Honey, Milk and Bloodied Hearts

I dream of an altar of stone, angled so liquids poured onto its surface trickle in to the centre then down to the ground below, nestled between olive trees and night blooming jasmine. I dream of lanterns and spirits, of offerings of honey, wine, oil and fresh bloodied hearts. Of the curls of incense reaching to the night sky. I dream of furs and blankets and union. 

I dream of foxes eating hearts. 

I’m undergoing a huge period of transition at the moment. In truth it probably started four years ago. The year prior I had spent in crisis – suicidal, isolated and distressed. The first of the last four years was the death of three relationships and the start of something causal an entertaining… 

Or so I thought. We’re now due to be married so, casual, yes, that was a thing.

The olive cutting is showing signs of getting new leaves. It lives. 

Over the past four years my life has made a series of transitions. The crisis was followed by a period of restlessness, another crisis then a period of rapid transition. My path has shifted with it. I noted about two, maybe three, years back that my path appeared to be shifting from the Chaos Magic I had practiced for over a decade to something a little bit more… Traditional was the word I used at the time.

The altar is in a cave lit by torches. Water is poured the tall thin man with one arm, and incense lit by the huge viking like-man. A small black goat is lifted and held by the viking looking one while his companion slits it’s throat. Blood washes over the stone altar and trickles to the floor. 

The truth of the matter is that traditional isn’t really a good word for it and I think the Chaos never really went away. It all just shifted into a new form. There are now elements that resemble traditional witchcraft in what I do. The Fetch, Ancestors, more traditional land spirits (I live just off of a nature reserve in the suburbs now), and my altars are littered with feathers, bones, and candles. 

And a small ache that’s been in my chest for so very long became a distracting one. I have been restless, searching, reaching. I looked for community, and found an amazing one, but it didn’t stem the dull ache and restless. I reworked and tweaked my path so many times that I started to resemble a flakey new-ager chasing the latest soul saver to no avail. I worked harder, pushed more at the edges, and nothing changed.

He watches me quietly from the end of the bed. Taller than I, rangy and dark haired. No horns today. Those come and go as he pleases. He curls around me when I come to bed and in the moments between waking and sleep I feel fur and rough hewn blankets instead of silky sheets. 

I still wanted. I still needed. Something was missing and I couldn’t name it.

So I settled. I worked with what came to hand and what fascinated me the same as I always had with Chaos Magic. Can’t say it went wrong even if I look back occasionally and wonder what I was thinking. I can see how I got from there to now. There are the skulls. There are the roses. There are the feathers. There is Babalon as sexuality and sex really took a front seat. There are the bones. The Fox showed up and I rolled with it. The Wild One became a magical partner as the sex took a turn for a whole lot more than just sex. 

They catch my eye, a small flash of white in the dirt. A minute later I’m digging bones out of the dirt. Days later I’m presented with a small blue butterfly by my Wolf, always so considerate.
Then there’s tiny vertebrae found caught in the fence. The Fox demands their skin.
There’s a bird wing drying in the shed, and a whole skeleton to be stripped and cleaned. I gather bright blue feathers from the ritual site and mourn the Bowerbird I couldn’t save nor give proper burial.
Things just come together of their own accord, they always do that. 

And then THEY came knocking. 

You want to know what I have actively avoided since the end of my first fledgling year of magic? Deity. But there’s something bigger at the end of this. Something so much bigger than any spirit I have ever seen.

That odd little dream I kept having with the altar… The slanted surface liquid was poured onto, that let it run to the earth. The offerings of honey, milk, oil, alcohol and blood. The hearts. The incense and olive trees. The Foxes. 

Outside, low to the ground… 

The foxes that ate the hearts…

The term Chthonic takes on a meaning outside of the hypothetical.


R is for Rites

We’ve never followed a conventional path, him and I. I don’t think we even know how. No words are ever spoken, not to start it nor to end it, truly. As always this is how our rites go.

I inhale the incense, letting it sooth away the aches and griefs of the past few days. Melting into the blankets as much as the shadow and flicker of the light. He runs his fingers over my face and through my hair. Sweeping them down my throat.

I still beneath his hands, letting go of everything but the sensation of his hands and my own breath. Still, quiet, sinking away. Palms sweep flat down my chest, fingertips drag across my abdomen… At some point a tug and pull of energy and I wake a little for a brief moment before surrendering, trusting, he acts in my interests as much as his.

I sink.

