. I’d love to hear what you come up with!

Striking the Spark – Constructing the Floating Wick Oil Lamp

This is the third in a four part series. Please read part one and part two before proceeding.

The floating wick oil lamp can be even easier than the standing wick lamp, depending on how it’s approached. And either way there are fewer steps!

Materials

The container for the floating wick lamp tends to be easier to find. Any wine glass works, for instance. Glass, ceramic, and metal are all appropriate choices, and I find glass particularly fitting because it doesn’t block the flame even when the liquid level drops. About the only real shape considerations are that a) you want it taller than it is wide unless you want more than one wick, and b) it needs to hold at least 1 cup of liquid. More is fine, but less liquid requires more frequent tending, which can be inconvenient.

Instructions

These are instructions for building two different versions! Either way the first step is the same, though.

1) Assemble your supplies.

The container for this lamp is a red wine glass picked up on clearance. Also needed are a pair of duck-billed pliers, a pair of wrapping pliers, a pair of wire cutters, a cup of water (not pictured), about two feet of 14g copper wire, a cork wick float, and maybe a ruler. (The wire and the wick float make two different versions of the floating wick lamp, so decide which one you want before assembling your supplies. The wick float was purchased at the same supply house that provided the wicking.)

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Again, any wire can be used. I stuck with regular copper for this lamp too.

For the Wick Float Version:

The wick float is a very simple little device. It consists of a piece of sealed cork with a metal shield on top. The cork is sealed to prevent it from absorbing oil and sinking, and the metal shield prevents the cork from catching on fire. For most floats all that remains is a hole in the center through which the wick is strung. However, I decided to go with the slightly fancier model that features adjustable “rabbit ears”. These are supposed to allow the user to raise or lower the wick without getting their fingers oily. In my experience they don’t work well for that, but they do provide convenient handles for lifting the entire float.

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See? Bunny ears!

All that’s necessary to use this is threading the wick through the float and plopping it in the lamp. *shrug* Assembly done! Once the wick is saturated in oil it’s ready to light.

The only “trick” here is the composition of the lamp oil. First fill the container about halfway with water. Add a pinch of salt if desired (blessing it is entirely optional), then top off with olive oil. Allow the liquids enough time to settle out, with the oil floating cleanly on top of the water, before adding and lighting the float.

It’s a really ingenious system – the wick floats in the oil until the oil’s gone, at which point it absorbs the water and extinguishes the flame. It’s like a built-in timer!

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You can make out the oil/water layers in this picture, and see the extra wicking swirling around in the back.

This version of the lamp cost me about $8, including the glass. I’m SUCH a big spender! *laugh*

For the Wire Wick Holder Version:

This is another holder made from bending wire, like the standing wick lamp, and there’s even less to bend with this style. However, the measurements have to be fairly exact to work because it has to balance on whatever vessel you’ve chosen. You can actually measure it out (with the ruler), or do it by eye with the wire in-hand. Whichever works for you.

1) Make a center twist.

Center the wire and make a corkscrew-twist with two rotations to hold the wick. Since this is designed to sit at the center of the glass, the two “arms” of the holder will each equal the radius of the vessel. Once you have that measurement kink the wire 90* as shown in the picture.

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The measurements here are completely dependent on the vessel chosen. This measurement fits inside of the glass I used.

2) Make other bends as needed to fit your vessel.

As you can tell this whole technique is highly dependent on what vessel you go with. I kinked the arms above to fit inside the glass, but that alone wasn’t enough to properly balance it on the lip of the glass and make sure it was sturdy. So I bent it some more. Because the glass has a flared lip it was a bit more challenging, but I eventually came up with something that worked. Experimentation is key.

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These angles will keep the center wick-holder centered as well as almost clamping it to the sides of the glass.

3) Finish off the wire ends.

Once you’ve got the wire holder done you’ve got to decide what to do with the remaining wire ends. I could have decided to just clip them below the lip part, but I wanted something decorative and pretty. So once more with the spirals! I spiraled the ends up, and made them large to help “seat” the holder over the glass. Once again the spirals looked bare, so I hit my bead stash and made pretty little dangles for the spirals. And here’s the final product!

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As with the floating wick lamp, simply thread the wicking through the holder part, wait until it’s saturated with oil, and light.

