Tag Archives: altar

Winter Solstice 2015

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Today I celebrated Yule (I prefer to celebrate on the date of the actual Solstice, rather than on the 21st). I began by climbing the local Windmill Hill to “see” the Solstice Sun rise. It being a very cloudy day, I couldn’t actually see the Sun (typical!), but I enjoyed being there as the light grew brighter. I made some offerings of sherry to some of the trees on the hill, including a very large Oak tree. There were a couple of dog walkers around, and I think they were somewhat bemused to see this strange girl out on the hill spilling a chalice of sherry around the tree roots!

When I came home, I placed offerings of a satsuma, chestnut and mochi (in addition to the usual offerings of water, sake, rice and salt) at my Inari altar and recited the Hifumi and Inari Norito. As you can see from the photo above, I’ve recently started using the old Hindu shrine I picked up at an antiques fair as a makeshift Kamidana, until my finances mean I can get a genuine Shinto one. I think it works pretty well for the time being.

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I also made offerings at my Pagan shrine. The posters on the wall behind are prints from Brian Froud’s Good Faeries, Bad Faeries, which is an excellent book that I highly recommend. Unfortunately, I discovered that the cover of my copy and some of the inner pages had become utterly ruined by damp and had gone really mouldy, but not wanting to throw away the whole book, I cut out some of the pictures that were still OK. I plan to change them on my altar according to the season; I think the ones above look quite wintry.

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I also added some of the salt dough Green Men that I’d made and hadn’t given away yet to the altar. I put one Holly King mask on the God side of the altar, an Ivy Queen mask on the Goddess side, and another Holly King hanging in the centre.

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Finally, in the evening I made some “rune cookies,” just like I did last year (but with additional clove and ginger this year). Although the first batch turned out well, I unfortunately burned the second batch! Today’s been a bit of an unlucky day for cooking actually – the oven’s been playing up a bit as well. Perhaps I need to pay more attention to the Goddess of the Hearth and let her know that I appreciate her work for us! I did place an offering of the best (non-burnt) biscuits on both the Inari shrine and Pagan shrine – I hope the Powers That Be like them.

Have a Magical Yule everyone!

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Yule Altar 2015

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I’ve added a few things to my altar to Yule-ify it a little now. There’s some ivy above it, a little wooden Christmas tree, a Yule-themed pentacle, and finally, a Nativity set.

I imagine a lot of people will think it’s strange that I have such a Christian symbol of a nativity set on my altar this year, so I thought I’d write a little about it.

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This nativity set was given to me by my parents this year – they actually have loads of nativity sets and they wanted me to take one of them. On top of this obvious sentimental value, I’ve always loved this nativity set; it’s carved out of stone and is based on Viking figures. The figurines are so beautiful, and remind me a little of Japanese dousojin figures as well. The set really reminds me that at one time, ordinary people did practise Christianity alongside the old ways, without any conflict.

The figures of Mary and Joseph are so simple and beautiful that I plan to use them after Christmas as God and Goddess figurines, replacing my smaller ones that are repainted Hina Matsuri dolls (I’ll probably start using these as Hina dolls again). I’ll only put out the ox, ass and Baby Jesus figures out at Christmas time. I personally see nothing wrong with appropriating figures from one religion (especially figures that look so generic anyway) to use for sacred purposes in another; people throughout history have always done this, such as the figures of Kannon that Japanese Christians would venerate as Mary, or the Celtic Goddess Brigid becoming St Brigid in Christianity. It reminds us that all religions are connected.

 

 

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Samhain 2015

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My Samhain offerings at the local cemetery

I tend to view all the Pagan Sabbats as a “season,” with the official date of the Sabbat acting as the epicentre of the season with ripples into the days before and after. That’s one reason why I decided to hold my solo Samhain ritual on the Full Moon prior to Samhain, and why I didn’t actually hold any sort of ritual on October 31st itself.

WP_20151031_14_14_24_ProHowever, I did make some Samhain Soul Cakes yesterday, using my favourite recipe with added matcha (Japanese green tea powder). Matcha is interesting to work with – when used as an ingredient combined with other things, it only really looks green in the presence of moisture, so the dough didn’t look green until I added milk, upon which it turned a very vivid shade of green. Unfortunately, when the moisture evaporated on baking the cookies, they reverted back to mostly brown with only a slight greenish tint. I can see that if I bake with matcha again and want to retain that green colour, I’m going to have to use a lot more. But this in itself is tricky because matcha is a bit like saffron – it’s expensive and can have a strong flavour, so you don’t want to use too much, ideally. It went really well with the cinnamon and nutmeg I also added to the mixture (hint: don’t be afraid to use quite a lot of cinnamon!)

I used a wonderful set of “Day of the Dead” skull cookie cutters. These were a gift from my sister-in-law, and it was great to have such a perfect opportunity to use them.