The smell of the Woods is achingly familiar and foreign at once. This is the Dark Heart of the Woods. As rich with life  as it is it smells of iron rich blood and decay in equal measure. Here is an underworld of it’s own kind. At it’s centre a tree large beyond measure with gnarled roots knotted through with bramble, littered with bones scattered by wild things. Above this, at the base of the tree where roots meet is the cavity where the bramble rise to form the Throne.

And on the Throne HE sits, or more accurately lounges, possibly slouches. One leg slung over what I take for the throne’s arm, the other stretched out. He has no care for the formalities that come with a throne the way you’d think one would. He’s barefooted and barechested, wearing naught bar worn leather pants. Draped across his shoulders is a wolf pelt, one that matches the colour of the Great Black Wolf’s. There is little light here and the air feels thicker than any I’ve known.

Here is the God of Wild Places.

Those are the words I wake with:

I see you,
I see Him.
The King upon the Bramble Throne,
The God of Wild Places.

He turns me over and I relax into his hands, awake now, aware of the pull and tug of energy more. I wrap myself around him and we sink together to other places built of breath and touch.

L is for Lovers

A bit corny perhaps but I recently announced my engagement so fuck off, I’m allowed my cornball moment. If it makes you feel better I’m not going to talk much about The Wolf here in the romantic sense. I’m feeling a bit more pragmatic than that. For reasons undisclosed I haven’t been able to live with them up until now. Nothing religious, just reasons. So I moved in this past weekend and they kindly cleared me an altar space. They’ve never bothered themselves but my altar for the past few years has been, uh, extensive to say the least of it. I came home tonight to find a blade on the altar*…

The Wolf is my first magically inclined partner. Like me he doesn’t really have a ‘path’ that is easily navigable by others. One place we meet very firmly as equals and on the same track is as lovers though. So we’re both queer as fuck, and yeah there’s occasionally sex magic involved and yada yada…

Art by the exquisite Chiara Bautista

It’s interesting to have a lover who is also capable of being a magical partner. I’ve always worked solitary. Always. I’ve attended a tiny handful of group rituals, but my path isn’t something I’ve ever considered compatible with anyone elses. And now I have The Wolf and the longer we’re together the more little incidental things happen and make me wonder…

It’s the breath shared. The growl in The Wolf’s throat. The moments of absolute still. The moments of complete vulnerability. The snarl and bite.

Can this be something shared? Is there a place between or do we create something entirely new?

It’s ecstasy and breath, death and sex, at the core.

Isn’t that what magic is made of?

* I’d pointed out to him that I’d like the space to be ours, not mine so not a shock or complaint. Just one of those moments of holy shit cohabitation!! 

Future Dreaming

I pretty much lived with my Wolf for two weeks straight. We’re currently living in two different houses due to rental agreements, housemates, children and general shenanigans. It was a nice change. We’re horrifically domestic when we’re together and there’s certainly something to be said for waking up next to them every morning.

My dreams, for the last couple of weeks, have been quiet and pleasant. Generally of hopes for the future and big kitchens. Really big kitchens. We both love food so…

I dream.

Of home in different ways. Of painted skulls and hanging pots and herb, of orchards and greenhouses, of dinner parties and storms lashing trees. Of a fox beneath the gum, and paintings over a mantel piece.

Of my Wolf, The Wild One, as fierce and beautiful silver as he is now and more lined with laughter. We dance for no reason at all. Sometimes wild. Sometimes slow. Happy. There’s a key tattoo, sometimes on his ribs, sometimes on his forearm.

I am there. No taller, somewhat stronger sometimes, thinner others, as I am now but older mostly, but always with long hair. The tattoos are more prolific. My fingers ink dipped and lined, the right arm done, the ribs, the geometric designs on the left arm… up onto my neck and face. I don’t know that it’ll ever happen but I dream it with such clear clarity.

Sometimes I dream I paint him, and he paints me. Fingers tracing patterns without hesitation. It feels like we’ve done it before a few thousand times.

                                   Feral – Emma SanCartier                                        (Please click through for her wonderful etsy store)

I always wake content from these dreams, but they do make me wonder. What happens to my altar when we’re under one roof. As it is now I have no one to answer to and no children with curious hands so it is large and always up. Is it odd that of all the things this is the one I worry about as we move towards arranging a home for us together?

Pagan Blog Project: A is for Altar

(I will be posting one post once a fortnight for each letter due to time constraints)

Ok, a very beginner, and perhaps a bit twee, subject to kick this off with, but as a forum mod over on the dreaded Facebook and someone who has not quite given up on Tumblr’s Pagan tag it seems as good a place to start as anywhere.

Firstly let’s just clarify the difference between an altar and a shrine as they are commonly used in Paganism/Witchcraft.

