Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Cheap Religion: Salt Dough Deities

If you are a parent or someone trying to be a more thrifty Pagan, and you haven't tried salt dough, something is wrong here and we have to fix it quick.  Here's a recipe for the simplest clay anyone's ever used - you probably won't even have to go to the store, because there's literally three ingredients and they're in almost everyone's kitchens.  Salt, flour, and water.. did I mention cheap?  You can make just about anything out of it, it's super cheap, dries pretty quickly, and if you give it a coat of paint or a sealant it'll last at least a few years.

I've been wanting to do a series for awhile about doing Paganism less expensively, because let's face it: Paganism, especially in the beginner 101 books so many start with, tends to be pretty commercialized.  You don't need much but a bible to start out as a Christian, but pick up a beginner Pagan book and there's all kinds of lists of things you might need - wands, different colored candles, divination tools, deity representations, and on and on.  A lot of that stuff is actually really helpful to your practice, especially a person like me who is both very tactile and visual.  But Pagan and New Age stores tend to be expensive, sometimes prohibitively so if you're a Pagan on a small budget, or a Pagan with children who aren't the best at looking but not touching.  Trust me, it is hellish trying to do a ritual with small children when you're terrified at every second that someone is going to break an expensive something.  This is also helpful for those Pagans who honor obscure enough deities that finding a decent representation is next to impossible.

Try not to leave your receipt on the counter when taking pics!
Salt dough deity representations are super easy to make, even if you're like me and terrible at sculpture.  Your first step is to pick a picture of the deity you're crafting a representation for - it can be something you draw, or a picture you like from the Internet (copyright law doesn't cover a few pictures printed at home that aren't for sale - though if the artist is selling their pictures, it's courteous to actually buy it).  For my representation of Ogma, I chose a carving on the US Library of Congress's doors, which you should totally check out because there's representations of writing or scholarly gods or people from many cultures and it looks awesome.  It's usually a good idea to print your picture the day you make the salt dough, giving both the dough and the picture a chance to dry so the ink doesn't run.

But if you do, just add a cute heart - no one will notice.
Then you gather up your supplies, and get to work!  First roll out the dough like you would at the beginning of a pizza or sugar cookie recipe - careful not to make the dough too thin (it will rip!) or too thick (it might never dry).  This takes a bit of experience, but if you have ever done pizza or cookie-cutter cookies before, you'll be able to feel the tension of the dough and the thickness it needs. Pick it up and lay it flat as you can on a flat plate.  Using a knife, cut out a rough square (it helps if the corners are rounded rather than sharp) and peel off the extra dough you won't be using.  Use the extra dough to fashion a "stand" of sorts to stick to the back of your square, making sure the two pieces are connected well and the bottom is flat.  The salt dough recipe I use then recommends microwaving it for about 3 minutes, and afterwards I usually let it dry overnight.  You may need more or less depending on the size and thickness of your square - the smaller one for Ogma took just 3 minutes, while the bigger one pictured on the plate took about 9 and then I let it sit for three days.  Be warned - you may get some air pockets that form bubbles, and the bigger the surface area of your project, the bigger they will get.  It's my theory that adding another flat object on top of the dough would help with that, but I don't have anything the right size that's also microwavable.

After everything is dry, you can use a paint brush and some Mod Podge or other glue/sealant combo to stick your picture to the flat surface of the salt dough. You can get creative and paint different colors around the picture to create a more colorful look, or just leave the color plain.  Again, print your picture the day you cut out the salt dough, because the colors may run when using the sealant otherwise.  I ran into this problem on my first attempt, and the results were more like modern art than the pretty pictures I had envisioned.

So there you have it!  It's probably not the best representation of Ogma that ever sat on an altar, but the fact that I made it for less than $1 makes me love it a lot more.  Even if you're a broke Pagan or worshiping Slavic deities for whom no statues have been made, you can have an altar that works for your spirituality.

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