At about $6 this lamp came in a little cheaper than the floating wick lamp, simply because wire is cheaper than the cost of the pre-made wick float. The only reason the standing wick lamp was $10 more expensive was because of the vessel I chose – change that and there’s not much cost difference at all between the styles, so it really is a matter of personal preference.

The next post will offer some tips and techniques for actually using the lamps we’ve made in this series!

Striking the Spark – The History of Oil Lamps

This post introduces oil lamps. The two posts after this will be step-by-step tutorials of how to make your own version of two different styles. The final post will discuss how to use the lamp you’ve made.

One of my favorite stories is the Greek myth about how humans first got fire.

Prometheus was a Titan who created mankind (and all the other species of the earth) from mud. Athena breathed life into the mud figures Prometheus made, and Epimetheus (another Titan) was tasked with gifting all the creatures of the earth with their various qualities and skills, like cunning and speed and fur and talons and scales.

That all worked beautifully, except that by the time Epimetheus got around to gifting mankind there were no more gifts to give. So Prometheus decided that man should walk upright like the Gods and have fire to boot.

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Prometheus Creating Man in the Presence of Athena (Detail), by Jean-Simon Berthelemy and Jean-Baptiste Mauzaisse.

His work for mankind didn’t stop there, though. As the Titan god of forethought and cunning he was pretty damn clever. Clever enough to trick Zeus into accepting bones and fat as the portion of sacrifices meant for the gods, leaving the meat for man. Zeus was not amused by this, however, and He was a sore loser. So he punished mankind by taking fire away from them.

Prometheus couldn’t bear to see man so cold and helpless without fire. He stole some from the Hall of the Gods/the sun in response (sources differ as to location), and used that to replace the fire Zeus had taken away. In retaliation for the theft Zeus gave mankind Pandora with her jar, and Prometheus got eternal torture.

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“Torture” in this case referring to Zeus chaining Prometheus down and having an eagle eat his liver. Which was bad enough, but HIS liver kept regenerating. So the eagle ate it EVERY DAY. No wonder Prometheus is known as the Helper of Mankind! He was eventually rescued by Herakles, so at least the torture eventually ended.

There’s so much to love in this story, what with the layers and the ethical questions and the perspectives, even in the bare-bones version I give above. Disregarding all of that, however, we can see that fire itself has long been recognized as essential and necessary for the development of mankind and the growth of civilization.

We see the same idea – albeit in a less engaging form – in modern times when we check out current scientific research. Not only did fire allow early humans to cook food and create weapons, cognitive evolution studies now suggest that fire itself physically “altered our brains, helping endow us with capabilities such as long-term memory and problem-solving”.

According to the theory, having a fire that kept predators at bay allowed humans to sleep deeply enough at night to enter REM sleep, improving our ability to learn multi-step tasks like tool manufacturing.

Even more exciting, fire could have directly changed the way our brains work. Focusing on fire allowed early humans to reach meditative states, and the regions of the brain affected by those states overlap quite a bit with the brain regions that govern working memory. It’s working memory that allows us to think about multiple things at once and relate concepts to each other, and “it’s an essential trait for imagining and executing complicated plans”. People would have first experienced this without trying, just by sitting around a campfire.

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Like this one. Sadly, there were no s’mores for early man.

Whether we approach it from a mythic viewpoint or a scientific one, it can easily be said that fire is what allowed humans to become human. From a community campfire to the hearth of every home, from torches to oil lamps, fire has been our first and greatest tool in our struggle to survive and thrive in our world.

Is it really a surprise, then, that fire is still considered sacred in so many ways by so many faiths?

Oil lamps in particular hold a special place in religious practices all around the world. Beyond the advantages of a portable flame, the flame from an oil lamp burns with less flickering than a campfire. That steady burn amplifies the tendency of the human mind to enter meditative states when focusing on it. Meditating in front of flames is a practice that has extended in an unbroken line from the earliest humans to the present day.

There is absolutely no reason why modern-day polytheists can’t join our ancestors and experience flame the same way, with oil lamps of our very own.

Oil Lamp Symbolism

The uses of lamps for meditation are fairly universal. Additionally, there have been quite a few symbolic uses/meanings layered on to them too. These vary according to spiritual tradition, of course, but there are some interesting similarities between cultures.

