Crowned in Prayer: Hair Care as Spiritual Practice

Hair has had a special significance in spiritual practice for millennia. Whether we consider it our crowning glory, a symbol of self, or the part of our bodies closest to the Divine, tending our hair as a spiritual practice has a long and varied history. We polytheists can use that foundation to support our own spiritual work. 

How can hair be spiritual?

When considering our hair as a tool for our spiritual practice, it’s important to consider what our hair means to us, or what it might symbolize in our lives, before we start. Most of us take our hair for granted, but we often do have pretty intense feelings when we think about it a bit.

Is your hair merely something you ignore? A frame for your face? A method of self-expression? Perhaps it’s your favorite feature, or favorite fashion accessory, or preferred way to pamper yourself. Maybe your hair is a sexual thing for you, and you consider colors and styles to be your plumage. Maybe it’s something to hide behind, a curtain between you and the world. Maybe, like the Biblical Samson, you think of your hair as the seat of your power. Maybe your hair is one way you identify with your culture, heritage, or community. Maybe having someone else pet and play with your hair is relaxing. Maybe that makes you feel vulnerable, though, or you feel violated when other people touch your hair. Maybe it’s a safety hazard at work. Perhaps you don’t have any strong feelings attached to your hair but your spouse loves it.

Once we know how we relate to our hair, we can begin to see how we can relate it to our spiritual practice. If your hair is your favorite way to express yourself, then it can be used to express your devotion too. If it makes you feel vulnerable, maybe you want to cover it up so only those with whom you feel safest – including the Powers – can see it. If it’s a symbol of vanity for you, and you see vanity as a flaw you’re trying to improve, maybe shaving it off completely would be incredibly meaningful for you. If it’s a matter of heritage or cultural affiliation, then obviously look back to any hair practices that might be associated with that and work from there. If you don’t feel any kind of way about it, maybe you can start using it as a mindfulness tool and give it meaning.

There are no right answers here. It’s all about your personal relationship to both your hair and your practice, and that’s going to vary individually. Really give yourself some time to work it through, and keep it in mind as you check out the below options. You’ll naturally find that some of these methods speak to you more than others do. And that’s great! Those are the places to start exploring.

Some Practices to Consider

When it came time to put this post together I did a lot of research. Interestingly enough, everything I came up with fit rather neatly into three general categories. I love when that happens!

Those categories are Hair Care, Styling, and Covering.

Hair Care

This is the easiest and most subtle place to start. If we consider our hair to be a symbol of ourselves, and we either incorporate it into our spiritual practice or dedicate it to a specific Power, then the way we tend it can symbolize the way we tend our spiritual practice or the Power(s) to Whom our hair is dedicated. Cool, huh?

Some options here can include (but are not limited to):

  • Ritually rinsing or washing our hair before ritual or during sacred baths

    This is easy peasy. We can ritually rinse or wash our hair before engaging in ritual, on High Days, and/or on days sacred to a given Power. Light some candles, use smell-good products, sing or chant, lavish our hair with care and attention, the whole time keeping in mind the reason behind the action. Then, every time we see or smell our hair afterwards it’ll bring that symbolic action to mind again. It’s a great way to encourage mindfulness, and no one around will have the slightest idea that there’s anything different going on.

  • Using products made with ingredients or scented with a fragrance sacred to a Power
    This takes the above idea and advances it a single step. For instance, let’s say you’re cultivating a relationship with Aphrodite (for Whom hair care would be an excellent devotional act). Why not use rose-scented hair products? The scent would be another reminder of Her, or even of Her place “above” you. That can work for a wide variety of different Powers! Can’t find anything scented for the Power you’re working with? Consider buying an unscented product and adding your own essential oils. Problem solved!

  • Using only natural hair care products
    This whole ideas runs right along the same path as “don’t use plastic ritual tools”. If you hold by that, and you’re tending your hair as a spiritual act, then it just makes sense to use natural products. This doesn’t have to be complicated, though. More and more natural hair products hit the market every day. My favorite brand – Shea Moisture – is even carried at Target. No trip to Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s required.

There are TONS of options when it comes to natural hair care!

There are TONS of options when it comes to natural hair care!

