My personal blog as a 'grown-up' Goth and Romantic living in the Highlands of Scotland. I write about the places I go, the things I see and my thoughts on life as a Goth and the subculture, and things in the broader realm of the Gothic and darkly Romantic. Sometimes I write about music I like and sometimes I review things. This blog often includes architectural photography, graveyards and other images from the darker side of life.

Goth is not just about imitating each other, it is a creative movement and subculture that grew out of post-punk and is based on seeing beauty in the dark places of the world, the expression of that in Goth rock. It looks back to the various ways throughout history in which people have confronted and explored the macabre, the dark and the taboo, and as such I'm going to post about more than the just the standards of the subculture (Siouxsie, Sisters of Mercy, Bauhaus, et al) and look at things by people who might not consider themselves anything to do with the subculture, but have eyes for the dark places. The Gothic should not be limited by what is already within it; inspiration comes from all places, the key is to look with open eyes, listen carefully and think with an open mind..

Wednesday, 1 May 2019

Beltane: Our Home Altar

I am posting this very late; the scheduled date will be May 1st, but the actual date I'm writing this is Sept 18th. The delay is throughout May and into June I had final exams and final projects, which really did not do my mental health any good, and I had to take some time away from things to recover. I have now finished my architectural technology degree! However it does mean I was really rather busy and didn't get this blog post about my altar up on time. My graduation ceremony will be in October. I am still studying, however, as I'm doing a second undergraduate degree - History & Archaeology joint honours degree (with some electives in things like Cultural Studies... more in that in a different blog post). I will also be posting up stuff about Summer Solstice, Lughnasadh, and Mabon.

The household altar dressed for Beltane
This is the household altar again, and as there are already shrines and statues to specific deities and spirits elsewhere, this altar is used for working, and is seasonally decorated. The arrangement for this design is a very Wiccan interpretation of Beltane, and I'm not entirely comfortable with that. Wicca was my entry to the realm of Neo-Paganism, and in recent years I have become more and more interested in traditional practices and Celtic (a broad umbrella term that I don't like too much as a historian, but I know communicates the concept well enough) practices. That's not to say I dislike this altar set-up, but that it embodies a few things that don't necessarily reflect what I want out of my spirituality.

The most Wiccan thing about it is the red and green colour scheme. In Wicca, Beltane is associated with the colour green, especially vibrant greens, for the fresh green foliage coming into the fullness of summer, and red for fire, but also for passion, lust and sexuality. Beltane is seen as a fertility festival, and the May Pole seen as a phallic symbol. There's a really interesting ::article:: from Cailleach's Herbarium why yellow flowers and yellow birds, and possibly the colour yellow in general is a more traditional colour-scheme than the red of Wicca.

A lot of Wiccan practices surrounding notions of things like pan-European Paganism, or fertility rituals as the basis of the Wheel of the Year is based off Romanticist interpretations of folklore from the 18th and 19thC, rather than historical practices, and for a while I wanted something more 'authentic', by which I meant older and historically accurate, but the pendulum of my opinion swings, and I think that perhaps embracing these later interpretations, but understanding them as what they are - slightly fantastical re-imaginings of an earlier past by people not in possession of all the facts, and with a yearning for some mystical former golden age (that never was in actuality) is valid in its own way - Beltane may never have been some phallic festival of sex in actuality, but in a world where sex is often either demonised as sinful lust, or commercialised in objectifying hyper-sexuality, having a celebration of sexuality can be a very positive thing. These re-imaginings often sprang from a need for something that was missing in culture at the time, sometimes things that are still missing from culture now, and I don't see a problem with adapting practices to face changing needs, as long as we are honest and open about those changes, and don't try to pass off something merely old (even Gerald Gardener's work has been around for well over half a century now, and a lot of what he did was built off earlier 20thC, 19thC and even 18thC ideas) as something ancient.

[Aside: a celebration of sexuality is a good thing, however some people's idea that they're somehow entitled to sex on Beltane and you're not a good Pagan unless you're participating in some orgy to which they are invited needs challenged; you'd think this would be a rare phenomenon, but I've come across this attitude more often than I would like! Usually from older Pagans who think this is still the '60s and '70s free love scene.] 

I'm still not really Wiccan any more, as I've moved away from the duotheism of Wicca and a lot of its liturgy, and I'm more of a pantheist/animist exploring notions of polytheism now, and while I like a lot of Wiccan ritual structure, I've been incorporating other elements into my practice for quite a while now. One of the great things about Paganism is that as an umbrella for many faiths, it tends to allow for a lot of personal spiritual exploration - the notion that we all have our own individual paths is quite prevalent, so there's not really a sense of orthodoxy and heresy as with some other faiths. 

Flowers from my garden
One of the things I love to do with my altar is to decorate it with flowers from the garden that are seasonal - not so much in autumn and winter when it's not the time of year for many flowers, but certainly for spring and summer. All of the flowers were picked from my garden, with the cherry blossoms wreathing this little posey vase from the cherry trees outside my house. Early summer is when my garden is most colourful, and as this summer I planted a lot of bulbs, it is likely that next spring I will have even more flowers to dress my altar for Vernal Equinox and Beltane. I live in the Scottish Highlands, so some of the spring flowers bloom a little later here than they did when I lived in England because of how much further North we are and the colder winter, shorter days, etc. Pansies bloom from spring to late summer here, however. 

Ornate chalice
This is the last time I used this particular chalice. It is glass with some sort of red lacquer, and I bought it in Homebase in their January sale a few years back, for a very reduced price. Unfortunately, the red has started to flake, so I am concerned it is no longer food-safe, and I will be retiring it. It has been very pretty sitting on my altar with its ornate red moulding, but its time has passed, and it will go into the glass recycling.

In Wicca, the chalice is used for the Symbolic Great Rite, representing the reproductive/creative union of masculine and feminine energy, which for a lot of Wiccans will be an important aspect of Beltane, however this is not what I use mine for. Mine represents the element of water, and is also used for drinking a toast to the departing spring, and to the incoming summer. My toast is non-alcoholic as I cannot drink alcohol with my medication so am tee-total now. 

Rock-salt in a soapstone dish and tiny cauldron
This soapstone (I think; it's definitely carved stone, anyway) pentacle dish is full of rock-salt, both which are used to represent the element of Earth, which to me is the literal, mineral ground rather than nature, plants and leafy things (I see all living things as a combination of the elements). I use salt for consecration and representation of both life and death - without salt we would die due to the lack of transmission through nerves, and with too much salt we, and a lot of other things, die.

