Last night, I wrote about creating an altar with small, attractive objects you can easily hide. Here’s my seasonal altar. I set it up on my dresser
Until the first of December, I had a small fabric pumpkin and a good-sized yellow natural leaf in the corner where the green candle tree is. My mother has had that candle for close to 40 years. She kept it nice by putting it back in its plastic bag when putting away the Christmas decorations. That and the pine cone are all that this altar really needs for Yule. Right in front of the tree, behind the fairy, you can see a mini hand-carved wooden deer. On the left side of the Goddess candle holder, a small wooden goddess figure lies on the dresser. There are two mini grapevine pentacles hidden from view–I was trying to give you an altar-level view. I dusted, but I got a nice shot of candle wax that dripped from a taper candle I use to light jar candles that burned down too low to reach with a match. I bought the green goddess tealight figurine on Ebay from this seller.
In the left corner beside the green Goddess, you’ll see a Wade Whimsies green mermaid and orange conch shell. There’s also a real, small seashell. This altar, in addition to being seasonal, is about using tiny things, natural and man-made, to represent the elements. Some of the fairies on the wicker mat (I bought them and the mushrooms here) help create an altar dedicated not just to nature, but to the Fae as well. Remember that this is an altar composed primarily of tiny objects if you don’t have much space and/or you have to be able to quickly hide your altar. That’s why you’ll find no athame here. The mini broom substitutes for it. The besom represents air. The standing fairy represents air. The sitting fairies surrounded by petrified fungi and lichen represent earth. The mermaid and conch shell miniatures represent water. I think that the wicker mat is a nicer altar cover for this very earthy altar than a cloth. I did have to tape some of the figures down with thick double-sided tape. I recommend also taping the bases of figurines like the green tealight Goddess. You can still have an altar cloth. Just tape figurines of this type to the surface of the altar.
I took another couple of shots so that you can see hidden objects. Why am I writing so much and so enthusiastically about Wicca and altars instead of vampires and excerpts from my books? Because after writing six or more hours a night on my novels and six hours a day freelancing to make money now, I needed something to clear my mind and soothe my soul. Going back into Wicca has been difficult, confusing, and finally joyous. I want to share that with anyone with similar interests. I also want to share the advice that I needed when I was young to young Wiccans, pagans, and witches.
I really love the mushrooms with spirals, and the pink prayer beads (30 in all) with the turquoise flower. The mushrooms came from the same Etsy shop as the fairies. Sadly, the lady who made the prayer beads to order has disappeared from Etsy.
This is essentially a fairy altar, and due to expense, space, and preference, I used miniature childlike fairies, but fairies, The Fair Folk, The Sith, The Sidhe, are more like Arwen and her kin in Lord of the Rings than these tiny creatures, but there are tiny, and medium Fae. And all of them have unique personalities, and most are not friendly towards us. Why would they be? We drove them into hiding and reduced them to storybook characters and nursery rhymes. Here’s Kate and Anna McGarrigle singing about Appalachian folk tales. I believe that the Fae came to the New World with us.
Frail my heart apart and sing me a little Shady Grove
A darker, older fairy tale, found in many cultures, with variations:
Oh the Dreadful Wind and the Rain sung by Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings.
So you must realize that it’s crucial for you to study the Fae, understand that they came with us to America, that they are still with us, that they are always where they have been: in the woodlands, the edges of the woods, ponds, lakes, under bridges, certain trees like willows, always with us but sometimes stronger in the dusk, dawn, dark moons. One of the items on my altar is a hag stone. Hag stones are supposed to enable you to see Fae. Leave offerings for them: wine, bread, milk, honey.
I’m really enjoying writing this blog series. I’m working right now on a story about witches and Fae. I’m still preparing my Empire State Vamps series for querying. But the Fae, their lore running in my Scots-Irish blood, they’ve given me a dark vacation . . . the very best kind.
I’m sure that I’ve posted about making/buying pagan payer beads. Making a sturdy set of any type of prayer beads is difficult. Most people string them on stretchy, strong plastic. If you get lucky, you can find a pair of those with some space for moving the beads as you pray/say your mantra, and spacer beads. Unless you want to pray the entire set of beads at once or use a marker (a safety pin, a bit of ribbon tied in place) you should look for a set with spacer beads.
