Altars

Imbolc 2013

This entry is part of the Pagans Down Under blog project.

I love creating altars and working at them. An altar is any space that is physically distinguished from the rest of an area and is endowed with greater holiness.

Many Pagans, myself included, like to view the world in an integrated fashion, meaning that there is no separation between the mundane and the spiritual. This earthly world is sacred. Yet we also recognise that we feel differently when, for instance, we are at work and when we are being devotional. In the same way that a person might like to have a dedicated meditation space, many Pagans like declaring a spiritual working space. Humans adhering to various religions have used altars for thousands of years.

Bluestone altarI have three altars. My main Wiccan altar is made of bluestone, a natural material abundant in the state of Victoria, where I live. This heavy altar lives outside. It can withstand Melbourne’s harsh weather. Sadly, most of my ritual items can’t. I was crushed when a strong wind knocked off my initiatory chalice and it broke. I learned my lesson and so nothing lives on this altar permanently or even more than a few days, certainly not anything fragile. I set it up according to the work I’m doing and then I take it down. The image at the top of this entry is an example.

Guerreros

My next altar, which is the one that I set up first when I moved to Melbourne, is where my Warriors live. Receiving the Warriors (Guerreros, in Spanish) refers to an initiation ceremony in the Afro-Cuban religion Lucumi (popularly known as Santeria) in which you receive the orishas Elegguá, Ogún, Ochossi and Osun. These live together inside a piece of furniture that has drawers on the top and a cupboard on the bottom. Elegguá is the coral rock. Ogún and Ochossi live inside the cauldron. The vigilant Osun is represented by the rooster on the metal cup. This is where I connect with my Warriors. Ogun also happens to be my patron deity. I brought these guys with me from Miami.

egun

My third altar is an egun shrine. In Lucumi, the egun are your ancestors. Traditionally, it is on the ground outside and fairly simple. This is where I connect with my ancestors and make offerings to them. It was the last to be built and it sits next to my main altar. The stick is called an opa egun and it is tapped on the ground while the ancestors are invoked.

Santeros also typically have a second spirit shrine inside the house called a bóveda, which is a Spanish word that literally means “vault”. It comes from the Spiritism tradition and is generally used to connect with non-ancestral spirit guides. I don’t have one because I haven’t found the space for it. My partner is not Pagan so while I would love to fill our home with shrines, we compromise by building them into out-of-the-way nooks and crannies.

My next altar will go in the spare bedroom which will be redecorated over the next few months. I love my outdoor altar and I want something indoors that I can leave up and facilitate my daily practice.

What are your altars like?

 

Modern Witches and Paganism in Australia

Witchcraft

Image: Modern Witches and Paganism in Australia

Wiccans have long been called “the hidden children of the Goddess”. Over the years, however, Wiccans and other kinds of Pagans have stepped out of the broom closet wanting to dance in the sunlight as well as the moonlight. We want to know each other and we want others to know us too. We want to share our history and dispel negative myths and stereotypes. One Aussie Pagan is hoping to add to this positive discourse with a new documentary exploring the lives of Pagan and Witches in Australia.

Brittany McCowan is a young aspiring documentary filmmaker from Lennox Head, Australia. Brittany graduated from the Foundation Diploma at the Australian Film Television and Radio School (AFTRS). She is currently working on directing her first feature length documentary called Modern Witches and Paganism in Australia.

I was fortunate to talk to Brittany about her project.

Let’s talk about the documentary first. What is your film about?

Modern Witches and Paganism in Australia is a film that explores the diverse lives and ideologies of Witches and Pagans including Druids, Shamans and many other nature-based beliefs in our contemporary Australian society. The film will give an insight into what goes on behind the closed doors of covens and other Pagan groups which usually remain secret.

What inspired you to want to create this film?

My three older sisters and I grew up in the country near Byron Bay on a small hobby farm where we had milking cows, hens and an assortment of other animals. We tended the vegetable garden and ran around the paddocks barefoot and semi-naked all the time. I believe this early connection to nature was probably a subconscious initial inspiration.