The small cauldron behind is the terracotta container from a tiny candle the equivalent of a tealight in size that I bought in a Fair Trade import shop in Wales and lit for the full moon during spring last year. It is made by ::Dalit Candles:: who are a social enterprise that employ people from the Dalit ('untouchables') in India to make the candles and their holders, and who help fund schools and hospitals in districts with severe poverty. The terracotta cauldron is a perfect size for inclusion in my travel altar, where it is also a symbol of water, and of fecundity. It was on the household altar at Beltane because the altar was otherwise crammed with candles, cherry blossoms, and other things, and it was small enough to cram in between everything else.

Candles on the altar
This altar had a lot more candles than any previous altar from this year. This is because after I had consecrated their use on the altar, I extinguished them and then arranged them, and some more candles in candelabras too large to put on the altar, into two groups on our living room floor (cats safely shut out the room!) and used it as a way to have the two Beltane fires for blessing and purification indoors, without setting our house on fire and without setting off all the smoke alarms. Usually I only use beeswax and soy candles, but I was bought some red dinner candles - the three at the back - made from paraffin wax (unfortunately a petrochemical) but which as they are already made and purchased and given to me for the purpose of Beltane, I would use anyway. The two really tall candles are vintage candles decades old made of stearin, which is an animal by-product (definitely not vegan-friendly), and which are older than I am. They are looked after very carefully and only burnt on special occassions. All the tea-lights are beeswax, and the votive candles in the pentagram candelabra are soy. The red rolled candles in the curving metal candelabra are beeswax. I am trying to reduce my use of petrochemical-based materials, especially single-use plastics and candles which are effectively single-use plastics I set on fire. Due to the deforestation for soy plantations and the methane generated by livestock, currently beeswax seems like the most sustainable alternative.

Also on my altar are some items not individually photographed; the rectangular Celtic knotwork lantern belongs to my partner Raven. I bought it for him as a Winter Solstice gift last December. I have two incense burners. One of the burners is a censer held up by a Goddess figure, made of metal and bought by Raven as a souvenir from one of his trips to Glasgow, from the independent occult retailer ::Enigma 23::. The other burner is a wooden pentacle, which is the one I use most frequently on the altar to burn incense as offerings. Neither wand not athame are present on the altar due to space; they were temporarily put on the shelf under the altar for this ritual.  

Witching corner; the altar in context
The altar is on wheels, but when not brought out into the middle of the living room for group rites, it remains in this corner, where I have a Green Man figure from ::The Maker's Mark:: in Castell Newydd Emlyn/Newcastle Emlyn in Cymru/Wales. I make sure to visit every time I go through the town, especially as it is near a very picturesque castle. I have unfortunately forgotten the sculptor's name, but the plaque is based off an old London church's Green Man. The Green Woman plaque is also hand-made, and was a gift from a friend in Peterborough, many years ago. It is signed, with a mark rather than a full name but I don't know whose mark it is. The pentacle shelf above is a custom piece from CAS Design in Berlin, and has been reviewed in the past on this blog. I think it is an excellent piece of furniture, and thoroughly recommend them.

Tuesday, 19 March 2019

Vernal Equinox 2018

As I've mentioned before on this blog, I've decided that in response to the popularity of Witchcraft in the Goth community in recent years that I would chronicle what I do as a 'Celtic' Witch (for lack of a better term... I'm an ex-Wiccan, gradually re-embracing the term 'witch'. I'm also interested in various magical and folk traditions from the British Isles and Brittany, at many different points in history from prehistory to Druids to medieval, renaissance, 18thC, Victorian to present) in order to show people who might be new or just curious what it is some of us do. I'm only an example for me, but I share a lot of practices with many Neo-Pagans. As it is a few days in advance of the Equinox, I'm writing about that spoke on the Wheel of the Year.

Before I go into what I'm going to be doing for the Equinox this year, I want to explore what I did last year. For the last Equinox I attended my first ever Pagan event hosted by Highland Fire Gatherings. I have helped run group events with the Highland Open Circle, and celebrated the Sabbats with them, but this was the first time I'd been to an event hosted by this different group. The Fire Gatherings are not formal ceremonies like the Open Circle run, they are - as the title states - gatherings with fire. 

I have organised many of the rituals I've participated in with the Open Circle are ones I've been leading and/or organising, and that is a lot of responsibility, and despite being Neo-Pagan for close on two decades now, I don't feel like a Priestess, I don't feel like I have got to the spiritual stage for that. I always struggle to write rituals that cater to our eclectic group, to pick the right words that don't sound contrived or pretentiously theatrical, to organise the ritual to work practically... I have the ability to speak in public and to adapt to alterations in situation, but I feel more like the 'mistress of ceremonies' than an actual Priestess. I get so caught up in trying to make a functional ritual on a practical level that I struggle to do the key, core element of any Neo-Pagan ritual; to engage in spiritual practice. Being part of someone else's gathering or ritual is something I much prefer. I'm happy to work as a solitary witch/Neo-Pagan, and I'm happy to be part of a group energy, but I don't want to be the group leader.

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Corn-dolly, eggs, and candles on the altar.
Photograph courtesy of Highland Fire Gatherings and used with permission.

The gathering was outdoors, in a deciduous woodland grove near to a pine-woodland, on a hillside overlooking the Moray Firth.  Spring can be late and slow to emerge here in the Highlands, due to the northerly climate, so instead of somewhere green with new growth, the trees looked quite bare, and the autumn leaves still lingered over the grass. One of the benefits of celebrating outdoors is that you end up appreciating the seasonal changes at their pace, not one of the artificial calendar of the Wheel of the Year, which is only approximate because the weather fluctuates yearly, weekly... multiple times a day because this is Scotland and the weather is best described as 'changeable' and 'damp'! In Southern England it was likely a time of flowers and greenery, and that is probably what Gerald Gardner saw when he celebrated with his New Forest Coven in the early 20thC, but firstly I'm a long way North of that, and secondly climate change is noticeably affecting seasonal patterns. It ends up that the Sabbats are day to take the time to see how the wheel is turning, rather than expecting it to have turned exactly to a specific point on a specific date. The seasons should turn the wheel, not the wheel turn the seasons.

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Spiderweb woven from yarn and string-lights, made by one of the organisers.
Photograph courtesy of Highland Fire Gatherings, used with their permission.