I’m working over my old Kwan Yin mala beads again. They are very well made (by a seller who is no longer in business, sorry!) and connected by wire. I’ve removed the Kwan Yin figure (and placed her safely in the pretty bag that the beads originally came in.) The beads are jade. I had a jade pendulum and an extra sterling silver star goddess that came with an earring set. I attached them at what I determined would be my beginning point. Then I went through my little jewelry box drawer of beads for spacer beads and decided to use spacer beads with their own soldered rings and attach them to the mala beads with jump rings accessorized by a star and a moon.
A string of mala beads easily become your Wiccan prayer beads. You can do as little as remove the Buddhist figure or symbol that comes with the prayer beads, attach your own figure or symbol, and you have Wiccan or pagan prayer beads. Jewels, like my jade beads, are more likely to be strung very securely (I’ve had these since 2003) on metal wire. Sandalwood beads are also popular, smell wonderful, but are usually strung on heavy-duty string, thin twine, or some elastic substance.
There’s always a finishing step when adding an item to your Wiccan tools: cleansing. If you’re dedicated to a female deity who is a moon, underworld, or unspecified deity, leave them in your windowsill overnight in the moonlight. There are moon gods and solar goddesses. Do what seems appropriate. Pass the beads through sandalwood incense smoke, then leave them on your altar until your incense finishes burning.
You can put your prayer beads into a little dish and cover them with cleansing herbs for 24 hours. Some common herbs include basil, cedar, thyme, and peppermint. You don’t have to bury them, just cover them. You can also keep them in a white cotton bag on you altar for a moon cycle. You can put herbs in the bags, herbs for purification, cleansing, balance, harmony, and energy. If you’re stressed, try rose petals for cleansing. If you’re seeking happiness, try basil or lavender. If you want to heal something it your life, harness healing energy with peppermint, clove, or cinnamon.
Don’t use oils because they may damage your beads, metal figures, or spacer beads.
You can use these steps with beads you purchase, alter, or make.
I’ve only used 108 bead strings of mala beads intended for use in Buddhist meditation. Many Wiccans focus on a three-fold goddess and/or the three phases of the moon. Traditional Buddhist mala beads focus on 108 repetitions of a mantra. The number of beads is typically 54. Reaching you beginning point and starting again is the usual Buddhist method. Buddhists may also stop at half the mala and pick up again later.
For Wiccans, 108 beads divided by three is 36, a nice number for Wiccans as 3+6=9. 5+4=9. 1+0+8-=9. If it comes out in multiples of three, we can more easily write prayers and mantras dedicated to our goddess(es) Maiden, Mother, Crone. That’s a good place to start, even if you’re starting in winter. When you pray your beads, you can work clockwise or widdershins. Widdershins is the opposite of clockwise, and is often used in undoing or banishing spells.
It’s easiest to start using Wiccan prayer beads with a single or three-word mantra. Habit is the most important thing at first. Allow me to tell you you a story about the early days, living with my ex-husband. I met him through a Buddhist message board. We were sharing a house with several other people. Every day, white he was at work, I listened to Buddhist podcasts, sat in the lotus position, and tried to clear my mind. Imagine being a baby Buddhist and living in a two-story house getting loud in the middle of the day, fighting, not wanting you there, imagine a completely untrained black lab puppy and a FUCKING IGUANA in a cage too small. Put yourself into that situation and clear your mind of everything but your mantra. YOU CAN’T FUCKING DO IT.
Imagine that your SO gets home from work and asks you how you’re getting along in your “lessons.” You tell them. You get “FIX YOUR MIND” screamed into your ear or your face.
It actually got worse when we moved into an apartment because there was no one there but the two of us, a child on the weekends, and the iguana he acquired before I met and knew that I fear. I was forced to feed him because he would have died otherwise. My ex built a habitat for him twice the size of his old habitat. I got a cat. The cat and I spent a lot of time in the kitchen and bedroom. Still, I could not clear my mind. I still listened to podcasts. There was one Buddhist nun teacher I very much liked, until one day she said something bizarre and awful that started to wake me up.
