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The Horned Lord’s Altar

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I’ve recently redone my altar again (it was about time, the Yule setup was a little old) starting, as usual, with a theme: Cernunnos. I suppose I should have gone with a Candle or Brighid theme for Imbolc but eh, frak it, I’m focusing on what has meaning to me.  Thus with what ritual implements I have to hand (with proven standbys such as the ancestral skull and well, as well as the AWESOME Good Will find of a Pan-beating-a-tambourine-candleholder and all the antlers I own) I set about creating my altar.

Now I craft my altars very intuitively–I go for what looks good artistically, but more importantly what FEELS right. So I set to until I knew I was done and stepped back to observe my work, and I started noticing interesting themes.  Its all very Horned Lord (antlered skull to left, drum-beating Pan to right) but each side of the altar apparently has a slightly different theme–different aspects of the Horned Lord, if you will.

To the right our virile Pan, bounties of incense and entheogens strewn at his feet as he beats his tambourine and I beat mine, spirits in the goblet behind him, sacred smoke dancing through the air. All methods of alteration, intoxication, ecstasy….one might say the pinnacle of experience, of life.

To the left, however, lies a different face…skull of the ancestors enthroned in antlers, set about by curved blade and stone dagger, backed by a dish for offerings and the snakes…serpents of the underworld, sigil upon the dish, bone in a necklace of amber and jet upon the antlers. All death and sacrifice, the underworld and serpent mysteries.  

Up the center we have a labyrinth, the well, and a star-clad mirror…portals, doorways between.  Taken altogether it is truly one whole theme with different aspects honoring the Horned Lord of the Forest–virile, ecstatic, wild, dark, death, decay, sex, life, transformation, and so much more. 

I look forward to working with this altar. May this altar in His honor, with offerings of dark bread and venison and brandy and smoke crafted in his honor be looked upon with favor. I seek to travel, to learn, to challenge myself, to grow. Hail, Horned Lord, guide me by the light ‘twixt the horns…

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A Question

Dver over at a A Forest Door has the most gorgeous necklace for sale: a Baba Yaga Necklace, in fact.  (http://forestdoor.wordpress.com/2013/01/04/baba-yaga-necklace/) I’ve had a thing for Baba Yaga since I hit puberty–I don’t know why, other than that’s when I found out about her through reading stories. The name always snags my attention immediately and I get a gleeful little thrill–again, I don’t know WHY, and this is probably a very immature attitude considering the dire nature of most of her stories: Baba Yaga is NOT an entity to be taken lightly.  

With this in consideration I had decided to pass up purchasing this necklace that makes me drool, because if one thing is certain its that the necklace must be used…it is not some trinket to be set aside when one is bored being sensational.  Then Dver resposted about the necklace; after a month, it still has not sold.  Well now, that’s a different kettle of fish! says a voice in my head Maybe its just waiting for the right person…Maybe I’m that right person! and so the thoughts went.  Well, I’m not going to purchase such a serious tool just because I feel like it, so the best thing to do is ask.  

With that in mind I set out to ask my question as soon as I got home from work. I set milk to warm on the stove as I gathered what I would need. Charcoal, a loose incense I had intuitively crafted a while back, a plateful of the last of my spice cookies, my runes, a seat…by this point the milk had to be stirred, and I added honey and a few drops of blood, dabbing a drop on each eyelid and my lips, before adding the last drop to the charcoal as the incense smoked. Then I sat out in the snow during the last of the twilight to ask my question.

Dogs began baying as I added more incense, and the candle flame, steady up until this point, began popping and dancing. I took a minute or two to call and ask my question, then quietly prepared my runes as the sound of the dogs faded from the air.

I looked at the runes as they had fallen, trying to understand what they were telling me, but no matter how I contorted my mind the meaning still would not come. “I don’t understand!” I finally said with some frustration. “I don’t know what you’re trying to tell me.”

Almost immediately I ‘heard’ an old woman’s stern voice calling ((to paraphrase: “Hey! LISTEN dammit!”)) and I got the impression that she had been shouting to get my attention. Oops. ^_^;; 

The exact wording is lost on me, but it boiled down to this: No. You’re not ready for me yet; you haven’t earned the right. If you would like to earn this, there are 3 tasks you must complete first.

1) You must thoroughly clean your place and be rid of what you no longer use. ((YUCK. and I’ve already started this.))

2) You must rise with the sun each morning and make observances. ((Another yuck. I value my sleeping in and am not a morning person. I’ll work on this one.))