Those attending brought their own materials to make shelter, and their own contribution. I didn't intend to stay the night, so instead of a tent, I brought a purple Celtic (well, Insular) knotwork blanket, and built a shelter out of fallen branches, propped up against two trees, and with the base filled with an extra layer of gathered dried leaves for insulation. With the large purple blanket acting as a windbreak, and my tote-bags acting as something damp-proof to sit on, it was actually quite cosy in my shelter, and I spent a lot of time in there during the gathering. I am not the most gregarious person, actually quite introverted in person, so I needed my own little space away from the gathering proper, and so my little shelter on the periphery was quite useful to me, I could retreat to it between moments of being social and friendly. I also hung my little silver lantern on the end of a branch to light my shelter, as I stayed with the group well into the darkness of evening. I didn't bring a camera, as I didn't know if that would be considered impolite, so I don't have any of my own photographs, and I'm most sad that I didn't take any photographs of my little shelter. It was a lean-to, with one ridge-pole branch, supported at either end in forked branches rammed into the ground, and then numerous branches lent against that, with the blanket over it all, tucking in the edges and partially under the rear to keep the wind out. At the front, I made a slightly higher entrance way with two more forked branches creating a triangular opening, and the blanket pulled down low either side. My shelter was against a slope, so it seemed quite low at the front, but with the ground dipping towards the back, it was actually quite roomy inside.

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An eight-fold woven spiral frames the forest beyond.
Photograph courtesy of Highland Fire Gatherings.
Me singing in my black robes.
Photograph courtesy of H.F.G
The gathering itself was quite informal in structure, and there was a blessing, but there was also lots of drumming and communal music, which had a really good energy. I'd brought some recorders and whistles with me, and I played a lot of music that day - sometimes in the circle (where I used two plastic recorders knocked together as a percussion instrument as well as playing them the conventional way), sometimes just playing tunes while sat in my little shelter. I find music is a good way to express the sort of spiritual feelings that just come out awkward when expressed in words - if the best I can do with language is cringe-worthy attempts at poetry, I will stick to wordless sound. I did attempt to sing at one point, but singing publicly is not something I comfortable with so I was nervous and thus did not do so well at that.

My purple shelter is on the right. I think I'm inside it! Photo courtesy of H.F.G.
Faces are obscured because I don't know who might be 'in the broom closet'.
As you can see from the photograph above, there was a reasonable but smallish group. I think I was in the shelter when this photograph was taken, obscured by the lady sitting in front, and there were a couple more people not in the shot. We gathered firewood communally from fallen timber to build our little fire - which was built on a bed of stones as not to damage the ground. On the tree behind us is an ancient sun-wheel symbol which exists in cultures worldwide and may be very, very ancient indeed - it's certainly simple to draw; a circle with an equal-armed cross, which occurs in ancient carvings across Europe, might well be the heritage of the Celtic cross, and which is also similar to the Medicine Wheel. It can be the four elements, the four directions, the sun the cross of the solar year within the eight spokes of the Wheel of the Year (appropriate for an Equinox which is part of the solar cross), etc. It's Earth in Astrology, copper alloys in Alchemy and Odin's cross in Norse Paganism. In its centre is a stag's skull. I don't know what that skull meant to the person who made the sun-wheel, but to me the horns are that of Cernunnos. 

Celtic Bodhran
I really enjoyed the way music flowed in and out of the group. There was a planned drum circle, but there were also moments where music seemed to spontaneously spring up, and we would just jam, with a variety of instruments present. A lot of the people brought frame drums and bodhrans (traditional drum from Irish and Scottish music), and apparently they know each other from a drumming group for those specific types of drums. I nearly bought a bodhran many years ago, while visiting Ireland with my great aunt Judith, but it was just outside my price range, and instead I bought a whistle. After this bodhran-rich music group, I went and bought a half-size 'mini-bodhran' with Insular style knotwork painted on it. It's nothing as beautiful as the one covered in beautiful Celtic spirals pictured with the firelight through it. The owner of that drum is a lucky person; it's a beautiful drum with a beautiful sound. 

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A row of lanterns hung with garlands at the entrance to the grove.
More distant lanterns as specks of light in the distance. Courtesy of H.F.G
I stayed with the circle late into the evening, until it was quite dark indeed. I spent a while as a self-appointed lantern-lighter, stringing lanterns up into the trees and lighting the tealights - often relighting when the wind extinguished them. I actually found out afterwards that my attempt to secure them from the wind taking them down was a bit too successful as it made the lanterns difficult to get out of the trees, especially the ones hung over high branches. It is something I have learnt not do again. I have felt there's something particularly magical about lanterns for a long time, especially after a dream I had, where I was riding a white horse through a dense deciduous forest all hung with coloured lanterns. Another young lady from the group joined me in cooperative lantern lighting. 

 Dusk, looking back towards the path.
 Photo from  H.F.G.
Eventually we got to the far end of the camp, and I looked back and it seemed truly special seeing all the lanterns glint and glimmer through the trunks of the trees, the woven wheels at the far end bright with LED string-lights. It really inspired me, and since then I've nearly doubled my personal collection of lanterns, and brought them with me for the Open Circle Beltane Gathering I organised that was an outdoor event, to the Summer Solstice (although it was still light when I left that! The sun lingers long on the Solstice this far North!) and even to the Winter Solstice ritual in the garden of another Circle member, each time finding a few more lanterns. Eventually I will have enough lanterns to recreate the vision from my dream, of the trees hung with lanterns as jewels. It was seeing lanterns in the trees in actuality that made realise I had to make what I'd seen in the dream a reality.

I stayed until it got truly dark, but as I had to be at college the next day, I went home late, but not too late, and didn't camp. I really enjoyed attending the event, and I went to other events hosted by the same group last year, including their Summer Solstice event, which I will post about nearer this year's Summer Solstice.

The Highland Fire Gathering group has a Facebook page ::here:: if you're local and interested. The Highland Open Circle has it's Facebook page ::here::, too. 