My husband and I took the cookies to my parent’s house, where we were taking part what’s close to a “religious observance” for my Kiwi husband and Welsh mum – the Rugby World Cup final! (To my husband’s delight, the All Blacks were victorious). But keeping with the Halloween theme, my Dad had bought the biggest pumpkin I’d ever seen, carved it and hollowed it out, and used the innards to make delicious pumpkin soup and toasted pumpkin seeds. So even though I didn’t hold a particular ritual on Samhain Eve, it was still meaningful for me to spend it with my family and enjoying some very Halloweeny food!

Traditionally Samhain continues into November 1st, and so today my husband and I went walking in the local cemetery, where I placed my offerings originally given at my altar on the previous Full Moon for the deities of death, departed friends and ancestors. It was an absolutely perfect day to do so – overnight a mist had descended over the town, and the cemetery looked beautiful and very otherworldly.

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I found a moss-covered tree stump that acted as a perfect natural altar, and placed my offerings of a miniature pumpkin, garlic, soul cake and dog treats there, as well as sprinkling some incense. I also offered a fallen branch of rowan. My offering was not only to my own ancestors and loved ones, but to all those whose spirits rest in the cemetery. I hope they liked my gift.

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On our way back, I noticed something I had never noticed before, even though I have been in this cemetery many times –  a grave with a pentagram on it!

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The pentagram is a sacred symbol in Christianity as well, so it’s not particularly shocking to see one on a 19th century gravestone, but nevertheless it seems to be quite uncommon. I wonder why Sarah’s relatives had chosen this symbol for her grave as opposed to a more traditional funerary symbol? Were there Freemasons in her family? Or did they simply like the design? In any case, I am really surprised I’d never spotted this before and I was so glad to see this reminder of the connection between Christianity and Paganism in our cemetery. Perhaps the spirits within the mist, still dwelling in this world while the veil to the Otherworld is so thin, had given me the extra clarity to see it today!

I wish everyone a very Blessed Samhain!

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My New Pagan Altar

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We’ve been in our new house for a couple of months now, and my new Pagan altar is finally starting to take shape.

We’re lucky enough to have an amazing cellar in the new house, which is being used as a wine cellar, entertainment room and my “altar room.” It’s great that I now have a whole room dedicated to Pagan worship! I also like the fact that it’s rather hidden, below ground level – it gives it a real feeling of mysticism, as well as having the practical advantage that it’s one of the most private rooms in the house, being very much blocked off from the other rooms.

The big Green Man scarf forming the backdrop of the altar is the one I bought from the local shop Impact. It’s actually hiding a really horrible Totteham Hotspur badge that the previous owners of the house had painted there beforehand!  (I will have to get round to painting over it eventually). It also has some of my most precious altar tools, including my athame, chalice and pentagram, as well as my tiny Goddess/God figurines that are so small they’re hard to see (I’ll have to get some larger ones some time). And for Samhain, I’ve added a skull, pumpkin, Grim Reaper and a male and female skeleton pair that represent the Death aspects of the Goddess and God.

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Below the main altar shelf is an alcove in which I keep some of my other tools, my Book of Shadows and my Pagan-related literature.

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Finally, there’s one more little alcove in the cellar, in which I have set up a tiny “Death” shrine, in honour of the spirits of Death. As a Goth, I feel very drawn to death deities and so it feels proper that I give them their due respect. This shrine was partly inspired by some of the skull shrines I saw in Naples on my holiday last year. The box actually contains graveyard dirt and a “vampire’s tooth” that my Dad bought from Romania! Whether it’s a real vampire tooth of not is of course debatable, but it is an incredibly interesting little artefact. I plan on leaving some offerings here at Samhain.

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My New Inari Altar

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Followers of my blog may know that I have recently moved house, and as such the old Inari altar that I maintained outside is no more. I’m still in the process of making lots of decisions about my home altars – both my Pagan and Shinto ones – but in the meantime, I have set up this temporary shrine to Inari Okami in our smaller spare room.

The biggest difference for me is that this new altar is indoors. I placed the one at my old house outdoors specifically in honour of the local foxes who often came into our garden. Our new house doesn’t seem to have a community of foxes nearby (I think I’ve seen just one in the neighbourhood so far, and not in our garden), and more to the point, there doesn’t seem to be anywhere “safe” in our new garden for the shrine to go where it would be protected from the elements and the many cats that jump over the walls into the garden.

So I’ve put the temporary altar in the spare room, which I plan on turning into a “Japanese” style room, with a partially tatami floor and other Japanese elements. Unfortunately, there’s nowhere to put it above eye-level (kamidana should always be placed above eye-level), so when I make prayers to Inari-sama, I prostrate myself on the floor.

There are of course advantages to having an indoor altar – I don’t have to worry about cold or rain, it’s easier (and cleaner) to give offerings, and indeed most Japanese people keep their kamidana indoors. But I do miss the feeling of praying to Inari-sama outside; the wind against my skin, the sound of birdsong, the scent of plantlife. I felt I could connect more deeply to Inari-sama when I prayed to her outside. However, the practicalities of an indoor altar are overwhelming for now.

I do eventually want to get a proper kamidana set, complete with an o-fuda (the centre of my altar currently has the o-mamori that my colleague brought back from Fushimi Inari Taisha, which is the best substitute I have), and put it up on a shelf above eye-level. But I feel bad about spending money on a kamidana which only I will use (my husband isn’t a Shintoist), when we still need to buy lots of things for the house for both myself and my husband to use. If I happen to come into a bit of extra money, perhaps that’s how I should use it!

