Friday, March 26, 2010

Phase 1 - Creating your Altar: Basic Ritual Items

Taken from the book:  Secrets Of Modern Witchcraft Revealed~Lady Sabrina
With excerpts from : Wicca For One -The Path of Solitary Witchcraft~Raymond Buckland

The Altar:
Is of extreme importance, because it provides the foundation (or form) on which to build and execute magickal operations and spells. The Altar is an extension of your mind and creative process, it is where the substance of thought takes physical form, the altar allows you to express (symbolically) that which you wish to bring about. It allows you to stand back , look directly at your intentions and and view the whole picture from an objective point of view. The altar becomes the stage on which you arrange ideas in physical form, using tools and symbols. Each item you place on the altar, including the altar itself, embodies a segment of your extended ability, power and ambition- in symbolic form. The altar displays both your object of desire and anticipated results.
Now- for my interpretation. I have several "altars" around my home. I ensure that on every one, I represent each element of the craft. These elements are Earth, Air, Fire, Water and Spirit. The above definition is mainly for ritual/spell work and it IS important that you have your tools and supplies at hand, before you cast the circle. And a ritual altar is a bit different from the every day altar- that you leave out to bring spirit and comfort to your home. The ritual altar is for work. This is not saying that you can't use your everyday altars for work- but those are where you set your "work in progress" things, and leave them out in the open, you can take those same items and use them for ritual and spell work (as I do). But I love walking past or looking around and seeing many representations of my spirituality in my home. For example, on my every day- or decorative altar, I have candles ( fire) and an incense burner (air) and a bowl of salt (earth) and a chalice of water (water). I also have a representation of the God and Goddess. Now, depending on the season, I decorate with items that bring the feel of the time at hand- for Spring- I use flowers and a small crystal rabbit. For Yule or Christmas- I decorate with holly and ivy, pine cones and other festive items, for Fall I use pretty leaves I've found and acorns and pine cones also Halloween (Samhain) decorations - pumpkins and black cat figures and witches. Also, color plays an important part in your altar- from the cloth you use to cover it or the color of the candles and items you place on there to decorate. There is no one "proper" design for an altar - there are basics and the information herein is for the definition and  the placement of the basic items .
I place the Goddess items on the (when facing your altar) left hand side and the God items on the right hand side. I also place an open safety pin or a key, or anything that I have read and makes sense, to keep my home running in harmony and love or to create a mini spell. I also recharge stones or mojo bags on the every day altar, after I use them for awhile. I also burn a candle and a few sticks of incense on this altar every single day/ night. I change the salt and water regularly. The salt and water create a sense of harmony in the home, as they absorb negative vibes and "bad ju ju".
If I am feeling that some part of my life needs a kick in the rear, I add a few more items to the altar and say a prayer for my intentions and let them do their work. Also one thing, to remember-  if your very important ritual items are present and out in the open, dont make this so obvious that people who visit can't resist putting their hands on your stuff. Everyone has energy and once they touch something that you are working with - it leaves a vibration of their emotions to their intent ( this will show up wether its an obvious thing ( ie: your mother in law that isn't too fond of you, or your kids touching things because they can't resist its "so pretty" or "neat".) My main open altar is on a bookshelf and the shelf is high enough to keep little hands off of things - and its tucked in the hall at the bottom of my stairs- so its walked past by everyone at least once ( on their way to the bathroom) or several times a day - therefore, as the people in my home pass it- it is doing it's work. And in order to make it less obvious, each shelf of the book shelf has a "tchotchki " look, but I know that the items on each and every shelf have spiritual connotation to me.
A working altar ( in circle) must contain an altar cloth ( corresponding to the work or season or be just white or purple, or black or blue- or whatever color calls to you - look up color correspondances - we will touch on this later) The working altar should also contain 2 candles or a representation for goddess and god - I use a silver/white candle for goddess and a gold/green candle for god. Then, I represent Earth - a bowl of dirt and or salt. Air - incense, Fire- is your candle, Water- in a bowl/ chalice and you set each item on the side of its correspondence.
Air: feather, bell, wand,incense smoke, tarot suite: wands, (breath), the color yellow- to know.

Fire: sword, athame, candle, tarot suite: swords (blood), the color red- to will.

Water: chalice,cauldron, wine, tears, shells, tarot suite: cups (tears), the color blue- to dare.

Earth: pentacle, salt, dirt, stones, tarot suite: pentacles (nail/hair clippings), the color green- to be silent.