Monday, 18 March 2019

Spring & Equinox Altar

As I have mentioned before, this year I will be blogging about the Neo-Pagan festivals of the eight points of the 'Wheel of the Year', celebrations shared by Wiccans, Druids, and some other Neo-Pagan paths, based off four solar festivals which, being based on celestial events, are common celebrations many cultures (the two solstices and two equinoxes), and the four 'fire festivals' or 'cross quarters', which are tied to folk festivals of Britain and western Europe. The Vernal Equinox is when day and night are equal, in spring. Many Neo-Pagans celebrate it as 'Ostara', named after a celebration mentioned by the chronicler 'the venerable Bede', and which may be named after a Germanic dawn goddess, and which is likely the root-word for 'Easter' in English (most other languages have a name deriving from 'Pascha'). I just celebrate it as the Vernal Equinox. 

Full Equinox altar.
I think I do the Equinox a bit differently from many Neo-Pagans as I don't incorporate rabbits, hens and eggs. Neo-Pagans now regard these as fertility symbols, and I think that's a very valid perspective, but their association with Easter had more to do with which food were restricted during Lent - meat was forbidden, as were eggs and dairy (Thomas Aquinas wrote against consuming these), and so of course once the fast was broken on Easter, people wanted to consume them. Lambs are very much an important Christian symbol, with Jesus as the Lamb of God, and I can't help but think of the rather beautiful Pre-Raphaelite inspired mural that graced a church I used to go to of the adoration of the lamb when I see lambs in a religious context. My rejection of these symbols because of their Christian (and particularly Catholic) associations is not a protestation against Christianity or an act of my disliking Christianity, more that I wish to separate my current faith from my old faith, and I feel awkward doing things that remind me too much of Christianity; I feel like I'm misappropriating, or somehow trying to Paganise things, which may or may not be a valid concern or just a manifestation of my anxiety and over-thinking.

Instead of thes
e animal symbols, I prefer floral ones - picking what is in bloom in my garden at the time. I don't rear chickens, rabbits or sheep, so it seems a bit disconnected for me to celebrate lambing (which is often quite a bit before Easter in the UK, anyway), or their lifecycle in relation to the agricultural year. The birds nesting in my garden are more seasonally appropriate to me than chickens. [Interestingly, chickens need about 12 hours of daylight to signal the summer period for laying eggs - so the Equinox is actually directly relevant to chickens. Some will lay in winter even without an appropriate light source, but egg production goes up with daylight hours. I do, however, grow flowers (and vegetables, herbs, etc.) so I feel more personally connected to flowers.  

Another photograph of the altar as a whole 

You can see on my altar a bunch of hyacinths and daffodils in the centre. I changed my altar set-up from its Imbolc set up to this pre-Equinox set up at the start of March, and it is definitely geared more to a visual celebration of the changing seasons and the greenery and flowers of spring. Daffodils and hyacinths are both poisonous to cats, but this set-up was before Archimedes arrived, and was dismantled before Archimedes left his acclimatisation period in the spare room, with any pollen hoovered up.

I have two altar cloths again, layered over each other. The bottom altar cloth is a printed light green one with a leafless tree, an image that makes me think of a tree about to spring into life, rather than a dead tree. The upper altar cloth is actually a vintage table-runner I bought on eBay because it reminded me of my grandmother's handicrafts. She used to make things very similar to this, and as the item seems entirely handmade, I can picture someone else's grandmother making this the same way. I wish I had inherited some of my grandmother's embroidery, but I was a child when she passed, and did not end up with anything like that. I found some daffodil doilies secondhand that I tend to use for tea-parties, but I put one under each of the candle-holders to protect the altar cloth from any wax drips that ran off the candle-holders, because it is an old and fragile embroidery, sold to me as being from the '50s, and I don't want to damage it. The embroidered flowers are somewhat stylised, but they remind me of marigolds, which are currently flowering in my garden.

Daffodil doilies to protect vintage altar cloth.

The wreath at the back is a hand-made house decoration some students at my college were selling as a charity fundraiser. It has lovely spring colours, so I use it as an altar decoration each year. I really like using circular symbols for solar festivals, simultaneously representing the sun and the cycle of the seasons. I don't have space on my altar for both the pentagram candle-holder and the wreath, so the pentagram candle holder has been moved to in front of our fireplace. To represent the elements, there is a jar candle on the altar; it has five layers in different colours, made from the melted down stubs of past elemental candles used on our altar. 

Pink candle, daffodils, wreath, Goddess censer

The left side of the altar is used primarily for the symbols traditionally associated with the Goddess in Wicca once again as with my ::Imbolc altar::, but this isn't a strict attribution. Incense is used to symbolise the element of Air (and to be burnt as an offering, and to create a ritualistic atmosphere through scent), and many traditions see Air as a masculine element, associated with 'masculine' attributes, but I don't see the point in gendering an element, or even more so of gendering characteristics like logic, clarity of thought, communication, etc. I have an incense holder with a Neo-Pagan style Goddess figure holding up the incense censer, but that does not mean I see the element of air as feminine, either; I just like the figure as a sculpture representing the divine feminine, and it happens to also be a perfectly good censer at the same time - I have another incense burner that is a pentacle (visible in the photographs of the full altar). I think it's probably a bit cliché to attribute pink to the divine feminine - especially as a girl that hated the colour pink growing up - but I chose it to represent Bloduweudd, who was made of flowers, specifically oak, broom and meadowsweet.. Now, I somehow thought oak flowers were light pink, which I am quite wrong about; they're a greenish yellow. Broom flowers are yellow, and meadowsweet flowers are white, so I would have probably done better with a pale yellow candle, in retrospect!

The daffodil picture is not a Goddess symbol at all, it is actually a card I gave Raven for St. David's Day - the saint day for the welsh patron saint, who is St. Dewi in Welsh. St. David's Day is seen more as a national celebration than as a Celtic Saint's day by many, including Raven. I have mentioned before that he is Welsh-Irish. Daffodils are Wales' national flower; the national plant symbol is a leek, and daffodils are 'cennin Pedr' or Peter's leeks in Welsh, which is presumably where the connection comes in between the two plants. Anyway, the card was placed on the altar as another mark of the passing seasons, and a nod to Raven's Welshness.

