If you’re looking for a reading or consultation with me please use the contact form below or call me at (470) 231-5928 If you’re interested in upcoming classes and events, scroll down to see my latest updates.
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If you’re looking for a reading or consultation with me please use the contact form below or call me at (470) 231-5928 If you’re interested in upcoming classes and events, scroll down to see my latest updates.
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This post first appeared on my Patreon, where you can find many other goodies.
I warned my husband when I moved in that I was apt to turn any flat surface into an altar. I believe he thought I was kidding.I am demonstrably a fan of setting up and maintaining an altar as part of your regular spiritual practice. If you’re thinking “Great! How do I do that?” or just like to read about how other people do things, here’s a rundown of different types of altars you might choose to set up and what to put on them.
The Basics You can set up an altar nearly anywhere you can fit the items you want to put on it. I have used a mantel piece, various shelves, an antique buffet, an antique wash stand, a step stool from my childhood, a large rock, and an assortment of tables from a fancy antique corner table to a folding table I bought at Walmart. You can also use a cabinet, which is technically a shrine but don’t let that stop you especially if you have cats. I’ve used a china cabinet where I also stored various herbs and other sacred items I wasn’t using at that moment. Cloth to cover the altar makes it look pretty and the colors will generally be dictated by the intended purpose (or your personal tastes). Candles likewise. If you use candles that aren’t already in glass, or you like to use a metal incense burner, something to protect your altar cloth from wax and singes is good…I often use a ceramic floor tile I bought at Home Depot as a kind of trivet, because they come in lots of colors and designs. If you have a shrine or otherwise can’t burn candles, it’s probably smarter to use electric candles or lights (I’ve used fairy lights to good effect). There are also substitutes for incense which I will go into when I talk about personal cleansing.
Devotional AltarUsually this is for a deity you have a strong relationship with, but you can also set up an altar for your creative muse or for your dreams, which may have some elements of a spell altar (which I will talk about below). I’ve set up altars for several deities, including Ishtar, Hekate, and Lilith. Generally, you include colors that deity likes, an image and/or symbols, stones, flowers and incense that deity prefers, and food offerings if you know what they are. Ishtar likes beer, lapis lazuli, and the best incense you can afford, for example. For her, it’s better to get a small amount of the highest quality of everything you can find. Lilith on the other hand seems to like things that are kind of broken, repurposed, or weird. Your mileage may vary. A witchcraft-style “main altar” is essentially a form of devotional altar. In that case you will have representations of deities (usually a god and goddess, depending on the tradition) and symbols of the four elements (which are usually also your magical tools). If you are lucky enough to have an entire room to do rituals in that isn’t used for another purpose, you might have your tools on your main altar and other representations of the elements on four elemental altars in the four directions. At times I’ve had a ritual room chock full of a main altar, elemental altars, an ancestor altar, and specific separate devotional altars for deities. A singular main altar might take on aspects of the other types of altars when it’s the only one you have room for or you just like having everything in one place.
Ancestor Altar Arguably an ancestor altar is a form of devotional altar, but focused on your ancestors. A boveda both is and isn’t an ancestor altar, and some variants of Espiritismo put photographs or other mementos of the dead on their boveda, while others do not. I’ve described a basic boveda and resources to find out more in a previous post. I generally have both a boveda and a separate ancestor altar, especially at Samhain. For the latter I use a crochet doily that my grandmother made, and sometimes a black or blue cloth. I have photos or other mementos of both my ancestors of blood and ancestors of spirit (the Mighty Dead of my witchcraft traditions, other people I admire from the past), and my Beloved Dead, those whom I have personal connection to whether kin or not. I have a statue of Epona whom I have long associated with ancestor reverence, usually a white candle (sometimes a skull-shaped one), perfume (Florida water, rose or lavender), tobacco, and food offerings. The food offerings are frequently whiskey (corn whiskey, by preference), coffee, or food I know my ancestors liked. I have one plate from my grandmother’s china which I use for food offerings, generally small amounts of whatever I’m having. They get their food before anyone else does. At Samhain I will add more of everything, plus a few things I made special, plus apples.