  • Using only hair care products we’ve ritually made ourselves
    Again, this is a natural continuation of the above. Making our own products allows us to choose all the ingredients and scents with intent and then ritualize every step of the production process. Using what we’ve made would continuously remind us of the energy that went into the making. There are recipes and tutorials all over the internet, so I won’t get into all the possibilities, but here are a few to consider:

    • Making your own shampoo/conditioner soap bars
    • Brewing tisanes (herbal teas) and using them as hair rinses
    • Using soap nuts to wash and condition your hair
    • Making various deep conditioning treatments
    • Going no ‘poo (shampoo, that is)
  • Never cutting our hair

    This is a more long-term strategy, but it can be a pretty powerful one. If we see our hair as symbolic of our relationship to a Power, then cutting it could be seen as cutting the relationship. So don’t. Let your hair grow forever, only trimming it as necessary to maintain hair health. This naturally slides into some of the Styling options listed explored below, too.

  • Shaving our heads

    This is obviously a polar opposite view of the “never cutting our hair” option above. There the hair itself as seen as symbolic of the relationship to a Power, so cutting it would be bad. However, if we instead see hair as symbolic of our relationship to the world, to vanity or attachments or a secular life, then shaving it off can by symbolic of both our rejection of that and of our putting our spirituality first.

    Shaving might strike some folks as more extreme than never cutting our hair, but it’s becoming more accepted for men and women every day. And don’t forget that different lengths and even styles are possible with shaving. It doesn’t have to mean “completely bald” unless that’s what you’d like it to mean.

Captain Picard, boldly (and baldly) going where no man has gone before.

Captain Picard, boldly (and baldly) going where no man has gone before.

Hair care can be as simple or complicated as you’d like it to be, and as you can see there are a ton of options that fall into this category! It’s also something that’s dead easy to include in just about any lifestyle. Bonus!

Styling

Regardless of what methods you use to care for your hair, how you style it after can also become a significant part of your practice. As a bonus, many of these methods will work under full veils if you’d like to transition between the two.

Here are some options:

  • Wear a Blessed/Sacred Accessory
    This is a rather simple approach that won’t draw much attention.
    Pick up a hair accessory – a jeweled bobby pin, for instance, or a hair comb – and dedicate that to whatever Power you’d like. Then wear it when you feel the need.

    How about a hair stick?

    How about a hair stick?

    There are so many options available that it’s easy to tailor our choices so that the color(s) and/or materials used in the jewelry are sacred to a particular Power. We can also do a formal dedication blessing, ask for the accessory to be blessed every morning during devotions before tucking it into our hair, etc.

    Don’t worry if you’ve got little or no hair, either – you can still get in on this! If nothing else, headbands (and the things we attach to them) are options too. No hair required! Other options include hats of all kinds, beanies, etc. Get creative!
     
    How gorgeous is this look?

    How gorgeous is this look?

  • Dyes

    The current trend of unnatural dye jobs plays beautifully into this. It’s hair styling via color correspondences! Do you follow a Power associated with purple and gold? Why not dye your hair purple and wear gold accessories? Scarlet, green, purple, brown, the sky’s the limit, and you’ll be reminded of the Power you’re honoring every time you look in the mirror. There are even temporary spray-in colors, or colored chalks, that let you do this for shorter periods of time. Those preferring natural hair care aren’t left behind either – natural box dyes, vegan semi-permanent colors, and henna are all options too.

    This technique might work out very nicely for some folks depending on their God(s) and their lifestyles. Considering recent trends it’s also likely to be less fraught to explain to the general public, although you might run into problems in the workplace.

  • Updos

    Want to save the sight of your hair for the Powers or because modesty is a part of your practice, but don’t want to cover it entirely? Keep it up!

    This very traditional approach can be as easy or complex as you like and definitely works for more professional environments. Crown braids. Buns. French twists. Snoods. Clips. Combs. Spin pins. Whatever works for your hair and lifestyle. (I don’t really recommend ponytails for this because they’re too free-flowing for me to consider them an updo, but you do you. 🙂 )

    Personally I’m a huge fan of the Scunci Upzing. It’s made of two combs connected by elastic cording (my preference) or elasticized beadwork. The elastic makes the combs hold beautifully while adapting well to various lengths and hair thicknesses. I can securely put my hair up in about 5 seconds flat.

