Detail of a watercolour painting I did.
Sprouting seed in the nook of a statue.
This painting is next to my altar.
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.
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.|
|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.
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).