New Incarnation of Altars

Thank you again for joining us for a brand new episode of “This Old Altar,” with your host, Bob Vila! Er wait, that’s not quite right…let’s try this again:

When I moved into my neighbor’s house last year, it was probably one of the best decisions I could have made during the divorce process. I loved living with B. and she gave me a safe place to begin healing. However, I was only renting a room, and that did not leave me much space for altars. I used an old nightstand as my spiritual focus area, and switched out statues depending on whom I was moved to honor in the moment.

Now that I’m in a place of my own, I have the luxury of being able to set up several smaller altar spaces. Each one serves a different function, and has different layers of public and private meaning. As I was writing this, it occurred to me that each alter combines a primary element with a secondary in order to give it a unified aesthetic.

The altar I use most frequently is the one next to my stove, what I call my hearth altar (auto-correct said “heart sculpture” and that’s an apt description, too). It’s predominantly rooted in the Earth element of the North, but with a strong overtone of Fire. The statues represent Gwydion and Aranrhod, though that is not what the artists originally intended. (Yes, these two are sharing space; no this has not caused issues.)  Gwydion is my wild magician, and often appears to me as having features of the boar, wolf and/or deer that he was changed into as punishment for Goewin’s rape. Aranrhod (“a fun ride”: WTF auto-correct?) is not only a celestial goddess, but the goddess of the waters. And since I’ve always had trouble giving Don a face (which according to Kristoffer Hughes is actually appropriate as this goddess was in fact faceless), I rededicated her statue in Aranrhod’s name.  The little fellow playing the flute is a wight from my father’s garden.  The sprig of lavender represents peace and beauty, and the turkey feather represents family; the spiral plate is carved Welsh slate that I brought back from the 2002 National Eisteddfod. This is where I perform morning prayers and my work with the Sun Mirror; it is also the altar that my son likes to help light to thank the Ancestors when we begin cooking a meal.

Right next to the back door in the South is my working altar, the one I use for daily divination or more involved magical workings. It serves to anchor my work in the cunning arts and with the Strategic Sorcery system, which is why Hekate presides over it. In addition there are representations for spirit allies that I work with on a regular basis. Both the sword and spear are ritual as well as martial tools, and at the moment I have wands of Poplar and Willow drying and waiting to be carved.  This altar is the polar opposite of the hearth altar, being a manifestation of the Fire of will, grounded in the Earth.

To the West I have an altar space dedicated to the Makers: Bridget, Cerridwen, and Wayland. This is an altar to creative inspiration, and where I give thanks for the gods’ aid in music, poetry, and assorted crafting endevors. Hufflespawn particularly likes the Wayland statue, and even made him a little helper at school which he insisted on placing right next to the Master Smith. Cerridwen is accompanied by tokens from pig and chicken, which refer back to her animal shapes in her pursuit of Gwion Bach. Bridget has bone weaving tools dedicated to her, and a harp tuner. In front of Wayland sits a chunk of iron slag that I found on the beach in Salem Massachusetts, a gift that seemed most appropriate.  Air is the ruling element here, with a secondary infusion of Water (and Fire, too, if I’m honest, even though it messes up my nice, neat classifications).

The next two altars are a bit more “work-in-progress.” First is a home for various local spirits and wights. Thus far Turkey, Crow, Datura, Boar and Snail are represented. I will also likely include guardians from my OBOD work here as well. On top of the shelf is a ceramic Dragon my soul’s sister made for me, which eerily matches a spirit guide of mine. Water rules here, not least because one of my allies from this land is a river wight, but also because this is an area which very much requires dreams and intuitions to access fully. Air is the breath which stirs the surface of the Water.

Finally we have this very much WIP altar, which seems to be shaping into a repository for images of Divine Queens. It may end up being more of a display for statuary that I like than an actual working altar, but I think there’s a place for both in one’s home. This sort of feminine strength and inspiration is something I’ve needed greatly over the past two years, and I’ll be interested to see whether this altar remains dedicated to that casue, or whether I will eventually repurpose it for something else.

So, after only having had a single altar space for year, I may have gone a little crazy with all these! Still, it feels good to be able to move from altar to altar, and to have specific foci for various parts of my life.  More likely than not things will get pared down after a little while, but for now, this suits my needs quite well.

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Process

16043315844_201ba67481_nIt’s always something of a question as to whether to let someone look behind the curtain at your creative process.  It’s messy back there–blobs of ink, half-formed words, trailing threads, and heavens forfend those dangling participles.  Words themselves have been slippery fishes of late, and I find myself turning to solid crafts that satisfy my hands, like knitting, drawing, and beading.

