Friday, January 31, 2014

C is for Cold and the Cailleach

Creative Commons license.
While browsing Facebook recently, I came across an article listing the 20 coldest big cities in America.  I've spent my life in two cities that both reached the top 10; where I'm living now apparently has an average of 143 days of subfreezing temperatures a year (it's okay, in the summer the average is a toasty 90 degrees).  I know a little something about winter.

And oh, how I hate it.  I know, I know - as a Pagan I'm supposed to love all parts of nature, but I just can't love the cold.  The snow is pretty from indoors, but having to shovel sidewalks or drive in the stuff is a huge pain.  The cold sneaks in the windows and the wind roars like a living thing, cutting with tiny shards of ice.  Before my daughter started school, there were weeks I didn't leave the house.  But the cold is part of this land, and since I am part of this land, it is also a part of me.  The cold fights, it perseveres, and it makes those who endure it stronger.

There are different schools of thought on what exactly the Cailleach is.  Is She the mother of the Fomorians, ancient foes of the children of Danu?  Is she a Jotun-like figure, completely hostile to humanity?  Or could She be called a Goddess, both because of Her obvious divine power and the seeming obligation of the people to offer Her shelter?  According to Frazer's The Golden Bough, the last farmer in a village to finish that year's harvest would be the one awarded the questionable honor of sheltering and feeding the Cailleach through the winter.

This year, I have been forming a relationship with Her, and I'm still not sure of Her true nature, or that She can be classified at all.  I feel similarly about Her as I do the winter that many say She personifies: I'm not overly fond of Her, we're not friends.  But She makes me stronger.  I give offerings to propitiate Her when I hear a cold front or a storm is coming through, and sometimes the storms come and sometimes they don't.  Sometimes it's a pain in the ass, and sometimes we'll lose power for a few hours (or rarely, a few days).  The cold and the snow are in Her nature.  She is part of this land, and I am part of this land, and for that I honor Her.  The animals and the plants of my home have evolved to endure Her, and some of them could not live or reproduce without Her.

As I strive to become more in-tune with the Earth, more adapted to the land around me, I realize that being a part of nature doesn't mean liking it.  I don't know if the mouse creeping in the prairie grass near my home feels appreciation for the beauty around him; but I'm almost certain he does not acknowledge the majesty of the hawk as she swoops down and captures him in her talons.  The winter is.  There's no reason to feel any particular way about it, only to realize and accept its existence.  So it is with the Cailleach.  I do not worship Her as I might other deities who bring more welcome gifts; but I acknowledge Her.  She is dangerous, ancient and wild, and though like those old farmers I may not wish to be the one to welcome Her in, welcoming Her is the way of things on the prairie.

Source: Bride and the Cailleach

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Crafting the Runes: Nyd

From the Haindl Rune Oracle

Trouble is oppressive to the heart;
yet often it proves a source of help and salvation
to the children of men,
to everyone who heeds it betimes.

'Nyd' - translated above as 'trouble' - is also often translated as 'need'.  Being in need of something can be a weight on a person's heart, especially if it is something essential like food or shelter.  In my opinion, the later part of this stanza is probably an amalgamation of Christian concept of "joy in suffering" and the more Heathen idea of "necessity is the mother of invention".  Though we may occasionally find ourselves in need, that is also when we may find a great strength - almost like the adrenaline that rushes through veins when faced with a threat, need challenges us to rise to the occasion and find a way to solve that need.  This is not to say that those who don't fulfill all of their own needs are failing or somehow lesser - this is why humans live in communities, so that we can help one another when needed and receive help in turn when we are in need - but the trying is important.  To paraphrase an ancient Greek ideal: "the Gods help those who help themselves".

This rune also refers to the concept of the Need-fire, both through its name and its shape.  The need-fire is one kindled by friction, either wood on wood or a rope on wood, and is considered most effective when all other fires near it are put out.  It is lit in times when the community is in great need, especially in farming communities where animals are often threatened by outbreaks of disease.  The flames are believed to purify the animals, and so two fires are made though which the animals can be driven.