My first conscious inspiration was my sister Stacey, who at fifteen started to adopt Wiccan practices and her bedroom was a divine and spiritual place to be. She became interested in Wicca after reading a fictional Wiccan series and after years of research she was lead to the Pagan path, which she now embraces in her everyday life.

After realizing I was not interested in becoming a psychologist or a sociologist in my Bachelor of Arts degree at Sydney University, I considered the fact that my passion in senior high school in Art was filmmaking. I enrolled at Australian Film, Television and Radio School at Moore Park. During this film degree I made a short film called The Witches and filmed a Full Moon Ritual in my own apartment. After I had great feedback and reviews from peers and my teachers, I wanted to extend my short film into a feature. I became good friends with the group I filmed in my house and I still meet with a few of them regularly. The group of witches I meet with inspired me to make my short film into feature.

What aspects of Paganism and Witchcraft in Australia will you be exploring in your documentary?

The documentary has only just begun and I have had so many people messaging me from all over Australia with ideas and feedback asking if I am going to include this or that in the film and if they could be interviewed. Several Pagan groups from as far away as the UK and USA have responded with encouragement and kind wishes and they have all shared my website. My main focus is to show how people have brought the ancient practices back into our contemporary society today, but who knows where this documentary will lead me? All I know definitely is that there are some amazing stories out there that people want to tell and I want to be the person to document them and show the mainstream population how this growing minority group live their lives.

What do you hope to accomplish by making this documentary?

The main aim is to spread awareness and break down misconceptions. One of the most frequently asked questions about Wicca and Paganism is “but don’t pagans worship Satan?”. I want people to know when I complete this film that Paganism and Wicca have nothing to do with devil worship and is all about a connection to the earth and nature. The lack of knowledge on this subject with the majority of people in our society has caused false assumptions, which stem from the idea that if you are a heathen and do not worship a monotheistic God, then you must follow Satan. It couldn’t be further from the truth as Pagans follow the principles of affirmation of life, healing from the natural world and the connectedness of all life.

What do you want Pagans and Witches to know about Paganism and Witchcraft in Australia?

For anyone who is already in these communities, the documentary isn’t about teaching new facts or history as most Pagans are already very well informed, so my aim is to spread stories and expose the different ways groups and individuals have incorporated the ancient traditions into their lives and how people are doing this all over Australia. Witches and Pagans within Australia do not all know each other or what they are doing so I want to show a broad range of solitary and group practices, festivals, gatherings and workshops.

What do you want the general public to know about Paganism and Witchcraft in Australia?

For the people who don’t know very much about Witches and Paganism, I want them to learn who these people are and what they actually do. Not what blockbuster movies and fiction books have taught them. I think the magical theme has become quite popular in recent movies during the past few decades with movies such as Harry Potter, Practical Magic, The Craft, and even Twilight, but these movies are destroying the image of what real Pagans are doing in their everyday lives.

What is your connection to Paganism and/or Witchcraft?

I don’t think I can really elaborate on this question as I am still evaluating and investigating my own spirituality. I would definitely call myself a Pagan, but I’m still picking and choosing what suits me best. I’ve been meeting regularly with a group of witches to practice ritual so if I had to put a label on my own beliefs I would best be described as a Hedgewitch. Hedgewitches combine herbalism, healing, Shamanism, and a deep love for nature. It is based on the ancient wise woman tradition, so I would say my connection to Paganism is still in infancy. A great influence on my journey has been the time I spent with Joanne Cause, a Pagan crone from Glen Innes in Northern NSW, whose wealth of knowledge is immeasurable and she has been invaluable to my spiritual growth.

Tell me a little bit about your team, the people who are helping you make this film.

I believe I have an amazing team behind this project. Not only do I have a group of filmmakers who are enthusiastic and very skilled who I graduated with from AFTRS, I also have my pagan friends who are helping me in so many different ways such as marketing, designing, researching and allowing me to film them. On top of all this I have my family who is supporting me in any way possible. My mother especially has been a huge help with her broad knowledge being a librarian.

How can people support your project?

