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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Angeline of La Romieu

46b40b_99913d3622a9a5e817138681dcc63cb2.jpg_srz_220_395_85_22_0.50_1.20_0 I was browsing through Sam Webster’s pieces at Patheos, and while reading his “Restoring Idolatry to Iconolotry” and discussion of zoomorphic icons, I remembered a curious little southern French town my family and I had visited when I was eight. What stuck in my memory was a rather unusual bust of a woman outside the tourism office.

A little bit of Google-fu led me to the name of that hot and sleepy village: La Romieu. We had made a day trip to the fortified town from stucco bungalows that were home to legions of sun-baked lizards. My father, a medieval historian, wanted to see the cloisters of St. Piere La Romieu (when abroad, we often tootled around the countryside and visited between four and six churches/cathedrals before lunch each day). I was steeling myself for yet another boring recitation of Romanesque architectural features when I spied the first stone cat, perched on a windowsill far above the street.

As it turned out, La Romieu was home to a fascinating legend, that of Angeline and her numerous felines. From Sejours-Anglais.com:

There’s a legend associated with the village which dates back to the 14th century. A forester and his wife (Vincent and Mariette) had a daughter, Angeline. Sadly, Angeline’s parents died when she was 3 years old, so she was cared for by a neighbor.

The years 1342 to 1344 were difficult for the village of La Romieu. Bad weather made it impossible to plant the crops and a great famine developed. To help feed themselves, the villagers resorted to eating cats.

Because Angeline adored cats, her adopted parents agreed that she could hide her two cats in the attic, letting them out to hunt only at night.

Unfortunately, with no cats, rats proliferated around the village. Once the crops had started to grow again, this plague of rats began to threaten the crops.

Eventually, Angeline’s two cats produced 20 kittens. When the villagers heard of this, it was decided that Angeline should release her cats and kittens into the fields. This she did.

The rats disappeared. The village was saved and the legend says that Angeline’s appearance gradually began to resemble that of a cat.

Much later, in the 20th century, hearing a woman recount this legend to her grandchildren, a sculptor, Maurice Serreau, started creating sculptures of cats which could adorn the buildings of the village.

urlAs I recall, the tour guide also told us that in addition to being spared from famine by the helpful cats, the town was also passed over by the Black Death that ravaged Europe between 1346 and 1353. At a time where cats were often vilified, Angeline created a haven for them, and in return the balance of the land was kept.

Now, I had initially remembered that Angeline had been made a saint, but this wasn’t the case. However, the conclusion is not entirely far-fetched: the base of her sculpture had several little stacks of francs around the edges–it’s not surprising that my eight-year-old’s mind would chalk the offerings up to being canonized. Whether these were placed there by locals or pilgrims is up to debate, but looking back at the experience through a polytheist/animist world view, Angeline seems to be one of those rare occurrences of spontaneous ancestor veneration under the nose of the church, even to the degree that I would argue that in modern times, she is becoming the embodiment of the genius loci, or spirit of place.

To tell the truth, I’m not quite sure why I was moved to recount this story. At the time I visited La Romieu, I actually thought I hated cats. Maybe it’s because my own felines have brought so much to my life. Maybe it’s because since then, I’ve discovered my family’s own crazy cat person, my Great Uncle Gerald, who fed and sheltered a feral colony in his barn. Yet there is something so charming and whimsical about a young girl who saved her community through her love of her cats. I fervently hope her tale continues to be told in La Romieu for the next seven centuries.

30 DoA #3: Symbols and Icons

3. Symbols and icons of this deity. I admittedly had to laugh a little at this one because my first reaction was, “Duh, anvil!” However, I think there are some other symbols that I apply to Wayland in my personal practice that others also might find useful.

So, to begin with, here are some traditional/lore based symbols of Wayland:

The artist who designed this originally intended it as en emblem for Tolkein’s dwarves, but I think it suits the Elf Smith nicely.

Hammer and anvil. The smith’s tools. ‘Nuff said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bird or maiden?

Swan. Perhaps this could be more correctly associated with Wayland’s wife, Hervor, but I belief the animal extends to him as well, particularly given is winged escape from Nithung’s castle.

 

 

 

 

 

Now, here are some associations that I find relevant to my own practice, but which are pretty heavily UPG:

Visica piscis.

Vesica piscis. The intersection of two rings, which has whole layers of meaning unto itself. In relationship to Wayland, it represent the union of two rings, his and Hervor’s, the swan maiden.

 

 

 

 

 

This ain’t no Easter Bunny.

Hare. If one subscribes to the experience of Vanic tribes, the Hares are the artisans. There is some PCPG (Peer Corroborated Personal Gnosis) to suggest that Wayland belongs to this tribes.

 

 

 

 

Snaptun Stone c. 1000 CE, Denmark. 

Embers/coals/sparks. There is a curious artifact from Denmark, the Snaptun forge shield, that has a depiction of Loki with his lips sewn shut. Obviously, a smith is connect to the fires of his forge; there is also some PCPG that there is an unrecorded history between the Master Smith Wayland and Loki the Flickering Flame. Maybe someday one of them will decide to tell it.