When this rune comes up in divination, I often see it interpreted as a bad omen - but I tend to see it as an indication of something that is missing or needed in the person's life.  This can be a positive thing if the need can be identified and subsequently fulfilled, though it will often require some effort to fulfill the need.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

B is for Baking Bread

Photograph by Amber Doty
Ah, the smell of fresh-baked bread.  Is there any other smell so representative of a well-kept home, a cared-for family?  For me, the baking of bread is a transformative, magical process - one I hardly understand but am constantly amazed by.

I grew up in a busy family, where no one had time to make fancy dinners or wait for bread to rise.  Dinner usually came from the microwave, traditionally frozen peas or corn paired with chicken nuggets.  Every once in a while we got corned beef and cabbage from the crockpot, and it was always a treat!  Bread came in a little bag from the overstock store, usually a day or two from expiring, always in the exact same shape.

I grew up around farm people and talk, but was raised in the town, where there were no cows or sheep or connection to the things I ate.  I walked the corn rows de-tasseling for a few summers in my youth, amazed at the huge fields that stretched on for what seemed like forever, but we never took the corn home to eat - this was feed corn, meant for the cattle I never spent much time with.  I grew up completely unaware of how to cook anything, and totally oblivious to the magic that so much of our food undergoes before it becomes the food we recognize.

So this was the person my husband moved in with a few days before our first daughter was to be born - my husband whose mother makes her own yoghurt, cooks her own roti, who I once watched slaughter and cook a rabbit in her garage.  Needless to say, he was disappointed, and I was terribly confused.  In the wake of this stunning clash of worlds, he and I both worked a lot on our cooking skills, and we've come a long way since.  But where I came from and what I grew up with makes me intensely appreciative of the magic that happens in the kitchen.

Simple bread made from five ingredients, changes from a fluffy powder (which ultimately comes from the wheat plant) into a malleable dough, into a wonderful loaf that's often twice the size of the dough itself.  Using yeast, a living organism, to transform this simple-yet-so-complex food from its origins into something completely unrecognizable is truly a magical act.  As a mother of three, I've also made some concessions to busyness - these days, most of my bread comes from the bread machine.  But it is still homemade, far healthier than bread bought at the store, and my children are growing up with the kitchen magic that my ancestors discovered ages ago.

My current favorite recipe comes from my Cuisinart bread machine's instruction booklet, modified somewhat by what I've found to work best for me.  It isn't really an everyday bread for us, but coupled with some pasta or marinara sauce, it's wonderful.

Rosemary Bread for a Bread Machine
1 1/2 lb Loaf
Place wet ingredients in bread pan first, followed by dry ingredients.
1 cup water
3 tbs olive oil
2 1/2 cups bread flour
1 1/2 tsp white sugar
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp dried rosemary
1/4 tsp Italian seasoning
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 1/2 tsp active dry yeast

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Book Review: Our Troth (first edition)

I've read a few "intro to Heathenry" books now, and I hadn't yet found one that really was what I wanted it to be.  Most were too short, too fluffy, or too old - usually a combo of two or more.  I understand the purpose of intro books, but I feel like I need more than a page of discussion about Thor to really get a proper introduction to Him.  I picked up the first edition of Our Troth from a friend, who bought it years ago when the current two volumes were still published as one (I've been told the current edition is not drastically different, but I can't personally attest to that).  It really was exactly what I'd been looking for.

Our Troth was published by The Troth, a Heathen organization based in the US.  They have a good clergy training program, and hold an annual gathering known as Trothmoot.  Some prominent Heathen authors, such as Diana Paxson and Kveldulf Gundarsson, are active members.  In fact, Our Troth has contributions from both of them, as well as a few other authors.  This article-style mixture of authors can be hard for some to read, as the style is not entirely consistent throughout, but I personally didn't have any issue with the changing voice.  One thing I'd like to point out is that The Troth is an adamantly anti-racist organization.  Unlike some other Heathen groups who have more of a don't-ask-don't-tell policy, the Troth accepts any and all who feel called to Heathenry, and little tolerance for those who would make others feel unwelcome.  Our Troth is written with this in mind, and is an ideal introduction for those who might be leery of less inclusive rhetoric.