  • An Altar is a working area that often changes seasonally or with whatever projects you have going.
  • Shrine is a set up that remains in place where you make offerings to spirits, Ancestors and/or Deities that you work with and nothing that does not pertain to them ends up in that space (unless you have annoying housemates of some kind or cats).

Pagans and Witches I know have (for the most part) 3 ways of doing things – They maintain an altar or shrine/s only, they maintain an altar and separate shrine/s, or they smoosh the two together they have space issues or privacy issues or just because they can. I fall into the latter category which tends to mean I am an absolute shocker for using altar as a cover all term for both altars and shrines.

So the thing 99% of people think when they get into Paganism or Witchcraft is that they need an altar of some form and it needs to have very particular things on it. This tends to lead to a lot of questions and frequently money wasted by people who don’t necessarily have the money and are probably not going to use the things that they buy in the initial layout.

First things first – you do NOT need a dedicated and permanent altar. Or a shrine for that matter. You don’t. Any surface you work on, from your bedroom floor to the kitchen bench, to a piece of cloth on a patch of grass outside, or a rock, can be temporarily dedicated as an altar. If you’re working magic on it then it’s an altar. If you make offerings on it it’s a shrine, in that vein of thinking.

Second really important thing – if you are not part of a specific tradition that has altar and tool requirements then there is actually no must have items for an altar.

It’s easy to think that you must have an altar and it must be huge and awesome or contain certain things because horrible asshats like me tend to post the odd image of ours and they are frequently kind of huge and awesome or contain ‘traditional tools’. That… and every 101 book I’ve ever read demands you have an altar with certain tools or representations on it.

No. Nope. Not at all. In fact for the first decade I practiced I only set up an altar when I needed it for something and otherwise didn’t bother.

Having an altar, as mentioned above, is a personal choice. Should you be like me and for some reason maintain one then what goes on it is HIGHLY subjective. Most 101 books and well meaning experienced members of the communities will tell you that a basic altar should have representations of the elements, deity/Lord and Lady, and a basic offering of some kind. This is a reasonable way to start. I personally do not ever recommend any form of Deity representation, but I don’t work with Deity much, and not conventionally, so it’s not something I’m comfortable advising on.

My original altar contained a photo of my Nanna, a white candle and a glass of water for my Ancestors and that was it. It’s grown organically and vastly as needed which means I’ve never wasted money on unnecessary items. This is important because so very few of us have excess cash to throw around these days.

Let’s take a walk through my current altar* as you can see it below…

So much stuff crammed into one surface... hard to believe that 3 years ago I refused to maintain an altar at all isn't it?
So much stuff crammed into one surface… hard to believe that I refused to maintain an altar at all for 10 years isn’t it?
  • The Fan – a purchase at a festival I attended with the Wolf. It cost me $2 and I use it to fan smoke when I’m using it for cleansing. It’s less likely to attract unwanted attention if I’m working outdoors or travelling than one of those feather/wing fans some people use.
  • The Fur – If you read back a bit in this blog I’m working with a Fox entity. She asked for that. As a rule I am indulgent of the spirits I work with provided requests are within reason. As a rule I only work with a couple of them so I can be.
  • The Red Bowls – Offering bowls. I believe these were from Thailand, or possibly Bali. Regardless they were a gift from my Mum who thought they were beautiful. I agree, obviously. Gifted items are often perfect altar items for me. It’s a luck of the draw thing.
  • Feathers – Collected locally or at places I’ve been. Useful for charms and making things but not elemental representations in my practice. Be aware of any legalities around collecting samples like these in your local laws.
  • Rosemary – I use rosemary instead of sage. It’s cleansing and protective and smells better. The rosemary on my altar is harvested as part of one of the Feasts of the Dead and changed at the same.
  • Ancestral Setting and Candle – I have an active Ancestral practice and they get regular offerings of water and/or alcohol and food. I HIGHLY recommend a beginner develop relations with their Dead.
  • Skulls, and George! (The grey skull) – I work with the dead and entities that have ties to death and/or sex. These are often filled with something or being used as ‘housing’ for entities I’m working with.
  • Candles – there are candles on there for two spirits I work closely with, and my Ancestors. On occasion there will be added candles for working, people who are ill, someone who has passed etc. I find candles are useful focal points.
  • Roses – These are fake, but they’re again an entity related item. On feast days I will often place fresh flowers on the altar.
  • Make-up and Perfume – Ladies, gentleman, and everyone between or outside those arbitrary gender pronouns, masks are magic and makeup is just a type of mask. Useful, very very useful, to have charged makeup.
  • The Shells – probably the thing people most often mistake as a representation of elements the shells are there for two reasons. The actual reason is that they whisper and the spirits can and will use them to talk if you hold them to your ear long enough.
  • Incense (not visible) – incense is the most useful thing ever. Use it for offerings or to cleanse, to divine in the smoke trail or as a mind-altering substance for ritual purposes… totally the most useful thing if you can have it where you are.