3…point 3 I couldn’t understand. I just couldn’t get out of my own way ((which is the biggest problem I’ve been having of late)) and I struggled to grasp meaning as my brain did mental somersaults. Finally I relaxed and let it all fade, and I found myself standing on the edge of a wood in the dark.  Dogs bayed behind me, coming for me as I began to run deeper into the woods.  I knew they would run faster than me so I didn’t bother to hide my trail as it would’ve taken too much time, and they were too close already. Finally they were almost upon me and I grabbed a branch from the snowy ground, whirling and getting my back against the trunk of a large tree. I couldn’t see them really, just dark shadowy dog-like shapes growling and lunging as I swiped at them with the branch. I realize now that they weren’t really trying to get me ((because they could have easily)) but likely just trying to drive me, as eventually I turned and ran again until a great hole opened beneath me and I fell.

I fell, tumbling, down down down the dirt tunnel slamming into the walls and being cut by roots.  Finally I sprawled onto the floor of a subterranean chamber, remarkably similar to one I had been to before (https://wanderingthelabyrinth.wordpress.com/2011/05/22/into-the-underworld/) but nicer. There were wooden platforms for flooring in some areas, and where there was bare stone it was remarkably level and dry.  There was a large square of red carpeting where I had fallen, and furniture. The fireplace was still there, though no large cauldron upon it, and sitting in a rocking chair next to it was the old woman. She looked the same as the entity I called Cerridwen before, but she didn’t feel the same.  Maybe these are just stock images my mind uses, I don’t know…but this was the same entity who had spoken to me before I found myself here.  ((I highly doubt this was Baba Yaga; she was FAR too nice. I don’t know who precisely responded, but whatever.))

She beckoned me closer, asked for me to show her my wrist…the same wrist that had been wounded the last time I was in a place very like this, speaking to an old woman very like this.  The same wrist that was now fully healed. I came forward and held it out to her. She gripped my wrist in one hand and with a long sharp nail of the other calmly began carving into the underside of my wrist.  First a line, then one to cross it, then the quarter lines…then lines between those too. ((What is that, like a 16-point star?))  Then with forefinger and thumb she slowly reached into the wound she had carved and pulled out long dripping red chords.  Swiftly she wrapped this once around my wrist and knotted it.

At this point I started wondering if perhaps I SHOULD have made that bracelet I intended to after the last encounter; I had never gotten around to it, and this was remarkably like what I had been thinking of. As soon as these thoughts stayed more than a few moments in my head, however, the old woman snapped “Why must you always think of making something? That’s not important right now!” ((o.O)) and she gripped my wrist in both hands and looked steadily at me.

Here’s where things might seem a little strange, so bear with me dear readers all.  At this point I kept getting the very strong urge to, irl, take my lighter and burn my wrist in the same spot. I saw myself doing it over and over again. My brain went “Are you CRAZY?!? There’s no way you should physically maim yourself for something that may very well be the result of an over-active imagination. It’s probably not real. Don’t do it.” and “Well with all the reading you’ve been doing there’s good indication that practitioners are sometimes required to do similar things, so…maybe?” And, well…I decided to take the leap of faith.  Out came the lighter, and I held my wrist over it. The problem is with all the inner turmoil I had on the matter my reflexes were working on a hair-trigger, so no sooner did I start to feel pain than my entire arm jerked away, and I forced it back to start again. This went on until a breeze blew the lighter out, and the old woman’s voice came back “That’s good enough…for now.” ((The point being, dear readers, that this was a test to see if I would commit that far. And may have to go further in the future. That’ll be interesting.))

I relaxed and was back next to the fire with the old woman. She took my hand, still firmly in her grasp, and thrust it into the flames of the fireplace.  I felt nothing, and my hand was fine. She clucked her tongue disapprovingly “If you were really here, it would hurt/burn” and released me.  I can’t really remember what happened next, but she spoke with me a bit more and directed me to the left of the fire, where I fell down another tunnel ((albeit in a more controlled manner)) into another near-replica of the same cave–only it was even better furnished this time, and had a counter for the kitchen area, and it was DARK…there were only glowing coals in the fireplace. Something shifted in the shadows back near where I had fallen the first time, and I reached out blindly with my right hand til I grasped a carving knife. A low, growling laugh came from the shadows and a great black he-wolf ((seriously, he was at least as big as me)) with eyes that were either blue or green or silver ((I don’t know if they shifted or my mind couldn’t decide which it liked best, but I got a distinct impression of each and the eyes were very important)) slowly prowled toward me. I can’t remember most of what he said, but he mocked me, asked if I always resort to violence when threatened ((which actually ISN’T normal for me, at least not irl))…I wish I could remember more of what he said, and how it ended, but suddenly I was climbing up through a hole under my seat and back into my body.