Each of the major Gods and Goddesses of Germanic Paganism have a chapter and and a lot of information about them; and many spirits and wights get their own chapters as well (the Disir, house-wights, land-wights, etins, etc).  There's also information about Germanic cosmology and the nine worlds, some history of the Indo-Europeans and Germanic peoples, and some Heathen theology.  The second half of the book (and from what I understand, the second volume of the current arrangement) has information and examples for many different rituals, thoughts on clergy and ritual space in Heathenry, and a note on the rights of practitioners of minority religions.  I found the first half of the book incredibly informative, and it greatly helped my understanding of the Gods and Goddesses, as well as the specific history of the Germanic peoples.  I would absolutely recommend it to anyone just getting into Heathenry.  As for the second half of the book, I am a little more leery of handing out the recommendation.  I feel that it is more suited to an experienced Heathen's bookshelf as a reference or tidbit of knowledge; much of the content consists of ideas for group rituals that someone new to Heathenry would not be planning anyhow, because the rituals themselves are written with the assumption of a large space with at least a kitchen.  The other discussions on Hof and clergy get incredibly specific and are rather dry, and were difficult for me to get through (and I don't mind dry reading)!

I absolutely recommend that any beginners to Heathenry pick up the first volume of Our Troth.  The second volume can probably wait until you you have been practicing a few years, or for some reason you really need to know the optimal dimensions for building a Troth-approved Hof.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Yule with Prairie Shadow Protogrove

Photo by Amber Doty
It's taken me a little while to get around to this post, because I'm not exactly sure how to write it.  In late December, Prairie Shadow Protogrove ADF met for its first Yule ritual, and second ritual ever.  This was also the first ritual I'd ever put together or led, after only about 6 months of participating in my local Pagan community.  It was also at my house, which is scary for me because of how intensely private I tend to be (and how terrible at cleaning!).

Photo by Amber Doty
But despite all of that, I like to think it went pretty well.  We gathered just as the light was fading from the sky on an absolutely beautiful December day - the high had reached to the lower 50s, almost unheard of for winter in Nebraska.  As the sun set it began to get colder, but our fire-builders managed to keep some warmth around despite the wind.  As part of a Germanic solstice ritual, we honored the sun Goddess Sunna and the return of Her light.  We also welcomed Heimdall as Gatekeeper, and Nerthus as Earth Mother.  A friend was kind enough to bring some of his homemade mead, which was offered to those present as the blessing waters.  As we reached the part of the ritual where all participants extinguished their candles as a representation of the long solstice night, it had become as dark as it gets in these suburbs, and the deep blue of the night sky hung over us.  But when those 17 or so candles were rekindled, welcoming Sunna back to this world, the backyard became bright!

Photo by Amber Doty
Afterwards, we held a potluck, both to honor the traditions of hospitality and feasting, and so those who attend Prairie Shadow Protogrove can continue to get to know one another.  Citing the Germanic tradition of the Yule Boar, I even made some bread in the shape of a pig, and we were lucky enough to also have someone bring a desert bread shaped like the sun!  We had quite a few people attend who hadn't been to our Samhain ritual, and it was delightful to meet and get to know them.  Again, I can't thank Amber Doty enough for her work in founding this whole group, and the continuing administration work that she deals with - and also for coming early and helping set everything up, and being the best ritual-leading partner ever.

Prairie Shadow Protogrove will be holding its next ritual on February 8th at the Next Millenium in Omaha at 5:00pm - there is a study room to the right of the store entrance.  Check out our Facebook page or our website for more details.  I hope to see anyone in the region there!

Friday, January 17, 2014

B is for Birch

Photo by Cassi Saari.  Creative Commons license.
I have always had a closeness with birch trees.  The stark white bark of many varieties is strikingly beautiful, especially in the midwest where colors rarely vary from green or brown.  I first began to take special note of them when reading JRR Tolkien's The Silmarillion, specifically his myth of the Two Trees, one gold and one silver.  From the silver tree descended the White Tree of Gondor, and my youthful mind conjectured all birch trees must have come from that noble line.  Later, as I began learning more Germanic and Celtic lore, I noticed the birch tree figured in cultures' lettering systems.

