Posts Tagged ‘altars’

I honor and work with the Three Kindreds: the Nature Spirits, Gods and Goddesses, and the Ancestors.  The later tends to fall to the sidelines all too often in my daily practice, which is very unfortunate.  I pride myself and my tradition for paying better  attention to the beloved dead, but I know I have room for improvement.  And since most cultures who venerate ancestors share the belief that they are more likely to help you than the other spirits due to their vested interest in the tribe, it makes sense to keep that hospitality flowing!

A fellow ADFer really inspired me by posting about having coffee with her ancestors.  I’m not much for coffee, but I could surely share tea!  The only problem was that my ancestor altar had become a tiny corner on my bookshelf which is relegated to a hard to reach corner in our new place.  Boo!

It suddenly occurred to me that I had space over the hutch my father refurbished for me!  What’s more, it is in the dining room where I can enjoy a cup of tea with my ancestors!  And not only that, they can join us for every meal!  (Talk about super convenient for Samhain!)

My ancestral altar, all moved in to the dining room. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2014.

After I moved the altar to its new home, I felt called to make some Irish soda bread.  I never made traditional soda bread before, so I searched for a manageable recipe.  I wasn’t sure if I would like it without raisins or caraway seeds, but it came out wonderfully!  And of course, the first piece went to the ancestors.  Today, as Bee and I enjoyed our breakfast, I shared some tea with my ancestors, invited the beloved dead, and delved into some Celtic studies.  It occurred to me the ancestors were talking to me through the history book…  How appropriate.

My first attempt at baking traditional Irish soda bread! Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2014.

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My time is limited and, as a result, I haven’t felt pulled to make the very detailed, large dolls I made prior to pregnancy.  Those will come again, but I’ve recently found myself returning to my roots and making dolls with very simple shapes.  Some may view that as backwards, but something Phillip Carr-Gomm said in the latest Druidcast really spoke to me.  He compared the movement of people back to religions inspired by very ancient myths to salmon returning to their spawning ground and taking part in a cycle rebirth.  Not only did it make sense to me in regards to Druidism’s place in the modern world, but it dawned on me that I was experiencing the same thing in my art.  Motherhood has transformed my life in ways that I’m only just beginning to understand.  It is impacting my art.  Everything has to be reborn in this new phase of my life.

You may have seen the Waldorf-inspired gnomes I’ve been making for my daughter.  They are akin to my early exploration of doll making.  Limbs are very complicated and so I’m not bothering with them so much right now.  Recently I’ve been wanting to spend less time on constructing the form and more on adding soul.  I decided to make a new Brighid doll for my altar.  I’ve said this many times, but I’m a proponent of using your talents to make your own ritual tools.  For me, the desire to create representations of deities for my altars is what brought me to doll making in the first place.  I retired my original Brighid doll.  She was very top-heavy and required a metal and wooden stand.  With baby just months away from walking, it seemed like a safety hazard.  Brighid has a new home upon my altar and in a form that matches my evolving understanding of her.  She is more voluptuous, draped in a tartan cloak “pined” with a Celtic knot button to represent her smithcraft and art in general.  Although I did not make limbs in the usual sense, her hand peeks out from her cloak to magically hold her sacred flame, something I needle felted using dyed sheep wool (also very appropriate for this Goddess).

A Brighid doll made and photographed by Grey Catsidhe, 2014.

A Brighid doll made and photographed by Grey Catsidhe, 2014.

I’m rather happy with how she turned out.  As I worked on this Brighid doll, the Goddess sent her inspiration to me and I’ve already started to dream up another doll to represent another Goddess I’ve been working with.  In the meantime, I’m planning to ritually consecrate this doll in Brighid’s name to create a “home away from home” for her, thus facilitating communication.

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A blessed Winter Solstice to my readers! The sun is reborn and we rejoice in the lengthening days!

Hoof prints guide me. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2013

Yesterday was a hard day for us because of Potion’s passing.  But we persevered and, after a long day of work, delved into preparations for today.  There were gifts to finish, floors to clean, and evergreens to be collected.  Although an ice storm was on the way, and the ground was already starting to freeze, Potion’s death made me want to take a walk in the woods even more.  As I told my father, who offered to come with me, sometimes I like to go alone.  Getting away from other people and spending some silent time with the trees can be very meditative.  It also allowed me to get in touch with my spirit guide.  The snow was crusted over and hard, but I followed the deer tracks in and around the woods.  I made offerings to my spirit guide and the local Nature kin.  I collected the evergreens from the ground, considering them gifts from the deer who pull the branches down to feed.  I have no need to cut from the actual trees.

