Tag Archives: shrines

hidden practice

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Over the years I have had a few people tell me that they can’t practice their Pagan spirituality because of their circumstances. Usually it is because of living with a conservative family member. While I have never really experienced this myself, I do get the feeling it is a common problem that affects not just the young. For some folks, hiding their true spiritual beliefs may be a matter of survival if they are dependent on others for home and shelter. Whatever your reason for not being able to practice openly, I hope the following ideas and insights may be of help to you.

church
For those of you who not only are restricted from openly practicing Paganism, but are also required to attend a mainstream church, here are a couple of strategies for you…

Before entering the church, remember this silent prayer-

“Whatever way my words may stray, it is to the Old Gods I truly pray.”

Also, when reciting prayers or singing hymns, you can quietly, or in your mind, add an “s” to the end of words like god, spirit, and lord. Likewise, replace the word “one” with “the” in things you may have to recite such as the Nicene Creed… “We believe in the Gods, the Father, the Almighty, makers of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen…”

And if you go to a church where all kneel to pray, think “this I do not to submit myself, but to dwell closer to Mother Earth”.

Adopting some form of soft polytheistic viewpoint may help ease inner conflicts as well; thinking of saints and other figures as avatars/versions of older deities, for example. Adopting some form of Pagan Gnosticism as a world view may help resolve some issues as well. Some would consider Christianity but another form of Paganism.

If you’re expected to wear a cross, find one that incorporates a tree emblem, or get a Celtic or equal-armed cross, to make it more meaningful to you.

altar
Of course, one need not have any kind of altar to practice Paganism. A person could actually do everything mentally, visualizing devotionals, rituals, energy work, everything. However, it is beneficial to have some kind of touchstone in the physical world (especially if you can’t get out in nature as much as you’d like), to prevent a feeling of disconnect or “being in one’s head” all the time. If you have a small space to yourself, preferably the top of a bookshelf, then you can establish a discreet altar. You can use animal figurines to represent gods and goddesses, as most deities have animal associations. The Yule season is a great time to find altar items with a hidden meaning: a regal reindeer figure could represent Cernunnos or other antlered gods, you may find angel figurines that remind you of certain goddesses, and some rustic or unusual “Santa” figurines are reminiscent of Pagan gods.

9th night of YuleYou may even want to adopt Christian statuary for use on your altar. How can one not think of the Star Goddess when viewing one of those statues of Mary crowned with stars and standing on a globe?

Santa Marija Assunta
daily devotions
If you don’t have a lot of privacy, you’ll have to get creative with how you commemorate even day to day devotions. There are Pagan prayers that can be used with a traditional rosary, and doing so can be a ritual in itself. Also, there are traditional rosaries that have a tree for the crucifix. Prayer for your Druid Beads by Sarva Antah is a very easily memorized set of song prayers that honors nature spirits, ancestors, and deities. Yes, doing the prayers silently counts, as does simply meditating on the spirits, and no one around you would be the wiser.

holidays
How lucky we are to live in a culture that still retains so many of the older Pagan customs. We can light candles on a Yule log or decorate an Easter egg, and no one bats an eye or even thinks about how these customs relate to Paganism. Relish the special meaning these things have for you, even as those around you give them little thought. When you light a candle, or enact any of these customs, quietly or in your mind say something like, “This I do, in honor of my gods.”
You may not have a space or privacy to give offerings, but you can eat symbolic foods as a way of showing honor. Quietly or in your mind, say this blessing:

“Spirits (or Kindreds/specific deities), taste as I taste,
and let this sacred food of (name of holiday) be as an offering to you, through me.”