Proto-Germanic Rune Berkanan
The birch is repeatedly associated with birth and new beginnings in both Germanic and Celtic cultures, and this is intrinsically tied to the mundane nature of the tree.  They are known as a pioneer species: when a forest fire or other natural disaster happens, the birch tree is one of the first trees to colonize the bare land.  In grazing pastures or open areas, birch seedlings are those cleared most often.  We can see this reflected in the meaning of both the Proto-Germanic rune Berkanan, as well as the Ogham letter Beith.  The pure white bark of the birch, combined with its association with fire-cleared land, explain why it is believed by many to be a purifying tree.  Its rapid colonization of bare land tells us why this tree is associated with birth and new life.  As above, so below is an ancient concept: what a thing does in the mundane world is a good representation of its function on the spiritual or magical plane.

In Lebor Ogaim, also known as the Ogham Tract, is at least as old as 1390; and it tells an account of Ogma's invention of the Ogham alphabet.  Seven Beiths inscribed on a birch tree was the very first message ever recorded using the Ogham script.

The symbolism of purity and new beginnings as embodied in the birch tree has not stayed solely in the realm of Celtic or Germanic Pagans, but has become a symbol recognized by many under the Pagan umbrella.  It has also become strongly associated with mother-type Goddesses, but there is no evidence to suggest that Goddesses such as Brigid or Frige were ever explicitly linked with the birch tree.  The theory that Berkanan's shape is a pictogram for a pair of breasts is probably also nothing but conjecture, considering that its shape was likely adopted from a Latin letter which as far as we know had no relation either to the birch tree or the concept of motherhood.  Nonetheless, it has become so ingrained in Neo-Pagan culture that it is worth acknowledging that this symbolism is helpful to many people.

As with all nature spirits, my opinion is that the best way to get a feel for its energies or to bring its spirit into your life is to go out and get to know one!  Birch trees are often used as an ornamental tree here in the midwest, and so are easily found in public parks or arboretums; I advise finding a particular one that seems most open to interaction.  I find offerings of water are often appreciated by tree spirits, but you may want to bring only a poem or song depending on where the tree is located.  If nothing else, they are fascinating trees to study, and a Pagan can rarely go wrong spending some time beneath trees!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Crafting the Runes: Haegl

From the Runic Tarot, by Caroline Smith
and John Astrop

Hail is the whitest of grain;
it is whirled from the vault of heaven
and is tossed about by gusts of wind
and then it melts into water.

The rune Haegl translates directly to 'hail'.  The theme comparing hail to grain is found in all three of the extant rune poems, and makes an interesting contrast.  Hail is a frightening weather phenomenon, destroying crops and damaging homes, and a late summer hail storm of the kind that comes once or twice a year here on the prairie would have been devastating to a culture relying on agriculture for survival.  It's important also to note that the seeming loss of the hails power - "it melts into water" - is referenced only in the Christianized version of the poem.  In the Icelandic version, no such ultimate resolution is given; instead it is described as "cold grain, and shower of sleet, and sickness of serpents."  It is clear that the Germanic peoples thought of hail as a bad thing - so why the comparison to grain, the very plant probably most often destroyed by these storms?

In my opinion, it all heralds back to the Germanic idea of ice as the beginning of creation.  Of course ice, like hail, is a destructive force.  But referencing it as a grain, a seed which falls to earth from the sky, seems to say that this destruction also contains the potential for new growth; an ice which melts into nourishing water.

In divination, I absolutely read Haegl as a negative rune.  But it's not the end of the world - after the destruction, the hail melts, and its tiny seeds can grow into something new and perhaps better than what came before.

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.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Druid Moon Cast

Following up on my post W is for Web Ritual from last year's Pagan Blog Project, I wanted to give any of you who are interested a heads up about ADF's Druid Moon Cast.

