Recreating Your Altar: Yes, it’s Okay

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This post is especially for pagans/Wiccans/witches still in their “year and a day” period.

So you set up an altar, and probably you felt connected to a particular goddess/goddess and god/pantheon. Maybe you set up a simple altar and didn’t put a lot of money into the components. That’s actually good and smart and not what I did. Well, I didn’t spend a great deal of money, but I did buy two beautiful goddess figurines based on an oracle card reading that told me that one goddess was trying to reach me and a fascination with another goddess. At first, I felt very connected and centered to the goddesses. After several months, I lost the connection. I kept doing all the things that I had done since the beginning, but I could not regain that feeling of presence.

At the same time, I was spending a lot of time outside in the spring preparing and planting my garden. It’s been a difficult year–I don’t have to say why, but add health worries and family issues on top of that–and I got to a point that if I didn’t touch a plant every day, I was miserable. I realized that the goddess whose presence I craved was nature.

You already know that you don’t have to have an altar. We don’t have dogma. But if you’re like me and you like altars and symbols–perhaps a carryover from Catholic school?–you can build a budget altar and save up for things that you love, like the mini cast iron cauldron that I just bought. Budget or altar of your dreams, if you find yourself pulled in another direction six months later, it’s okay to change. And it’s okay to feel drawn to another deity. If another goddess or god seems to tug at your heart for months, it’s time to sit down and try to determine if this deity should become a part of your life.

How do you know? Meditation, sitting or walking can give you insight. Tarot or oracle cards can be a great help, but try to stay away from god/goddess decks. Turning over a goddess card doesn’t mean that goddess should be your goddess. Different deities speak to us when they have something to say.

Reading books–NOT random articles online–can help you learn about the specific mythology associated with your deity. Serving a deity is serious and arduous. This is one reason that many modern pagans choose goddess and/or god symbols instead of a particular deity.

I believe that “God” is a part of our universe and appears to people in a form that they can connect with and understand. We are not so far from our BCE ancestors. We are sheltered from and understand rain, thunder, lightning, snow, intense sun, but we are still vulnerable to the elements. What is more elemental than the earth and the forest and the sea? Where to we go to “get away from it all?” To the sea. To the forest. Some of us camp out in the woods. Some of us rent beachfront condos. Most of us get as close to nature as we comfortably can.

What draws you, the mountains or the sea? The desert? The prairie? The forest? The wooded area a mile from your home? Your carefully cultivated garden, or the garden you let run wild?

I’ve felt on edge for months, as if I made a mistake in choosing particular deities, and that I would be doing some great wrong in making a change. I no longer believe that it’s wrong to change. I do think that the change should be done with great respect. I have a place picked out for my goddess statues. It will be, in essence, a second altar. My new altar will be dedicated to the Goddess in her persona as Nature. This goddess will be my garden. This altar will tide me over the winter, but I will of course include winter nature elements. This altar will be personal to me rather than dedicated to something outside me. I made a mistake with that, not a terrible, unforgivable mistake, but an error.

So I have big plans for this altar. I’m lucky to have space, and lucky to not have to pack up and hide my altar. I can grow plants on my altar. I can add things until my entire dresser surface is an altar.

Many teachers will caution against adding a lot of stuff to your altar. That depends upon the person. Does having a well fleshed-out altar aid you in your meditation, magical work, daily ritual? Daily ritual is so very important in our chaotic world. It helps us feel grounded and centered, or as much as is possible these days. Tending an altar is like tending a garden.

How do you tend an altar? That’s another post. This was a long post, and sunrise is in two minutes.

But yes, you can change your mind about your altar, and you can devote yourself to a different deity. Both should only be done after a long period of thought, meditation, and asking oracles for advice, at least in my opinion.

Fellow pagans, how do you respond?

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“Paganism/Wicca is a made up religion.”

What do you say? My impulse is to say that they’re all “made up,” human expressions of the Divine.

I was told today that we (all pagans of all traditions) are just having fun without having done any research into how ancient peoples worshiped. As this person’s comments were particularly foolish and presumptuous, I told them they needed to get their ass off their shoulders and stop assuming that none of us have done any research into our particular path.

Because we don’t have a holy book, because we’re all different, because we all have our own way of approaching our spirituality and we (largely) avoid dogma, we’re just playing around.