    An Upzing used for a bun. Suitable for any professional environment, no? Works for a night out, too, and easily transitions between events.

    An Upzing used for a bun. Suitable for any professional environment, no? Works for a night out, too, and easily transitions between events.

As a bonus, almost all updos can be worn under veils. The Upzing I mentioned above is crazy comfortable for that!

Veiling (aka Covering)

Veiling can be loosely grouped into partial veiling and full veiling, but the lines between the two can be pretty blurry. For instance, lots of folks who do full covering may also leave their bangs exposed, or cover the crown but leave the back open. I define veiling as “anything put on the head to block visibility of the hair/scalp”, and that can include lots of options!

  • Hats and Beanies

    This is super easy, especially in the winter. Who doesn’t already wear beanies anyway? They don’t even rate a second look. They’re a little more noticeable in the summer, but there are enough styles that even that can be navigated.

    On the plus side, hats and beanies have zero learning curve. Put your hair up (if you have any) and pull one of these beauties over it. Done! They’re also an excellent option for folks who want full coverage but don’t have the mobility to wrangle a scarf regularly.

    A selection of beanies and pull-on hats from https://www.headcovers.com.

    A selection of beanies and pull-on hats from https://www.headcovers.com.

    Beanies provide adjustable coverage. You can wear them so your bangs show and your hair hangs out of the bottom, or you can wear them so your hair is completely covered. Not all hats are created equal in this regard, though. If you’re looking to completely cover all your hair, maybe check out places that cater to those experiencing medical hair loss (like the site in the photo above) as those products are designed to cover the whole scalp. Just keep in mind that they’re not designed for people with lots of hair.

    If you do have a lot of hair, and find that even beanies don’t accommodate you, consider a “slap“, or a satin-lined cap. These are especially good for folks wanting to pamper their hair and/or looking for sleep cap options. They also come in a variety of contemporary colors and styles. The video below shows the versatility of the turban-style slap, but there are other styles that do the trick too.

  • Wide Headbands and Bandanas
    This is a great option for covering regardless of how much hair you have, and can get the idea of covering across without being particularly note-worthy. The ones marketed as yoga headbands seem to be particularly wide, or you could go even wider by looking for the stretchy tube underscarves used by hijabis.

    A yoga headband.

    A yoga headband. It can be stretch to maximum coverage like this, but it can be folded or scrunched when less coverage is desired.

    Even better, almost all of these styles (depending on print) are completely unisex. Guys can get in on this too! I’ve seen the above style of headband on guys with longer hair and dreads, for instance.
  • Wear a Wig

    This option is very well established in Jewish communities, where married Orthodox women are encouraged to cover for modesty reasons. Wigs worn for this purpose are called sheitels, and ideally they cover the hair so naturally that it’s hard to tell it’s covered at all. It’s a great option for those who want full coverage in the workplace without drawing attention, it can adapt to various trends as needed, and styling it can be fun. Wigs/sheitels are absolutely not cheap options, though, so be prepared for a significant up-front investment if you want to go this route, with even more required for upkeep.

    A sampling of sheitels and their prices from http://www.sheitel.com.

    A sampling of sheitels and their prices from http://www.sheitel.com.

  • Scarves

    Scarves are the budget-friendly go-to for the majority of folks who cover, all around the world. They can easily be found for less than $20, in a wide variety of colors and materials, and the same scarf can be worn in a variety of creative ways. I recommend checking out Youtube for a plethora of different styles, as there’s no way I can cover even a tenth of the possibilities out there!

    What I can do is help with sizes. While technically a scarf is simply a piece of fabric of just about any measurement, there are some standardized size ranges that dictate the kinds of wraps we can do with them. I’ve listed the most common ones below to help you narrow down styles you might be interested in. I’ll let Youtube do the rest. 🙂

    • Bandanas: A bandana is really just a small square scarf (the size often used for neck scarves), but with a very distinctive “bandana” print on a whole rainbow of colors. They typically measure 22″ square, but a jumbo size of 27″ square is also available. Bandanas are great for headbands and partial covers, and make awesome skullcaps for folks with short hair and bald scalps.
      Wearing a bandana as a skullcap. A particularly masculine look.
      Wearing a bandana as a skullcap. A particularly masculine look.
    • Square Scarves: Typically larger than a bandana, square scarves used for covering generally hover between 36″ square and 44″ square. They’re great for those preferring retro looks, turbans, and Turkish hijab styles, but they aren’t as flexible as rectangular scarves when it comes to tying options.
      A Turkish hijab.