I have a light green candle to represent the Green Man, a vegetative spirit (or even deity to some) that I associate with the changing seasons as visible through plant life. New spring leaves are slowly emerging, light and vibrant, not yet darkened to the richness of summer. I light the pink candle when invoking the divine feminine, and light the green candle when invoking the divine masculine. The central, multicolour candle is represented of the divine as simultaneously transcendent of material existence and immanent within it. I am a pantheist that sees individual deities as spiritual aspects or manifestations of the greater divine that is in all things, and that candle made of all colours seems like a good representation of that. It is a lovely hand-made textured candle, but I can't remember where I bought it. I think it might be from 'The Maker's Mark' in Newcastle Emlyn, but it could be even older - a souvenir from a lovely witchy shop I found behind a record shop in Henley on Thames over a decade ago. I have kept it safe in my wicker basket store of candles for a long time, but felt like this is the right time to burn some of it. I must admit I'm sort of clingy about candles, and don't like burning the prettiest ones, especially all in one go  - I want to stretch it out so I can appreciate them for longer! Quite silly when candles are intrinsically transient, made to be burnt. Perhaps I'm a sentimental fool.

Ceramic cauldron over tealight.

The blue cauldron hanging over a flame is Raven's. It's meant as an oil-burner, but as many oils are toxic to cats, we are no longer using the oil burners for their true purpose. However, watching the water evaporate off as misty vapour is rather aesthetic, so I am still putting water in them. We will need to look further into what oils can and can't be used around cats, as we don't want to poison Archimedes. I chose this blue cauldron to represent the element of water on my altar. It's purpose is more symbolic than practical for my Equinox ritual, unlike the bigger copper cauldron I used as a temporary planter, and as a receptacle for any drips after I watered my snowdrops from the Well of the Spotted rock for Imbolc. 

Marigold and salt in pentacle dish.
I have a carved stone dish for salt, to represent the element of Earth. It is interesting that salt is what we use when 'salting the earth' is something done to make it infertile. Salt is sometimes used for drawing a circle on the floor, but I think that's a waste of good salt. I am thinking of replacing the salt-as-Earth-representation with sand, fine gravel or soil. Salt as ritual ingredient is still useful, but I associate it more with sea-salt (I know rock-salt exists) and the ocean, and I want to change things around that I no longer connect with. Neo-Paganism is -in general - quite a flexible path, and while we practice similar things, there is room to alter things in accordance with what works best for us. We're a non-dogmatic religion, with each Pagan being their own Priest or Priestess. We tend to be closer to orthopraxic ('right practice') than orthodoxic ('right doctrine') in that we are more connected by ritual practice than theology or cosmology, but even within ritual practice there is plenty of scope for variation. 

I hope this blog entry has been useful and informative as an example of one Pagan witch's practice. There's a lot more I could say about each thing, but I think I am rambling on quite a bit already. As I have said before - I'm just one person, and I will do things differently to other witches and other Pagans, but I don't consider myself much of an outlier in terms of my practices. I am doing this to counter some of the stereotypes about Neo-Paganism and witchcraft - especially those about it being a dark or evil practice. Most of what I do is making a ritual of ways to connect to the natural world and changing seasons; mine is definitely an Earth-based spirituality.

My regular readers might be surprised at the colours - especially green wall paneling in my ritual space, and plenty of yellow and pastels for this seasonal celebration, but I don't think my religious practice necessarily has to reflect my Gothic aesthetic - some of it does, especially my work with the Morrigan and Her aspect as Badb, and with the Cailleach of winter - and these are things you will see on my Samhuinn altar and my altar in the 'Dead Time' between Samhuinn and Winter Solstice, but for the rest of the year, the colours reflect the seasons more than they reflect me - after all, my spiritual practice is more there to connect me better with nature, rather than for me to express my personal style or aesthetic.

The pentacle shelving unit is by CAS Design and I reviewed it ::here:: 

Saturday, 9 March 2019

New Cat: Meet Archimedes

We've adopted a new cat. who arrived today. He's also a shelter cat, and an older cat. He was rescued from an animal hoarding situation where someone was keeping at least 18 cats in a small apartment, so he is quite nervous. At the moment Archimedes is hanging out in the spare room as he's too scared to go any further. He's being checked in on, but given his space, with gradual interaction from us until he is more settled. He is likely to be an indoor cat as he is quite timid and not used to the world outside (I think he was kept within the apartment and not allowed out), and already an adult cat of a few years, so it may always be too much for him.  We're a quiet household with no other cats, which is ideal for him as he doesn't like being around other cats after being crammed in a small apartment with so many of his extended family for so long. He got called Archimedes because he looks like a smart cat, so I was trying out classical thinker names, and he looked up at me when I said Archimedes. We're calling him 'Archie' for short. When we got him, he was called Oreo, but he's not a biscuit.

Archimedes in his 'blanket fort'. We're replacing the beige carpet soon.

I've mentioned my previous cat, Kuro ('Black') before. Kuro moved with my Dad to a rural small-holding. My Dad is still mildly allergic to cats as he has always been, but with antihistamines and the cat spending a lot of time outdoors, they are doing well. My Dad has become very attached to Kuro, and I still live a very long way from my Dad, and as Kuro is getting older, we think the journey up to Scotland would just be too stressful for him. I still get to visit Kuro, and I do miss him, but I think Kuro would not be happy as an indoor cat, and we live too close to a busy road to let a cat that likes to wander some distance roam free. Kuro lives in the middle of nowhere, with acres and acres of car-free land to roam about as my Dad's small-holding abuts farmland. I think a quiet retirement in the countryside is good for both my father and Kuro. 

Kuro, also known as 'Satan Kitty', in my Dad's garden.

Interestingly, my Dad is only allergic to cats with a specific fur type, and he got a second cat, with a much finer, sleeker coat, called Yami ('Dark') which he is not allergic to! Yami is a black cat that had escaped from a temporary foster cattery and followed Kuro home. After taking the cat to the vet, and noting he was microchipped, my Dad went through the process to adopt Yami because Yami just wouldn't leave my Dad alone!

All of these cats are rescue cats - please, adopt - don't shop. There are so many cats wanting homes, especially as they breed pretty rapidly. I've written about Kuro and cat adoption before ::here:: and my advice remains the same - if you're thinking of getting a cat, please consider adopting an adult cat. Archimedes had been with the shelter quite a while as timidity causes some minor behaviour issues (he gets scared of people, and hisses, will scratch if he feels crowded) but it's something is highly likely to work itself out with time and patience as he gets used to being around humans.

Saturday, 9 February 2019

Clava Cairns Revisited

Another instalment of my 'Gothic Travels', which is something I want to focus on this year. Today's visit is to a 4,000 year old burial ground in the valley south of Culloden. I've been there before, and you can see the previous post (with really terrible photographs!) about when I went there for a Pagan gathering ::here::.