The December DMC, held on December 8th, was dedicated to the Norse God Odin  in his capacity as leader of the Wild Hunt.  You can watch it (and participate along with if you wish!) here.  Be warned, there was a technical hiccup and the ritual was unable to be completed; but if following along at home feel free to finish up yourself if you desire!

The January DMC, held on January 6th, was dedicated to the Goddess Skadhi and went off with very few hitches - check it out here.

If you'd like to watch or participate live, the next DMC will be held on February 5th at 7:00 central time.  The rituals are conducted via Google hangout, so watch ADF's Google+ page and click on the event when it comes up around 7:00.  Part of Isaac Bonewits's initial vision for ADF was a broadcast just like this, where solitaries or those who wanted more community ritual were able to watch and participate in rites from the comfort of their homes.  As a solitary myself until recently, I couldn't be more thankful or proud of the work that Nick Egelhoff and the rest of the DMC participants and planners are doing.  It's definitely worth a look.

Friday, January 10, 2014

A is for Altars

As a busy person, altars are very important to me.  In fact, I think my altars are actually the lynchpin that holds my spiritual life together.  I love my grovemates and fellow members of ADF, and I love ritual with them, but that's only once every six weeks or so.  I love the members of my coven, and I love ritual with them; but again, it's only a few times a month.

When first discovering Paganism and moving on from Christianity and that idea of religion, I had trouble understanding why most beginners books only had ritual or prayers for the High Days or the Full Moons.  Having been raised to practice religion every day - bible reading in the morning, prayer at meals and at night - I couldn't understand how this more present, accessible Divine was only acknowledged about twenty-one times a year.  It's something I continued to struggle with for many years, often letting my practice lapse to just those twenty-one days and ignoring my spiritual side for the other three hundred and fourty-four.  It obviously wasn't working for me.  Then I discovered ADF, Druidry, and Heathenry.  Though ADF is as formal as you make it, one big advantage for me is the option to make it very formal.  I don't usually go through a full Core Order of Ritual for my daily devotions, the template was incredibly helpful to me in forming a daily practice.  The other crucial piece of the puzzle?  My altar.

It's there every day.  It's a physical reminder of my spirituality, of the hospitality due to the Gods and spirits that I have invited to be part of my life.  With the representations of these beings sitting in my room or my kitchen, they truly feel like guests in my home and life.  Even in the busy rush-rush life of being a mom to three, I can make time to stop and say a prayer of thanks to Nerthus while preparing dinner, because Her altar is right there in my kitchen and I'm reminded of Her every time I go to open the fridge.

Here is the portion of my Dedicant Path work where I wrote about my home shrine(s), including some pictures.  It is quite long, as we are asked to describe the purpose of every item.

On one counter in my kitchen, I keep a shrine to the spirits and Goddesses of the home.  On the far left is a cute small-scale home in a box, which I use as a place to give offerings to my house spirits.  The next statue is a representation of Brigid, and is where I will leave a candle for my flamekeeping shifts or give offerings to Her.  The next statue represents Frige, and is where I will place offerings or say prayers for Her.  To the far right is a representation of a chalice made by my middle daughter at Sunday school, representing our family's dedication to the ideals of Unitarian Universalism.  I thought it appropriate to place it here, because UUism is our "family" religion that all who live in our home can agree with.

On the other side of the kitchen, next to the fruit bowl which is full of oranges and bananas this time of year, is a shrine to a few Earth and land Goddesses.  On the left is a representation of Nerthus, the Earth Mother of ancient Germanic tribes.  She is also strongly associated with water, and so I chose a statue that emphasized that aspect of Her.  In the middle is a figurine that's easily recognized as the Venus of Willendorf, which I use as a representation of the Goddess of the Platte River watershed.  Behind Her is a bottle of sacred water made from water from the Ogallala aquifer, a creek near my house that drains into the Platte River, and the river Herself.  To the right is a representation of the Goddess Yavanna, who many would argue is a "character" in JRR Tolkien's mythology; but who I experience as a distinct divine Goddess.  All of these representations are primarily used as placed to make prayers and offerings to the respective spirits.