I’ve never understand why religion can’t evolve. I’ve never understood why a spiritual practice built on the foundations of ancient religion isn’t as real as, say, Mormonism, which is a very young religion.

Wicca isn’t easy. For me, it’s hard work continually chipping away at the fear installed in me by Christian school teachers. It’s hard work readjusting my thought patterns from a religion that says “Just pray and believe!” to a spiritual practice that is . . . real life. It’s birth, life, and death. It’s having a pragmatic view of daily living instead of walking around telling everyone MY GOD IS GOOD, I’M BLESSED by people who don’t seem blessed at all, just desperately trying to convince themselves that they are or will be if they keep repeating it. And research . . . the research never stops. New archaeological discoveries, fighting through the fluff to get to the blood and bone, trying to understand how my ancient Irish ancestors viewed their gods and goddesses. Trying to set aside my comfortable modern mindset. Trying not to be pushed into doing things the way that other pagans do them. Not hiding my beliefs and knowing that people think they’re silly and hearing things like this woman on this TV show just said, that she goes to church to feel like she’s part of something bigger than herself.

I don’t need to go sit in a building to do that. All I have to do is water my garden and monitor the growth of my plants that I planted from seed. All I have to do is pick up half of a robin’s egg shell and add it to my shelf of things I find around my yard. All I have to do is look at a modern interpretation of an ancient female figurine and feel that primal awe at how something so simple seems to hold all the meaning in the world.

What do you say to someone who just wants to feel superior and sneer at a “made-up” religion? Do you bother with them at all? Is it our jobs to try and educate them? Does that ever work? Do we have to be nice? I don’t feel like trying to set some kind of example. If someone is behaving like an ass, I want to say “you’re behaving like an ass.”

So how do you respond to the “made-up religion” comments?

A Common Question About Wicca or Paganism and Being Wiccan or Pagan in 2017

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Last year I used my oracle cards and asked if a particular goddess was trying to reach me. I turned a card over and it was Rhiannon. I already had an image of her on display, and my shrine to her grew quickly and naturally into a thing of such beauty that I’d like to share it, but I feel it should be kept private.

After a few months, I found my that my thoughts often turned to The Morrigan. I felt her as strength, autonomy, and ultimate feminine power. She is, after all, regarded by some as the personification of Ireland.

(Rhiannon is a Welsh deity familiar to most because of the Stevie Nicks song. I LOVE Stevie, but she wrote the song because she was inspired by a character in a novel, not the goddess. If you are interested in Rhiannon because of the song, research the goddess. Books are best. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find a book just about Rhiannon as I did with The Morrigan. I did find and buy this book and found it eye opening. It has chapters about 13 Celtic and Norse goddesses including Cerridwyn, Brighid, Eostre, Freyja, Aine, Danu, Modron, Hella, Branwen, Maeve, the Valkyries, and Morrighan. If you want to read about the fictional character that inspired Stevie Nicks, you want this book. I found the hardback and paperback in the same used bookstore.)

Okay, now that we have the list of books out of the way, let’s talk Wicca, altars, and 2017. You can bet your buttons that anything with the words “religious freedom” in it no longer applies to us in the U.S.

I’ve been interested in Wicca since I was 12. I’m 44 now. I started my Wicca journey with The Mists of Avalon and The Spiral Dance. Guess I didn’t get the book list out of the way after all. What I learned from The Mists of Avalon was what it means to serve The Goddess. The library copy I read had an index listing The Spiral Dance as source material. Wiccans generally refer to “The Goddess,” “The Triple Goddess,” and, more popularly today, “The Spiral Goddess.”

What if more than one goddess seems to pick you? I believe in individual manifestations of The Goddess. Believe me, if She wants you to see Her as one or more particular deities, She’ll make you see it.

With my shrine to Rhiannon and then The Morrigan opening my door and announcing herself, I was concerned about having shrines to multiple deities, especially deities from different pantheons. This forum discussion helped me tremendously. I set up a separate shrine for The Morrigan. It’s much darker than my shrine to Rhiannon but, as with the construction of Rhiannon’s shrine, it almost seemed to create itself. I honor both of them on holy days and throughout the month, especially on the days/nights of the New Moon, Full Moon, and Waning Moon.