      Yes, this Turkish hijab style is done with a regular square scarf. The stiff front is achieved by folding the scarf corner-to-corner and inserting a flexible piece of cardboard or plastic in the fold before tying.

    • Rectangular Scarves: There are lots of sizes possible here, but the typical size used for covering tends to be around 28″ wide and 70″ long. Much larger than that and it’s unmanageable, while anything much smaller won’t provide enough coverage. Thinner rectangular scarves can make excellent sashes, though, that can be worn on top of another wrap or on their own for a pop of color/interest. These are the scarves most often used for both tichels and hijabs.

    • Infinity Scarves: An infinity scarf is a simply a rectangular scarf that’s been sewn together along the short ends to make a long loop. They’re not as standardized size-wise as rectangular scarves but the above measurements for good coverage still apply, so check sizes before buying. Infinity scarves make super-simple hijabs, can be used as tichels with a little work, and are especially nice for draping and pinless styles.
 

A Final Note on Timing

Please note that timing for all of these can vary. We can do any of these as frequently or sporadically as we’d like, on whatever schedule suits us and our practice. I fully cover every time I leave the house but prefer to rely on updos at home. Some folks only cover when at shrines/altars, or while praying, and others only uncover at those times. Some save it for High Days, and others on days sacred to various deities, and still others only toss a scarf over their heads when they feel a call to do it. Feel free to experiment!

The goal of all of these practices is to bolster and support your spiritual practice. If anything on this list does that for you, then yay! You’ve got a new tool! If it doesn’t, though, or you find that these practices are actually distracting, then by all means don’t use them. Tools need to suit the user, and one of the joys of polytheism is that we’re encouraged to find our own way as we go. May you find whatever best works for you!

The Magic of Tidying Up: Connecting With and Honoring House Spirits

Marie Kondo kneels to greet the spirit of the home and invite it to participate in tidying up.

“Tidying Up with Marie Kondo” is on Netflix right now and we’re at the time of year when a bunch of folks commit to reorganizing their homes. Put those together and people are once again talking about Kondo’s 2014 best-selling book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up“.

Organizational expert Marie Kondo and the cover of her best-selling book "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up".

Organizational expert Marie Kondo and the cover of her best-selling book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up”.

Most Westerners think of this book, and the KonMari method it introduces, as just another approach to organizing the home. However, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” is one of the most prized books on my spirituality shelf.

I thought it might be helpful to explain why.

The Sacred Home

Household deities are common fixtures in polytheistic practice. For instance, like many folks I maintain a shrine for the Goddess of the Hearth. She is the flame at the heart of the home and oversees all domestic matters.

There’s another type of household spirit, though, that’s often considered similar to or even a variation of a land spirit. We see them throughout the Indo-European world, albeit with different names and characteristics. Whether they’re Celtic brownies or Norse húsvættir or Roman panes, though, they protect and promote the health/happiness of the home and all within it.

Figuring out how to work with the Hearth Goddess is fairly easy. We have records, right? We have poems and descriptions and temple remains that at least give us frameworks to work with, and when in doubt we can reach out using techniques originally associated with other deities.

That doesn’t really work for house spirits, though. Honoring them wasn’t connected to a temple and there wasn’t a dedicated priesthood. Parents passed the lore of their family’s house spirits down to their children as part of other lessons. “This is how you mop the floor, which both gives you a clean surface and makes the house spirit happy.” No one bothered to write much of that down. For the most part we have to rely on the traces of practice left in folklore and fairy tales.

As a result many polytheists are uncertain about how to interact with our house spirits. I think that’s why so many of us tend to approach them through formal rituals and offerings. We’ll light candles for them, maybe leave them dishes of milk or bread, but these activities are all too often distinctly separated from day-to-day life.

From what we can tell, house spirits were much more integrated into the lives of our ancestors than they are our lives today. It can be intimidating and overwhelming to figure out how to reach that level of integration now, though. Where do we even start?

“The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” has an answer for that.