The most important thing people can do to help is by spreading the word. Tell your friends, family, neighbours, work colleagues, dentist and local butcher. Secondly, any input or unique research on the subject you can give or if you know someone who would be fantastic to interview or meet, please don’t hesitate to message me. And lastly we have a Kickstarter campaign, which is a fan-funding website that allows people to donate money for the documentary to cover costs like equipment and travel expenses. If you want to support this project you can donate as little as $1. Every dollar counts to help make this project succeed.

Is there anything else that you would like to say that I didn’t think to ask?

I do not intend to portray the Pagan or Wiccan community in any specific way. My intention is simply to create awareness in the general population who are unknowing that these age-old beliefs exist in renewed forms all around the world and in growing numbers. Each group, coven and solitary practitioner has a spiritual connection, no matter how they practise, to the earth and to the ancients.

*

To find out more information about Modern Witches and Pagans in Australia, please visit the film’s website here. To support the film, please visit the Kickstarter project here. You can also follow it on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and YouTube.

How to Get Back on the Spiritual Wagon

altars

photo credit: wmshc_kiwi via photopin cc

Do you ever fall off the spiritual wagon? Do you get excited about a new course of study or vow to make daily offerings to your gods or ancestors only to lose steam a few days later? Do you buy books about Pagan topics that you never get around to reading? Do you feel like you’ve lost a connection to something sacred? Do you struggle to stay committed to the work your spiritual path demands? You’re not alone.

I’ve been a practising Pagan since I was in my teens and I fall off the spiritual wagon sometimes. Now that the new year is here, maybe you’re trying to establish or re-establish some spiritual routines. Here are some strategies that can help you stay committed and passionate.

1. Forgive yourself

Nobody is perfect. We don’t always succeed at everything every time. Your setbacks and failures will not define your success. Don’t let them mean more than they do. Rather than feeling guilty, just reflect on the lessons. Choose to forgive yourself and start fresh. It’s the new year, after all, a great time for beginnings. Be kind to yourself and simply start over or pick it back up.

2. Reassess

Sometimes we take on too much. We want to learn about tarot and Reiki and totems and how to make candles and more about Druidry and we want to write a few articles and teach some classes. And in the end, you’re just exhausted and you end up doing very little of it superbly.

Reconsider your list and be honest about your time and how much you can commit to various projects. It would be pretty wonderful to lead a life of study and devotion, but the reality is that we have to make dinner and clean the toilet. We also need to find the time to sleep, eat, work, and see our families and friends. This isn’t to suggest that you shouldn’t take that class on Reiki at all, but ask yourself whether it has to be now or can it wait a few months when your schedule is more open.

3. Take it slowly

It’s not that you can’t meditate, do yoga, make offerings, and perform divination every single day, but if you’ve never done any of them, trying to take on all of these at once might be too much. Start with one task and when that’s fully integrated into your routine, then add another, and so forth. It may take longer to establish the complete routine you want, but you’ll get there. It’s your life, not a race.

4. Have a plan

Create a plan. Write down what you want to do, why you want to do it, and how you are going to get it done. It’s not enough to resolve to meditate. It’s more effective to commit to meditating for 10 minutes every morning and then creating the space to do it. It’s not enough to say you want to learn to read tarot and then drown in a pile of books and decks. It’s more effective to pick one deck and one book and work on them for an hour every week. Be specific and realistic. Write it down and refer back to your plan often.

5. Get social

One of the best ways to stay accountable, motivated, and inspired is to engage with other people with similar goals and who are already successfully doing what you want to do. Do you want to be better about tending Brigid’s flame? Join Ord Brighideach. Do you want to be better about celebrating the Sabbats? Do it with friends. Sometimes we are likelier to honour our commitments to others than we are to ourselves. Turn this to your advantage.

6. Remember the big picture

Why do you want to honour your gods and ancestors regularly? Why do you want to learn divination? Why do you want to create sacred art? There will be setbacks. It is normal and it doesn’t mean you’re a failure. Remember #1: forgive yourself. And remember the big picture. Knowing why you want to do these things, how they enrich your life, and how you feel when you’re not doing it will guide you back on to the path. Relish those moments of success and pleasure. Capture them somehow so that when you fall of the spiritual wagon, you can remind yourself how good it feels and be inspired to get back on it.