I looked once more at the runes, and realized that they pretty well described the ‘trip’ I had just experienced. ((though for whatever reason they read right to left)).  Now, I know that I didn’t actually cross the hedge and go journeying…when that happens one very much feels as if they are doing so in body, at least according to every source I trust to know…so I have no idea what I actually did, or how much value I can put in it.  I never felt any cold or pain, at least no more than I feel in dreams.  Besides, even the old woman told me I wasn’t really there.  So…I really don’t know what all that was, but I’m accepting it for now with a small pile of salt.  And I have no idea how all of that is supposed to be a “third task” o.O or who it was that actually contacted me, OR why she looked almost exactly like the old woman before but felt rather different, or what to make of the gradually-better-furnished cave.  Gah, I don’t know what to make of it all. >_<  Any thoughts? Advice from someone more experienced in this sort of thing than I?

This was our second year on camping the weekend before Samhain, and it was a doozy. Last year we were so exhausted from Pagan Pride Day that despite our best intentions we basically just sat around the fire chatting relaxing and drinking.  This year our fearless leader Brighid would had none of it.

No, not only would we have a main ritual, but Friday night she and our other local warriors would hold space and allow for people to do small private rituals, and then we would switch and hold space while the warriors let down their shields and held a ritual.  Which worked well for some, but we only had an our to work our ritual and I wasn’t able to get much of anything done (except lose my shawl pin).  Still the warriors needed that time and I’m glad we were able to provide it. 

I stayed up very late that night after most had gone to bed…I wandered away for a small while, experiencing the bitterly cold clear starry night by the lake.  When I came back there were some others still by the fire, and I was kept by good conversation until the nearly full moon had made most of its trek acrost the sky.

Woken far too early the next morning, it was a fulfilling day of hiking and mulled cider and drumming and dancing and laughter and campfire and toasted marshmallows–so wonderful!!  The wood was in its full glory. I may be a model now–there was a photographer who joined us, and at one point asked if someone would be interested to model in a couple pictures.  I volunteered, and he liked it so much he’s asked me to model for him again! Most of them are still in the editing phase, but here are a couple teasers. 😉Image

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Then it was time for group ritual, and Brighid asked me to perform the role of High Priestess while she and Baka invoked Hecate and Death, respectively.  I claimed that clearing as my territory for the night, stalked its bounds called up spirits of the beloved and forgotten dead to guide and gaurd as the trees stood silent sentinel. I led my wards to the fire and told them the story of Persephone and her torch-bearing sister, Hecate.  It was not long before Death stole in among the group and began to spirit people away, as they sat in quiet contemplation by the fire.  One by one I stood witness to their deaths, and one by one I stood and reached out a silent welcoming hand as they returned through the dark wood alone, until at last it was my turn.  “Death comes for us all–and not even I may linger.”

Hecate had lessons for us all that night….as Brighid said much later once the tears had subsided “we got our butts soundly kicked and handed back to us!”  But it was not brutal, indeed it was gentle and comforting….though that did little to alleviate the impact the messages had for us.  Some time after the main group had returned to our camp we trudged in exhausted, and I succumbed to sleep very early that night drifting between dream and sounds of revelry.

All in all a very productive and rejuvinating weekend, and I know now what I must focus on this Samhain…a Blessed New Year to you all, may your divinations be joyful and your time magickal!

In Guidance

I’ve been having a conversation with a friend of mine over the past few months. She says she is in the “unwilling agnostic” camp.  She WANTS to have a religion, a faith, but she doesn’t want it to be one someone tells her to follow, and she doesn’t want to just choose one–she wants it to be undeniable, truly hers.  She wants the God/religion to choose her.  That way she knows it’s her “true” religion.

She’s had some brushes with Deity, an experience that might not be “just in her head”, but nothing she considers solid enough proof. She’s open, and she wants there to be something…so she’s opened up to trying things.  She came with on our group’s Samhain camping trip this past weekend (which I’ll be writing about in a bit) and had an experience at our ritual. She’s still skeptical that what she experienced was “real” but she at least “heard what she needed to”…and is even going to far as to suspend disbelief about the dream she had that night. Willing to temporarily think that it might be more than just her brain regurgitating what it had processed that day.