Lamps are often used as symbols of “lighting the way to the Divine”, and can represent the soul rising to meet the gods. In Orthodox Christian churches the sanctuary lamp is first lit when the church is consecrated and burns olive oil perpetually thereafter. The sanctuary lamp thus honors the presence of Christ within the church. Hinduism links lamps with Truth and Wisdom, as well as burning them in honor of various deities, and lamps either burn perpetually or are lit at sunset and extinguished at dawn.

Incense offerings are lit from the lamp flame in a wide variety of traditions.

Fuel Choices

Pretty much any burnable liquid has been used in oil lamps throughout history. Most modern-day lamps burn a petroleum-based fuel, but historically fuels have been whatever burnable could be locally produced. Traditional Indian lamps use clarified ghee as a fuel, for instance, and coconut and castor oils are popular for the oil lamps used in Santeria. Olive oil was the easiest source for people living around the Mediterranean, and olive oil is what I prefer to use in my lamps.

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A working olive oil press in Nazareth Village, a historical and archaeological re-enactment of a first century Jewish village in modern-day Israel.

Safety-wise, olive oil is at the top of the list for liquid fuels. The amount of heat required to make it actually catch fire is the highest of any vegetable oil and much higher than petroleum products – it will not flame without a wick, and the wick must be exposed to air to burn. Submerging the wick in the oil will put it out. This helps prevent accidents. Olive oil also produces less soot and scent, so even those with sensitivities to lamp oil fumes should be able to use olive oil.

Olive oil is cost effective too. Most surviving historical examples of olive oil lamps are small, often just a couple of inches across. A liter of olive oil will provide 250-300 hours of light, so a small vessel will contain enough oil to burn as long or longer than a much larger petroleum-based lamp.

Later pressings of oil are actually more traditional for lamp fuel and tend to burn better (fewer solid bits are present in later pressings), so feel free to get the cheapest pressing of pure olive oil you can. I usually pick it up in at ethnic food stores. Olive oil also keeps for longer than any other edible oil – up to 15 months if stored in a tightly sealed container in a cool location. Refrigeration will extend the life of the oil.

Correspondence-wise olive oil is associated with health, purification, and peace. It has traditionally been used to bless, anoint, or draw beneficial things towards the user. Also, if additional correspondences are desired olive oil can easily be blended with other oils. Just remember that significantly changing the composition of the oil will change the way it burns. A drop or two of any additional oils should be fine for magickal use.

And yes, if desired you can absolutely use the oil in the lamp for anointing and blessing purposes in ritual. How’s that for multi-purpose?

Types of Oil Lamps

Olive oil lamps are constructed in a wide variety of ways, but for the sake of brevity I’m going to limit discussion to my two favorites – the standing wick lamp and the floating wick lamp. Not only are they beautiful and easy to maintain, but they’re also incredibly simple to make and customize.

The Standing Wick Lamp

This style is made from any water-tight dish/saucer/bowl/tray that can take the heat (sturdy ceramic is just fine), a wick, and a length of thick wire. The wire is twisted into a short spiral that holds the wick, spiraled around a few times to form a base that will keep the wick upright, and then bent to form a decorative handle from which charms or beads may be hung. This can of course be more complicated if you like – I’ve seen some gorgeous version with one wire being wrapped in such a way that it supports multiple wicks. This lamp needs to be tended very regularly to monitor fuel and heat levels, and as such is not the best choice for a perpetual flame.

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A simple version of this lamp, with a copper wire wick holder in a shallow bowl.

The Floating Wick Lamp

The floating wick lamp gets its name from the way the wick floats inside the oil, unlike the supported type where it lays on the bottom of the vessel.

The vessel for this lamp can be any water-tight container, including glass as well as ceramic or metal. Ideally, this type of lamp needs something narrower than it is tall to allow the water and oil to level out. Cylindrical shapes are perfect – most of the purchased styles have cylindrical glass liners inside the perhaps fancifully-shaped metal sheath.

The container is filled about half-way with water (and sometimes a few pinches of blessed salt), and then filled the rest of the way with oil. The wick is either threaded through a floating cork topped by a metal shield or suspended by a metal wick holder braced on either side of the vessel (often called an “Old Believer” holder – see third picture below). The metal wick holder can be purchased or can be made from twisted wire, ceramic, or metal. You can even make one out of wood if you cover the top in a layer of foil.

Floating wick lamps are very safe as the water prevents the lamp from overheating and puts out the wick should the lamp be accidentally tipped or run out of fuel. It’s also the best choice for lamps that will burn for long periods of time – with the right kind of wick it can burn 12-18 hours before it requires tending.