The Magic of Tidying 

Marie Kondo is Japanese, with a solid grounding in Shinto. She even spent five years as an attendant maiden at a temple. That’s important, because Shinto is an animistic faith. In Shinto, kami – sacred spirits – take the form of things important to life. This can range from inanimate objects like rocks to concepts like fertility. When people die, their spirits even become ancestral kami, who watch after their descendants.

shinto shrine

A public Shinto shrine.

Some of the things most important to life are the objects we use to actually live. In Shinto, our house and dishes and clothing and craft supplies all possess kami. Working with that kami is so fundamental to the whole KonMari approach that the system is not complete without it.

Animism and polytheism aren’t the same thing. However, in this case the differences are pretty easy to overcome. Whether we’re interacting with the spirit of our home/spirits of our things or a resident house spirit is more a matter of perspective than technique. And since Kondo emphasizes Shinto-based animism throughout her book, we polytheists can use her approach as a springboard for our own practices.

That’s a good thing, because the “magic” of tidying is that fostering a more harmonious relationship with our homes provides a foundation for harmonizing the rest of our lives. Honestly, in my opinion the organizational tips in this book are just a bonus.

Hospitality in Action

My approach to working with the Powers, regardless of type, is to always start with Hospitality. It’s something I’ve emphasized since I started writing this blog, and I consider it the key to both facilitating those relationships and living a virtuous life in general. While the mechanics may differ across cultures, the concept of hospitality itself is universal.

The three steps of Hospitality I work with are Being Ready to Entertain, Offering Food/Drink, and Showing Respect. For the most part, Kondo’s KonMari method does that. It’s just all blended together. Being Ready to Entertain flows into Offerings, which flows into Respect, which flows back into Being Ready to Entertain.

This integrated approach is why I treat “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” as a spiritual guide as much as an organizational one. Tips for interacting with the spirit(s) of our home/house spirit are liberally scattered all throughout the book. Better yet, they’re treated as a matter of course, not as novelties or something woo-woo. It’s just the way things are done.

Because everything is so well integrated it can be difficult to separate the threads out so we can look at them individually. I tried, though!

Be Ready to Entertain

The initial tidying up method Kondo promotes prepares our space for the spirit of the home. She clearly states that as a goal. “One theme underlying my method of tidying is transforming the home into a sacred space, a power spot filled with pure energy.” By clearing out extraneous things and keeping only those that “spark joy”, and then neatly and respectfully putting away what we keep, we create a space for the spirit of the home/house spirit(s) to fill. And since everything we keep makes us happy, we’re setting the stage for that spirit to be happy too.

Offerings

Perhaps the biggest difference between Kondo’s animistic perspective and a more polytheist one is that she doesn’t suggest offerings of food and drink for the spirit of the home. However, she does make offerings. They’re simply of service instead. That’s an approach even we polytheists can incorporate into our practices, and other offerings can be seen as a further enhancement.

At a minimum, simply maintaining the organizational system and putting things back where they go can be seen as an offering. After all, according to Kondo storage is “the sacred act of choosing a home for my belongings.” By cleaning and tidying with intent, the things we’d already do become sacred too.

Of course, intent can be used for everything, not just storage. For example, consider the following: “Folding clothes is not about making [them]compact, but [about] communicating your affection and gratitude for their continuous support.”

Folding our clothes with intent? Communicating love for our homes and everything inside while we tend them? How is that not an offering?

Showing Respect

Respect for the spirit of the home bleeds through the whole KonMari method, and it’s approached in a very practical way. There’s actually a whole section in the book on greeting your house/house spirit. “Greet your house every time you come home,” Kondo says. “Just as you would greet your family or your pet, say ‘Hello! I’m home’ to your house when you return. If you do this repeatedly you will start to notice your house respond when you come home. You will sense its pleasure passing through like a gentle breeze. Then you will gradually be able to feel where it would like you to tidy and where it would like you to put things.”

Feel odd just starting out with a casual greeting from the get-go? Kondo recommends doing a formal introduction prior to the tidying process she endorses, and explains exactly how to do so. We can use that technique even if we’re not fully on board the KonMari train!