Still, take for example the sigil crafted for Crow this month.  You can get a pretty good idea of it from the picture at the head of this post.  Yes, it’s still rough, but it’s showable, particularly for an article dealing with artistic process.  Sigil work, at least as I see it, isn’t just the tracing of lines over a witch’s wheel.  Sure, you can start there, but if there is to be any spark, any soul in the magical anchor, there has to be more than that.

To paraphrase Jason Miller, the most powerful sigils are the ones wrested directly from that Beyond space and brought into being on this plane.  That jujitsu match is ugly. There are many false starts, no little dismay, and often a feeling that this sigil is always going to look like crap and there’s nothing you can do to tell it otherwise.

This is where a child comes in handy. Inner, outer, literal or metaphorical–let the kiddies out to romp.

Stop wrangling and start playing.  Tussle, cross things out, let colors cohabit that would make Andy Warhol wince. Sigil crafting is a protean art.  Hold onto it too tightly and Awen slows to a trickle, left with nothing more than a madwoman’s scrawl across a restaurant napkin. Let go and see the lines swell with color and form, twisting around your mind until you know there is no other way for them to be.

It sure as hell ain’t pretty, but it’s process.

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Danger: New Thought Processes Ahead

Here's what a real live book of Ovate field notes looks like--messy huh?

Here’s what a real live book of Ovate field notes looks like–messy huh?

I’ve been undecided about what to do on the New and Full Moons each month for 2015. Last year was spent courting Cerridwen and cultivating Awen through the Cauldron Born ritual.  As I’ve said before was an absolutely invaluable experience. Now I find myself asking, “What comes next?”

One of the things that came out of my final ritual for Cerridwen was working with the 12 winds of Irish tradition. Despite my Sun sign being the ever earthy Capricorn, the most predominant element in my natal chart is in fact Air. It seems like a logical extension to incorporate that nature as much as possible into my practice. The Irish winds, which I first read about in the OBOD bardic course, provide a non-Golden Dawn derived structure for laying out ritual space. I want to try shaking up my paradigms a bit, I feel like I’ve gotten a bit too comfortable to be ritually creative in some ways.  This would also be incorporating some more Irish flavor in my work, which has not been a culture I found myself particularly drawn to beyond Lugh (ALLTHETHINGS!) and possibly Macha. I’m honestly not sure how I feel about poking about the Irish lore, partly because I have little to no known heritage from that land, and partly because I’ve been trying to stick to a Welsh-focused practice of late (despite some academic dabbling in Powwow). But it’s also true that gods and spirits seem to come and go as they please with little regard for maintaining the purity of their culture of origin (hello, Hekate!). So, in the long run, is incorporating a bit of obscure Irish color correspondence a grievous offense? I don’t think so, and I’ll have to count on the Winds letting me know if it’s otherwise.

I’ve also been trying to work more with the animals that actually live on my land. I spent quite a while working with what I term the Ancestral Tribal Spirits, but now it’s time to sink myself more deeply into the ecology of the Assabet River bioregion. Because I was trying to make a triple set of correspondences with the Irish winds, colors, and local animals I settled on 12 beasties that can be found if not in my backyard then within my town. These are: bobcat, fisher, crow, bluejay, sheep, snake, coyote, skunk, swan, toad, pig, and turkey. I’ve slowly been gathering skulls or other bones from all of these creatures, in order to deepen my connection and eventually create focus bottles/boxes for them.  During the last dark moon, I worked heavily with a fisher skull, painting it and devising a sigil to capture its essence. This month will be crow.

But now I’m wondering if I shouldn’t break apart these two tasks–the task of meditating on and learning the nature of the winds, and also then reaffirming my relationships with the local nature spirits.  Initially I was going to paint the bones in the color of the corresponding wind, but in some cases this just doesn’t seem to gel properly–for instance, bluejay definitely resides in the Spring/East, but the Wind Corcair (translated as crimson or purple) really doesn’t seem to suit.  So having talked all this through with you, dear readers, I will likely be focusing on the winds for the full moons, and doing the bone work for the dark moons.  I have a bit of catching up to do with the Winds, namely Temen (NNE) and Alad (ENE), but I think it’s doable.

And with any luck, there will also be some degree of blogging for your reading pleasure.  These may just be pictures, as many of the Cauldron Born posts were, but I hope it proves interesting nonetheless.