If you want to buy a ready-made lamp you can get ones that stand on tables or hang from walls and ceilings. You can also get a peg-type container that is designed to fit inside of a taper holder, which makes it look more like a goblet and gives more height.

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Various styles of floating wick lamps.

Wicks

All of these lamps use loosely woven cotton or hemp wicks – standard woven round wicks will do very well, or you can make your own from cotton mop heads. Fiberglass wicks are too tight to allow the thick olive oil to penetrate. Wicks must be saturated with the oil before they will burn properly. Occasionally trimming the charred part from the end of the burning wick will ensure that the wick continues to burn evenly. My favorite source for wicking caters to Eastern Orthodox Christians and charges less than $5 for over a year’s worth of wicking. (I’ve been experimenting with making my own wicking, but I’ve not come up with anything superior.)

To maintain a perpetual flame, the lamp flame can be used to light a candle or other lamp. The wick in the primary lamp can then be trimmed or whatever, and the lit candle can then “return” the flame to the lamp.

Making Your Own Oil Lamps

As I mentioned above, both lamp styles are incredibly simple to make and require a minimum of specialized tools.

The next post in this series will be a step-by-step tutorial (with pictures!) of how to make a standing wick lamp. The post after that will be the same type of thing for floating wick lamps. The final post of this four post series will discuss tips and techniques for using the lamp you’ve made.

So stay tuned!

Trusting the Powers

I’d been working with my Lady exclusively for 15 years before I officially dedicated myself to Her service. It wasn’t a fear of commitment, exactly. I was perfectly willing to commit to Her. She’s amazing. And if She’d changed Her mind later about working with me I would have understood and carried on – I’ve done it before and survived it perfectly well, thank you.

I simply couldn’t imagine why She would ever want to commit to me. Even before I knew which end of an athame was sharp I knew that Her accepting me into Her service established a two-way relationship, gave Her responsibilities to me as well as me to Her. Why the hell would She want to do that? I was so convinced that She wouldn’t want to bother with me that I didn’t listen to Her when She said that relationship was exactly what She was going for.

So W/we did this whole “together until one of U/us wants to bail” thing. That’s as far as I would let it go. Until I woke up one otherwise unremarkable morning filled with the knowledge that Her admittedly vast patience with my hesitance was gone and it was time to step it up. Ok then. Through an interesting game of deity telephone with multiple people I wound up naked in a ritual while a trusted top beat the hell out of me with everything from a flogger to a damn boat oar. He’s creative and has quite the toy box, so who knows what else was involved by the end? I certainly wasn’t tracking!

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I can pretty much guarantee no kitchen sinks were involved. Otherwise? No clue.

At the time I had a hellaciously high pain tolerance, but this wasn’t a scene and there was little to no warm up. It was rough from the get-go. Rough in more than one sense, actually. I’m very musically cued, so the soundtrack for this ritual was a playlist of songs that pulled up every painful emotional thing I had gone through during my entire time with Her, including the 2 years I spent in Florida recovering from what was essentially a mental breakdown. The pain of this ritual wasn’t just physical, it was deliberately emotionally painful too.

I was sobbing within 5 minutes. The soundtrack was over an hour long.

I thought when we started that the point of the ritual was simply to endure it, to show that I was strong enough to serve Her, to earn my place. (Because obviously I had to earn a place with Her. It’s not like She could have wanted me as-is. *rolls eyes*) Every time I was driven to my knees I got back up to take more, getting more and more pissed at myself and my “weakness” as the time crawled past.

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And no, Chumbawamba was not on my playlist. What a missed opportunity!

Near the end of the playlist – and my endurance – I got knocked down again. Except this time, instead of getting pissed at myself I got pissed at Her. How much more did She want from me? I very clearly remember snarling out loud “Well dammit! I could REALLY use some FUCKING help here, since I’m doing all this for You anyway!!!”

I didn’t feel another blow for the remaining 10ish minutes. She took them instead. My body moved under the force of the blows, but every muscle in my body instantly relaxed and my breathing immediately leveled out. I couldn’t even hear much of the music anymore. I was wrapped in Her, in contentment and peace, and standing there to finish off that soundtrack was suddenly no more difficult than standing in line during a high wind.

During that entire 10 minute period I also felt Her satisfaction and relief. As the soundtrack ran out and the blows stopped coming I realized – FINALLY – that She didn’t want a demonstration of my endurance. She knew how good my endurance was. My endurance was part of the problem.