Now, 2017. They’ll use their religious freedom nonsense against us eventually. How do you want to live as a Wiccan, a pagan, a heathen in 2017? If you’re already out, you’re out. If you’re not, you must be knowledgeable about your religion and your REAL religious rights before you come out. Hell, if you’ve been out, you should have the ACLU’s phone number in your phone. Many of us are by nature solitaries and we despise dogma, and lately there’s been too much of that in Wiccan groups (and too much of men running groups and chastising women.) If you don’t want to be in a coven, don’t feel obliged to join one now. But consider a quiet support system. You can find your sisters and brothers on Twitter. You can find me there.

Beware of white supremacist, homophobic “pagans.” They’re out there openly now, particularly if you identify with Norse goddesses and gods.

Blessed be, Sisters and Brothers.

Ash Wednesday a Year Later

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I woke up early today, for a wonder, and started reading Twitter. I no longer keep up with the Christian calendar unless it’s Easter or Christmas. Those were our family traditions. Today is Ash Wednesday. I haven’t celebrated–or been forced to observe–Ash Wednesday since I was in private school.

A lot has happened over the last year, especially since September, to show me that Christianity is not my path. I’m on the outside looking in at people discussing getting ready early today to that they can go to church, and I’m reading tweets from countries in Great Britain where the Ash Wednesday celebrations are a much bigger deal that they are here . . . full of color, traditional costumes, and music.

The only reason I’m writing this post is that the happiness over Ash Wednesday is such a painful contrast to what happened today in 1692 in Salem, Massachusetts.

Three women were interrogated on suspicion of witchcraft: Tituba, an enslaved woman, Sarah Good, and Sarah Osborne. And thus began one of the most obscene episodes of insanity in American history: the Salem Witch Trials.

We know now (at least some of us do) that it is 99.999% likely that none of the 19 people executed in Salem for witchcraft were witches. I’m leaving that less than 1% chance open because someone may have been quietly practicing an old belief system. Maybe they escaped the hysteria because they kept to themselves. Maybe they turned their faces from their accused neighbors in order to survive.

It’s 2017 and Salem now exists on tourism fed by false accusations of witchcraft.

When I put away my Mary Magdalene paraphernalia last September and turned back to what had lain dormant in my mind for thirteen years–that’s weird, thirteen years, isn’t it?–I felt sad, lost, forsaken, as if I thought I had a friend but didn’t. That’s how close I was to this heretical version of Christianity. I didn’t mind being a heretic. It felt right to me . . . except that it was causing me quite a bit of anxiety trying to understand it.I remember reading something in the Bible attributed to Jesus regarding divorce and thinking, surely this doesn’t apply to me. I didn’t want to leave. I had to.

It’s all simply too hard to fathom. I was amazed at how easily I slipped back into my old ways and how much pleasure there is in being an adult and not having to disguise my altars or put away my Tarot cards.

Then I remembered where I was. In the South. Surrounded by neighbors who, instead of listening to me when I tried to explain the reason for my lifelong OCD, told me “you know you did something wrong” and told me to pray. Where people wave crucifixes and proclaim “my God is good!” even though their lives, from what they tell me, are not happy.

It’s a pretense. And I have to keep my altars and my Tarot cards and my books in my bedroom, because at least down here people have some scruples about just walking into your bedroom.

Which brings me back to the point of this post: pagans still can’t be as open about their beliefs as Christians. And today is a holy day for many Christians, but it’s also a day of remembrance for 19 people who fell victim to a hysteria much like what is burning across our country today:

Victims of Salem in Order of Execution:

Bridget Bishop

Rebecca Nuse

Sarah Good

Elizabeth Howe

Susannah Martin

Sarah Wildes

George Burroughs

George Jacobs Sr.

Martha Carrier

John Proctor

John Willard

Martha Corey

Mary Eastey

Mary Parker

Alice Parker

Ann Pudeator

Wilmot Redd

Margaret Scott

Samuel Wardwell Sr.

Giles Corey

Several victims died in prison:

Lydia Dustin

Ann Foster

Sarah Foster

Roger Toothaker

Mercy Foster (daughter of Sarah Good, born and died in prison)

This obscene part of American history is more than just a list of names of the accused dead. There were a few people who escaped from the Salem prison. You can start here to learn about the real people behind the names:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_people_of_the_Salem_witch_trials#Convicted_and_executed

I’m going to spend Ash Wednesday in remembrance of all these many people who suffered and died as a result of hysteria, prejudice, and intolerance.