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Litha Ritual 2015 with Medway Pagans

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One of our members brought in a Litha-themed pentagram to decorate our meeting space

Last night was Medway Pagans’ Litha Moot. I had to walk there for the first time (about 2 miles and all uphill), which was actually quite nice because I was in a bit of a bad mood before the Moot, and the long walk helped me to think things through and calm down. And as the weather’s so nice and the evenings are so long (thank you Sun King!), it was a pretty pleasant walk. I might do it again just for the fun of it!

After the usual socialising, the ritual started. We welcomed the summer Sun as a candle was anointed, representing the sun’s light. The “cakes and ale” included ginger biscuits, one of which I had – it was a lot spicer than I expected and its heat seemed quite symbolic of the summer Sun’s energy!

After the ritual, some of us went out to make offerings to the oak trees which surround the club where we hold our moots. It was a beautiful evening, very warm and peaceful and just perfect for celebrating Litha.

Apparently an atmospheric phenomenon meant that the Aurora Borealis was supposed to be visible yesterday evening, but I don’t think any of us spotted it…but as we were leaving, I did spot a fox cross the road outside the club, which is always a very good omen for me!

Next Moot, Lammas, I will be holding the ritual for the very first time. It’s a real honour but I’m pretty nervous! Wish me luck…

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The very green Litha altar

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Temporary re-location of the Inari Altar

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In the run-up to my husband and I moving house, I have relocated the fox statues, as well as the offering dishes, from my outside Inari shrine to my indoor altar, after cleaning them up a little. There is an o-mamori from Fushimi Inari Taisha on my indoor altar (it’s currently hidden behind the sun plaque), so it still seems fitting.

As you can see, I’ve also packed up a lot of the items that were once on my indoor altar so it’s looking pretty bare!

I’ve had the Inari altar outside as a tribute to the local foxes for over a year now, so this really does feel a little sad – the end of an era. I have no idea whether our new house has any foxes living nearby, so I do not know as of yet whether I will have a shrine to Inari Okami outside or inside. One’s things for certain though – foxes or no, I will continue to maintain an altar of sorts to Inari Okami and continue venerating her.

Although I will discontinue giving fresh food and sake offerings for now, I will continue my daily practise of burning incense and making a brief prayer at this altar. I hope Inari Okami does not mind this temporary change in routine until my husband and I are settled in our new home.

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June Altar 2015

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With May nearly over and summer approaching, I decided to re-decorate my altar for Litha. I’ve moved the sun plaque to the centre, symbolising the height of summer, and added artificial roses, a summer bloom. I’ve also added two figures that I feel represent the Sage – Fukurokuju and a wizard-like figure reading a book – as June is also the month for celebrating Father’s Day. Finally, there’s two traditional Japanese ornaments depicting goldfish and a melon slice, both of which are summer symbols in Japan.

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Vintage market finds for my altar

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On  Sunday my husband and I spent a lovely time poking around the markets in Greenwich. I made two purchases that I thought would make good additions to my altar:

– A little ceramic mask of Otafuku, the Japanese legendary figure who may be related to Ame-no-Uzume-no-Mikoto, Goddess of Mirth. I made myself an Otafuku mask for Setsubun/Imbolc out of salt dough last year, but this one is so much nicer and it’s pretty rare to find Shinto items in UK markets so I had to buy it! And at £2.00 it was a bargain. She’ll be my altar centrepiece come next Setsubun-Imbolc.

– An old wooden miniature shrine. It looks like it might be Indian or one of the neighbouring countries but I’m not entirely sure. Hindu possibly? I managed to get it down to a reasonable price and there’s something about it that really drew me. It’s aged rather a lot (I think it might have been kept outside) and there’s some traces of blue paintwork on it. It’s made of a lightweight wood (like balsa wood) and nailed together. There’s a little tray at the front which looks like it’s for offerings, which is handy. I’m not entirely sure how I’ll use it yet, as I already have a large mirror as my altar centrepiece where my tiny God and Goddess figurines stand; putting the shrine there as well makes the whole altar looked a little cluttered. I’m sure I will find a use for it though. And I don’t really want to replace the mirror outright because mirrors are very important in Shintoism.

If anyone has any ideas about what culture this shrine originally comes from, and how it should be used, do let me know!

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Tokonoma – Japan’s “secular altars”

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“Kannonin Tottori16s4470” by 663highland – 663highland. Licensed under CC BY 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Kannonin_Tottori16s4470.jpg#/media/File:Kannonin_Tottori16s4470.jpg

There are generally considered to be two main types of household altar in Japan. One is the kamidana, a Shinto altar that enables communion with kami. The other is the butsudan, a Buddhist altar that is used to honour the Buddha as well as deceased relatives. Out of the two, the butsudan would seem to be the most common in Japanese homes.

There is a third type of feature that can be found in Japanese homes, tea houses, traditional inns and restaurants that could also be considered a kind of altar. [Read more]

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