She wanted my trust. She wanted me to lean on Her, to rely on Her to hear my prayers at night and still be there in the morning. She wanted me, needed me, to have enough faith in myself to have faith in Her. The whole damn ritual was Her last-ditch effort to get that through to me. Waking up the next morning bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, with hardly a mark on me and no soreness to speak of, was the cherry on the top of my “Aren’t I a Clueless Mess?” sundae.

It’s true that in some cases bruises really do teach best. But I’d like to help others avoid that, if I can. Hence this post.

Let’s start at the beginning. What is trust?

The dictionary definition of trust is a “reliance on the integrity, strength, ability, surety, etc,. of a person or thing; confidence”. It then goes on to define trust as the “confident expectation of something; hope”.

At the time I relied on no one but myself. I didn’t have enough confidence in myself to feel confident in trusting others to be there for me – why would they? The few people that I had relied on throughout my life to that point had all abandoned me for one reason or another, and I didn’t have any real hope that the trend would change. Even with a goddess. Maybe especially with a goddess. I mean, wasn’t She busy with more important things than me? So I managed myself and figured She’d let me know if She needed me for anything else.

That whole attitude had some unintended consequences. I didn’t expect Her to magickally fix my life, which was good. But it never crossed my mind that She might want to make things better for me, so it never occurred to me to ask for help in the first place. That effectively tied Her hands – She respected me and my own agency more than I respected myself, and that limited my relationship with Her. Even more, that “I am an island” attitude trickled into every relationship I had with all the other Powers. I didn’t give Anyone any openings to make O/our relationships a partnership.

After literally getting my ass kicked enough to see the problem I realized this isn’t where I wanted things to be. I had to fix it.

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The Powers will catch us, as long as trust Them enough to fall. Without our trust They just stand there. Waiting. Tapping Their feet. I’m damned lucky my Lady knew me well enough not to push!

How do we develop trust in Them?

There are a couple of things I had to do to really start trusting the Powers. Maybe these will apply to you and maybe they won’t, but here are the steps I took. (And wow does it look neater in a nicely numbered list than it did when I was living it!)

1)      Start at the Center.

I talk about this a lot. When in doubt, when hurt or lost or confused, go to your Center and reassess. (Don’t know where your Center is? Check out this post.) It applies here too – it’s hard to figure out how you relate to O/others when you don’t know how you relate to yourself.

When I went back to my Center I had to figure a few things out. I knew I had trust issues. Those trust issues were a defense mechanism, but for what exactly? I needed to figure out what they were defending me against. Once I figured that out I could then assess whether those defenses were still useful and address them accordingly.

The absolute core of everything was this idea of abandonment. I figured that anyone I counted on would leave me, either physically or emotionally, the second I began depending on them. Worse yet, they’d leave without notice – leaving my routine-dependent self scrambling to fill whatever niche they left vacant.

I can’t even say this was an irrational fear, since I have a long list I can point to for reference. And since the only common denominator between all those people was me, then obviously they must have all left because of something I did. In most cases I had no idea what that could have been (although WOW did I have theories), but there it was.

This led to me being more distant from others than I think I would have been otherwise. *shrug* If I wasn’t close to them, it wouldn’t hurt so much when they left. I also had a distinct lack of confidence in my own charm/awesomeness/lovability, because nothing intrinsically “me” had been enough to make people stick around before. To keep them around I had to be more than just me – I had to become indispensable. They couldn’t leave if they needed me, right?

It’s not like all of those issues were limited to my human interactions. Oh, no, that would be way too easy. They influenced my interactions with the Powers too. As a handy example, it’s exactly this line of thought that led to my needing the dedication ritual I talked about at the beginning of this post.

Once I figured all of that out – and it took time – everything came down to one simple question: was protecting myself from future hurt more important to me than building my relationships with the Powers?

I won’t lie. For awhile protecting myself was more important. My armor was what I needed to be functional at the time. Not that I sat on my hands or anything. I spent that time stabilizing myself, anchoring my Center, finding and exploring my purpose. Once I had enough of an anchor that reaching out no longer seemed so scary those relationships with the Powers felt more necessary. I’d just needed to do the prep work.

2)      Ditch “blind faith” in favor of actions.