Some simple ideas for symbolic foods that can be easily obtained to commemorate the holidays are: an apple slice for Samhain, pork or gingerbread for Yule, a dairy food or honey for Imbolc, an egg for Ostara, a strawberry for Beltane, an orange slice for Midsummer, bread or berries for Lammas, and fruit salad for Harvest Home.
symbolic foods of the holidays
magic
Here is where you may feel the most limited if you are of a mind to make magic a vital part of your lifestyle. Yet, it can be done. Use ordinary objects for your “tools”, and ordinary actions as your “works of magic”. Kitchen magic can be very subtle, using a wooden spoon as your wand and the entire contents of the kitchen as materials. Don’t forget about the subtle use of color magic and visualizations. You can simply send your energy out in accordance with your goal, and that requires no materials nor spoken words at all. Yes, every little thing you do (with intention) is magic! In your mind, dedicate whatever you’re doing, toward your goal.

divination
There are a number of divination methods that require no special tools. Divination of Nature requires only your observance and intuition and includes the interpretation of dreams. In bibliomancy, one flips open a book, and reads a randomly selected passage. It is possible to use an ordinary deck of playing cards for divination. Pendulum divination can be done with only a key on a string.

learning
If you are just starting out and seeking a way to learn all you need to know, I would recommend that you first learn all you can from trusted internet sources. (See my recommendations on book and internet resources.) Try to memorize what seems important, then clear your browser history. It may be tempting to obtain a lot of books, but if you have access to a good library, reading up on mythology and philosophy will give you a better foundation in the beginning. Some libraries will even order Pagan books if you put in a request. You can read them at the library if you feel it isn’t safe to bring them home.

If you are embarking on a hidden practice, take heart. Know that the circumstances holding you back are most likely temporary as are all things in life. You may even learn and grow from the experience.

a Lord of Plenty sculpture

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Abundance, or the Lord of Plenty- as I like to call him, is the third primal Power in Waincraft, the second born of Mother Night, and bright twin of the Wild Father. In creating a sculpture to represent him for my altar, I drew on imagery of what this Power represents for me from Germanic and Celtic sources, but also a lot from intuition.

As for how I made the sculpture, just as I did with my Wild Father sculpture, I started with a regular batch of salt dough (2 cups flour, 1 cup salt, and about a cup of water). After kneading, I broke off a big chunk of the dough and formed a rectangle and rounded off the top edges for shoulders. I rolled out some more dough and cut a circle shape with a drinking glass. This I placed above the shoulders as a backdrop to the head and celestial objects around the figure, making the basic size and outline match its twin sculpture.

Lord of Plenty construction
The beard and face were all one rounded rectangular piece. (When attaching a new piece, always dampen the base surface.) I used a cutting tool to add details to the beard. A tiny rope of dough was used for the nose/eyebrows. After making soft indentations for the eye-sockets, I attached tiny balls of dough for the eyes, poked holes for the pupils, and cut horizontal slits to suggest eyelids.

I cut grooves into the sides of the figure to suggest arms of a robe. The wheat-like texture on the right of the figure was made with little scissor snippets.

The cornucopia, pig, and bird shapes I added to the base were cut out of dough flattened with a rolling pin. Ropes of dough were used to make the tree branches and the sun rays. The apples and leaves on the tree, and fruit in the cornucopia were all made from small balls of dough. For the leaves, I flattened small balls of dough and pinched each end. The stars around the head started out as tiny balls of dough also. I cut and carved their shapes after attaching, pressing down with a small tool, the areas I wanted to recede into the background.

For the opening to the cornucopia, I pressed into the base a little with my thumb, then attached a rope of dough around it, smoothing with dampened fingers where the rope joined to form a circle. I then pressed ridges into the cornucopia basket.

When completely done shaping and blending, I baked it at 250°F for several hours.

After cooling, I painted all the grooves and crevices with an acrylic craft paint in the shade of burnt umber to get a good contrast. I used a paintbrush dipped in water to blend a little bit of the color to other areas for lighter contouring. When this was dry, painted the rest of the piece. When all of this was dry, I sprayed the entire piece with a coating of clear acrylic.

My new altarpiece now sits upon the fireplace mantle next to a small cauldron. I hope this description of how I made it was useful to anyone wishing to make something similar.

Lord of Plenty

a Wild Father sculpture

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Wildness, or as I prefer to call him- the Wild Father, is the second primal Power in Waincraft, the first born of Mother Night, and dark twin to the Lord of Plenty. In creating a sculpture to represent him for my altar, I drew on imagery of what this Power represents for me from both Celtic and Norse lore.