Spell Altar A spell altar is what it sounds like; an altar set up for a particular purpose, and it may be temporary or semi-permanent. Many people have a permanent money altar or spell going in their house, where they put extra change or cash money and bless it before they spend it. A cloth and candles in appropriate colors to your purpose, incense, flowers or herbs if relevant, whatever seems right. For this kind of thing I often draw the thing I want, or a symbol of it, and I very frequently will set up an altar and use it to bless a spiritual bath or mojo hand that I then use or carry.
Household Altar This can be a combination of several things, and it differs from a main altar primarily in that other members of the household are encouraged to add things or participate to whatever degree they are willing, interested, and unlikely to try to eat the offerings. It also can be a type of devotional altar focused on the well-being of the household. Mine is on our mantelpiece and includes a statue of Juno, our marriage certificate, our handfasting cord, and a spell jar that contains our wishes for our household and relationship. It also has whatever seasonal altar action is going on and is where my big Samhain display goes in October. I put Peaceful Home and guardian angel candles there, and it’s where house blessing items like incense or bowls of salt water go in preparation for use. As such it’s also partially a spell altar, but for spells of protection and blessing of our household.
Outdoor Altars I have a large quartz stone in my front yard where I leave offerings for the Fair Folk. I have also been known to set up an outdoor altar for Lilith near the compost bin (she likes it there). These are often very simple, less of an altar than just a spot, but they serve the same purpose. As mentioned, altars can be an important part of your regular practice. Pick a day (once a week, or when the moon is in a certain sign or phase) and clean whatever needs cleaning and refresh whatever needs refreshing. Altars have an important place not just in witchcraft traditions but in many related practices, and they’re a good way to build up spiritual connection and sort of store it up for when you feel depleted. The physical presence and the familiar act of tending your altar can recharge you when you need it most.
This post originally appeared on my Patreon blog, where it resides with many more like it.
To some extent, modern Pagan witches are victims of our own success and the diffuse nature of our community. It can be very hard for a newcomer to figure out who to listen to and where to start.
In the 60s and 70s, you found witchcraft covens by knowing someone. You could go to your local occult bookstore, for example, possibly attend an open house or two, and be vetted extensively before being issued an invitation. You were generally lucky to find even one local coven, so you basically worked with what you had, or joined one of the splinter groups that inevitably formed. (Some things are eternal). This system had both distinct advantages and some glaring flaws.
It wasn’t just occult bookstores. There was and to some extent still is a kind of Renaissance Festival-to-Pagan pipeline. However, your chances of just rolling up on someone who was openly Pagan, much less a Pagan event or group, were very, very slim. There were some few books on the subject, but most of them talked about witchcraft without telling you how to actually do it. Mastering Witchcraft by Paul Huson, published in 1970, was an early exception.
Then Pagan gatherings started up, and both The Spiral Dance and Drawing Down the Moon were published in 1979. It became much easier to find groups and like-minded peers, and very much easier to start a group or practice on your own. During the 1980s several other “do it yourself” guides followed, notably A Witch’s Bible by Janet and Stewart Farrar (1984), Raymond Buckland’s Complete Book of Witchcraft (1986), and Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner by Scott Cunningham (1989).
And then the Internet happened. I was in the first wave, back when you had to know how to use telnet to get into online meeting places like the ISCABBS, which included a Paganism and Magick forum. But once the World Wide Web made the internet more accessible, the internet exploded…and modern Pagan religions along with it.
Witchvox, a networking site for Pagans, was created in 1997, and was arguably both a response to and a catalyst for the rapid expansion that was happening at the time. In religious identification surveys we went from a rounding error to the fastest growing religious grouping in the United States. Between 1990 and 2001, the number of self-identified Pagans in the US doubled approximately every thirty months. (CUNY Graduate Center’s “American Religious Identification Survey”). There are currently (we think) about 1.5 million Pagans in the US, about half of whom identify as Wiccan.
Websites, printed publications, and in-person groups proliferated. It became simultaneously much easier to find information about modern Pagan religions, and much harder to sift through it all. There’s no central authority to go to (and we don’t want one), just a bunch of people with opinions. More and more people with opinions.
Meanwhile, the massive influx of new people meant that existing teachers were overwhelmed. Some people tried to adapt the old coven-based, one on one teaching methods to a mass audience, with mixed results. A lot of inexperienced people with a couple of years and a book or three under their belt started teaching others, also with mixed results.