On February 4th, my partner Raven and I visited Clava Cairns near Culloden. We drove there, and parked up at the carpark on the site, which only had a couple of other vehicles. I was surprised that there was anyone else there at all on such a cold and frosty Monday afternoon; the carpark was iced over with compacted snow for the most part, and while it wasn't utterly freezing, it was cold enough not to melt the settled snow particularly fast, and even in what is a sheltered valley there was as a certain chill - perhaps the damp air from the river that runs under the viaduct further along. [The viaduct is pretty impressive, similar to the Glenfinian Viaduct made famous in Harry Potter, and it too has a railway crossing a valley, but this one is pink rather than grey; I will give it its own post]. 

Long shadows from a low sun beside the ring cairn; photograph by me.

I apologise for the lack of clarity and resolution in my photos - my camera broke last summer and I haven't been able to afford a replacement since then, so I'm just using the camera on my phone, which is average at best. Please click on photographs for expanded versions, especially the thumbnails.

Pile of rocks in the carpark. Photograph by myself.

There's what appears to be a small cairn in the carpark, just outside the boundary to the main complex of cairns. As it's not listed on the maps, and it's not in the enclave, I think it might just be a pile of rocks from levelling a flattish plot to make the carpark, or maybe an 19thC folly addition, or even stones removed in the 19thC excavations of the cairns; basically I don't know what it is at all.

Frozen meltwater in a depression. Photograph taken by myself.

Raven and I; cooperative selfie.
Clava Cairns is specifically 'Balnuaran of Clava', as there are other groups of cairns known as 'Clava Cairns'. There's also a ruined chapel and another cairn at the far end of road, which I have visited before in the past, but didn't visit that day. Nearby there are two other cairns in an overgrown field across the road from the enclave run by Historic Scotland, and also a standing stone in a field that sometimes has I think cows in it. Either way, the other two monuments and the standing stone are not open to the public as monuments, and while there is some freedom to walk in Scotland, these fields often have livestock, so going in them could cause a problem (Highland Cattle/Heilan' Coos are very cute but they are large animals with big horns! Be considerate of cattle and farmers if visiting.

The setting sun makes for a beautiful light over the cairns.

Reflected sunlight on ice.
Photograph by myself.
The enclave around the cairns is of old trees, planted between 1870 and 1871 by the land-owner at the time, who had the Romantic notion of the cairns being a 'Druidic temple' so wanted to plant it into a 'Druid Grove' - I think there are a few Neo-Pagans (Celtic, Druidic and otherwise) who are quite grateful for that, because it really does give the site a beautiful atmosphere of being encapsulated by nature, something simultaneously apart from the world and deeply within it. I'm certainly neither the first nor the best photographer to take advantage of the late afternoon light streaming between the branches and trunks of the trees, and I felt that the melt-water and ice from where the snow had been defrosting certainly did something to make that extra-special.

Sunlight streaming through the trees across where the snow has melted.

Near-to-carpark cairn. My photo.
The cairns are approximately 4,000 years old, and they were used as mausoleums of a sort. There are three large cairns and one small kerb cairn. Two of the large cairns have passage entrances aligned with the setting sun on the winter solstice, and the centre cairn is a ring cairn - a central sealed chamber with no entrance, a sort of stony donut. I've read that the stone circles around the cairns were set after the cairns ceased to be used for new burials. The ring cairn in the centre of the three is almost a wheel design, with the ring cairn as the hub and low stone walls as spokes out to the standing stones beyond. I think the standing stones are also on a celestial alignment.

A cleft stone - was it split by time and ice, or is it a pair?
Photograph taken by myself. 
Scarf to keep my ears warm.
Selfie by the larger cairn.
The far cairn is the smallest full cairn other than the kerb cairn. There used to be an infographic explaining the sunset alignment at the cairns, but I can't remember if it's still there, and if it was, it was buried under snow. I think the far corner cairn has a cup-mark in a stone within it, and was re-used as a columbarium around a thousand years after they were made, in approximately 1,000BCE. It was excavated in Victorian times, but it wasn't excavated with the modern techniques of archaeology, and a lot of data was missed, lost, or destroyed. I don't know if they disinterred any remains, and if so, what happened to the person who was buried there, but from what I gather, the cairn was the victim of overenthusiastic dilettante archaeology in the 1870s.

The far cairn, aligned with the sunset. Photo by myself.

In South East England, where I grew up, there was a theory relating the placement of barrows to either be prominent on the brows of hills, or to be near rivers, and while I think the builders of the cairns at Clava may have been culturally different, the cairns are hardly on a hilltop, but they are in a valley with the River Nairn flowing through - but I'm not an archaeologist (yet... I'm doing my second undergraduate degree part-time, studying joint History & Archaeology), and it is something I would have to read up on. There's been some interesting papers on the placement of chambered cairns on the Isles, but I don't know about the mainland. Definitely something I need to look into. 

Frosty ground. Photograph by Raven.

The Cairns are very popular in recent years due to the success of the show 'Outlander', as apparently there is some connection to the series. I haven't watched much of it, and the opening scene with early 20thC 'Druids' was filmed on a set on a hillock with foam stones, and Clava Cairns is apparently not the site mentioned in the books (a better candidate for that would be the stones that remain of the cairn at Dunain, which I mentioned in my previous blog entry about Ostara), so I'm not sure what the exact connection is, but it's something to do with magical standing stones as part of the time-travel in the story, from what I gather. They've actually become too popular, and have been damaged by people climbing on the stones, and on the cairns, dislodging parts of the rock walls of the cairns. Large coaches and heavy traffic have also caused an access issue for the garage that runs recovery/road-side assistance from a little further down the road - and therefore for the clients they were off to rescue from mechanical trouble. If visiting during busy season, I would suggest parking elsewhere and walking down, as it is a pretty and pleasant walk (there are also several B&Bs, chalets, etc. nearby for accommodation.).

A rather rectangular stone. Photo taken by myself.

Raven. Photo by me.
The ring cairn was buried under snow, as was a stone with cup-marks tooled into it. When we got to the far end of the cairns, a tour-bus arrived with a medium group of tourist, and the peace of the place felt broken, so we walked off to get a better look at the viaduct instead. I must go back there again this year, and take photographs in different weather and seasons. I follow #ClavaCairns on Instagram, and a lot of beautiful photographs turn up in that hashtag, which is quite inspiring. Hopefully I'll be able to afford a new camera soon, and thus able to work on bettering my photography. For now, I am doing my best with my smartphone and some basic editing software. 