Finally as to icons, I finally found a statue that reasonably well matched my experienced of the Divine Smith. And coincidence of coincidences, it arrived today (I had actually ordered it before I even decided to do the 30 DoA)!  I may apply a bronze patina over it as the colors are quite garish in bright light, but his expression,pose, and vibrancy are perfect.

Wayland idolatry.

Pay Attention!

Time to get to work!

Wayland has been hammering at my door again, not surprising since this is the time of year when he’s gaining in strength. Cleaning out the attic on Thursday, I rediscovered the rosary I had made for him when I first moved to Massachusetts in 2007. Then, I ran across a wonderful post over on Patheos by another of Wayland’s crafters. And today, the rosary broke in the dryer (I had previously mended it in the same spot, so this isn’t entirely a surprise). Hint, hint?

From Boston with love.

Therefore, I think it’s time to get back into some beading. I haven’t done anything since the mediation beads I made for a friend of mine who was going through a tough period in his life back in 2013. And I’ve wanted to rework the Wayland piece for a while now—plus my mum’s been nagging me to restring a couple of her necklaces. This is the perfect opportunity.

In addition to the rosary, I found all my beading supplies while cleaning out the attic—eight boxes of spacers, clasps, pendants, silk string, tweezers, pliers, and a bead board. I’ve accumulated enough of a “palette” over the years that I shouldn’t have to buy anything for quite a while.  As a goal for myself, I’m not going to purchase any new items until I’ve reduced my supply volume by half. Nothing like some arbitrary restraints to inspire creativity!

Beadwork is one of the crafts of which I’m most proud. Ten years ago, I was fortunate enough to be trained by a jeweler friend in how to do pearl knotting so that even if my pieces wore though with age (which is likely since I use silk rather than beading wire or fishing line), only a bead or two would slip off. Yes, is can be a pain to cut everything apart when it comes time to repair, but it’s much better than the alternative of searching on hands and knees for seed beads escaping into the grass or under the couch. She also taught me how to use French wire for a more finished look. My pieces would still look a lot rougher if it weren’t for her guidance.

Bzzzzzz.

There are a couple of series for which I would like to do rosaries: the Planetary powers; the Welsh gods who inhabit my wheel of the year; Hekate and Helios, the patrons of my sorcery system; the spirits of my sorcery system, of which there are 13; and last but certainly not least, my ancestral tribes (of which I’ve done one for Bee). I’m definitely not lacking for options at this point in time.

So. Time for some more adventures in beading, beginning with the Master Smith himself.

 

Shining Night

astronomy-stars-star-37372-o
Four dot, is what will make a square, a bed to build on, it’s all there
—”Growing Up” by Peter Gabriel

From the Star Mother’s ecstasy, from the Dance of the Twins, from the Joy of their siblings and children, all manner of Shining Beings were born. Some chose to roam the inky blackness between the stars, their skin mirroring the cool glossy darkness of the void. Others dove into the centers of suns, burning with the brightness of nuclear fire. Still others settled on spheres of cooling rock, playing endlessly in soupy atmospheres and liquid stone.

Some of the Shining Ones settled on the home of the Terrestial Twins. And as the organic beings divided, recombined, multiplied and evolved, so did their luminous cousins. Thus things continued until the the Shining Ones drew a Veil between themselves and the creatures of matter that dwelled on Terra. It was still possible to travel to the Undying Lands, but most only did so in their dreams.

This night honors spirits of all kinds, those who exist glittering at the edges of our vision. These are the spirits of our tribe, the gods large and small, named and unnamed; the spirits of place, of root, rock, and water; and our own ancestors who have chosen to dwell in those luminous halls after they passed from this life. Tonight we give thanks to all these beings, and hold our breaths in wonder and anticipation of what morning will bring.

[NYNY] Wheel of Morality…

The completed Vanabag.

I’d like to begin this summation with my all-time favorite fortune cookie message:

Now is the time to make circles with mints, do not haste any longer.

Aside from the fact that something was clearly lost in translation, the message is strangely applicable to this whole grand experiment. Don’t rush, keep things cool, but still move forward.

I had two goals originally for this project. First, to develop a magical and energetic toolkit for mundane manifestations, and b) sell/rent the old house. The second clearly didn’t happen, but the first. Yeah, that one came through with flying colors.

Between my neighborhood working group (I am so damned blessed to be living in a place where I can even say that!), the Strategic Sorcery course, the Ovate work, and my guides’ sometimes circuitous teachings, this aspect of my practice is absolutely flying along. Proof of this is the completion of the Vanabag (aka Druid Bugout Bag), which my guides told me to make to hold the various gifts/tools I had received from the 19 Tribes last year as I journeyed through their lands. I had started it in June of 2011, but had gotten stuck when it came to quilting the fabric. Suddenly, as I started putting attention to getting my magical life back in order, the contacts and physical space I needed to complete the project became available: it turns out one of my neighbors is a quilter, and FlyLady helped me get the house organized enough to leave space for creative projects.