We would do well, when we turn on the news today, to remember that “witch hunt” isn’t just a catchphrase and, under the leadership of someone eager to harm those different from him in skin color, religious belief, and sexuality, it’s already happening again.

No One Walks Away From This Battle

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Stevie Nicks was so sure, like the rest of us, that Hillary Clinton would win the 2016 presidential election, that she planned to sing “Landslide” at Mrs. Clinton’s inaugural address. I think that her song “Battle of the Dragon,” copyrighted in 1985, released on the “American Anthem” soundtrack, sums up these dark days.

No one walks away from this battle

From the power

It’s so strong

Like a fury

Keep that fury deep inside you

And wish it to end

And when your friends start asking you why

You just say nothing

Stevie has always spoken her mind. I cannot comprehend taking on the responsibility of being a writer and remaining “neutral” for the sake of one’s sales and career and the slight possibility of finding an agent. I did not choose to write so that I could become a mealy-mouthed promoter of my own work in times of crisis. I did not choose to write so that I could sit on the fence and swing my legs and nod and smile to everyone who passed my way.

Muslims are still suffering under trump’s unconstitutional religious ban because despite the fact that a federal judge ruled against it, lawless members of various U.S. government departments, specifically the CBP, have refused to obey the law and have chosen to back an illegitimate president’s illegitimate laws.

I had hoped that this year might be the year I met one of my “online friends” IRL, but she lives in Canada, and as things stand now she would be required to surrender her phone to the CBP for inspection AND answer invasive questions about her country of origin and the websites she visits. I can’t ask that of anyone, and I can’t cross the border into Canada with the confidence that I won’t receive the same illegal treatment from the CBP.

I am not a refugee. I am re-reading The Diary of a Young Girl. I’m dealing with petty discomforts and unfulfilled wishes. Every day I read new horror tales from people of Middle Eastern descent, and POC in this flung to the winds country. I tell myself “but I’m poor too,” and then I tell myself to shut up.

This thing had to happen during my lifetime. I don’t have any clever quotes to follow that statement. This thing that has been wrought upon our country demands that I use my voice and stand up and add what I have to give to the blacks and the Muslims and the gays and the trans people, breaking it down into simplistic terminology that even my sister’s boyfriend who voted for Trump can understand.

Allow me, please, to inject a little humor into my post: this fucker dating my sister is dumb as a sack of dirt and twice as heavy.

I’m not carrying his burden.

As a spiritual person, I reject his burden, I will not aid him, I will save my strength for the people he would harm. He has to give account to his god. I’m glad I won’t have to witness that.

I am here in the world. My religion does not teach the convenient release of Heaven after death. I will remain in the world and return to the world. I believe that I will meet the people close to me in new incarnations in the future. I believe that I may be asked at some point, “Where did you stand?”

I stood with the many hundreds of thousands of people who lived in fear of deportation or internment camps. I stood with them.

I was very tired and angry when I wrote this post. I’d like to revise one paragraph here while leaving the original paragraph as is:

“This thing had to happen during my lifetime. I don’t have any clever quotes to follow that statement. This thing that has been wrought upon our country demands that I use my voice and stand up and add whatever I have to give in support to black people and Muslims and LGBT people and trans people in particular since my state’s new governor is still fighting to repeal HB2. I have learned from listening to Muslims and POC and LGBT people who take their personal time to break it down so that even my sister’s boyfriend who voted for Trump can understand, if they choose. He does not choose.”

Also, my intent was absolutely not to fat-shame my sister’s boyfriend. I’m fat. I hate him because he’s abusive, he’s a bully, he’s threatened me, and he’s turned my sister and my nephew against me because I am a Democrat.

So if anyone was or is offended by anything in my original post, I am so sorry, and I’ve attempted to express myself more coherently. Thank you.

Resolved

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I have three New Year’s resolutions:

Stop worrying about offending people who don’t/wouldn’t like the real me.

Spend more time studying and practicing my religion.

Start drawing again every day.