In the last 20 years, the rapid increase in numbers, increased cultural visibility, and the challenges that go along with those things have only gotten more intense. We are still basically a bunch of people with opinions, who talk to each other on the internet a lot and meet in person occasionally. And we can be a bit impenetrable to newcomers, for a variety of reasons. From what I can see, a lot of people either assume that the new folks will muddle through (we did!) or are puzzled and a bit miffed that “the young people” aren’t pounding down their door.
Meanwhile, I see a bunch of wistful social media posts from new people asking, “where do I begin? what do I do? which books should I read? HALP!” If you’re one of those people, I have a couple of things to say.
First of all, it’s not you, it’s us. We, collectively, are struggling with the stresses that shockingly rapid expansion can put on a community, and we are barely holding it together most days.
However, it’s simultaneously true that the difficulties you are facing are simply part of the territory. We don’t proselytize. We don’t, like some other religions I might name, come and knock on your door. If we were being really old school about it (and some of us still are), we’d wait until you figured out how to knock on our door and then tell you to go away.
I know right? Rude. But there’s a point to all of that, and it’s the first step in deconstructing the paradigm you may have been raised in. We don’t want pliable acolytes we can mold with our ideology and instill with the one true faithy thing so they can go out and make more of the same. That’s those other guys.
We want ornery, self reliant, curious, bold, and persistent folk, who will keep following that inner voice until it leads them where they want to go. And if it leads you somewhere else, that’s cool. If it leads you here, welcome.
Having said that, I do intend to give out a few clues on how to proceed, both because I am offended by the amount of bullshit I see out there on the interwebs and because I enjoy explaining things. Stay tuned.
This article was originally published on my Patreon blog. To see similar updates more quickly as well as receive patron-exclusive content and Tarot readings as perks, become a subscriber.
A daily spiritual practice helps center you for whatever your day may throw at you. It also exercises your spiritual “muscles,” so that you develop a stronger connection with ancestors and deities and a calm, centered, grounded state becomes familiar to you and easy to access.
I’m going to describe a few possibilities, but you aren’t restricted to my list. In general, a daily practice should be relatively short and simple, easy to do, and point towards a larger goal that is spiritual in nature (though practical is ok too). You definitely don’t have to do all of these (that would contradict the “short and simple” directive) but if more than one appeals to you, you can definitely combine or rotate them. You don’t even have to do it every day, though the repetition and rhythm of it is part of how it benefits you. (Also if you’re like me, if you let too much time pass you’ll forget about it entirely. I aim for every day and wind up doing it most days). Altars generally don’t need tending more than once a week, though you can do devotions any time.
1. Meditation There are many, many different types of meditation out there, and a few are specific to Pagan practices. Here’s a basic grounding meditation that is similar to the one in The Spiral Dance by Starhawk. Alternatives including the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram, and the Middle Pillar (both part of ceremonial magic and found in Modern Magick by Donald Michael Kraig) and the Three Souls meditation from Faery (I will do that one for an upcoming post). You can always do a basic “mindfulness breath” where you focus on your breath, breathing slowly in and out to the count of seven, or a “box breath” where you breathe in four counts, hold four counts, breathe out four counts, and hold four counts, then repeat. Meditation has proven health benefits as well as spiritual ones, and it is useful for calming, centering, better integration of the self, increased awareness, and many other beneficial effects.
An important form of meditation for Pagans could just be described as “sitting in nature,” though you actually don’t have to sit. But spending time outdoors and in contact with the earth, paying attention to what the trees and wild creatures are doing, is an important spiritual practice in and of itself.
2. Keep a dream diary I have mentioned this before; it’s an important but often-neglected step in fostering integration and communication between different layers of the self. Keep a notebook by your bed and write down whatever you remember of your dreams; if you can’t remember anything, write down how you feel. Dream diaries help you process your feelings and sharpen your intuition.