All the elements must be represented - not only upon your altar (working and decorative) but also to be represented at their actual place in your working circle. So- that means find out exactly where (as your home, yard- wherever your doing your ritual work) is set up in relation to the directions of North, South, East, and West. Each direction must be placed by a representation (colored candle) on the ground, in your circle.
There are other items you must have on a working ritual altar: Buckland says of the working altar - " this is not a catchall for anything and everything you want to have with you, but a sacred piece of furniture. It will hold a candle or two, the incense burner, your athame and /or wand, goblet/chalice and libation dish, salt and water and a small bell. Your representations of the God and Goddess will also be on the altar- if you use candles to represent the dieties, Buckland says you really don't need any other candles there", but I like to use a white candle or a color co-ordinated candle for what my spell/ritual is working for. Buckland also says that "if you have statues or representations of the god and goddess ( seashells or antlars or similar) to represent them then, you would use a main altar candle in the center of the altar, placed at the rear of the altar so you wont knock it over while working/ reaching for other items during ritual." (Wicca for One - the path of solitary witchcraft- Raymond Buckland)

Now we move on to other basic ritual items -
First, let me say that- some books/ practioners reccomend that you physically and with your own hands, make most of these items and have specific ways or materials that these items should look or be. I have made 2 wands and my broom. I have bought some items off the internet, at wicca supply stores , and I have bought things at flea markets and grabbed household items to use as well. Let me make clear- the fact that you do not - by any means- have to have every and all items and you don't have to obtain everything immediately - I love the hunt and the beauty of finding an item and not settling for any old thing, just so I can work. There are cheap household items that will substitute until you find what is really "your" items.

The Wand:
 In practice, the wand is the primary working tool of the Witch. It represents her/his rod of power and authority. During ritual, the wand becomes an extension of the witch's magickal jurisdiction. Personal power is forced thru the wand with laser-like intensity, toward a specific target. The wand is associated with the element of Air which is symbolic with the mind, intellect and communication. The wand is simply a tool for channeling energy from the spiritual plane to the material plane.

The Athame: ( pronounced a- tha- me)
Is a double edged knife which is used to inscribe or to cast the circle of power onto the Earth ( or floor) It's associated with the element of Fire and represents strength , power and the masculine force of nature. It also has the power to subdue or banish ( as in rebellious entities or spirits). Used like wand, they direct personal power and help to focus energy in a desired direction for a specific purpose. The athame also regulates, as well as conducts, the flow of personal expression toward the desired designation during magickal operations.
I have been fortunate to find my atheme's ( have a few) online for under $10.00 and a flea market is another great place. But it is not used for cutting, unlike your kitchen knives it doesnt have to be razor fact you touch the blade often in working so be careful with this powerful object! A double edged kitchen knife can substitute for awhile, but once you use an item for ritual/magick you can no longer use it for every day things. Athame's are usually have a wooden handle. A boline is an herb knife and has a sickle chaped blade- used for cutting and harvesting herbs, and is usually a white handled knife.

The Chalice:
Is feminine in nature and reperesents the element of water. In ancient times it was percieved as the cauldron of divine inspiration, rebirth and fertitlity. From a mystical point of view, it symbolizes the womb of the Great Mother Goddess, from which all things are born and to which all things return at death. Most witches believe that the chalice, like the holy grail, contains the great mystery of death and regeneration. It embodies hope and promise of that which is attained when all has been set to rest. The chalice is usually filled with water and placed at the left side of the altar. At some point, during the ritual, the athame is plunged into the chalice - blessing its contents. Once the liquid in the chalice has been consecrated, it's consumed by the individual doing the magick (or those who are participating in the ritual). It is also often filled with wine (for cakes and wine libation and for grounding in ritual)- if you cannot drink alchohol, you can use a red or white fruit juice (cranberry or grape) just a sip or two will do in ritual, and the rest can be poured out into the Earth, as a gift.
I have yet to find a chalice that I like anywhere, the one I use is a thick hand blown (complete with bubbles and imperfections) glass that's so thick its almost green in appearance- and it has colbalt blue around the rim and at the stem and base. I found it at a store I worked at years and years ago, and have yet to find another that feels like it could replace it.