A basket full of green! Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2013

I added the greenery to my altar and over my hutch where my Yule goat and wooden sun hang out. In the future, when I have more time, energy, and Bee is old enough to help, I would love to gather enough to make big garlands to drape over the dining room window and along the stairway.

Following Three Crane Grove’s Twelve Days of Yule, yesterday was for remembering mothers. I put some special mementos and photos on my altar to pay homage to my ancestral mothers and the spirit of motherhood. I also took some me-time and had a warm, relaxing shower. Offerings were poured and words were said.

My altar grows ever more festive! Photo by Weretoad, 2013.

I was very excited to stay up and keep vigil for the sun, but between the emotional exhaustion, all the prep for today, and general infant care, I found myself increasingly exhausted. I went to bed but set an alarm and was able to greet the sun in my own way – singing “Here Comes the Sun” by George Harrison with Bee grinning ear to ear!  This was followed by some more napping, a breakfast of waffles, our gift exchange, watching “Love Actually,” and our Winter Solstice feast!  My wonderful husband, who is an amazing baker, made me a pecan pie as a gift.  I made a spinach and mushroom quiche.  Not pictured are the roasted potatoes I made or the salad my father put together!

Our Winter Solstice Feast. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2013.

Now we’re relaxing and hoping not to lose power from the big ice storm. It gives me a lot of extra time to finish crafting gifts for family. Speaking of that, if you’re looking for some last minute gift ideas or activities to do with little ones, take a peek at these great suggestions:

Pagan Ozark Mama teaches you how to make a “Yule Heart.”  If you are influenced by a Heathen hearth culture, check out her delightful wooden Sleipnir tutorial!

8 Magical crafts to gift or adorn your Solstice tree from The Magic Onions.  Here’s 8 more that use natural materials found in the wild!

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Have you ever heard of treasure baskets?  They are a simple, wonderful, and magical idea for play.  They are a large part of Montessori philosophy which embraces heuristic play.  Here’s a great introduction to the concept, including suggestions.

I was inspired to make a treasure basket all about Druidism.    Traditionally, treasure baskets are wide, rounded, and low for easy access, but I’m using a rectangular basket with a lid because it wasn’t being used for anything else.  This Druidism treasure basket is very basic and as baby-friendly as possible right now while still avoiding plastics.  Bee is only just starting to grasp and manipulate objects with her hands. She’s all about exploring with her mouth so things have to be safe*.  The basket will grow and change as she does.  Some of the items will likely move to a Waldorf concept – the nature table / play altar**!


Current Contents: 

  • A paper skull for the ancestors.
  • A fleece pink heart for the beloved dead (currently a favorite item).
  • An extra Druid Animal Oracle card I had laying around for Nature Spirits, divination, and water since it depicts a seal.
  • A wool ball I felted to symbolize Nature spirits and Brighid (sheep).  It could also be a cloud for sky.
  • A large seashell to represent the sea, Manannan, and the  Nature spirits.
  • A poof of yellow and orange mesh fabric to represent fire, sky, Brighid, and the Shining Ones in general.

In the Works:

  • A general Goddess and God doll to represent the divine (duotheistic, I know, but I don’t want to be too prescriptive with her).  Each will be made of a different texture to keep things interesting!
  • A wooden teething tree.  Her papa is responsible for this project!
  • More treasure baskets!  I plan to make/update one for each High Day!  A Winter Solstice basket is already in progress.


* She will always be under supervision when playing with her treasure baskets.  I feel nervous putting a shell in the mix, but it’s been cleaned and is too big for swallowing.  So far, she just likes to look at it.

** Stay tuned as I explore and build a play altar with Bee!

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On Saturday night, Northern Rivers Protogrove gathered to celebrate Samhain and honor the Ancestors. We decided to have the rite indoors as the rain and cold were quite intense. We are aiming to be more family-friendly and we wanted the little ones to be safe and comfortable.  I used to look down my nose at “fair weather Pagans,” but my tune is changing.  I’m all for communing with Nature in the rain and snow, and there’s definitely a time and place for that, but when you practice a tribal religion, the needs of the many must come first.  Although
I missed the stone circle, we set up a beautiful altar inside the Kripalu Yoga Center.

We called to An Morrigan as the gatekeeper. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2013.