3. Set up an altar An altar isn’t just a “tool” or a place to hold your stuff so you can perform a ritual; creating and maintaining one is a spiritual practice in and of itself. You can have multiple altars; I typically have a boveda, a separate ancestor altar, and a household altar on the mantel above our fireplace that holds deity figures and “work in progress” spells (including one to bolster my health). At some points I have had a ritual room with elemental altars as well as a main altar, where the entire room was the same kind of constructed semi-permanent sacred space. Altars for different purposes are set up differently, but a typical altar might have a pretty cloth, water in a bowl or glass, flowers, a candle, incense or perfume, a bell, stones or other relevant items, candles, images of either ancestors or deities, and/or your magical tools if you have them. An offering bowl or plate is nice, which brings me to…
4. Offerings. The purpose of an offering is a kind of gesture of “sharing” with ancestors or deities, to strengthen your connection with them. In most cases and certainly in this context they are devotional, not transactional. I frequently put food offerings on my ancestor altar, and incense, clean water, and flowers on my other altars. You can also go outside and pour offerings onto the ground, or leave them in a specific spot: at the crossroads for Hecate, for example. It’s important to realize that the offering isn’t a precursor or prerequisite for a spiritual practice, but a spiritual practice in and of itself, although offerings frequently do go with other practices.
Both altars and offerings help you connect with the divine with all of your senses, by using things you can see, hear, smell, taste, and touch. They are a grounding alternative to some other forms of spiritual practice which can be a little “heady” and abstract.
5. Devotional prayers, chants, blessings Most of us who were raised in mainstream religions are familiar with the form of spoken devotional practice known as “prayer,” which can be either spontaneous or formulaic. A chant is basically a prayer on repeat, like singing a round by yourself (you can always, definitely, sing a song!). You can take a page from Jewish traditions and find a blessing to say while washing your hands (make sure it takes at least 20 seconds to say and then it’s multi-purpose!). I frequently combine these with my meditations, in that I have written prayers/charms/chants to be said as I’m doing them; one advantage of this approach is that when I’m particularly scattered or freaked out and can’t focus on the meditation very well, just saying the words gets me into the right frame of mind. I could (and probably should) literally write a book on this topic so I will at least make a post or two with specific blessings you can use.
A way to combine these could look like this: Choose a day when you have a little more time, set up your altar and regularly tend it on that day (replacing flowers and other offerings, refreshing any water, etc). Burn incense, meditate, and say a prayer or blessing every day in front of your altar, or alternate with going outside, pouring an offering and meditating. My advice is to try everything, and let the things that speak to you most or that you get the most out of become the core of your practice.
Your regular practice could look like something else entirely, but I chose these because they are commonly done, easy, and not time-consuming. If nothing else, I want you to walk away with the conviction that the power to find the strength and resilience you need is right there, like Dorothy’s ruby slippers. You can find your own way home.
EVERY Saturday at 2 pm I’m offering an all-levels, pay-what-you can Tarot class via Zoom. Send me what you can through my PayPal link with your e-mail address and I’ll send you the link for the class. It has been pretty fun so far, with both advanced readers and total beginners.
I will also be presenting my class “Ditch Witch: Magical Uses of Common Roadside Plants” as part of Flora, Fauna, and the Witch, sponsored by those fabulous people at Land, Sea, Sky Travel. My class is scheduled at 5:15 pm on Saturday, and is included in your one or two day pass for the conference. Vyviane always has the BEST AND COOLEST presenters *ahem* so you will not want to miss any of it.
This was first published as a post on my Patreon blog. To see updates sooner, follow me there or become a subscriber.
First of all, I’m not dispensing medical advice here. If you’re sick, call your doctor. If you’re not sick, stay home and wash your hands a lot. Do all the things people are telling you to do. When in doubt, believe what Dr. Anthony Fauci and the CDC have to say over random yahoos posting stuff on the internet or talking in front of a White House microphone.
However, while I’m not a medical doctor, I AM clergy. And that means my purview isn’t the health of your body per se, but the health of your spirit. Lots of people are stressed right now…worried about their friends and loved ones, their jobs, their own welfare, how they’re going to pay the bills, et cetera. Lots of people are in mourning for the world we lived in just a month ago, which got taken away from us abruptly. That includes a whole lot of denial, and foolish behavior, and anger about both of those in others.