The Pentacle:
Is associated with the element of Earth and symbolizes the feminine ability to create. The pentacle represents the realm of birth, life, death and renewal. In its origional form, it was used on the shield of the ancient hunter and warrior and was viewed purely as a defensive weapon. Symbolically - it is not a weapon of war- but one of peace and because of its association with the shield, that the pentacle became a symbol of protection and a tool use to ward off psychic attack. During nearly all magickal rites - the pentacle is used as the point of convergence. The desire's syombolic representation is placed on the pentacle and then all raised energy is focused toward it. The pentacle acts like a magnet - drawing energy towards it, infusing whatever is on top of it with psychic power. Once the symbolic object has been charged/activated, it will begin to work on manifesting the desired outcome. You can purchase pentacle tiles or large medallions online or at any wiccan store, or like me you can make your own, I used a piece of tile that we used for our kitchen flooring and handpainted the pentacle and added some flowers and vines wrapped around it. I also have a small piece of wood that I used my athame to scratch and carve the pentacle into the wood. Again, not everything has to be store bought and it is true that when you make an item with your own hands and creativity - it ceartainly has more power than if you just bought a mass produced item. another tip- when purchasing a store bought ritual item of any kind, you must cleanse and consecrate it - to remove any and all negative vibrations and to let that item know it belongs to you and what its uses will be.

The Book Of Shadows (BOS):
Is simply a personal journal which contains all of the rituals, spells, and formulas you- as a practicing witch, gather and use during your magickal adventures. It is one of the most important tools you have. It will jog the memory during ritual, remind you of past mistakes and counsel you in times of need. Every ritual, recipe, incantaion, magickal spell or tidbit of wisdom should be recorded in your BOS. As with all your tools, simplicity is best.
I, personally- have several dollar store notebooks- that I record notes, recipes, spells and the like from books weather my own or borrowed from the local libraries -in these- dreams are recorded,  life is journaled and tarot readings are recorded, as well. I also take any poem, mantra, prayer or meditation that I am touched by and record it. I also have herbal ones and one on wicked witch magick, I make lists and plan my herb garden every year, wish lists of things I want to purchase and their website and prices. I create remedies and write them down (the ingredients and dates of them being made). Ido have a beautiful BOS that my husband bought as a gift to me, with a calligraphy set to write in it - I have yet to make one mark on the pages (  made of beautiful handcrafted parchment) because I don't want to "ruin" it lol. You can also obtain a 3 ring binder, with tabs to divide your sections and that makes it easy to insert and remove things.  To each her own I say.

The Censer: ( incense burner)
This pertains to stick or cone or best ( I think) for ritual work, the charcoal with hand blended herbs and oils burning on top.  The censer can be anything from a simple fire-proof dish to an elaborate, brass incense holder or even a dollar store, stick incense holder. I also use a medium cauldron, with sand in the bottom and stick the end of a stick incense into the sand, ( and ash)  lite it and let it burn, I've done it  for so long, there must be 8 inches of ash in that cauldron. The censer is sometimes used in conjunction with the wand to represent the element of air. It has long been believed that prayers and wishes are delivered to the gods by way of incense smoke. Because of this, herbal offerings and petitions ( things written on paper or the like) are often burnt in the censer to aid love, prosperity and success spells. I personally, never do not have incense burning in my home- it wouldn't be home without it. When I do ritual work or a special cleansing or to set a vibe/mood, I often blend ( with mortar and pestle) the herbs and resins that correspond with what I am going for, and burn in my small cauldron on a charcoal. For this- you can purchase small charcoal discs ( fairly inexpensive) and you hold it with fireproof tong, hold the flame to the charoal disc  until it sparks all over ( be careful- it may break into pieces or the sparks can catch something nearby) once the disc stops sparking, it will glow red/orange, then you lay it in the cauldron (with sand covering the bottom, to prevent the cauldron itself from becoming too hot) -make sure you set it on something that is heat proof- as cauldrons are iron and conduct heat!  Sprinkle your blended herbs and resin ( maybe with a few drops of an oil blend for extra oomph) onto the charcoal and they will smoulder away- its a wonderful thing!

The Element Bowls:
Are two small bowls set on the altar. One contains the element of salt and the other the element of water. The elements are combined and used to bless and consecrate sacred space, symbolic tools, and participants in the ritual. For this, you use the tip of the athame to scoop up some salt from the bowl and to drop that salt into the water bowl, you do this 3x and then use the athame to stir the salt-water blend and you have our version of "holy water". After ritual, you can set this on your every day altar, to absorb any negativity in the home or store it in a clean, tightly closed jar, for other ritual work- baths, aspbergering  etc.