Instead of telling you which deities I drew on for this, I will just say that one was a deity I followed in my early days as a Pagan, and one is a later patron. The idea that both deities draw from (or are aspects of) the same Power, holds deep spiritual meaning for me. Many other deities come to mind as well when I gaze upon this altar piece. I don’t want to name specific names here because I want others to see what is most meaningful to them.

As for how I made the sculpture, I started with a regular batch of salt dough (2 cups flour, 1 cup salt, and about a cup of water). After kneading, I broke off a big chunk of the dough and formed a rectangle and rounded off the top edges for shoulders. I rolled out some more dough and cut a circle shape with a drinking glass. This I placed above the shoulders and a backdrop to the head and antlers of the figure.

crafting the wild god

Working with salt dough is pretty simple. The shapes I add are usually rolls (for hair, beard, antlers, snake…) or balls of dough (like for the head). When attaching a new piece, always dampen the base surface. With dampened fingers, I continue to shape and blend pieces after attaching to the base.

Small flattened balls of dough are blended on the face for cheekbones and a tiny roll of dough for the nose/eyebrows. For simple deep-set eyes, I poked holes with a toothpick. You may not be able to tell from this photograph, but one eye is closed.

I cut grooves into the sides of the figure to suggest arms of a robe, and I dug deep grooves into the center to form a tree. I scratched texture into the sides to represent vining spiraling wild growth. When completely done shaping and blending, I baked it at 250°F for several hours.

After cooling, I painted all the grooves, crevices, and backdrop of the antlers with an acrylic craft paint in the shade of burnt umber to get a good contrast. I used a paintbrush dipped in water to blend a little bit of the color to other areas and for lighter contouring of the hair and face. When this was dry, I sponged on brighter colors on many of the raised areas and painted the snake a sage green. When all of this was dry, I sprayed the entire piece with a coating of clear acrylic.

My new altarpiece now sits upon the fireplace mantle. I hope this description of how I made it was useful to anyone wishing to make something similar. Check in next week and I’ll tell you how I made my sculpture of the Wild Father’s twin- the Lord of Plenty.

Wildfather

ritual-to-go box

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A couple of years ago I decided to make a portable ritual kit that I could keep in a backpack, enabling me to have a simple solitary ADF ritual on a hiking trail. Now that I’m dong more group rituals, I have found the need to have the same kind of thing, but on a larger scale. Not that we’re doing rituals on hiking trails, but the rituals are often away from my home, and I always seem to leave something behind and we end up making do without a particular item. So I decided I was going to be more organized than that. I set out looking for a box or basket, large enough to hold all the items for ritual, but also the right height, and with a flat lid,so that the top could be used as a table; an altar, or just a place to set offerings and such. Also, I needed to be able to set my offering tray in it without turning it sideways. At a thrift store, I found a garden tote that has the perfect dimensions.

ritual-to-go boxritual-to-go box contents

I didn’t include a firepot (like I did in my original ritual kit) because this kit is to be used at someone’s house (who has a firepit), a park (where we would use built-in grills), or at a campground. I also didn’t include water in this kit, because water would be readily available in most location scenarios. For short rituals, the firestarter is all that is needed for a small fire, but it’s good to keep some chunks of wood in the trunk of the car in case none can be found at the ritual site and no one brought any. I’ve painted a tree on the side of the box, to stand in as a symbol for our tree hallow if we are in a location with (gods forbid!)– no trees. The box also comes in handy for a place to stash my handbag while doing ritual. A large scarf makes a pretty good altar cloth. At the group rituals we have, we’ve been having everyone use their own goblets instead of having a communal one for the blessing cup, so I like to bring a few extras in case someone forgot theirs. The grey goblets and the small water bowl in the picture look like glass but they are plastic. It saves risk of broken glass, and makes the box lighter to carry. If the potluck dish or beverage are heavy or might leak, I would carry them separately. If the ritual is at a park or campground, I would also bring a dishpan containing plates & cutlery. As for seasonal items, I might put in little statues or plaques of our “patrons of occasion” and any materials (craft stuff) we’d be using for the “magic” or “commemoration of the occasion” portions of ritual. A checklist fastened to the inside lid makes it good-to-go!

