Many people get confused about the difference between altars and shrines.
Most simply, an altar is a ritual tool that holds other tools, and that helps you direct and anchor the energy of your working. That’s why so many altars are made either of wood or of stone – both materials make it particularly easy to turn the altar into an anchor for all the other energy work of the ritual. Many religions use an altar as a central focus for worship and ritual – in part because it’s very practical. It gives you a place to put all the other stuff you use in ritual, so it’s right at hand.
A shrine, in contrast, is a place where we honor a particular deity, spirit, or other entity. They’re common in a wide range of religions too – you can see fabulous Buddhist and Hindu shrines throughout Asia, many Catholic shrines to saints, and there are many other historical examples.
So, a given physical space can be an altar, a shrine, or both, depending on what you’re doing.
So, what does that mean in practice?
Continue reading Altars and shrines
I’ve talked elsewhere on this site about taking care of your own energy, but what about your space? Just as you do, the space you live in picks up energy and emotions. Often, we bring these things in ourselves, with the stress we bring home from work (or school), from news stories, or from things we actually do at home.
The good news is that just as you can cleanse your own energy and smooth things out, you can do the same thing with your home. A little regular attention goes a long way toward making your home welcoming, peaceful, and enjoyable.
Continue reading Home, sacred home…
One thing you’ll see come up over and over again is the idea that you need to develop your will in order to do effective magic – and many forms of effective ritual.
What this means is that you need to increase your ability to:
- decide what you’re going to do.
- decide how you’re going to do it.
- do it.
- and remain focused on your goal while doing it.
This is both very simple in some ways, and very complicated.
Continue reading Developing will
One of the most potent ideas in magic and ritual is creating what we want to have happen in our minds, so that we can focus and direct our energy into making it happen. (This is just as true when we’re talking about practical goals as magical ones, of course.)
Meditation is a huge and broad subject, far too big to go into much detail in this format: I highly recommend getting a copy of Diana Paxson’s Trance-Portation and working through it. That said, there are some skills you can start with that will give you a really good foundation for whatever work or path you find yourself on later.
The most basic of these is visualisation – only, not just images, but other kinds of responses. As I talk about in the “Ways you learn” article, people will have different preferences. The same is true with things like visualisation – some people will find it very easy to create an image, a sound, a smell, or a texture, but very hard to create others in their mind. As with so many other things I’ve discussed, you do want to work to build your skills in all the areas – not just the ones where you’re strongest – because it will give you so many more options down the road.
Continue reading Visualisation and meditation
Beginning to develop a daily (or regular) practice is a great way to get started. By building things into our everyday life, we learn to live the values of our religion, and it gets easier and easier to integrate into everything we do.
Daily practices (or at least regular ones) can also help us build skills, focus, and willpower that are helpful when we want to do something longer and more complex (such as a Sabbat or Esbat ritual). It’s just like learning to play a musical instrument, or a sport – some things will come easily, and some things will take some practice. And some things, you need to build up some muscles and stamina to be able to do them for longer. Daily practices help us with all of that.
Continue reading Daily Practices
Just like we take care of our physical bodies, we should take care of our less-physical bodies. That’s where a set of skills sometimes called psychic hygiene come in.
Cleansing is the energy equivalent of having a shower or bath – getting ourselves clean, washing away any grime from the day. Shielding and warding sound all spooky – but really, they’re about shelter, about making a space for us to be that’s secure and comfortable. They can even be a little bit like clothing: a way for us to choose what we share with the world around us.
Continue reading Energetic self-care
As I’ve said elsewhere, grounding is the term used broadly in the Pagan community to talk about getting rid of excess energy that we have picked up, and also to replenish our energy when it is low.
Continue reading Grounding
Centering is really all about being very present within yourself, so that you can move on to other tasks. It’s often not easy in modern society.
You can think of centering as creating a container for yourself, like a bottle filled with water. You pour all yourself, your being, into that container, and you are centered when you know what’s you, what’s not you, and what you sense and feel and know, and what’s coming from outside of you.
What does feeling centered feel like? There’s an example a friend of mine gives. Imagine that you are going along, doing your own thing, when all of a sudden, someone hits your hand with something large, heavy, and painful. (Or, for that matter, imagine banging your knee or elbow hard on something.)
In that moment, you are completely centered on the feelings from your hand, your knee, your elbow. There’s nothing else in the world but that sensation, and you are completely ‘in your body’.
The trick is to learn how to get there without the pain (which will distract from anything else you might want to do, besides being unpleasant.) If you’ve had any martial arts training, dance experience, or have done sports that rely heavily on balance (gymnastics, skiing, riding horses or bikes), you’ve already got an excellent place to start.
Continue reading Centering
There’s energy all around us – science tells us this. But a number of traditions also teach that other kinds of things have energy: living beings, plants, crystals and rocks, all sorts of things. As witches, many of us believe that we can both sense the energies in these things – and be affected by them.
This sounds a little woo-woo, but all of us sense energy all the time. Have you ever walked into a room just after the people there have had an argument? You know that there’s tension, even before anyone says anything. Have you every walked into a home, and felt immediately comfortable? That’s energy.
Thing is, we’re also affected by the energy around us – at work, at home, at our hobbies or other interests. If we’re not aware of how these things affect us, we can spin our wheels and end up exhausted, fragmented, or unable to focus and do the things we’re most interested in.
The same thing is true when we do magic or focus our will and energy in ritual. When we’re done with our working, we can find ourselves drained, jittery, or somewhere in between – all of which can make it harder to function in the rest of our life. That’s not a good thing.
Continue reading Energy and you
One thing you’ll see a lot of people talk about first is breathing. On one hand, that seems sort of odd. After all, we’re all breathing, right, or we wouldn’t be sitting here reading this. On the other hand, there’s a good reason for that.
How we breathe has a lot to do with the ways our bodies work. And it turns out that by breathing in certain ways, we can encourage certain specific physical responses in our bodies that are helpful when we’re looking at focusing and directing energy (in ritual, or for magical workings). Or for things like meditation.
Continue reading Breathing