So, yeah, it’s pretty big. It’s more complex when you add items I’ve removed for the photograph and the other two levels my altar has to it. Thing is, as I said, this grew organically. There was the initial few items that then became a few more. Then I started working with that spirit and it wanted a few things. Then I needed a few things to represent that thing I was doing…

And so on and so forth.

What’s resulted is a complex (and kind of cluttered) altar to another persons eyes but one that only contains exactly what it needs to mine.

So feel free to go nuts with decorations and traditional tools and such things if it pleases you, but if you’re unsure then get the absolute bare basics (a candle as a meditation focus for example), if anything at all, and let things come to you of their own accord as you grow into your practice.
*NB: A personal habit that I recommend getting into is never ever posting your full altar or anything you are working on at the time. Take a few things off, wait till a project has reached fruition before talking about it and so on. I’ll explain the reasoning in a later post. 

I dream…

Fairytale Hero – Hrefngast

I dream.

I dream I kneel at his feet, head bowed, presenting the drum and wolf bone beater. My hands are stained red as the drum skin from hours with the dye.

I dream I gouge my face. Tear out one eye. She that is me yet not nods her approval. I see clearer one eyed and bloodied.

I dream the little red fox and the great black wolf dance round the fire. There is no joy yet they dance on.

I dream of a man with hair impossibly dark and skin impossibly pale. He wear clothes thoroughly modern yet carries a blade so obviously ancient.

I dream of the Ancestors land. Of the old warrior with the white hair and swirling blue tattoos. He still sits beneath the dead white tree on deep red dust.

I blink… In his place now stands a young man with hair as copper as mine though he wears the elders tattoos. He leans on his spear, standing beneath the white tree now green with foliage.

I blink… He is gone. The great black wolf stands wrapped in his furs, eyes hollow and hard. The tree is shattered and charred as if hit by lightning.

I dream of the City shrouded in twilight and of it’s inhabitants. They are waiting.

I dream of this place. Of the future. Of orchards and laughter.

I dream of the little red fox dancing with the great black wolf. A dance bloody and violent.

I dream.

These are snippets. I barely have a night without vivid dreams at the moment. 

The Fox and Wolf Dance

I have the occasional moment where I just drift off and my brain shows me things – visions if you will – and this was tonights. It was too intense to put in the day dream category, but what I can/will do with it is anyone’s guess. 

The circle is cast by two, well clear of the light of the fire though containing it too. The crowd gathers round the fire, sitting in a circle and partaking of it’s warmth, as another ritualist steps forward and speaks. His voice rich and impassioned as he calls to the spirits.

Outside the circle of light they wait with blankets around their shoulders for warmth from the winters air. Faces painted, drums at the ready. He speaks on, louder, faster, louder faster. A final shout of ‘come’ and she moves.

Fire Dance – Anestazy

A bone beater strikes the drum sharply thrice then a staccato beat is taken up. Blanket slips away, the Red Fox enters the circle. Furs at her waist, bells round her ankles. She dances twirling and yipping close the fire then close to the audience. Meeting their eyes. Engaging them in her play. The spirits come.

Then stops. Drum suddenly silent, body close to the ground, eyes intently staring into the shadows beyond the fire.

He moves forward, blanket slides away. Leather and bone. Larger and stronger than she. The Wolf steps forth. Drum beat slow and steady. She watches him intently as he sets a new rhythm, heavier and more powerful – a hunters song to her playful dance. He dances. Close to the fire, then to the audience. He howls low and growls deep. Engages them, meets their eyes. Brings them to the hunt. The spirits come.

Then stops, drum silent, staring down at the Red Fox, and she stares back unafraid. Slowly she sidles back on her knees and gets her feet beneath her. He smiles, teeth bared to her. She grins back, half feral, and suddenly they are dancing. Drum beats mixing as they stalk each other, dance each other, round the fire. Separating suddenly, encouraging the watchers to yip and howl, bark and snarl. Their drum beats faster, their feet move faster.

They stop. Face to face. Silence falls. The spirits have come.

As one they strike their drums.

Once.

Twice. A new drum is struck.

Thrice. All drums are struck.

The drummers in the circle strike the rhythm. The Fox and Wolf laugh and return to the dance, bringing the others to their feet.

The spirits are here, dance with us, dance with them, is the wordless cry.