Snow in the dying light; photograph by Raven 
As a historical site, I thoroughly recommend visiting them, just to get a sense of the size and scale of these cairns. As a Neo-Pagan, I visit to reconnect with the sense of place, with spiritual ancestors and those past practices that inspired me to a nature-based spirituality. 

We made a tiny snowman made from two snowballs with twigs for arms. 
It's also just a pleasant place to be. There are some picnic tables near by, plenty of wildlife lives in the area, and the trees are rather lovely. Apart from solemn contemplation, it's nice to enjoy yourself, and I don't think it is any disrespect to those who were buried there thousands of years ago - as long as that doesn't spill into the sort of exuberance that could damage the monuments or make it so other people can't enjoy their time there too.
[My apologies for the formatting errors with the pictures; the blogging wizard keeps putting breaks/paragraphs where I don't want them, even when I remove them in the HTML editor...]

Friday, 8 February 2019

Imbolc II: Our Home Altar

Detail of a watercolour painting I did.
Sprouting seed in the nook of a statue.
This painting is next to my altar.
I know Neo-Paganism, Wicca and Witchcraft aren't inherently Goth or Gothic topics, and this is a Goth blog, but it's also my personal blog, and these things are a big part of my life. There are also a lot of Goths interested in these topics, and I would say that in terms of percentages, a greater percentage of Goths are interested in these topics than of mainstream people. Witchcraft is also trending in younger Goth circles, and a lot of younger people are thus being introduced to Witchcraft through Goth, so I'm trying to show what this witch actually does, to counter some of the misconceptions and to inform people.

I practice a mixture of 'Celtic' spirituality (from a range of 'Celtic' regions and time-periods, hence the umbrella term), Druidry and Wicca. Wicca was my introduction to Neo-Paganism, and I like the Wiccan formats for a lot of the ceremonial aspects, but I'm not Wiccan. I currently use the term 'Celtic Witch' as it's nebulous and ill-defined enough to cover a lot of what I do and my interests, especially as my attitude to spirituality is organic rather than dogmatic, so those things and the balance of them both shift. I have been a Dedicated (as in went through a rite of Dedication) Pagan for 17 years, and had an interest in such things since I was a child, so this is something that has been an important thing to me for a long time. I've been Pagan longer than I've been Goth!

Imbolc altar, mostly in full. 
In our house, we have a permanent altar - it is on a wooden serving trolley that has wheels and a drawer (presumably for cutlery) under the table top, with a shelf half-way down its legs. It's pretty useful because we can wheel it into the middle of the room for rituals. Around it are various bits of Pagan iconography, and the pentacle shelving unit I ordered from CAS Designs (review of that ::here::). While the altar is permanent, what is on the altar changes with the seasons. This post is about what I put on it for Imbolc, and why.

I will start from the bottom up. I have two altar-cloths layered - partly because I know I will spill at least a little wax, and I'd rather not glue my altar-cloths to the wood, especially as it has old varnish. Beyond the basic practical purpose, they have an aesthetic purpose and a symbolic one. The aesthetic purpose is simple; they look nicer than the scruffy table-top of the trolley. The symbolic purpose is multiple. Partly, the act of placing a cloth on the trolley is marking it as something more than an old bit of wooden furniture I salvaged from the discounted section of a charity shop, it's an act of respect, it helps signify that this is an altar and not a wheeled table. The second part of the symbolic aspect are the colours - the light yellow represents returning light, life, and the future daffodils that will bloom in a few weeks; it is a lively spring-like colour, but not as rich as gold, not quite as vividly solar as amber. The darker green represents the sort of foliage that is emerging - it isn't bright luscious green like the leaves of later spring plants, it is the darker green of snowdrop stems and buds that have yet to open, of pines that have been green all winter but are now starting to put forth some new needles. This altar-cloth was actually spring green and solid black on solid green when I bought it, but the first time I washed it, the green faded dramatically, so I re-dyed it.  I tie-dyed it, with the ties arranged to match the print - I feel the varied colours are a little more organic. 

The third aspect is the knotwork print I selected. As I mentioned above, my practice involves a lot of Celtic deities, spiritual beings (faeries/sidhe/sith) and the like, as well as connections to the land (I am in the Scottish Highlands, land of both the Gaelic folk that came with Dal Riada and the Brythonic Picts) and my ancestors (English and Breton) and my wider family (Welsh and Irish). The design is knotwork, and anthropomorphic, a style that was a fusion between Celtic art and Norse art, common in Ireland and Scotland in the early medieval, and which emerged from the positive interaction between the two cultures - it wasn't all raiding and pillaging by Vikings! The Norse element reflects my partner's heritage and beliefs (although he is not a Heathen).

At the back is a large-ish pentagram candle-holder. It holds two sets of 5 candles - at the points are soy-wax votives in purple (top; Spirit/Energy), yellow (middle right; Air/Gas), red (bottom right; Fire/Plasma), green (bottom left; Earth/Solid) and blue (middle left, Water/Liquid). I've listed both the four elements as commonly conceived in Neo-Pagan cosmology, but also five states of matter and energy, as a way of linking that to something more tangible than the usual correspondence tables. There's something a bit more literal and concrete about four states of matter and energy - those things are all observable, solidity is am observable quality whereas the idea of something being 'earthy' is often more reliant on association and metaphor. I have both because I like both the mindset of recognising things as they are, and of being poetic about them, and I feel that these two things - the scientific and rational, and the poetic and spiritual - are best in balance with each other. So far, I'm the only Pagan that I know that has this dual approach to the 'five elements' idea.

Lantern with my Sacred Flame.. and a lot of waxy bits.

The lantern is my 'sacred flame' of Brigid - the same candle as I had up on the brae by the cairn at Dunain, but unfortunately not the same flame. For safety reasons I had to put it out when boarding the bus. Maybe next time, I will not venture quite so far. The glass is not crackle glass, it's just covered in little waxy flakes because as I carried the lantern down off the hill, it was a rough walk over uneven ground, with my slipping on the ice a couple of times, and the molten beeswax in the tealight splashed and splattered onto the inside of the glass. I have no idea how I'm going to clean it because it's a top loading lantern, and there's only a narrow tea-light diameter opening at the top. Maybe I will soak it in hot water and try and melt the wax out, but I imagine that will still leave a residual film! I use that lantern a lot - I took it with me on several Pagan gatherings in the last couple of years!

