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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Kitchen Witchery: Mirror, Mirror

I was fortunate enough to find this lovely old mirror in the thrift store for six dollars. I figured with a little bit of elbow grease and some homemade furniture polish it would brighten up in no time.


Apparently, homemade furniture polish is only slightly different from homemade salad dressing: vinegar, oil, and lemon juice. There are a number of different recipes with which the Google-Oracle can provide the curious kitchen witch.

First I treated the wood with the salad dressing/furniture polish mix, removing all the dust and grime–paper towels and an old t-shirt work quite well. Then it was just time to sit down and polish up the glass was some glass cleaner and paper towels.


I really do love old furniture. Imagining the history and stories behind each piece is so much more satisfying than buying another soulless sofa from Eddie’s Furniture Basement. It’s easier to see the spirit of an old piece. There can be a wonderful exchange in caring for a well-crafted-but-slightly-battered antique, filling in scratches, polishing and shining it.  You develop a responsibility and even kinship towards the object. It serves you well, and in return you see its own sacredness and keep it whole.

I’m looking forward to developing a relationship with this mirror.  There are a few scratches and the silvering is a touch cloudy, but he has so much personality shining through his finish.

Now all I need to do is find a dresser!

Best News I’ve Had All Week

Brewer Brook conservation area.

Brewer Brook conservation area.

That would be this article in the Worcester Telegram.

As I mentioned back in October of last year, the original plan would have put a 12″ gas pipeline through some of the conservation land in our town.  The gas would not have been available to residents, and there was a significant risk to the land and wildlife (especially considering much of our town conservation land consists of swamps–because it’s always smart to build delicate infrastructure on soggy ground, right?).  My drinking water comes from an artesian aquifer, and it’s something that could potentially be contaminated by undetected leaks in such a pipeline.  And of course there’s the immediate impact of the construction on countless birds, fish, amphibians and mammals.

Thankfully, the local uproar was so big, that it even reached the ears of Massachusetts State Senator Elizabeth Warren (who I desperately wish were running for President, but that’s another post entirely).  Our state representative, Harold Naughton, really put his shoulder to the wheel for his constituents on this one.  It’s been an amazing example of democracy at work, and is an undeniable victory for the communities of Berlin, Boylston, and Bolton.

Unfortunately, the fight isn’t truly over.  Only this one section of the pipeline was scrapped. I’m under no illusion that the larger project will go likely forward, further fueling our insatiable appetites for petrochemicals.  At least my one little corner is safe for now.  I can only hope others in the state are as successful as we have been in their fights to prioritize the environment over more mindless consumption of an ever-dwindling resource.

Conversations with a Water Wight

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What?

This pond…

What about it?

There’s no fish.

Well, that’s because it’s not actually supposed to be full of water.  It’s supposed to drain, but there’s too much silt in the soil to let the water escape.

… I can’t fish here.

Fine. We’ll head down to the brook next time.

Good.


I’m sorry your statue got broken.  I shouldn’t have left you with my ex.

You thought I needed to be near the stream where you first met me. Wrong thinking, but kindhearted.

Still, I’m sorry.  I liked that statue.

Me too. Make another.

Really? Are you sure?

Yes. Take two pebbles this time, one for my head, and one for my heart.

Not three?

No. Did I say three?

Fine.


Is this part of the brook better than the pond? It’s much like where we first met, where the water rushes out from under the dam.

Yes, much. [pulls out fishing pole]

I’ve missed you.

Yes. Your heart needs water. It’s dried out, beginning to crack.

I know. It hurt too much.

Just give it little sips for now.  That will help.

I didn’t think you’d be able to find me here.

I am present wherever a stream breaks free of man’s fetters.

That…explains a lot.

It’s good to be back here. I like the fish.

You know there aren’t any fish on this side of the dam?

Close enough.

Water, Water, Everywhere

17347170113_edae15167aBack in September of 2014, I had asked a good friend and seer to do a reading for me for the coming year.  Much to my dismay, she said, “You’re not done healing yet.  You’ll be crying in your sleep because you can’t deal with these emotions rising to the surface. You need to let them come.”  A bit dramatic, I thought, still, sound advice not to stifle.  I put the reading out of my mind for the next couple of months.

But she was right. Starting in February (thanks, Bride, yes I see your godly fingerprints all over this one!) my eyes would begin watering uncontrollably 2–3 times a day. I wasn’t crying in my sleep, but I was crying without being able to connect to the underlying emotion. Blocked, severed, whatever you want to call it, a gap lay between what I felt and what I could be conscious of.  After eliminating physical causes just to be sure, I turned by attention to the psychological.

I’ve spent the past two months reconnecting with Water.  It’s the element that I have the most trouble grasping intellectually, which should be no surprise since it’s not a mental realm in the slightest.  I don’t like that I can’t pin Water down, that it’s inconstant and in a perpetual state of flux. And yet, there are so many aspects of Water that are vital to my wellbeing—creativity, intuition, divination, healing.  It’s always the emotional component that lies furthest out of reach.

A few weeks ago, I remembered something Damh the Bard said between verses of “Wild Mountain Thyme” as he sang around the ECG campfire:

For those who can afford it, there’s therapy.
For the rest of us, there’s MUSIC!

I started playing songs (mostly Damh’s actually, with a bit of Mary Chapin Carpenter tossed in) that brought tears to my eyes, either because of the chord structure or the lyrics. I established a safe space, where I didn’t have to be strong for my son, or play nice to keep the peace, or be the dependable daughter.  The melodies enfolded me, and I wept. I performed this ritual twice a day at first, and now once a day is enough. Slowly, I’ve stopped needing the music to trigger my emotions, and I’ve been able to let them rise naturally when I have the time and space to do so. My heart is rehydrating itself with tears.

Starting at the new moon, I’ve been doing a daily iteration of the OBOD’s Ritual of the Element Water. On the full moon itself, I plan to conclude with the Water Weaving Ritual.  Already my words are flowing again, as are images I want to paint, jewelry I want to craft, and sculptures I want to sink my hands into.  Music played such an important part in my life, it’s somehow fitting that it’s what is reconnecting myself with my Self.

Instructions for further care: wash, rinse, repeat as necessary.

What the Water Gave Me

In honor of a new blog theme, the spring thaws, and the overwhelm that so often comes with the creative process.

“What The Water Gave Me”
Florence and the Machine

Time it took us
To where the water was
That’s what the water gave me
And time goes quicker
Between the two of us
Oh, my love, don’t forsake me
Take what the water gave me

Lay me down
Let the only sound
Be the overflow
Pockets full of stones

Lay me down
Let the only sound
Be the overflow

And oh, poor Atlas
The world’s a beast of a burden
You’ve been holding up a long time
And all this longing
And the ships are left to rust
That’s what the water gave us

So lay me down
Let the only sound
Be the overflow
Pockets full of stones
Lay me down
Let the only sound
Be the overflow

‘Cause they took your loved ones
But returned them in exchange for you
But would you have it any other way?
Would you have it any other way?
You couldn’t have it any other way

‘Cause she’s a cruel mistress
And a bargain must be made
But oh, my love, don’t forget me
When I let the water take me

So lay me down
Let the only sound
Be the over flow
Pockets full of stones

Lay me down
Let the only sound
Be the overflow

So lay me down
Let the only sound
Be the overflow
Pockets full of stones

Lay me down
Let the only sound
Be the overflow