Tailtiu Shrine

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In Irish mythology, Tailtiu (pronounced tal-chuh) was the foster-mother of the god Lugh. Her name meant “The Great One of the Earth”. She died of exhaustion after clearing land for farming in what is now known as county Meath. Thereafter, every August, Lugh held funeral games in her honor. These funeral games (and fairs) became known as Lughnasadh; “the assembly of Lugh”. An older name for this holiday is Bron Trogain; “Lamentation of the Earth”.

Tailtiu Shrine

“Great en the fair wood was cut down by her,
roots and all, out of the ground,
before the year’s end it became Bregmag,
it became a plain blossoming with clover.
Her heart burst in her body
from the strain beneath her royal vest;
not wholesome, truly, is a face like the coal,
for the sake of woods or pride of timber.

Long was the sorrow, long the weariness of Tailtiu,
in sickness after heavy toil;
the men of the island of Erin
to whom she was in bondage
came to receive her last behest.
She told them in her sickness
(feeble she was but not speechless)
that they should hold funeral games to lament her
– zealous the deed .”
-from the Metrical Dindshenchas

Stovetop Hearth Rites

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Quite a few years ago I came across the idea of having a hearth goddess shrine in the kitchen. I think it was in a book about house magic. The shrine it described was to the Greek hearth goddess Hestia. I liked the idea but didn’t see at the time how I would implement it and I didn’t feel a strong connection to Hestia. I saw a variation on the theme in an article I’ve mentioned before; “Takin’ It All Home” by Kami Landy. I suppose the idea incubated in the back of my mind for a bit, but then it finally occurred to me what form my kitchen shrine would take and the ritual actions that would form around it.

Though I think of her as much more than a hearth goddess, Bríd, as goddess of fire, is my obvious choice of deity to honor at a kitchen shrine. I would decide on a symbol or image to use for her and where to put it. It would need to be small, and something I could place away from splattering oil and steam, but still be right in front of me when I went to cook. I decided against having a lamp or candle to light every time I set out to cook. It would be an extra step that I know I wouldn’t keep doing. I felt that just the imagery should be enough and some simple brief actions surrounding it.

It would be one small object (home-made, of course) to focus on and remind me of Bríd. I’ve collected Pagan and Celtic coloring pages for years, so I searched through my collection to find something I could color in and decoupage. I found a Bríd’s cross superimposed over a sun. I really like the imagery though in the future when this one is worn out, I might go with a depiction of the goddess instead.

So this is how I made it… I cut out three circles from a pizza box lid and glued them together to create a strong disk. I taped the cut edges with small tears of masking tape then painted the entire disk black with craft paint. After this dried, I glued on the picture with a thin layer of white glue and let it dry, then put on a couple layers of Modge Podge. Then I painted the image with craft paints. Originally I was going to put this on the wall above the stove, squeezed in between my spices and cooking utensils. But then it occurred to me that I could stick a magnet strip on the back and place it on the stove’s hood. So that is what I did. It keeps it safer from steam and splatters and easier to reach. I slide it further up onto the stove hood when not being used for my cooking blessing, so it won’t get knocked down.

And this is how I use it in ritual… when I’m about to start cooking, I say a short blessing and rub a pinch of the dry ingredients I’m using in my cooking  (usually salt, spices) around the edge of the image as offering. That’s all there is to it. Not hard to keep up a ritual such as that. The brief words of my cooking blessing was inspired from a couple of Bríd prayers I learned years ago:

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“Gentle red-cheeked Bríd
Of flame and honeycomb,
Bless this cooking, bless this home.”
~~~

Celtic Pagan Daily Spirituality – when there’s no time for ritual

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As part of my Dedicant Program studies for ADF, I’m supposed to keep a journal documenting things like my daily ritual and meditative practices. As time wears on, I find that not only can it be difficult to keep up the practice of journaling, it is especially difficult at times to maintain the routine of a daily ritual. This got me to thinking about an article I read years ago on the Imbas website; “Takin’ It All Home: Translating Our Ritual Structure to Personal Space” by Kami Landy. So I went back and read the article again to remind myself of how Celtic spirituality can be woven into my daily life, even when it seems I don’t have time. Infused with thankfulness, connection, and meditative awareness, the mundane activities of daily life take on new meaning. Life is the ritual.

Here are some of my ideas for daily Celtic spirituality inspired by Landy’s article:

Water
Just as so many modern Hindu worshipers do today, so too did the ancient druids start their day with ritual bathing. For Hindus, the sacred river is the Ganges. For the druids, there were many sacred rivers. The founding goddess of the Celts is Danu, Ancestral Mother and river goddess. Not all of us can bathe in a river every morning, but most of us shower daily. Why not consider the water coming from the shower as sacred? All the water that is on the planet has always been here, it just keeps circulating around the globe. That water was once a part of the sacred Danube river (and the Ganges, for that matter). The daily shower is the perfect time to connect to and worship Danu (and/or other water-related deities).  I begin by cupping my hands under the stream of water and saying something like this: “Danu, mo bandia, Ancient Mother, Ancient River, Waters of Life… may your flowing waters cleanse my body and soul for the ritual of life…”
Another way of viewing sacred water in a Celtic context is the concept of the Sacred Well. (Put in a drain strainer so that you can occasionally place a piece of silver in the drain as offering without it getting lost or causing a clog.)

Tree: the Sacred Center
For Celtic Pagans, the Bilé, or world tree, is symbolic of our connection between the upper and lower realms; the center of sacred space. Symbolically, it holds our worlds together. (I also consider the imagery of the tree as representative of a Curnunnos-type deity, but your mileage may vary.) Landy recommends touching a representation of the Bilé (a chimney or center wall of the house) as a meditative reconnection. I would also add that a tree figurine or other representation on your personal shrine would also work, and on the go, a tree pendant necklace. In your daily rounds, do you walk by a tree? Simply reaching out and briefly touching a tree can be very grounding; a physical trigger as well as an acknowledgement of the sacredness of the tree itself. You could also rub a pinch of red ochre or ground grains on the tree as offering, when you have time.

Fire
Landy speaks of the pilot light of the water heater, stove burner, etc. being representative of the home’s sacred flame. But what if you live in a home that is all-electric, and no fireplace to smoor? I like her idea of lighting a small candle while cooking, and putting some kind of symbol like a sun-face or Brigit’s cross above it. This gave me the idea of considering the stove-top itself an altar to Brigit and putting a symbol of her on the wall above it. But I don’t light a candle when I cook; I consider electricity her Divine Spark in modern form. When beginning cooking, I touch her image in reverence and smudge on a little ground grain or red ochre.

Earth Mother
Landy’s paragraph about the Earth Mother is spot on. Everywhere is Her altar and our worship of Her is in our actions; our sustainable lifestyles of recycling, conserving resources, non-consumerism. To this I would add that simply bending down to touch the Earth in reverence can be one of your most powerful spiritual acts of the day.

The Three Kindreds
The Three Kindreds are: Deities, Nature Spirits, and Ancestors. Worship of certain deities is included in the above water (well), tree, and fire reverence ideas. I also like Landy’s idea of using pictures to remind one of the Kindreds. These could be anointed with red ochre or some other sacred substance in a way similar to Hindu worship.
For honoring the Nature Spirits, I think that her idea of using a bird feeder as offering receptacle for them is pure genius. In many cases, even an apartment dweller could do this. To what she has suggested on this, I have nothing more to add. Her ideas on Ancestor reverence is well put also. My Ancestor shrine is in the dining area where I eat everyday, so it is easy to remember to honor them, but Landy’s article gives me ideas on how to enhance that shrine through use of scent and items held dear to the Beloved Dead. Little things like this serve to help one remember and revere the Ancestors.

Many of these ideas can even be adapted to use when traveling. I especially like the idea of using pictures (not neccesarily as part of a shrine) to worship the Kindreds; this idea too, could be portable in the form of homemade picture prayer cards kept in a wallet or purse, or one could use charms on a bracelet. A lot of what Landy’s article is about is setting up a home environment in which spiritual practice becomes second nature. We do have time for “ritual” when it’s many little things woven into our lives.