We also set up a special shrine for the visiting Ancestors.  Guests brought photographs, skulls, and other mementos.  I happened to see an announcement that this Samhain marked ADF’s 30th year, so I grabbed the copy of Oak Leaves that eulogizes our late founder, Isaac Bonewits.  He’s definitely an ancestor of the heart for many an ADF grove and protogrove!

We made offerings to the Ancestors and made a special temporary shrine for them. Here you see just one of many mementos brought – a photo of ADF’s late founder, Isaac Bonewits. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2013.

My friend Tara lead the rite and she did a fantastic job.  She even made some wonderful favors for guests in the form of little skulls painted on stones she gathered from a lake.  This Samhain Northern Rivers Protogrove met another milestone in that we have been having our High Day rituals at the Kripalu Yoga and Wellness Center for an entire year!  It’s been a beautiful partnership and I’m so grateful for their hospitality.  Between the growth in ritual attendees and the outstanding participation and leadership of fellow members, I am so proud of us.  On a personal note, since I wasn’t leading the rite, I took the opportunity to write and memorize an invocation to the Ancestors.  I was told I did a wonderful job, and people were moved by my delivery.  It’s always good to hear!  My favorite part of every Samhain, however, is the spiritual and emotional release that comes with honoring our beloved dead and accepting the beauty and inevitably of death as well as the promise of life’s renewal.

Here’s to a new liturgical year full of new and wonderful developments with Northern Rivers Protogrove!

We paid special reverence to the new Ancestors, those who passed away this year. Using a tradition I learned from Muin Mound Grove, everyone announced the name of a new Ancestor while placing a clove into an apple. We invited them to “come to the light” so that they could join the other Ancestors and cross over to the Otherworld. As always, it was very moving. Photo, Grey Catsidhe, 2013.

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Local Harvest – Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2013

My family has grown and I feel pulled to add greater emphasis to our holiday observations.  I’ve always expressed my excitement for Samhain and Winter Solstice through decorating, but I want to explore that with the other High Days as well.  If my daughter is anything like I was as a youngster, it will add joy to her own life.  As our holidays emphasize nature and the agricultural cycle, the decor will also help to educate her about Druidism and the world she lives in.  Furthermore, taking the time to do this helps me to engage in my tradition.

The centerpiece of the Autumn Equinox is, both literally and conceptually, the cornucopia.  I placed it on our dining-room table to remind us of the blessings we’ve received.  I filled it with locally grown veggies – including two from my own garden!  Since taking the photo, I’ve added a tablecloth that I hemmed this afternoon.  It’s orange and adds a seasonal brightness to the home!

Seasonal Simplified Altar – Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2013

I also added some seasonal color to my main altar.  I used a garland of faux leaves and, despite being fake, they look nice!  And if my cats go after them, they won’t get sick or make a huge mess.

In addition to my decorating, I’ve been listening to my Autumnal playlist.  It includes tracks such as “Mabon” and “Equinox” by Omnia, “Golden Apples” by Faun, and “Leaves that are Green” by Simon and Garfunkel.  It’s a decidedly mellow playlist, which seems to fit this time of year.  It’s a contemplative time as we approach the season of death and sleep.  It’s a time to count one’s blessings and accept the changes underway.  The magic and excitement that balance with Samhain’s sense of saddness hasn’t fully been realized yet.  The will come as the harvest winds down and the veil thins…

Next on the list – planning my family meal!  Stay tuned.

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Simplified Altar


I decided to simplify my altar recently. My father bumped into it, causing a few things to fall. Nothing broke and he put everything back, but it got me thinking just how easy it would be for Bee to do the same, possibly hurting herself. I also wanted to pack an item away that had been given to me by someone who has since caused a loved one pain. It no longer felt right on my altar. At least not for now.

I’m not used to such a simplified altar, but it is sure to change with the seasons.  I am hoping to decorate a little more for the Autumn Equinox this weekend. For now… there’s a single acorn there to commemorate the season!

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The altar I set up in my new home. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2013.

At my baby shower, one piece of advice that was repeated again and again was, “rest when the baby is resting.”  It’s easier said than done in part because I’ve always been a very productive, project-oriented person.  I’ve had to embrace raising my baby as the most important project in my life at this time, and I certainly try to rest when I can.  Often this means lounging on the couch to catch up on reading or watching things with my husband.

Lately, that also means fitting in rituals or mini devotionals when baby is sleeping.

A couple weeks ago, after her umbilical chord fell off, I did a rite in which I formally introduced Baby Bee to my home altar*.  She was awake at the time, but winding down.  I sprinkled sacred water on her forehead and blessed her in the name of land, sea, and sky.  She seemed to enjoy my soft chanting, prayers, and the jingle of my bell wand.