Over the next years, I used walking meditation and found a great deal of comfort in that.
On the night of the full moon, 12/3/2017, I turned those old jade mala beads into Wiccan prayer beads. They’re in a white cotton bag of lavender right now as the beginning of their cleansing.
Prayer beads are frequently now called “worry beads.” You have probably seen a Catholic person praying the Rosary in a time of intense stress. I guess it’s okay if you call your prayer beads worry beads. I mean, you reach for them when you’re unsettled and worried. But you should also reach for them when your mind is calm. Prayer beads can help your mind find solutions to problems. They’re not magic. You work the magic as you work with them.
I’ve written this post twice, and twice put it in draft mode. I cannot say this to people IRL even though I am sure they have suspicions. It’s an understood secret that I am tired of living.
This will come as no surprise to my online friends who have known the online me more than a month.
I think I wrote too much explanation the other two times. I realized today that the only thing that I need to say is that I am a cis bisexual woman and realized it in middle school, although I didn’t know the words for it 30 years ago.
The older I get, the more I would prefer a relationship with a woman of my own age rather than a man. I don’t know what that means.
Thank you and good day.
I don’t usually write such long titles, but I wanted to make sure I got your attention! Now that I have, let me tell you how to create a beautiful altar with little expense and the bonus of being easily disassembled and hidden.
First, let me say, it is absolutely true that you can create an altar with items you find on a nature walk and couple of candles. Nature walks are great ways to find things like attractive stones, pinecones, and seashells. (Please respect the rules of national parks/historic sites and don’t take items from them.) City parks and public beaches should be okay. I found a hag stone on a public beach.
If you’re like me, you prefer an attractive altar that combines both. Pagan objects are hard to find if you live in a tiny town like mine. When the holiday season begins, dollar stores are great sources of little pumpkins, cauldron-shaped candle holders, mini Christmas trees that can be used as Yule trees, reindeer, and a variety of Christmas ornaments that you can re-purpose into altar items.
You can use a fairy figurine as a Goddess figurine. You can use an angel. Figures to represent a male deity can be harder to find. Deer figurines can be a solution.
You can find amazing things in thrift stores, and the inventory changes every day. I found my carved wooden box designed to hold cards in a thrift store. I keep my first set of Tarot cards in it.
If you just can’t find what you need in a brick and mortar store, there’s always Ebay and Etsy. Pagan items are often very expensive, but they don’t have to be labeled pagan to be used on your altar.
My advice is to put your money into a small (I’m talking teacup small) real cast iron cauldron with three feet to ensure it doesn’t make the surface you place it on hot. DON’T burn anything but a candle in a candle holder. I had a heavy glass ashtray crack just from burning herbs. If you buy a cast iron cauldron, please read up on how to care for it so that you don’t accidentally ruin it like I did with my mom’s cast iron skillet.
If you’re looking for Goddess and God figures, you’ll quickly realize how expensive they are. My Rhiannon and Morrigan were $35 each. Here are two solutions for multiple goddess figures:
I have the Dover book. If you want to know if a particular goddess is featured in it, please feel free to leave a comment and ask. It’s a high-quality book and the art is, to me, much better than the book that costs twice as much. Just please remember to keep your paper dolls safely away from your candles.
You can use a picture as a Goddess/God representation. Print out something you like and frame it. The Dover paper doll book has a Rhiannon doll. I have it in a frame on my Rhiannon altar.
I have a seasonal altar devoted to fairies. If you’re looking for inexpensive fairies, search for miniature fairies on Etsy. I bought three, one white, one black, and one Native American, and three little mushrooms with spirals on them. They’re meant to be decorations for potted plants and had thin metal stakes on the bottoms. I broke off the stakes by working them back and forth, then used a nail file to file down the stub.
In another Etsy shop, I found stars (pentacles) made from grapevines. They’re small, and you can run any type of ribbon or cord through them to hang them up. The same shop sold miniature fairy brooms. You can use a broom to represent East on your altar. It’s a lot less noticeable than an incense burner ;).