Those of us who grew up in monotheistic faiths were told, again and again, things like “God will provide”. I was, at least. I heard that as a kid as I once again shoved my clothes in a trash bag for yet another move, and I heard it when we were trying to feed 5 people on $20 a week, and I heard it when I tore ligaments in my ankle and my mom couldn’t afford to take me to the doc-in-a-box for a few days to get it taken care of. “God will provide” always had this underlying subtext of “because we certainly can’t”. We turned to God when we had no other options. And every time I missed school to take care of my little sister because my mom was too blitzed to care I once again saw it demonstrated that God didn’t provide, and that if I personally couldn’t cover it then there was no certainty anyone else could or would bother to.

If blind faith without follow-through worked for me I’d still be monotheist. That didn’t change when I started working with my Lady. I didn’t give Her everything from the get-go. I couldn’t. By the time She came to me I didn’t know how.

What I could do, though, was extend just enough trust to cover one thing. That was plenty challenging to start with! When I worked through my issues and stumbled over something in my head that triggered me, something that made me cry or made me rage or made me shut down completely, I turned to Her. I trusted Her to be with me when I worked through all the reasons I couldn’t have Her in my life.

Every time She did the equivalent of petting my hair and murmuring to me I felt a little safer, a little better, a little more valued and loved. And just barely brave enough to keep spelunking in my own dark places.

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There are monsters hiding in the dark. *shiver*

Gradually I started trusting Her with other things. And She delivered. Trust wasn’t given over in one go, it was built step-by-step. The first time I argued with Her I knew it was over. I just knew She’d walk away and find someone that was less trouble. When She actually listened to me, took what I said into account, and was happy that I’d stood up for myself? I was dumbfounded. I had absolutely no idea what to do with that.

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Me, afterwards.

I think that moment was when W/we turned the corner. She earned my trust, action by action, brick by brick. Now it’s hard for me to imagine not trusting Her – it would be like not trusting gravity. And with that kind of stability I found reaching out beyond Her and trusting others a much easier prospect.

3)      Let Powers you trust vouch for Powers you don’t know yet.

As a polytheist I know each Power as individual and distinct, like people. And on the whole I still work from the premise that people are generally not to be trusted. That carries over when I engage the Powers.

What’s different now is that I trust my Lady implicitly. When She asks me to work with Someone I trust Her to have vetted Them. By vouching for Them She knowingly risks my hard-earned trust in Her. And since I trust that She values the relationship we’ve built, and I can always count on Her support, I have the confidence to do as She asks. After all, even if something happens with that relationship my Lady is always there to support me and help me if I need it. Having not had that kind of dependability before, realizing I had it was life-changing.

How does trusting Them change things?

A willingness to trust has made the relationships I have with the Powers possible. Once I trusted my Lady I was able to extend at least a willingness to trust to other Powers. Once They proved trustworthy (and my Lady was super-careful in the beginning to make sure They would) it became even easier to branch out. Even to other people!

There are now several Powers in addition to my Lady that I gladly work with, that I’ll go out on a limb for, because They’ve proven They’ll back me up if necessary. A few can even vouch for Others and have that taken into account. That’s so far from where I started it’s in another universe.

I still have some trust issues, true. I’m gradually working through them, and I will be for the foreseeable future. But I would never have started the process at all without my Lady “encouraging” me to, and working through them has brought me closer to Her than I’d ever dreamed possible. My Center is more solid, I actually feel balanced more often than not, and I’ve grown through my interactions with Them in uncountable ways.

All of this growth comes from that one specific dedication ritual years ago. In my case bruises might not teach best, but they certainly did open me up to the lesson!

Defining the Work

My last post was pretty well received overall, but I did get some flack. My repetition of “do the Work” seemed harsh and demanding to some people, triggered some defensiveness, and those responses ranged from dismissive of the concept to insulting me personally.

I just didn’t get what all the fuss was about. I was being totally clear. Right? Well, maybe not. Maybe I should have spent a bit more time defining and unpacking what I meant.

What I Mean When I Say “Work”

“Work” refers to anything you and the Powers with which you interact think you should be doing.

That’s it. That’s the whole shebang.

If your Work consists of pouring tea and saying “hi” for 10 minutes every second Tuesday, that’s fine. If your Work consists of every spare hour in your day, that’s fine. It’s up to you and the Powers, and anyone else’s opinion about it matters not at all.