It was a good time of day for ritual.  My husband was at work and she clearly enjoys napping then.  I decided to set aside a few minutes in the early afternoons for devotionals.  My devotionals are always fairly short.  What would make them long would be more emphasis on meditation.  I never utilize ADF’s liturgy unless I’m doing a public ADF rite or a more formal working at home (which tend to take on a more serious tone – requests for something or more “heavy” works of magic).  A lot of what I do at home on a day-to-day basis is pretty relaxed anyway.

The point is, I used to do my devotionals in the evening.  That’s become difficult now that I’m on baby’s schedule.  Nighttimes are full of me trying to get as much sleep as possible between baby’s frequent evening feedings and her desire for cuddles.  Until she gets a little older and ready for more order, I’m on baby’s schedule.  There’s no way around that.  And even when I introduce a new schedule into her life, it will be for her benefit and my wants will have to be scheduled around that.  Thankfully, baby wearing seems to help so I’m sure I’ll do more of that as she grows ever more wakeful during the daylight.  We’ll see what happens to my devotionals when work starts up again but, for now, I think I’ve found a way to once more make them a part of my daily life!

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What is a crane bag?

The answer: not hard.

The lovely Aoife was turned into a crane and lived about the seas of Manannan Mac Lir for many hard years.  When she died, the great Sea Lord took her skin and made a magical bag that could hold his most beloved treasures.  It’s said to be bottomless.

Many Druids and Celtic Reconstructionists, especially those who are called by Manannan and the symbolism of the crane, make crane bags to wear on their person.  An individual may place his or her most sacred charms and amulets inside; objects of personal power and significance.

Although my Druidic studies have slowed lately, I’ve noted a growing connection to Manannan.  The more I work with trance and magic, the more I study, he seems to nod approvingly at me.  And of course, Brighid remains an incredibly significant part of my life.  For the last few months, I’ve felt compelled by my relationships with these deities to create a devotional object to have at my labor.  Had I the ability to attempt a home birth, rest assured I would have created an altar to motherhood, my labor, Brighid, the baby, and our spirit guides.  (For some lovely examples, look here and here!)  Although some people have made some beautiful travel-friendly birth altars, making a crane bag – something relevant to my path and my Gods that I could create with a favorite hobby – seemed like the right thing for me to do.  Everything will be secure inside the bag.  I can take one item out to hold, rub, and focus on, or I can hold the entire bag.  It’s made of very soft pink velvet and feels very comforting.  Much of my reading has suggested that women hoping for a natural birth should have some sort of focal point to assist in managing pain.  A crane bag holding many special objects to focus on is just my style!  Not only that –  it’s very discreet.

My finished motherhood crane bag. I reused fabric from an old, velvet blazer and some swirling pink for the lining (not photographed).  The pink is supposed to represent my uterus.  The drawstring method seemed best since the uterus can stretch and contract. On the front, I attached three antique buttons I purchased years ago. I knew I was saving them for something special! They fit the bag perfectly. Not only do they work with the color scheme, but symbolically an open flower is supposed to magically encourage the cervix to open.  Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2013.

Detail of the button I used as the clasp when the bag is tightened. A Celtic knot seemed most appropriate as it connects me to my hearth culture and gives me strength.  Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2013.

Although my crane bag is not bottomless, I’ve been able to fit quite a bit in there! I included the Goddess stone from my friend RavynStar, a yonic dandelion charm (the yoni is demurely facing away from the camera), the mother blessing beads from everyone at my baby shower, a sterling silver ring (now broken but still precious to me) that belonged to my mother when she was younger, a tooth from a doe, a bracelet from my late aunt, an collage of Brighid made by a fellow ADF Druid artisan, and my baby’s first photo! Everything is very significant to me symbolically. They are to remind me of the strong women in my life, my Goddess, the Earth Mother, the creative powers within me, my own strength, my spirit guide, and the ultimate goal – a healthy, happy baby. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2013.

I also included these lovely talismans made by fellow flame keeper and Druid, Grey Wren. She completely surprised me with these beauties! The bloodstone with coral is to give me strength during and after labor. The rose quartz is to help with bonding, peace, and love. A friend taught her to associate it with motherhood. The white chalcedony with the pearl is supposed to help with lactation and sleep.  It will also be very appropriate for baby since she is supposed to be born in the sign of Cancer – a water sign! I am thinking about attaching the last to the baby’s mobile since sleep and nutrition are going to be hugely important to her, and we’ll need all the help we can get!  It could also go with some water symbolism. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2013.


