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.

1 comment:

  1. Your altar is amazing, even if you do borrow a bit from Wicca. My belief is that we are all the sum of our experiences and that every part of our personal evolution remains with us, even as we continue to grow. You are simply honoring that.

    I have missed your posts though their absence is understandable. It was good seeing something from you this morning.

    ReplyDelete

Please be polite and respectful. Comments containing gratuitous swearing and insults will be deleted.