The first encompasses the other two. People have always attacked me or mocked me for my interest in Wicca, to the point that I tried to fit myself into Christianity or at least more “acceptable” belief systems that Wicca. I’m done being mocked. Spending more time studying, practicing, and drawing will mean less wasted time online. It will all help my anxiety and OCD and depression, and it will help my arthritis and hand tremor.

More time practicing my religion will naturally lead to healthier eating by eating fresh, seasonal foods.

Focus on study and practice, I hope, will help with my OCD. I do not expect a cure. I do think that Wicca will help me learn to turn my thoughts to positive things and start to banish these intrusive thoughts that keep me from functioning as well as I could.

I’ve been drawing fairies and goddesses since I was in high school. Over the past couple of years, I’ve bought art supplies but not used them. Just as I’ve bought books and not read them. I’ve felt like an old doll cast into a corner, out of date, out of chances, immobile.

But I’m not a doll (although I’m really fucking tired of whiny losers getting their undergarments in wads over my dolls) and I can start to live again in 2017, and I plan to.

I feel like re-starting that story I started in high school, I feel like taking my camera for a long drive.

I feel like stretching and listening to my joints creak back into movement.

The Mangers

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She had been on the donkey’s back for so long, but she was a small girl, excluding her huge belly, so they made it to Bethlehem. Her back hurt. The ride had been agonizing towards the end, but she bit her lips bloody, veiled her face against the cold, and said nothing. He walked beside her with the donkey’s lead loose in his hand. The poor thing wasn’t going to bolt. She had cared for it since she was old enough to do chores.

She and Joseph had been engaged since her fourteenth birthday. He was thirty. He was sweet and handsome, even with his prematurely graying beard. It ran in his family, he said. He had built a bridal chest for her, but they had to leave it behind. The census gave them an excuse to disappear. She had packed only a tiny cedar box that he made for her trinkets, her earrings, a pair of carved wood dolls.

Joseph stopped walking. She woke from her half-sleep. She had been dreaming of a fortune-teller who foretold a journey and a separation. The fortune-teller was real, and the prediction. She started her menses last year. After the first one, when she came back into society, a woman walked boldly up to her at the well and gave her a story. She asked nothing in return. She wore an amulet that was a symbol of one of the old goddesses. Mary kept the conversation in her heart, with many other things.

Joseph went from inn to inn and came back each time with the same despairing look. Mary tried to sit up straight. Her back ached dreadfully, and she was thirsty. The donkey made little huffing noises of distress.

“We can sleep in that stable,” Joseph said, pointing across the roadway. It was a large stable, and bright. Then Mary Salome came out, carrying a lantern. She had traveled with them, walking the entire way. She was a midwife.

“It’s clean,” Mary Salome said. “And warm. There’s plenty of hay, and the well in sight.”

Mary slid down from the donkey into Joseph’s arms, and was immediately embarrassed. She had been riding for so long that her water ran down her legs. She looked up at Mary Salome, but she was looking at Joseph.

“It’s time,” the midwife said, and Mary understood, but suddenly she was bent double, and Joseph picked her up and carried her into the stable. The animal smell was not too bad. The innkeeper must have had it cleaned when he ran out of rooms.

Because she had been in labor for most of a day, the birth went quickly. Mary Salome was expert even though she was still officially an apprentice. “Your boy,” she said, holding up the child so that Mary, resting in a bed of hay, could see him. But then there was more pain, waves, like the sea, and Joseph with his fine, slender hands was almost fumbling with the boy when Mary Salome held up another baby. This one had red hair. This one was a girl.

A tabby cat with a new litter of kittens had occupied one manger. Mary nursed both babies. Joseph went to the inn and bought bread, lentils, and salted fish. Mary Salome talked quietly to Mary about the twins. When Joseph came back with the food, Mary Salome was gone, on foot, with the red-haired twin, Mary was weeping, and it was thirty years until Mary and Joseph saw the girl again, grown into a woman, troubled, driven nearly mad searching for her twin.

(A bit of explanation: the midwife didn’t steal the twin. It was part of the old woman’s prophecy, that the twin would have to be hidden for her protection, so that she wouldn’t be harmed when people turned against Jesus. It was just an odd thought that came to me on Christmas Eve–what if Jesus was so close to Mary Magdalene because she was his twin sister?)