On Ebay, I found a seller who sells candles about eight inches tall in female and male forms and in a variety of colors. They’re meant to be burned in spells, but I use my green female figure candle as a Mother Nature figure. Again, keep them away from candles you’re going to light to avoid softening the wax.
Candles. Candles are often pricey and can bring on asthma attacks if they have intense fragrances. If you want a safe, unscented jar candle, check dollar stores and the “ethnic foods” aisles of grocery stores for candles featuring saints. You can soak off the labels in hot water. Just don’t submerge the candles, because water can run into pockets in the wax, making the candle unsafe to burn.
When you re-purpose Christian items into pagan items, you may feel as if you’re doing something wrong. This is leftover guilt from rejecting your Christian upbringing. Remember that these are inexpensive items sold in bulk. Unless it’s blessed by the Pope, don’t worry about it. I painted a white plastic statue of Mary meant for garden decor black and used it as The Crone. I have yet to be struck by lightning.
Setting up an altar to a particular deity can be challenging. I recently discovered a line of vintage ceramic animals, people, and objects called Wade Whimsies. A figurine was included in boxes of Red Rose Tea, sort of like the toys in Crackerjack boxes, but really charming and collectible. Luckily, there are so many on the market that you can usually find a handful for less than 10 dollars on Ebay. Last night, while working on my seasonal altar, I decided that I wanted a mermaid to represent West. I got on Ebay and searched for Wade (not Wade’s) Whimsies mermaid. They made a mermaid! Several people were selling only the mermaid for eight dollars. Then I found a seller who had the mermaid and several other nautical-themed items for eight dollars. Free shipping. Now, please understand that these Wade Whimsies/Red Rose Tea figurines are TINY. They’re smaller than a quarter but nicely detailed, and many have “Wade England” inscribed on the base.
You may be in a living situation where you can’t keep your altar up permanently or can’t openly display pagan items because it would create conflict with roommates or family. Or you may not have space for a large altar. These situations call for “stealth altars.” Miniature and innocuous items are ideal for such situations. A candle is just a candle. A miniature fairy is just a miniature fairy. A pocket knife with a black handle is just a pocket knife with a black handle. You can hide little items easily if you have to. You do not have to have an altar cloth with pagan symbols. You don’t have to have an altar cloth at all. If you want one, you can use a scarf or placemat. I have my fairies on a wicker placemat. Just don’t use it for any other purpose.
There are many simple ways to cleanse objects of old energies. One way is to burn sandalwood incense and pass the item through the smoke. You can also burn a sandalwood candle. Your intent is the key. Another is to leave the item sitting on your windowsill in sunlight all day or moonlight (preferably full moon moonlight) all night, depending on your intent for using the item.
I don’t usually write such long blog posts. I’ve just been remembering times in my life when the people I lived with attacked me for being Wiccan. And, even now, working as a freelance writer, I still find myself looking for the least expensive items. Sometimes I can afford to spend $35 on a statue. Sometimes I can barely scrape up $4 for a book.
I haven’t discussed books yet. As a teen, I checked out books about Wicca from the library and hand-copied the most important parts into a big, multi-section notebook. I still have it. Hand-copying information about the deities, the pagan holidays, spells, and reference lists about herbs and stones and candle colors is actually a great thing to do, because you’re creating your personal grimoire or Book of Shadows. Right now, I’m dealing with cold-weather utility bills and I’m in a freelancing dry spell, so I don’t want to spend money on printer ink rather than a book. I’m writing things down, saving them in Word documents, and saving images with info into my camera roll. When I my marriage was dying a slow death and my ex-husband was going through my things on a regular basis, I created a virtual vision board for my books on my iPod. I was able to keep the iPod out of his hands.
I am strongly against stealing art, books, and music. You can find Creative Commons imagery. You can make notes from online articles and library books. You can buy a song on iTunes. Don’t pirate eBooks. It’s the same as stealing a book from a store. 99.999% of published authors aren’t wealthy. Even if they are, don’t steal from them. It’s wrong, and it’s not acceptable behavior for a pagan or Wiccan or witch. We are better than that.