Do you fall off the spiritual wagon? How do you get back on?

Connect with Me

 

mock-up

In an ongoing effort to improve the ways I use social media to connect with people, I’ve made a few changes.

I created a new Twitter account. My main Twitter account is primarily about my professional work and life in Melbourne. It’s pretty boring for most of my Pagan friends and it’s no longer a good medium for me to communicate with them. Please feel free to connect with me on my new Twitter account created specifically for engaging with the Pagan community.

I’ve also joined Bloglovin. If that’s a platform that you like and use to follow blogs, you can follow me there.

I’m also on Instagram and Pinterest.

If you’re interested in tarot, I’ve started a blog called Card XX devoted to my daily draws as part of my New Year Witching. It’s basically a diary right now, but who knows what it will become.

Last year, I took up birdwatching as a way to learn more about the local wildlife and landscape. I’m sure I’ve crossed some kind of nerd line with that, but check out my blog Birdwartching Down Under if you’re interested.

If you know of any great blogs or social media accounts I should be following, please let me know. I love discovering cool stuff.

New Year Witching

resolutions

This entry is part of the Pagans Down Under blog project.

Humans have been making New Year’s resolutions for thousands of years. At the start of the year, the ancient Babylonians made promises to their gods that they would return borrowed objects and settle their debts. The Romans began each year by honouring Janus, the god of beginnings for whom the month of January is named. Who am I to mess with a good tradition?

I love the energy of New Year’s. People are so excited, optimistic, and happy about the idea of a fresh, new beginning. They see the very best versions of themselves and strive to get there. An Australian study showed that 2 out of 3 people fail to achieve their resolutions in 2014 primarily due to unrealistic expectations. We’re a hopeful bunch.

I like setting New Year’s resolutions. I treat them like goals and I try to apply the SMART criteria – specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound. Most of my New Year’s resolutions are pretty mundane and have to do with learning and developing skills. This year, my New Year’s resolutions are around learning the skills I’d need to survive the zombie apocalypse (or to go camping). I’ll be writing more about that later this week on my expat blog Stumble Down Under.

I don’t typically set magickal goals at New Year’s. I reserve those for Imbolc and use the energy of the Wheel of the Year to help fuel them. Summer is a beautiful time to revisit them – the heat, the energy, the excitement of New Year’s. I have two significant goals.

The first is to support my coven and the broader spiritual community. The people in my coven are still getting to know each other and learn what it means to be a coven. They’re not there yet. It’s a new experience for most of them and it’s complicated by physical distance and their own personal distractions and struggles. And it’s a new experience for me to be teaching and passing on my tradition. I don’t yet know what it means to support the broader community as I’m still meeting people and getting to know the social landscape.

The second is to revive and deepen my relationship with the tarot. I’ve studied tarot on and off for years and have never felt confidently proficient with it. I want to make it part of my daily life and I want to feel comfortable when I read for others. I’ve begun doing a simple daily draw, which I document at Card XX, and begun studying it in a more structured manner.

That’s it, just two goals. They’re big enough.

What are your New Year’s resolutions?

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year

Happy New Year!

May 2015 bring you love, happiness, and prosperity. May our world be better and full of compassion, innovation, and justice. Here’s to a great year full of possibility. So mote it be!

I’m spending today reflecting on 2014 and setting goals for 2015.

How are you spending New Year’s? What are your New Year’s resolutions?

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Grounding, Centering, Shielding, and Cleansing

JGI / Tom Grill Blend Images / Getty Images

JGI / Tom Grill Blend Images / Getty Images

We often put on special gear to protect us when we engage in certain activities. Aprons, overalls, gloves, hard hats, and goggles, for example, protect our clothes and our bodies, and minimize the risk of getting something on us or getting hurt. When we’re done, we take it all off and clean up.