I was worried that the Netflix show would gloss over this aspect to appeal to a more Western audience, but nope – in every episode, before the family begins tidying, Kondo kneels and greets the house. She explains that she’s introducing herself as well as enlisting the help of the home’s spirit moving forward. According to her, our homes want to help us if we let them. This is their formal invitation to do so.

Marie Kondo kneels to greet the spirit of the home and invite it to participate in tidying up.

Marie Kondo kneels to greet the spirit of the home and invite it to participate in tidying up.

By regularly interacting with the spirit of our home/house spirit, we become more attuned to it and can even learn to “hear” it. Introducing ourselves formally indicates our willingness to listen and act on what we hear. That’s absolutely a demonstration of respect, and it’s a clear and solid technique we polytheists can use too!

Listening for feedback from spirit(s) during the initial sorting, when we’re deciding what to keep and what to discard, is another way we become more attuned to the spirits of our home. Kondo tells us to hold each item in our hands, one by one, to see if it “sparks joy”. If so, we keep it. If not, we thank it for its service and dispose of it. It’s easier to part with something when we do it with a little respect and reverence. Thanking before disposal also helps formally cut any ties between owner and object in a very gentle way. Whether we’re listening to our response to the object, the object itself, or the input of our house spirit is a matter up to personal interpretation.

By the time we get to the hardest stuff to sort and part with – the sentimental items – we’ve become attuned enough to the voice of our home to hear feedback even for that. It provides support and understanding as we go. No wonder so many followers of her method claim that maintaining a tidy space is easy forever after! They’ve learned to listen to their house spirit and act accordingly!

Reciprocity

Kondo is very clear on the importance of reciprocity to a happy home. She’s got a whole section titled “Your Possessions Want to Help You”, and another titled “Appreciate Your Possessions and Gain Strong Allies”. It’s all spelled out for us. Caring for our things motivates them to care for us, resulting in sweaters that don’t pill as much and spills that don’t happen as often. It also contributes to a more harmonious life.

One example in the book is about socks. “I pointed to the balled-up socks [in a client’s drawer]. ‘Look at them carefully. This should be a time for them to rest. Do you really think they can get any rest like that?'” By folding socks in a way that lets them “rest”, she’s both serving their physical needs (why stretch out the elastic unnecessarily?) and allowing her care for them to let them care for her.

Later she says: “One of the homework assignments I give my clients is to appreciate their belongings. For example, I urge them to try saying ‘Thank you for keeping me warm all day,’ when they hang up clothes after returning home.”

Whether we’re directly thanking our things or the house spirit that protects and helps maintain those things is again a matter of personal preference. The techniques are sound regardless. And if nothing else, gratitude is always a useful attitude to develop!

A Place to Start

Shinto and the Indo-European-derived faiths are literally a world apart. “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” requires us IE folks to make some adjustments as we go. However, it provides us a tangible, practical, and very specific place to start integrating these ideas into our own lives. That alone is worth the cover price!

Want to dip your toes in without buying the book? Check out the Netflix special! And as always you’re more than welcome to reply in the comments!

 

I’ve always enjoyed organizing and I’m a minimalist by habit and preference, so I didn’t really see the need to have this book in my life when it came out. However, it was Stevie Miller’s post over at Grundsau Burrow that encouraged me to pick it up in the first place. Check that out to see her thoughts on it too!

Online Class on Ritual Construction

Thista Minai is a dear friend of mine, a nationally-known educator and Ordeal facilitator, and author of the forthcoming “Casting a Queer Circle – Non-Binary Witchcraft”. She’s also running rituals around the country for 100+ people on the regular. (Seriously, her travel schedule is insane.)

The cover for the soon-to-be-available Casting a Queer Circle.

The cover for the soon-to-be-available Casting a Queer Circle. I am SO EXCITED to see this book published, y’all. So much yummy goodness inside!

When it comes to ritual construction she knows what she’s talking about and has a resume to back it up.

She loves teaching her approach to ritual construction, too, so other people can learn first-hand the tricks and tips that work. Thing is, most events don’t really have a demand for ritual construction classes. They’re looking for more beginner/intermediate stuff, and this class is a little too specialized and advanced for that.

We started talking about it yesterday and I mentioned wanting to take her Essential Ritual Construction class myself. Always good to pick up new skills and approaches, right? And chatting about it over tea just isn’t the same. We tossed some ideas around, and she’s willing to offer an online class (probably through something like Udemy) if there’s enough interest.

