Pagan, with a Capital P

Some people don’t even give Pagan, Wicca or Witch/ Witchcraft a capital letter any more. This bothers me.

Pagan is a title, a proper name for something. By correct standards for writing English (the language is another title) we should capitalize the first letter of a word that is a title.

I know English language standards have slipped into non-importance for some people. But, I see this lack of capital letter in writing from people who do make an effort at writing well and keeping the standards for communication in English with all the right punctuation, grammar and spelling. Sure, we all make mistakes. But, not putting a capital letter on a title is not like a spelling mistake or a typo you only make once and don’t happen to catch. It looks deliberate.

Has Pagan lost it’s place, it’s importance?

How to Create a Wiccan Shrine

The idea of the Wiccan shrine/ altar is to give yourself a real, physical connection to your spirituality and beliefs. Something you can reach out and touch, see, hear, taste and even smell. A Wiccan altar should appeal to your senses, be something you enjoy and give you a feeling of being connected to the Earth, nature, any deities you choose, and life itself.

A Wiccan shrine is commonly known as an altar. The origin of the word shrine was ‘a case for holy papers’. The Wiccan altar we create isn’t usually a case containing papers. It’s more likely a Wiccan, Witch or Pagan would keep any papers and notes in their Book of Shadows. Probably a good idea to keep your papers away from your altar in case of mess from the elements: fire, water, air and earth. None of those are especially good for paper, even air will turn it yellow over time.

One important thing to consider when you create an altar is that you are going public with it. Unless you live a hermit-like existence, someone is going to see your altar at some point in time. If you are secretive (and there are all kinds of reasons for keeping your beliefs a secret) you will want to keep your altar inconspicuous. This isn’t hard to do, with a little imagination and ingenuity. No, you don’t have to hide it in a drawer or closet. Just use common every day things which are typically in most homes but place them together. You will be the only one who knows this is your Wiccan altar.

A Base for your Altar

Your altar can be a collection of things but find a way to group them or collect them together. There are traditional ways like drawing a circle around them, using a pentacle, etc. But, there’s no reason you can’t get creative.

Place everything on a tray – like a vintage wooden tray or something made of an old metal like tin. Watch for something in thrift shops and antique stores.

Embroider (or draw using permanent marker) a pentacle on a handkerchief and use it under everything, as a liner. The bonus about using something made of fabric is how easy it is to wash it and reuse it.

If you can, build a terrarium which can include so many elements and generate oxygen too. Put the terrarium in a safe place with the altar cloth under it. No doubt you can think up other great ideas which can create an altar, incorporating some or all of the elements, the centrepiece and a base.

The Centrepiece for your Altar

Yes, there should be a centrepiece. This is something personal to you which connects you to the altar on a real level. Place it in the centre of the other objects. When you do add the objects for each element to your altar find the right directions to place them in north, west, south and east.

If you include deities in your Wiccan beliefs you might choose something which gives you a connection to your deity as the centre of your altar.

Add the Elements to your Altar

These are just possibilities for your altar. Each person should find a way to bring each element to your altar in a way that has real, personal meaning to themselves. The idea of the altar is to give yourself a real, physical connection to your spirituality and beliefs. You just can’t do that if you copy ideas from someone else just because you read it in a book. Take these ideas and use them in your own individual way. (If an idea really suits you – do it!)

Fire

  • candles (make sure they won’t tip over -short and squat candles are a good plan)
  • matches (unlit) because they bring the possibility of fire without the smell or danger.
  • steel tools – they’ve been through a lot of fire
  • a little bit of ash from a fire
  • cinnamon sticks or hot peppers

Air

  • a paper fan, decorate it yourself
  • a fancy (clear glass) jar with ‘nothing’ in it
  • a bell because sound is carried on the air
  • leaves which have been blown from trees
  • a balloon, inflated or deflated

Water

  • a tiny container of water.
  • a fish – a living goldfish or a wooden toy fish
  • a snowglobe – any time of year
  • a shell picked up from a beach
  • an umbrella or rain hat

Earth

  • a tiny sample of dirt from outside your own home.
  • fresh fruit – eat it then add fresh fruit again
  • a growing plant – it can even be seasonal, like a poinsettia at Christmas time.
  • garden tools, like a small trowel or garden gloves
  • a rock or pebble you found somewhere outdoors

Bless Your Altar

Once you have pulled everything together for your altar give it a first time use with a blessing – like a statement of purpose.

Sprinkle salt over everything (go easy on any living things, like plants) then speak aloud your blessing. The blessing can be something you wrote yourself or something you found from an outside source. (Even something you have re-written or paraphrased for your personal use). The blessing is your way of making this altar something different, something important to you, outside of the everyday stuff which may be upon it.

The salt is only there to purify or refresh the altar. It’s traditional and a good idea for the first time you use the altar, but not so essential that you can’t skip it if you have to. Remember, the real purpose of the altar is to connect you to the beliefs you hold. The keyword there being you. Anything you read it a book is just a guideline. Anything you actually choose to do should be for and about you and your feelings, beliefs, ideals.