This is going to get worse before it gets better, and it’s not going to be over any time soon. Pretty soon some people are going to hit a wall, psychologically. Our health system in some places has already hit a wall; there are no more ICU beds available in Atlanta, where I live. We need to learn to how support our own resilience, now. That’s where spirituality comes in. That’s what it’s for.
The way witchcraft traditionally deals with those and similar problems is by doing things. Our mind and body are not separable, and our homes are extensions of ourselves. This approach is the essence of the folk magic I have been practicing for decades. Best of all, most of the really traditional approaches are done with stuff you probably have lying around anyway or can find in your yard, so you don’t have to go to a store.
So here are a list of recommendations for getting through this:
1. Have a daily practice. If you have one that’s been sitting on a shelf, dust it off. If you don’t, get one. This can be as simple as lighting a candle or sitting in meditation for a few minutes every day, chanting, praying, setting up and maintaining an altar…what have you. It should be simple, easy to do when you don’t feel like doing it, and not too time consuming, so that you’ll be more likely to keep it up. In the future I will have some more specific recommendations for how to conduct a daily practice, but that’s a full topic in and of itself.
2. Cleanse your self. If you’re sensitive at all, you are picking up everyone else’s freakout on top of your own. That stuff sticks to you like mud. Salt water and other spiritual baths, egg cleansings, and smoking with incense are all ways to clear that stuff away and regain your sense of calm and peace. (Note: Using incense to purify is a worldwide practice, but “smudging” is a specific Native American ceremony. “Smoking” is what traditional hoodoo practitioners in the South call it, so that’ s what I call it.)
3. Cleanse your house. Literally clean your house with disinfectant and good old soap and water, but after you’ve done that also go around and clean and protect the energy of it too. I’ve written before about crossed conditions (this whole situation certainly counts) and how to do a house blessing. I can’t recommend this enough, both as a way to motivate you to do the regular cleaning that you should be doing and as a way to bring a peaceful, serene feeling to your household, which some of us sorely need. (Shout out to all of the suddenly-homeschooling parents out there).
4. Spend time in nature, if you can. Sit under a tree. Go for a walk, away from other people. Listen to the birds. Realize the world is much, much bigger than us, and touch the earth. (This counts as a daily practice too, but deserves special mention).
4. Write down your dreams. This is one of my go-to pieces of advice for anyone on the kind of spiritual path I follow. Keep a notebook by your bed and write down whatever you remember of your dreams. If you can’t remember anything, write down how you feel. The reason for this is that the instinctual self…which is connected most deeply both to your body and the Otherworld…speaks in imagery and symbolism, through dreams. It’s also the way that deities and ancestors sometimes choose to speak to you, and they probably have a lot to say right now.
In the following days I will write more about how to do some of the things I mentioned, in greater detail. I’ve also been experimenting with making videos to talk people through meditations and the like. We are all in this together. Take heart, and be well.
I will continue to be at Phoenix and Dragon Bookstore in Sandy Springs on Saturdays and Mondays; call 404-255-5207 to schedule a reading on those days.
Tuesday through Friday I will have time available for scheduled appointments at my new location at Sycamore Place Gallery in Decatur. Schedule readings online here or call 912-388-1596.
I hope to see you soon!
A previous version of this post appeared on my Patreon.
Modern Magick: Eleven Lessons in the High Magickal Arts by Donald Michael Kraig.
What’s most fun is that I read this book years ago, after having practiced witchcraft for a while but before getting into Faery, and again recently. The main reason I bought it in the first place was because a student asked me about the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram and I had to say I’d never done it, so…I more or less picked up the first book I found that had it in it. This would have been early 2002.
Funny story: I was Anti Angel then. I had spent a little too much time being the sole Pagan among a bunch of New Agers who were all about the light. And angels. They were very into angels, and also very tiresome. Plus, I thought, angels were way too Judeo-Christian for me and also far too patriarchal. Who needed angels? Not me. Pfft.
The LBRP, you may have heard, involves invoking the Archangels. And I was not into angels, but that’s how you do it and I am a Capricorn. I didn’t expect much, but I was going to do the thing the Right Way…
AND SUDDENLY THERE ARE ARCHANGELS ALL UP IN MY LIVING ROOM. I mean…when you invoke Somebody, and they very definitely show up? Like that.