A birth and motherhood crane bag is very easy to make.  All you need are some special objects that bring you comfort and courage, and a bag to put them in!  As always, I encourage you to make your own bag as you’ll put your own energy into it.  Red or pink are particularly appropriate symbolically, but choose what fits your own needs.

Have you made a birth altar or crane bag?  I would love to see it!

For More Information on crane bags:

Make Your Own Crane Bag and Discover the Purpose of the Incarnation You are Currently Living” by Elen Sentier.  A good introduction.

The Crane Bag” by Dr. John Gilbert – How one Druidic tradition utilizes this tool.

The Crane Bag” – a poem about its lore and origins from Tairis Tales.  Definitely read this for an understanding of its significance within Celtic lore.

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Pregnancy brings many practical safety concerns.  Those nice open outlets that were always so convenient need capping.  Cabinets with easily accessible cleaning supplies suddenly seem like death traps at worse or, at least, mess factories.  Coffee table corners become menacing obstacles.  Most expecting parents who choose to have a registry will add various safety doodads to the list.  Weretoad and I have been talking here and there about childproofing our abode, and that started me thinking about my altar space.

I’ve enjoyed several years of relative carefree altar maintenance.  Of course – I don’t leave candles unattended.  Sure – I can’t leave tempting objects like feathers on the altar or the cats will destroy it all.  I’m used to the occasional tipped over carving or the cats sipping from my well.  Those can be annoying but I’ve learned to live with them.  Nothing dangerous or even all that offensive in my eyes.

Enter a child.  If that child is anything like me, he or she will be extremely curious and creative.  He or she will want to emulate mommy and light candles*.  This can (hopefully) be remedied by keeping matches out of reach and teaching the little one to respect the power of fire.  I don’t use a lot of blades in my spiritual work, but when I do they are put away on shelves.  I think I’ll move them to higher shelves…  I am considering altar cloths too.  They are easy to grab and pull.  I can’t imagine a pile of harps, bowls, and sacred images feels good on top of a tiny body… That could be easily addressed by simply not using an altar cloth most of the time.  Of course I’ll miss the beauty of them, but it’s temporary until the little one knows better.

My altar is likely to move again.  This is because I’m likely to move again.  We’re hoping to get into a larger apartment.  We feel we need more room for the baby and for a family member who is going to move in to help us with childcare.  This means my altars will probably be condensed.  I’m thinking that I will combine my seasonal and main altars.  Perhaps it will be in one of the main rooms again.  Nothing is set in stone yet, but it seems that simply closing a door will not solve any problems.  The child will have to learn how to exist with an altar, and I, as an altar-using Pagan, with a child.  It will require learning and flexibility on both ends.

Bags and bags of herbs meant for offerings, incense, and other spell work. Ignore the mess of birdseed on the floor… Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2013.

Actually, my greatest concern has been my herb collection.  For the longest time, it was housed in two separate containers – a storage drawer and a basket below my altar.  Very low to the ground, not locked, and very accessible to curious little hands.  And, once more, if baby wants to emulate mommy, either by making offerings when I’m not looking or trying to make tea…  There are several herbs there that aren’t for baby.  Like mistletoe, for one.

So tonight I started to do a childproofing and spring cleaning.  My goal was to combine all of my non-tea herbs into one container (tea is elsewhere in the home – up in a high kitchen cupboard) and move it to the top of a shelf for safer storage.

Ta da! Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2013.

I decided to use the little treasure chest I’ve had since my wedding.  I had been using it to store and display art plushies at craft fairs, but I recently decided to suspend business to better focus on everything else going on.  The chest was the perfect size!

Aesthetic? Probably not. Safe, I hope… Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2013.

Now the chest of herbs is high on a shelf!  It should be safe from curious little hands for the first few years, until I can really make sure the child understands to respect the power of plants.

For my readers who have children, how have you had to adjust your practices for your children?  Is there anything I haven’t thought of?

* I went through a phase where I insisted I was a witch.  I was 7 or 8, pulled out all my favorite Halloween decor and costume accessories, covered my dresser with what seemed to be witchy objects, and generally made my father uncomfortable.  Now imagine a similar child but with an actual Pagan parent who has real magical tools.  Then again, the Gods could find it amusing to inspire my child to play Catholic priest or nun…  That would be ironic…

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