The bag has literally become the physical manifestation of my work to take back and consolidate my power. Even my husband has said on multiple occasions the past few weeks how awesome it is to finally see me getting my “grrrr” back in so many areas of my life at once: my work, the house, my spirituality. Even though I only sought to affect one part of my life, the ripples of those changes have undeniably changed other parts as well.

So, what else was accomplished? My daily practice is flourishing again. This in itself is such a relief and a joy, if I had gotten nothing else out of this experiment I would be satisfied with this as an outcome. I also learned that sometimes I just really need to let a project just sit for a while, until I can work out the answers—and that this is ok. But it’s also ok to jettison something that hasn’t been working for years, and that likewise, I don’t need to feel guilt that I failed the project for not having completed it (potential pitfall of being an animist, I guess).

As to where I’m headed, I have some very clear answers, and some not-so-much-so. Working both the Ovate and Strategic Sorcery courses continues to be important, and playing one off the other seems to help me continue to make progress in both. The house…that unfinished goal…well, spring is coming, and we’ll see what a fresh realtor, shiny sink and new trim will accomplish.

It all comes down to the three P’s that Sifu has written on the walls of the kung-fu school: patience, practice, perseverance. Get the proportions right for you, and just about anything can happen.

—A.V.

More on the Vanic Soul Map

Casting cloth & soul map

This week, I’m going to talk a bit more on my casting cloth/soul map. I use this both for regular rune (and hopefully soon ogham!) castings, as well as for a more detailed soul-map reading. When casting runes, I’ll usually take a handful and toss them on the cloth, then interpret them in relation to whichever elemental quarter they occupy. If a rune happens to land smack in the center of one of the tribal circles, then I’ll pay extra attention to it, and consider it to be advice either coming from that Tribe, or pertaining to an area of life “ruled over” by said Tribe. So for example, finding othala in the Bull circle would indicate that there needs to be a focus on the hearth and home, also perhaps establishing boundaries or paying attention to right action in relation to family and/or community.

For a more detailed reading, I use a modified version of Kaldera’s soul map system, focusing on how the Vanic Tribes can manifest their influences on the body-soul complex.*  I’ve expanded a couple of groupings since I use 19 tribes (whereas Kaldera has 17 positions), as well as rearranged some other associations. So far, though, it’s been working out nicely, and still serves as a good diagnostic tool despite the change in flavor.

The map can be divided into five regions, four elemental, and one central axis. The Core gives an overall look at the health of an individual; the Elemental regions provide details on four major areas of a person’s being. These are as follows:

Vertical Axis—The Core
Cat: the astral body
Bull: the physical body & well being, health.
Boar: the higher self, connection to the divine

Earth Tribes—Blood & Bone
Serpent: chi/energy flow; the unconscious, possible unhealed wounds which may affect the situation
Frog: vitality, ability to self-heal, adaptability
Goose: lineage, effects your ancestors may have upon the present situation
Hare: creativity, sexuality, lust for life

Water Tribes—The Dreaming Sea
Salmon: wyrd & fate, not limited to ancestral
Swan: ability to achieve mystical union
Seal: the emotions, empathic ability
Otter: balance

Air Tribes—The Wind-Honed Blade
Eagle: the intellect, mind
Crane: the will, discipline
Owl: woo, innate psychic ability
Raven: memory

Fire Tribes—Hearth & Embers
Deer: guiding spirits
Ram: honor, reputation
Horse: what sort of path you’ve made for yourself and how fast you’re riding down it
Bee: luck

As to the stones used to diagnose each aspect of the map, my numbers are basically the same, but I thought I would dowse for them independently just to check (since this was the method Kaldera originally used to determine how many he should use). The only changes are one more normal stone, and two more wyrd ones. That leaves us with 19 normal stones, 5 weak, 6 exceptional, 6 blocked, 7 wyrd,** and 1 missing or void.

The procedure for a reading is much the same: a person draws a stone for each Tribal position to diagnose the level of health in that area. If there are areas which are blocked or wyrd (or otherwise require further explanation), a rune or card is then drawn to try to clarify the situation.

I’ve only used the soul map a handful of times now, but I find it much more intuitive for my wiring than the original version (which is hardly surprising, I suppose). For other who have asked about running with this idea, I found Juniper’s writings on how she went about creating her casting collection to be most helpful when it comes to creating divination systems—it gave me the impetus to take a great idea that I loved but couldn’t quite mesh with, and make the changes necessary to let it work with my wiring, my worldview.

I hope other folks will be inspired to make their own systems, whether based on Kaldera’s, Juniper’s, or completely from their own bag. I love seeing what works for different people and I’m glad I’ve finally come to the point in my own studies where I’ve been able to branch out (sorry, druid pun!) and do the same.

—A.V.

*Disclaimer: it should be noted that this is not channeled material (i.e. not THE ONE TRUE PATH!), but a creative work in progress—take that for what you will.

**While I basically agree with Kaldera’s definitions for the stone categories, I am a big believer in wyrd not being a fixed and inevitable track—even if gods or wights are involved, there is always a choice. So I see the wyrd stones as being indicators of divine influence or proddings, rather than an inescapable fate.