How to Create the Altar You Want Even If You’re Low on Cash, Short on Space, or in the Broom Closet

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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:

Goddess Paper Dolls by Dover Publications

Goddess Paper Dolls by Julie Matthews

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
  • Bells
  • Art
  • Books
  • Handmade things
  • Holiday decorations
  • Blank books/journals
  • Scarves
  • Vintage fabric items originally used to dress up dressers, vanities, and chests of drawers
  • Goblets
  • Seashells
  • 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.

-Robin

P.S. Again, please ask any questions by leaving a comment, or follow me on Twitter and send me a DM.

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Grateful?

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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.

-Robin

To the People I Never Stopped Caring About

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You were lied to.

I know that you’ve seen the news the last week. Maybe you really were so brainwashed that you believed what he said about me. Maybe you saw me falling apart online and thought that it proved what he said.

I know that you were hurt by what happened. It was not my desire to hurt you. It was my desire to save my mental and physical life. I’m sorry I wasn’t there to protect you. You had many people around you who should have protected you. If they hadn’t been there for you, I would have fought in court to take you away with me.

You were a little child when you intervened in his abuse of me. I’ll never forget that. YOU took control of the situation at eight, or was it nine? You confronted him and told him that he had better go apologize to me because you didn’t want me to leave.

It was not on you to hold us together. The worst thing was that you and I had finally worked out our issues and started standing together against him.

What happened those three months after I left, I have an idea.

But now you see that abusive men don’t have to win. I’ve been speaking out for seven years. You spoke out when you were a kid. I’m not asking you to speak out again. I’ll speak out. I’m asking you to think back and remember.

me ny libraryny library lion

November 2017

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Since we’ve let part of our property go wild, it’s gotten gloriously witchy. There’s an otherworld vibe in that small area of untended space. I have my “witch rock,” a small boulder that’s sinking into the ground, a dead dogwood covered in fungi, and a sprawling forsythia that is home to dozens of tiny birds year-round.

This is what I want. Keep your unnatural green lawns free of clover, dandelion, and bees, and keep your chemicals away from me.

I took a few pictures this afternoon:

2017 nov autumn sm2017 nov tree mush sm2017 nov tree hole sm2017 nov mums sm2017 nov sham flwr sm

The World We’ve Created

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We made it on our own.

Over two dozen people, including the pastor’s young teen daughter, were murdered by a domestic terrorist in church Sunday morning. Other parishioners were shot, including a five-year-old boy, and a two-year-old girl.

Another man with a gun–or two men, the details are still confused–chased the terrorist down and “stopped” him.

People started talking about gun control. Other people started talking about their sacred “hobby” of collecting guns and hunting and target shooting.

A photo started to circulate of a trophy hunter, a person with more money than sense or morals, with a dead snow leopard draped around his shoulders.

I work remotely and avoid “regular” people as much as possible because I don’t understand their world. My vampire characters in my series make more sense and have a greater system of morality than the majority of the people out there.

I was going to give up freelancing and return to the outside work world . . . retail, secretarial work, temp work because tis the season, although it feels like nothing, really, just warm and chilly days and nights, leaves falling, crows calling, an owl that has settled in somewhere nearby and hunts at night.

The owl hunts because it has to. A lot of people where I live rely on hunting for food. They’re not the guy with the dead snow leopard hanging around his unworthy shoulders. They are concerned about their guns, I’m sure, but believing in gun control doesn’t make one anti-gun. I’m not anti-gun. I’m anti AR-15s in the hands of men with grudges, violent men who’ve lost their easy targets of rage, their wives or girlfriends.

I don’t like to think that shooting is a relaxing hobby and accepted in American society. It seems like emptying a lot of rage instead of doing anything productive. “There is more skill in photographing an animal than using a rifle.” –https://twitter.com/SeymoreBobbyRay/status/927439684539645952  This Twitter user is 100% correct. Why is using an object meant to kill now a way to “work out” one’s frustrations? Take up martial arts. Take up boxing. Take it out on a heavy bag. Get freaking counseling.

People mock me for collecting dolls. It’s not a “grown-up” hobby. Dear Goddess, let me never have a grown-up hobby. People mock my religion as not a “real” religion while “real” religious leaders say . . . bring guns to church.

What we know about the terrorist who murdered at least 26 people in church yesterday morning is that he was young, had been married, had at least one child, assaulted his wife and child, and was dishonorably discharged from the Air Force, court-martialed for his abuse of his family.

Another angry young white man who, as so many women said on Twitter, went from domestic violence to mass murder.

I ultimately left my abusive ex-husband because of the gun in the bedroom.

I have no desire to be out in the world that breeds all those mindsets, and that world doesn’t want me. I see growing hostility and suppressed anger when I go beyond my little town to a town with department stores. I don’t carry a gun, I don’t advertise my politics. But I don’t get out of the way of aggressive men or women. I confront them. I don’t like it. I don’t like having a trip to the grocery store turn into an argument with a pushy person in line who has a red face and clenched fists.

I’ll just be at home, taking care of my mother and cats, writing, and building my doll collection. And voting. One thing I can do to fight back against those people with clenched fists and guns is vote.

I’m a contented stereotype in the world I’ve created. That world outside is devolving. I don’t want to be in it as it dies.

When a teacher changes course

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Solitary Wiccans/Pagans often come to depend on people who present themselves as teachers because we don’t have the support system of a coven. When that teacher’s path changes, we can feel as if the earth has shifted under our feet. It’s comparable to a Christian pastor announcing that she no longer believes in a key element of Christian theology and will no longer follow what she has preached for a decade.

Two months ago, I wrote about Doreen Virtue’s conversion to Christianity. We should have seen it coming, I suppose, as she increasingly focused on Mary and Mary Magdalene, the Templars, the quest for the Holy Grail, and the well at Glastonbury. I was fascinated by those things for years. That’s how I discovered Doreen and bought two of her decks. I do believe that Doreen’s Goddess Guidance Oracle helped me connect with Rhiannon when I realized that a Christian form of paganism was not for me. Then she went to angel decks. I had absolutely no interest in them. What bothered me about her conversion to Christianity was her decision to alter her previous work to remove deities that she now considers “dark.” That’s wrong. Are her old, original decks now worthless? Not at all. If you’ve been using one or more and they work for you, I say keep using them. You may miss her teachings using those cards, but if you still feel connected to the cards, that’s good. They’re still a tool for you and one hard lesson of Wicca/Paganism is that everything created and named by human beings is fluid. I question my witchy world daily. That’s the point. I picked this path because I didn’t want dogma.

I’ve recently been reading books by a prolific academic author and teacher. Just when I felt I was beginning to understand what I needed to understand about The Morrigan, like not saying I wanted to “work with” Her, this teacher underwent a profound spiritual experience, and her devotion to some deities, including Macha, has changed. At first I was shaken. Then I remembered that I was drawn to The Morrigan, Goddess of War, Queen of Phantoms, and possibly the most confusing Celtic goddess of all, when I “should have” connected with Brigid, goddess of hearth, poetry, healing, and many other things close to my heart. Why did I physically reach past Her for a statue of The Morrigan? I only had a superficial knowledge of Her. I just felt a connection. That connection isn’t broken by this very knowledgeable teacher’s change of path. Her previous writings aren’t to be dismissed. Our teachers are learning, too, examining their beliefs every day, as we should.

A teacher can’t determine what path is right for you or which deity or deities you should follow or call on . . . only you can know that, and you have to learn two things: how to read the signs that a deity is calling on you, and how to trust yourself.