Now that you Have your Altar…

Now that you have your altar what do you do with it?

Keep it refreshed, tidy and don’t let it get dusty. (Unless you really want to add dust bunnies as an element to your altar).

Use your altar in your rituals, create a ritual for your altar or use your altar as part of your rituals.

If you keep and/ or use Wiccan tools like an athame, wand, chalice, pentacle you wear, and so on you can keep them on or near your Wiccan altar. It’s practical in it’s way – you will know where everything is. Also, it keeps everything in tune, balanced and they can lend and store energy from each other. Your altar is such a personal thing it will imprint something of yourself and your spirituality on the things you keep on or near it.

Bless your altar and use it as a focus for your beliefs, your spirituality and a focal point as you learn more about Wiccan and Paganism. As you learn and grow and develop your beliefs you will change how you feel and think about various aspects of Wicca. Your altar is like a grounded place which you can come back to no matter how far and wide you explore and discover.

 

Other Ideas and Methods for Creating an Altar

Being a Solitary Witch (or Wiccan)

The solitary Witch, Wiccan or Pagan is alone by choice. There are many reasons for making this choice to be a Witch or Wiccan on your own. There are also lots of ways solitary Witches can share notes, talk and get new ideas from other Witches, when they want to.

Solitary Witches tend to be eclectic, they have their own vision and ideals for the path they follow. They don’t fit in with a standard coven based faith and beliefs. This is one reason they choose to strike out on their own and do things as they feel right to themselves rather than the larger group.

Some solitary Witches also like the privacy of keeping their spirituality personal. Once you start keeping a journal of your beliefs, your ideas, your thoughts and experiences, you may find yourself not wanting to share all of it. Some of our thoughts are too personal. If you share your Book of Shadows you begin to edit it while you write, instead of just writing from your heart knowing everything you write is just for your eyes only.

Of course, some solitary Witches just don’t like joining groups and prefer working alone.

How to be a Solitary Witch

Explore other paths, beliefs and ideas. I’ve read about Sea Witches, Garden Witches, Christian Witches, Druids, and so many others. I continue to read, research and explore. Look at other cultures and other religions too. Don’t close your mind; you might miss something great while you’re so sure you’re right.

Enjoy and appreciate nature, wildlife, wildflowers, gardens, trees and think green. Wicca is a religion about nature and Witches celebrate nature and the natural world. Find your love for it and celebrate what we have.

Keep a journal (Book of Shadows). Write about your discoveries, explorations and research. Most of all, write about your feelings, everything you’re thinking about – both positive and negative. Don’t be intimidated and think you aren’t ready for a real Book of Shadows. Any journal you keep is a Book of Shadows – there isn’t a rule that says you have to write about Witchcraft and Wicca alone or in any certain way.

Build an altar. It can be very private, small and personal or you can go forth and build something right on your front lawn. A garden is a great place to have an altar, an easy place to bring the four elements into. Earth, water, air and fire are routine in a garden, at various times. You can create an indoor alter and have it right on your desk or kitchen counter if that is your best space. Some feathers for air, some rocks for earth, salt for water and a candle to light for fire – that’s all you need for a start. Add personal touches as you grow into it.

Begin paying attention to the Wiccan/ Witch holidays and events. Honour them in your own way. Read more about what each of them means and their history. Pick a favourite, one that has extra meaning to you and make a real event out of it.

Become more aware of the Wiccan Reade, the three-fold law and the concept of harms none.They are all connected, saying the same basic idea in different ways. The idea is simple on the surface. As you consider it from more aspects it begins to get complicated. For instance, is it harmful to work against the free will of another, even if you are helping them? (This is why I don’t get into any spells. It’s a personal choice).

Don’t Set Yourself in Stone

Being a solitary Witch gives you endless options to explore. While coven Witches have to maintain a set of core beliefs to be part of the group, a solitary Witch can always be learning and trying new ideas, looking into fresh concepts and reinventing his/ her path. As a solitary Witch you can always do what feels right to you, without getting the approval from anyone else.

This does not mean there are no guidelines at all.

Being a solitary Witch does not mean you are free to reinterpret the Wiccan Reade. Harm none is pretty clear.

Don’t Buy Like a Witch Tourist

Don’t fall into the idea that you have to buy books, jewellery, tools, special clothes or anything else.

Look for what you want and often enough you will find it, at no cost or very minimal cost.

You can find Pagan books at thrift stores, second-hand book stores and the library. You an also find a lot of information online. Contact the authors of any books you find valuable, some will write back a real reply and even recommend fresh resources to you.

You don’t need to start buying tools, jeweled pentacles or custom clothing until you really know what you want and what will have real meaning to you. Don’t buy anything just because you think you should have it. That’s acting like a Witch tourist, someone who just wants to look like they fit in. Be true to yourself and only buy or collect the things you want for your own personal choice and your own needs.