The Robe or Cloak:
This- for me, was the most difficult item to obtain, I can't sew more than a simple whip stitch and to purchase anything worth having and using for ritual, costs a mint. You don't want to buy a cheap Halloween one - they are tacky and don't feel nice against the skin, also the fit is crap, plus they are mass produced. At least those are my feelings. It is also an optional item, some witches like to perform ritual skyclad ( nude) - which is great- as long as you aren't going to be interrupted by family ( I'm sure your kids don't want to stroll thru and see you stark neekid raising power lol, talk about a buzzkill!) or if outdoors, the  neighbors calling the cops on you for indecent exposure lol.
All this is- is setting aside an item of clothing - a bath robe made of silk, a kimono, a shawl, a long scarf wrapped around your body, and knotted at the hips or center of the chest like the scarves they use as bathing suit cover ups- (witch stores online, have many of those and lots of colors and patterns - also, hippie shops have them and they are used as wall hangings or bed spreads). Just make sure its large enough to cover you -at least your torso.  You can obtain a length of fabric from the craft store and make it equally long on both sides, cut and sew a hole for the head and make a poncho out of it - whatever you decide upon, set something aside for only ritual, this puts you in the mode and represents to you- psychically that it's time to work and play- in the magickal realm.

The Cauldron:
Is one of the oldest tools of magick known to humankind. The cauldron has many uses- both symbolical and magickal. It can be used to cook and brew herbs, potions and spells, thus infusing them with symbolic feminine energy. From a practical standpoint, it makes a wonderful receptical for housing charged objects. The longer they are kept in the cauldron, the more they become charged with the intuitive qualities of the feminine mystiqe. I have 2 cauldrons. One is used for ritual work- and spell work -the larger one is used every day, for the incense I burn all the time. I will say that cauldrons can be very very expensive. Not only are the prices sometimes ridiculous- the shipping on them is crazy- because they are heavy iron. I bought my small working one, at a local store before it closed. Its plain and a little cutie . My medium sized one, I happend upon at a local flea market-  the man had 2- and my husband was going to buy me the big one that would be like the ones used in the olden days, to cook over the fire ( todays version would be your big stock pot) I chose the smaller one, it was rusty and very unloved looking. I have a friend who is a welder and he took it and cleaned it up and re- blacked it. Its gorgeous and I use it every day it sits right out in the open, for everyone to see. I do not use a cauldron for making herbal infusions and the like. I have an old small pan that I use only for that kind of stuff, and its never mixed in with the regular pots and pans - alot of the herbs and things we use, may be natural and harvested by you yourself, but they are also very dangerous and can be deadly. So- if you use a pan that matches your regular cooking ones, make sure you set it somewhere where it won't get mixed in and used to make your meals. I also use that pan for simmering herbs and oils, on the stove, to help the air in the home in the winter months to cleanse bacteria and viruses. Or- for steam treatments. Again, I cannot express enough- that you keep the working magick pan- away from the ones you use to make your meals! I hide mine in a small cupboard, with other supplies, and only take it out for its intended purpose and after I'm done using it, I wash it out ( not using the same sponge that I use on our every day dishes) dry it and put it away.

I have to say in closing, once you start to obtain your items, be it books or tools, you will find that you fall in love with them and have a connection to them. They become a part of you as a person, and you feel very protective and fond of them. I often find when someone asks to borrow a book - I get a funny feeling and don't want to share, they can look in my home at that book all they want- but I don't feel comfortable with it going out of my home. Call me selfish, but I have taken years, lots of time and heart- going into my obtaining my items and they have become and extension of myself. I cannot imagine that the feelings that I have for certain  items- pertaining to the Craft -that I have obtained - would feel the same to someone else. I think once you follow the path and these items speak to you and let you know they belong with you , that you will understand the reason I balk at letting someone "borrow" anything. These items become so personal and such a part of you , that its hard to let them go.
Feel free to comment and question ....
I will Update at least once a week, if not more frequently . If there's something you specifically want to know- let me know and I will do my best to provide as much info as I can find. There are wonderful websites and stores online, so look around and enjoy the path you're taking.
I'm starting with the basics, and by no means- am I providing here- in this blog, everything you can know - so keep doing research, know that there is room for error and that the Goddess is with you - She is also very loving and forgiving. Take time to stop and look around at Her beauty and to listen for Her voice - in your dreams and in your heart and soul.
Blessings.~ AngelHawk

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