My main altar is constructed in three tiers to represent the Three Realms.  On the bottom tier is my Well, a simple black bowl; and also a shrine to my Ancestors, seen on the right.  It features a box handed down by my great grandfather, a handkerchief made by my great grandmother, a skull made of quartz, and a statue of a woman to represent my Idesa (female ancestors in Anglo-Saxon culture).  The bottom tier is also a bit of a catch-all because of its size, and has (from left to right): a chalice to hold the Waters of Life when doing Core Order of Ritual, three candles for the Three Kindreds in Himalayan salt candle holders, a statue of the Goddess Varda (also featured in Tolkien's mythological cycle), two pitchers containing oil and water respectively for offerings, an incense burner for offerings, and a blue ceramic candle holder filled with sand which holds spent matches.  In the center is the Well, as described, and a small plate which holds items of spiritual significance to me: a vial of cinnamon oil gifted by a friend, my homemade set of prayer beads, and a candle inscribed with the symbol of Sunna from a recent Solstice ritual.  The left of the bottom tier features Ancestor representations already discussed, and also a brass incense burner for making offerings.

The second tier features my representation of the Tree, seen there in the center, and also several representations of local Nature spirits.  Here are leaves and a bit of twig from each tree in my yard, a stone I dug from the garden, and feathers my children have found.  There are also some stones of various types gifted to me by friends.  The carving behind the Tree is a seashell, a tree, and a feather; representing the realms of land, sea, and sky so prominent in Celtic cosmology.  On the left side I have grouped representations of the Anglo-Saxon deities I honor most; Woden, Eostre, and Thunor.  In front of Thunor is a sachet I made of several protecting herbs and a quartz crystal that I asked to be blessed by Him, and my hammer necklace.  On the right side are my Celtic deity representations:  a glass horse representing the Goddess Macha, a carving from the doors of the Library of Congress depicting Ogma, and a representation of the sea god, Manannan mac Lir.  In front of Manannan is a necklace I wear dedicated to Him.
On the top tier I keep my Fire, a grouping of three candles usually colored appropriate to the seasons.  I also have a plaque with the words "Fire and Well and Sacred Tree, Flame and Flow and Grow in me".  The cloths used are also colored seasonally; since it is nearing Imbolc at the time I'm writing this, I have used snowflakes and the color white to represent the winter that will begin to fade soon.  I also have a few crystals hanging from pegs, which are there because I am very pleased by things that shine and sparkle.  I feel they help bring the aesthetic of my altar together. 

In the future, I'd like to finish the carvings and staining that I had originally planned when I began constructing my three-tiered altar; including carving representations of each of the Three Kindred.  I'd also like to acquire a better representation for Macha, perhaps a horse made of stone that fits in better with the size and aesthetic of the other figures.  Since I have been connecting more with the Cailleach, a Celtic winter Goddess, I'd also like to find or make a representation for Her.  I would also like to hang a shelf in my kitchen next to the door that leads outside to house the representations of my Earth Goddesses, so they aren't relegated to a rather crowded corner of my kitchen counter.

Returning Home

Welcome back everyone!  I hope your holidays were lovely, and filled with family and fun.

The holidays and transition to the new year always have their ups and downs.  I stopped writing around the middle of the month of December due to a combination of factors - with the holidays coming, there's always so much to prepare for and so little time to do it; and also, my ipod on which I keep my huge list of blog ideas went through the washer one night and has been unable to recover.  After all that, I decided to take a break from the world wide web for a bit and spend some quality time with my family.

So after a couple weeks rest, here I am again!  My hope for this blog in the new year is to write one Pagan Blog Project and one other post once a week, and also continue through my rune-making series.  I'm also writing for the Pagan Families blog over at Patheos (read my first contribution here).  Personally, I'm also determined to finish ADF's Dedicant Path this year, hopefully ready to turn in sometime after the Summer Solstice.  I'd also really like to start the Troth's Lore program, but I won't be turning 1 year as a member until autumn, so we'll see how busy things are at the time!

All in all, it looks to be a full and busy year, and I can't wait to share it with all of you!