So. Is there enough interest? Would you (or your group) be willing to invest a few bucks and an evening of your time to attend an online class on Essential Ritual Construction?

Here’s the blurb from her website:

Essential Ritual Design

What does it take to create meaningful ritual? In this nondenominational workshop, we will explore ritual’s essential components, and discuss what makes a ritual ‘good’. We will examine both practical and spiritual considerations in designing and executing effective ritual for groups small and large, public and private, traditional and eclectic.

Comment here or PM me if you’re interested. And feel free to share! This is a more advanced-level topic, and it can be hard to find resources that go into the nuts and bolts of it. Let’s work on getting more of those resources out there for those who want/need them!

Note: Queer Witchcraft is now available here.

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!

A Special Set of Special Purpose Prayer Beads

I did a series on prayer beads awhile back, and one of those posts discussed the use of Special Purpose Beads. I received an email from a reader recently about how she had used that information, and loved the creativity and purpose so much I got her permission – and photographs! – to share here.

This reader (who wishes to remain anonymous, so we’ll call her “Anne”) has very high anxiety levels, especially in crowds and other social situations. She thought beads sounded like something simple that would help her calm down when her anxiety peaked.

This is what she came up with:

Necklace 1

Isn’t that pretty?

Materials

The materials were carefully chosen. Most of the beads are hematite, chosen for their grounding and stabilizing properties. She used a total of 27 hematite beads, divided into 3 sets of 9. She also used 3 amethyst beads, chosen for their associations with calmness and tranquility. The 45 silver spacer beads were chosen primarily for color and size, but also to again reference the number 9, or 3×3. Anne visualizes a tree when she grounds, so the 6 bead caps she uses around the amethyst beads support that. Each cap is made up of 5 leaves in a star shape, giving a total of 30 leaves. Everything reduces to 3 or a multiple of 3.

A close up of the bead caps surrounding the amethyst.

A close up of the bead caps surrounding the amethyst.

Because she wants to have it available at all times she made her special purpose beads into a set she can wear as a necklace. She chose an owl-shaped magnetic clasp to finish everything off. The owl is both part of her visualization and sacred to Blodeuwedd, the goddess Anne works with.

Process

Before ever using the beads Anne dedicated them to Blodeuwedd, asking for Her help with managing anxiety and returning to a state of calm focus. Then she started wearing them.

When she feels her anxiety beginning to mount she finds a private place, ranging from a quiet corner to a bathroom stall, and removes the beads from her neck. After she refastens the clasp she holds them in her hands.

Anne has a hard time remembering words when she’s anxious, so the first set doesn’t require any. Instead, she simply takes a deep breath for each bead in the first set. That’s nine deep, calming, slow, rhythmic breaths to help her settle. If nine isn’t enough she’ll go through all three sets with deep breaths, then start the cycle over again until she feels calm enough to continue.

When reaching the first amethyst bead she strongly visualizes her grounding tree.

On the second set of hematite beads she does her tree-based grounding visualization while saying “My tree is deeply rooted” for every bead as she grounds.

The tree that she visualizes for grounding has a hollow in the trunk. When she reaches the second amethyst bead she focuses her visualization on that hollow, because she visualizes the next step – centering – as the owl that lives in the hollow opening its eyes.

On the third set of hematite beads she says “My owl is awake and aware” for every bead as she centers.

Another view.

Another view.

On the final amethyst bead, she visualizes the owl’s eyes glowing, to show she is completely centered and protected by her tree.

The clasp is also part of the process. She holds it while taking three deep cleansing breaths to gently end the session.

Then she does an assessment. If she feels ok she stops there. If she’s still overly anxious or shaky, however, she repeats the cycle until she feels more balanced.

Commentary

Personally, I love the way Anne uses her beads as a grounding and centering aid when stressed. It gives her something solid to hold on to, simple sentences to focus on, and a guide to visualizations that bring her back to her center. Everything was well thought out and works beautifully together to support the specific use she has for the set. Just gorgeous!

Here is Anne, wearing her beautiful and functional creation.

Here is Anne, wearing her beautiful and functional creation.

Thanks so much for sharing your vision with us, Anne!