Items you can find at thrift and dollar stores:
- Vintage funky candle holders
- All types of figurines
- Unused candles
- Incense burners
- Handmade things
- Holiday decorations
- Blank books/journals
- Vintage fabric items originally used to dress up dressers, vanities, and chests of drawers
- Mirrors (for scrying)
- Geodes (large rocks broken in half to display the crystalline interior)
If you’re lucky enough to live near a used bookstore, you can find all sorts of books about witchcraft, and novels. I have two copies of Triad, the book that inspired Stevie Nicks to write Rhiannon, that I got for less than five bucks apiece at a used bookstore. One is hardback with the dust cover, the other is paperback. Most thrift stores have a used book area. Unfortunately, stores affiliated with religious organizations weed out occult books. They often miss novels. Just remember that anything you intend for your altar or for ritual use must be cleansed, because it carries the energies of previous owners.
Are you artistic? The most wonderful and powerful objects are those you make with your own two hands.
I remember vividly what it was like to hide the pagan part of my life when I was young and when I was married. I remember wanting an altar that reflected me and honored the Goddess at the same time. I remember hiding books. I remember sitting in the library copying things by hand from books.
Now I don’t have to hide anymore, and sometimes I have the money for a pricey Tarot or oracle deck, or a figurine, or a cauldron. I just hope that this post helps you if you’re in the same position I was 30 years ago.
P.S. Again, please ask any questions by leaving a comment, or follow me on Twitter and send me a DM.
I am not enamored of people who tell me to be grateful for what I have every day because if those people came and lived with me for, oh, three months, they would probably be stark raving mad after 90 days. What my mother and I go through to live a semi-normal life is exhausting mentally and physically. I’m right now thinking back over the year for things that make me feel gratitude. Here we go.
- I’ve made new real friends this year, both online and IRL. I’m going to meet one online friend in person, hopefully next week, because we realized we live about 20 minutes apart.
- I’m still freelancing, so I’m still working. Freelancing is feast or famine. I’m in a famine period right now, but based on the last couple of years, I believe my work will pick up again after the New Year.
- My mom. Boy, my mom. We butt heads hard as I assume more authority over the household, but she’s still Mom, giving me hell. I would worry if she stopped giving me hell. We have spent many hours talking out old issues. May we not have to do that next year, may we put the past in the past is my prayer.
- Speaking of prayer, I have fully accepted that my spiritual place is in the pagan world, in the traditions of my ancestors from Scotland and Ireland.
- I’ve come to terms with my father’s abuse of me as a child and his death. I’m re-embracing my Native American heritage that came to me through both of his parents.
- I’m actually reading the books I buy. I know that sounds bizarre for a writer, but I wasn’t allowed to read when I was married unless my ex-husband was at work. So fuck him, I read whenever I want now, whatever I want, whenever I want.
- I’ve worked very hard not just on gardening this year, but also on creating a wild space like I had at my house on Long Island, and I did it. Well, not really, Mother Nature did it. She gave me a place outside that I can go and be at peace. I care for that place, I protect it, and I feed the wild creatures that inhabit the trees and bushes. It’s a place to go even in winter, when the garden is sleeping.
- I gained the courage to be a political activist even in this miserable town. I gained the courage to be a political activist online even if it turns people off. Like so many others, I got a gut-punch this year that rearranged my priorities.
- My cats are healthy. Kumo, my oldest cat, doesn’t have congestive heart failure after all. He’s developed a condition that makes it difficult to digest dry food. All he needed was a vet visit and a switch to wet food.
- I have some hope of getting health insurance starting in January.
- I’m beating my insomnia, which is a big deal because it started a little over five years ago. I could go to bed and fall asleep right now if I wanted to.
- My cousin’s daughter who was born premature with severe physical disabilities is learning to speak and swallow. That wasn’t in the prognosis. It’s kind of a miracle. I put that last because I knew writing about her would make me tear up.
And I live in a house, imperfect, but a house, and we can pay our bills. Last year we got severely financially messed up, but people online came through for us, and we’ve been paying it forward this year.
Damn. I have way more to be grateful for than I thought.