When we work magick, we also need to gear up and clean up. There are physical safety measure that we sometimes need to take, but this article is about protecting yourself energetically.

When we are in a devotional space, in prayer or ritual, or working magick, we open up and allow ourselves to be vulnerable in order to connect more deeply with the gods, the spirits, the land, etc. Beginners may struggle with opening up, but after a while, it’s closing those doors that becomes more challenging. That’s why it’s important to develop a few important skills early: grounding, centreing, shielding, and cleansing.

Grounding and Centreing

Grounding and centreing are two different processes, but they are often discussed together. They basically involve visualization and meditation exercises to help you relax, feel connected, and focused on yourself.

Basic grounding techniques involve closing your eyes, taking some deep breaths, and visualizing some kind of connection with the earth, the sun, or moon, etc. A popular and beautiful visualization is to feel roots extend from the soles of your feet deep into the earth and branches from your arms reaching towards the sky. You can pull energy from one end, send it through your body, and release it at the other end. It’s a great technique whether you feel depleted and need extra energy or whether you need to release excess energy, or simply enjoy the connection to the earth (or sun or moon) through that current.

While grounding is about this link to the earth or other source of power, centreing is about getting in touch with yourself and locating that little place inside where your true and whole self lives. If you believe in the immanent divine, this is where it resides.

Finding your centre can be tricky. I suggest quieting down and listening to your body. Where do sense that your energy emanates from? When you raise energy, does it feel like it’s coming from a particular part of your body? What part of your body feels like a repository of energy? It might be your head, your heart, or maybe your gut.

Grounding and centreing are useful not only during magickal work, but any time you are feeling stress, anxiety, or just scattered.

Matthias Clamer Stone / Getty Images

Matthias Clamer Stone / Getty Images

Shielding

Shielding is your safety suit, a protective energy barrier around you. Shielding is often viewed as magickal defense. While I’ve never been concerned about what people magickally throw my way, psychic, mental, and magickal attacks are a concern for some Witches and so I think this aspect of shielding is worth mentioning.

Another approach is to look at shielding like an apron, something that keeps the dirt off of your body. If you’re dusting, you might get some dust on your clothes. Shielding prevents the energetic dust from getting on you. It’s also useful when you’re entering a space with a lot of energy and you don’t want to get swept up in it.

Shielding is a basic skill in magickal work and an easy one to develop. The basic technique is to visualize yourself enveloped in some kind of energy container. Some people visualize something like an egg or a bubble surrounding them. You can visualize it as being deflective or even reflective to bounce the negativity back to its sender. I prefer to filter it into the earth to be neutralized.

If you’re the kind of person who is often affected by the emotions of others or feels exhausted after encounters with certain people, shielding can help you stay energized.

cleansing

PM Images / Digital Vision / Getty Images

Cleansing

Ritual purification is a feature of many religions and the aim is often to remove defined uncleanliness prior to a type of activity such as the workship of a deity. Different religions have different ideas about what consitutues uncleanliness. Examples include menstruation and disease. In Wicca, we’re not especially concerned about ritual pollution. We may cleanse prior to our rituals as a way to release worries that may hinder us during our work or to help shift our consciousness. We may have other reasons for ritual cleansing based on other polytheistic practices we may engage in. I advocate ritual cleansing as part of magickal hygiene. No matter how good our shields are, we can’t keep those up every moment of every day. Just as we inadvertently get dirt on our clothes, we can also pick up magickal dirt. Routine cleansing is refreshing. It just feels good.

There are many techniques for spiritual cleansing. A bath or a shower will do nicely. Make it special with herbs, salts, candles, or a dedicated wash. In South Florida, we love cleansing with the Florida Water, a popular cologne water. You pour a little in your hands and use it to rub the negative or dirty energy off and away from your body starting from your head down to your toes. You could also use salt water or go for a dip in the sea or river. Smudging is another popular cleansing method. Light white sage or an appropriate incense and fan the smoke around your body. Or try this spiritual cleansing method using an egg.

Remember that visualization is important to all these processes. Your ability to hold a fully realized form in your mind is a prerequisite to materializing an authentic new experience.