The association of flames with Brigid starts with a more concrete attribution to St. Brigid of Kildare, who started a sacred fire or flame (not sure if a candle or hearth fire) at the convent she founded in Kildare, where the Brigidene Sisters maintained the fire for years after Brigid herself. St. Brigid was Christian convert, and she was likely named after the pre-existing Goddess of the same name, and in the way Christianity often ended up syncretic with local traditions, it seems that there was some conflation between the saint and her pre-Christian namesake. Sacred flames have existed long before Christianity reached Ireland - and chaste nuns tending a sacred flame has definite echoes of the Vestal Virgins in Rome. Whether it was a similar idea that just happened twice, or whether somehow the concept got transmitted from Rome to Ireland - either from tales of ancient Rome brought by those who came from the Roman church, or through some earlier syncretism (Romano-British paganism often mixed the local gods of the 'Celtic' tribes with similar Roman deities, and it is possible that this approach crossed the sea to Ireland with some notion of a Vesta-hybrid goddess), I do not know. My knowledge of the history of this is muddier than I would like. It's one of those things that a lot of non-scholarly Neo-Pagan books mention, but not something I've yet read more scholarly material looking into - neither the history of St. Brigid (or St. Bridget as she is sometimes Anglicised) or the goddess. 

Spell candle, cauldron and oil burner.

At the very front of the altar is a little yellow beeswax roll candle. I burnt the candle all the way down as part of a spell for renewal and recovery with some mental health issues I have been experiencing recently. Many practicing witches will probably recognise the type as the sort commonly made for spell-candles. All the candles I use for my ritual practice are from natural materials as I think it goes against the spirit of a nature-orientated path to use candles made from paraffin wax when paraffin is a petroleum derivative; i.e a non-renewable fossil fuel. I currently prefer beeswax to soy, as there are issues with over-cultivation of soy, but also a problem of a lack of bees - and more demand for bee-keeping means more bees, even if they aren't wild bees, but a lot of bee-keepers let their bees buzz where they want, or have them at farms to help pollinate specific crops. A lot of the beeswax candles I buy are from small businesses, and there's some you can get in Wales where the supply chain is very local; the beeswax comes from small-scale apiary/hives just outside the village where I buy the candles. The candle is in what is actually an incense burner in the shape of a five-point star, but the recess for an incense cone was just the right diameter and depth for the stubby little candle.

Behind the spell candle is my cauldron. Cauldrons are associated with the Welsh witch/goddess Ceridwen, who in the Mabinogion made the potion of poetry and wisdom in her cauldron. The Irish goddess Brigid is also connected with poetry, and in modern Neo-Pagan art at least, there's some syncretism between the two; Brigid is often depicted much like Ceridwen, with a cauldron. My cauldron of hammered copper and iron is fitting to Brigid's association with smithing. The cauldron as a symbol of the pregnant belly, or the swollen seed, is very in line with the celebration of Imbolc as the time when the dormancy of winter gives way to germination - and for Imbolc my cauldron is not a cooking pot but a flower-pot, with snowdrops bought that afternoon at the farmer's market. 

Snowdrops with the tealights of the pentagram behind.

The oil burner I chose (I have a few that I have collected over the years) was also selected because the shape made me think of that pregnant-belly cauldron shape, and it is also a warm-hued stone that has a cheery sort of glow when lit. The pentagram motif is pretty obvious in its selection.

My altar is approximately laid out in the traditional Wiccan way (particularly influence from the set up in Janet & Stewart Farrar's ::'A Witch's Bible'::), with Earth and Water attributes put on the left side, and Air and Fire attributes put on the right side. Traditionally, this is seen as a feminine/Goddess side on the left, and a masculine/God side on the right, but personally I feel that this doesn't align with the nature of the Celtic deities, plus I think some of the attribution of  'feminine' and 'masculine' to objects and attributes reinforces gendered stereotypes (women are nurturing and emotional, men are active and intellectual). I'm not designating a sword (or athame) as masculine when the Goddess I have the greatest connection to is the Morrigan, who herself very much carries a sword, especial in her aspect of Nemain the battle-fury, but also as Macha the sovereign queen. This is where I diverge from Wicca, as in Wicca the athame and chalice become part of the symbolic Great Rite, where the athame represents a phallus, and the chalice a vagina. I don't see sexual union (symbolic or otherwise) as the core of the generative, creative universe - especially when the universe is much more than the animals that reproduce by mating in that manner. It can be a useful metaphor, but there's something of the parthenogenic Earth Mother, too. I do also have an appreciation for the metaphorical union of the Earth and the Sun, too, but it's not something I'm going to work into the basic structure of all my workings - just those where I feel that exploring that concept is relevant (eg. Beltane). I don't think a cauldron is inherently feminine either, but I feel it is useful to use it that way for Imbolc - it can be associated to masculine things, too, as it was the boy Gwion Bach that ended up as the bard Taliesin through the process of transformation that started with three drops of cauldron potion, even if it was Ceridwen who prepared the ingredients, Gwion was the one attending to it (and got splashed by it).  

As mentioned above, I do still use the left and right arrangement for Earth/Water and Fire/Air, but just not as specifically gendered. The chalice is an elemental tool for me (attribution being water), but it is not inherently feminine. In this case I'm using a green one - that same deep green as the altar-cloth - and rather than wine, it had elderflower fizz, because I can't drink alcohol. I used it to drink a toast to the coming spring. On the left side are both mine and Raven's wands. I used mine for casting circle for my Imbolc ritual.

I haven't detailed my ritual here; that is personal. Some of what I did is hinted at here, and in my account of my trip to Dunain and the cairn that is in my earlier post ::here::. There are plenty of ritual scripts available in many of the better Neo-Pagan books, but I like to craft my own personal ones, and I write a new one for each celebration, each year (although there are certain poems and elements that I re-use). I think writing your own ritual makes it more personal and connected. Neo-Paganism is for the most part non-dogmatic, with no orthodoxy; some traditions have a set way of doing things, but many don't, and many Neo-Pagans walk their own idiosyncratic path because a strong element of Neo-Paganism is that it is an experiential religion, based on your own spiritual practice. In that manner, what I have on my altar is just the way I personally set things up, this particular time - there is no singular way of doing things, just a lot of things we do in common, or similar-but-different. There's no heresy in Neo-Paganism, well maybe except if someone twists it into something with an ulterior and evil agenda (eg. running a sex-cult, or using it for racist propaganda).