THEM: “WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN???”
And that’s how I started working with angels. Mostly Michael. But the book itself, which I read through, I didn’t really pick up much after that. I can’t remember what I didn’t like about it; I have a vague impression that I found it boring and pompous.
I now have a more nuanced, mature assessment. Which is that it’s lively and not at all pedantic if you’ve read Regardie and those guys first, but otherwise…yeah. I don’t agree with his statements about black magic, white magic, and grey magic AT ALL, which should shock no one. (I may devote an entire post to that). I get why he describes making the tools, etc the way he does (to keep it accessible) but I still find it a little hokey. There’s less philosophy, theology, and intellectual depth than I would prefer. The exercises worked for me, though I don’t know how some of them would work for a less experienced person. I really liked the suggestions for a magical journal…to record the phase of the moon (I added what sign the moon was in and sometimes my personal transits), the weather, the location and other circumstances, and how you felt….and kind of wished I had picked up on that the first time I read the book.
I honestly haven’t worked all the way through the book yet, because I don’t want to make magical tools and abandon them and I still feel this stuff, at least done precisely this way, isn’t really for me. Or else I want to know more about it in context before I follow his directions. I did come up with a magical name in the form of a Latin motto, because of course I did. It has two literary allusions and a pun. In Latin. Because this is who you are dealing with. I decided to move on to other books in my to-read list and come back to this one later.
Update: Some members of my Introduction to Witchcraft class have decided they want to work their way through this book, so I may be revisiting it again in the near future. Taking my public classes at Phoenix and Dragon is a good way to get hooked up for this sort of thing. I have So Many Books that I could do this kind of walk-through with.
A previous version of this post appeared on my Patreon blog.
I’ve mentioned before in other venues that I maintain an ancestor altar, that it’s a big part of my practice (including my first line of defense), and that among other things I keep a Tarot of the Dead on it which I use to communicate with said ancestors. In a crisis they are full of practical advice; other times they lean to the snarky. (They are my relatives, after all…) One of my yearly Samhain readings basically said, “You don’t call us enough…”
A while ago, I sought advice on why I felt stuck, spiritually speaking. I am an initiate of Amderson Faery which I taught for ten years. I have published academic papers on Southern folk magic, and taught workshops all over the Southeastern US and in Scotland. I have been a professional psychic for many years. But I felt blocked and I felt blah and the fun had gone out of a lot of it. What should I do?
The reading said in essence that I had become lazy and complacent, that I was too comfortable in the areas where I felt knowledgeable, and that I should learn something new. (One of the ways you know a communication is for real is when it’s abundantly clear that your ego is NOT doing the talking…)
It so happens that I have…a LOT of books, especially Pagany books on various subjects. Many books. Many, many books. So many books that they are the biggest pain in the ass when I move, EVEN THOUGH I have heavy inherited antiques. Like every other academically inclined nerd, I’ve bought books on various topics for reference or because I was interested in them but never really read them; quite a few are on ceremonial magic and the grimoire tradition, those being subjects I know something about but don’t practice or know much about in depth. Would those do? Yes…
So I started working my way though Donald Michael Kraig’s Modern Magick. And got kind of bored, but stuck it out. Then I started reading Jake Stratton-Kent’s Encyclopedia Goetia….and that’s how I wound up with more books, some of which I checked out from the UGA Library, and puzzling my way through some spells in the Greek Papyri which feel strangely familiar.
The moral of this story is mostly that books lead to more books, at least if you’re me. And, importantly, that it worked. I don’t feel stuck any more. Things are shifting for me in interesting ways. What am I going to do next? I guess we’ll find out….
Mondays, 7 pm to 8:30 pm, beginning July 16. Phoenix and Dragon Bookstore North Annex.
What is a spell? How and why do you cast a circle? Where did modern witchcraft really come from? Is there more than one kind of witch? (Spoiler: Yes). In this six-week introductory course, you will learn the basics of modern religious witchcraft, along with a bit of history and a solid foundation for taking your practice further, including local Atlanta resources. Sara Amis is a Faery Tradition initiate, former Reclaiming teacher, and published Pagan writer. Textbook included in class fee. Class size limited, call to register 404-255-5207.