So I was confused with the kick-back. How does stating “do the Work” – a short form of “do what the Powers want you to do” – make anyone defensive? It’s not like I was specifying what the Work was, I was just encouraging people to get out there and do it.

After thinking about it a bit I realized it was because “work” is a loaded term, and I wasn’t’ accommodating the assumptions people make about it.  I talked it out with some people, thought about it, did some meditation, and worked out what some of those assumptions might be. This isn’t a comprehensive list, but these are the topics that came up most often during my discussions.

Assumptions About “Work”

Assumption Number 1: Types of Work are somehow hierarchically arranged.

Thanks to the monotheistic framework many of us still carry around in our heads we’ve got this idea that “sacred Work” and “secular Work” are separate things. Sacred Work consists of typical clergy stuff like leading rituals and kneeling at altars. Secular Work involves making art or raising children or having a career. Sacred Work is often seen as more valid and more appreciated by the Powers than secular Work, and if you’re called to do Work on the secular side you’re “not as good as” those doing work on the sacred side.

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Hello, unnecessary binary!

That is, of course, bullshit. *shrug* When we’re dealing with the number of people on this planet, and the relationships each of those people can form with the lengthy list of Powers out there, thinking that every Power wants or needs the same thing from every person is ridiculous. Intellectually we can see that when we’re looking at it. But emotionally our default is still “clergy is better than laity, and monastics are like clergy squared”. That’s what we learned as children, and it’s hard to overcome that kind of embedded bias.

The most obvious consequence of this idea is that people overextend. As I’ve mentioned before, there are simply not enough hours in the day to work a full-time job and raise a family and have a social life and have hobbies and spend hours a day in front of an altar and sleep. No one can do it all. Something’s got to give somewhere. And when someone breaks, the spiritual work is usually the very first thing to go. It makes a helluva lot more sense to try to balance it from the get-go, doesn’t it?

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Make one piece larger and the other pieces get smaller. Not exactly rocket surgery here.

And if we’re not careful, we’ll get so overwhelmed that we’ll burn out completely. At which point no Work gets done at all. How is that helpful?

We have to understand – and appreciate, and support – that the Powers might want us to raise children as our Work. Or make art. Or devote our lives to medicine or law or teaching or building things. There are so many ways out there to serve, and all of them are important and valuable.

Assumption Number 2: The Work we do affirms and legitimizes our practice.

The key question to ask ourselves when considering this assumption is exactly W/whose affirmation/legitimization/approval are we looking for here? If we’re looking to have our practice approved by other devotional polytheists we need to step back and rethink things. Because really? It does not matter what other devotional polytheists think about our work. All that matters is what the Powers think about our work. If They think we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing, then we’re good to go. All that other stuff can get in the way.

Now this is not a “get out of jail free” card or anything. You’ve still got to take action to have a practice. I mean, doing something is the definition of practicing it. But the type and amount of action you take is strictly between you and the Powers. Anyone else who tries to judge you is exercising the worst sort of hubris, and you trying to meet a human’s standards with your practice completely misses the point.

Assumption Number 3: The time and energy devoted to our Work must meet some sort of minimum requirement.

I am sworn to the service of my Lady, and She’s fairly demanding with my time. I spend a minimum of an hour a day in prayer and meditation, and more time outside of that on things like teaching classes and writing blog posts. It’s all part and parcel of the Work I do for Her.

But that is not some standard others have to meet. There are reasons my Work manifests the way it does – many if not most of them in my own head – and it makes no sense for other people to try to pattern their Work off of mine. That’s like trying to treat your spouse the same way your BFF treats theirs. The relationships are entirely different because the people involved are different, and that affects how things will manifest.

And that’s ok.

Are the Powers happy with the effort you put in to what you do? If so then yay, keep up the good work. If They’re not then step it up – but because THEY want you to, not because you’re patterning your practice off of someone else’s.

Assumption Number 4: The Work we do is pre-defined and pre-determined.

I think that some people see “Do the Work” as “do a specific type of work”. The way I see it all the Powers are individuals, so what They want and need from us will vary as much as They do. However, most of us don’t really have a tradition of practice to fall back on that allows for individuality when it comes to our gods, because most of us are used to only having one. And in the Judeo-Christian sphere the Work we can do for God is very clearly laid out. So obviously the gods we work with as polytheists will have the same type of clearly-laid-out template.

Which is nonsense, of course, once we think about it. My Lady works with me like She does because I’ve got a specific skill/interest set to bring to the table that meshes with part of what She wants to see develop in the world. She’ll work with someone else in a completely different way, because their skill/interest set will be different than mine and will mesh with Her goals differently. And that’s just ONE goddess. The other Powers I work with want different things from me entirely, and that’s only to be expected. Add a whole planet full of people, and every Power available, and the way Work is expressed is going to be wildly different between practitioners.

There’s no way the Work we might be called to do is pre-defined or pre-determined. We have to figure out what it is as we go.

So how do I figure out what the Powers want from me?

When we start dating someone many of us gravitate to the standard dinner-and-a-movie trope. It’s easy, it’s established, and it’s safe. Both people involved pretty much know how it goes, so instead of stressing out over what’s going to happen or how formal to dress people can focus on getting to know each other better. The surroundings and basic activities are templates that allow us to focus on all the other stuff faster.

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It’s so common we have to work to AVOID it.

In the beginning that’s all our Work is. It’s a stand-in template that gives us a place to start until we figure out where this new relationship is going next. It’s all it can be – we haven’t received any other direction. But we’ve got to start somewhere, so basic Hospitality serves as our version of dinner-and-a-movie. For that we need:

1)      A place to welcome the Powers when They visit. This is usually an altar or shrine. Setting something like this up is a common first step when trying to connect to a Power.

2)      Food and/or drink to make Them feel welcome, which can be pretty much anything at this stage of the game. Call it Cakes and Ale, or offerings, or whatever else you like – sharing this kind of thing with a Power is both common and necessary.

3)      The ability to have a conversation, which means we’re learning how to quiet our heads so They have inner silence in which to speak. All that meditation and writing in dream journals and such that newcomers are encouraged to do? It all helps us quiet our heads, which helps us have useful communication.

This is what we mean when we encourage newcomers to “do the Work” and then start off on altars and the like. It’s a bare basics template we can put out there to get the conversation started and the ball rolling. Once things are going well changes will of course be made to this framework, to suit both you and the Powers. You might decide that scheduling this kind of work first thing in the morning never works well for you, so you switch it to right before bed. Some Powers will want regular meditation, and Some will prefer to talk to you in dreams. *shrug* There are as many variations as there are participants, and we have to be willing to go with the flow on this type of thing.

Of course, if the Powers you’re working with happen to belong to a tradition with a known ritual practice (like the Egyptians, for instance) then you might be able to bypass these basics completely and go straight to that. All of that is ok – it just depends on how your relationship with Them develops.

There’s another thing to note about this type of beginning interaction with the Powers. It’s a beginning, and we are nowhere near expert in the process until later.

Practice Makes Perfect

Like a very talented pianist friend once told me when I was a boy; it’s better to practice a musical instrument for five minutes a day, than to practice for two hours, once a week. It’s something I never forgot.” Make Art Every Day

The idea that daily practice of any skill is important is not a new one. Beginning writers are often told to make time every day to write. Musicians hear the same thing, and dancers hear it too. It’s also recommended for people who engage in meditation. In fact, “do a little every day” is common advice for many skills out there.

Interacting with the Powers is no different, which is why I’m so insistent on the need to do the Work every day regardless of anything else.

For all of the above skills, “do a little every day” is usually followed by “and make it a priority”. It’s so easy for us to get distracted, to reschedule and push off and rush through, and when we finally come up for air from everything else in our lives we realize that our altars are dusty and we haven’t visited the Powers in entirely too long. Making it a part of our daily schedule makes it part of our routine, and once it’s a part of our routine we do the Work as a matter of course. It’s not something we have to force ourselves to do. It just is.

Even better, every session spent at our altars gives us a chance to practice the mechanics. Eventually we know where the tools are, the most effective way to fill the offering dishes, and the words we want to say. We don’t have to think about them anymore – they’re readily accessible and available.

Once that happens we’re able to go beyond the words and the gestures to the meaning/joy/reverence/union/love behind what we’re doing. And our persistence makes it more likely that we’ll make the connections we’re working towards.

Image

A much more poetic way of framing the concept.

So yes, we have to do the Work. Whatever the Work is for you and the Powers needs to be done, and at least in the beginning it helps if it’s done frequently enough that it becomes second nature. Only then can our Work flourish.

I hope that this makes my stance on the issue at least a little more clear.

The next few posts will be much more personal and close-to-home. I’m excited!