And thus we come to this crossroads. This Samhain she will be performing a ritual to contact deity.  I felt called as a result of our conversations to write one for her as a guide, and have received her permission to share it here. If there are any readers who would like to chip in advice, I’m sure we would both appreciate it! 🙂

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This can be performed anywhere you want, indoors or out.  If indoors, arrange your space how you want it for the ritual–the concept here is to make a welcoming space for any deities that may respond, like you’re welcoming guests into your home.  Decorate, have some food ready, whatever feels right to you.  As mentioned previously its probably a good idea to have items associated with particular deities that you are trying to contact. 
 
Once you are finished setting everything up, take a shower or a bath (if performing an outdoor ritual reverse the cleansing and setup, for obvious reasons. 😉 ). The idea here is to ‘cleanse’, but while it is important to clean the body, this is also to cleanse the whole self–take this time to meditate, go over the day’s events so they won’t be bothering you later, generally let the kinks and tension ease and “wash away”.
 
When you are done with this, take some time to prepare yourself. How do you want to present yourself? Want to doll yourself up like for a date? Want to be comfortable? Want nothin’ but what you had the day you were born? Whatever is right for YOU, because YOU are the person entering into a relationship here.  Once done go back out to your ritual space, maybe light some candles (hey, its great mood lighting–it works for dates, why not this? And depending on how far you’re willing to suspend your disbelief, watching the candle flame can be indicative of spirit presence. Anything out of the ordinary from how the flame usually behaves…if it flickers a lot but is suddenly smooth and steady, or vice-versa, the point is spirits will create a change to get attention.).
 
Now we come to the mental gear-up. Sit for a little while, taking in what you’ve done for this.  The preparations you’ve made. This is something for you to value too.  When you feel comfortable in the space speak ALOUD.  Sorry, I’m not giving you a script here because the most important part is that it comes from your heart and is totally honest.  Call out to the Gods, invite them–this can be along the lines of  “Anyone who is interested” to naming specific deities (or both). If you call on particular deities, don’t just name them, name what makes them up–details of their mythos that they would recognize.  It helps you BOTH get a clearer picture of who you’re trying to contact.  Its a good idea to specify that you don’t want any with ill intent (because spirits be trollin’ yo).  Put as much emotion as you can into this…your hope, fear, desire, hurt, joy….you want to be HEARD dammit.  (But remember to be polite, we don’t want to devolve into provocation.)  
 
Let the silence ring for a bit, note any changes in yourself and surroundings. Don’t expect it to happen, just be open if it does…a change in the candle flame, goosebumps, light-headedness, a sudden change in emotions, or feeling like there’s a static charge or a change in air pressure or temperature. (these are things I have noted, it may be different for you.)
 
Now that you’ve gotten their attention, its time to introduce yourself. Don’t expect them to KNOW…do YOU fully know yourself?  This part is as much for you as it is them: it is a declaration of self and intentions.  Think about what you want to achieve and WHY. Go over every reason you can think of–why do you want this? Why is it important to you? What would this mean for your life?  Make sure you’re saying this out loud…you don’t have to shout it, though that helps to reinforce you putting your will and desire behind it.  Yes, you may feel silly, but if possible put that emotion aside.  It only hinders what you’re doing, you want to fully live all the emotions that have led you up to this point.  If it helps to recount your steps on your path so far, do so.  Get INVESTED. FEEL.  Let this go on for as long as it feels right to, its even fine if you work yourself up into a tizzy.  Call out particular gods, if you have them (This especially helps to keep them interested and paying attention).  State what you want from them.  State what you’re willing to give them in return.  Highlight the good points, but be honest. Repetition does not matter, at some point coherence may not even matter.  Keep the emotions flowing–let it all out.  Most of all, let your desire RING.
 
At some point, this will stop.  It may be that you’ve simply spent your anger, maybe you’ve suddenly slowed and stopped but can’t quite figure out why, maybe in the middle of a big long desperate rant you suddenly get derailed and thrown into this sensation of wonder.  I can’t say how it will manifest for you…and honestly, this is as far as I can take you.  This is me showing you the door…you have to take it upon yourself to walk through.  Be open, don’t set expectations…just let whatever happens happen, and let your critical mind think about it LATER.  I know this is easier said than done.  Good luck!
 
(PS—silence does NOT mean there is no response!  Gods (and spirits in general) get your attention by creating change, and what is easier to change than chaotic human emotion?  A sudden sense of peace descending (or joy, or anything ABRUPT and OTHER) is just as much an answer!)

I feel the wood calling…

The wheel turns…we’ve all felt it by now, the crisp chill tingeing the air, the glimpse of scarlet in the treetops, the dried-leaf rustle of the voices of the dead. 

And now, I feel the call that I’ve not heard in so long…the anticipating, blood-surging, taught bowstring twang of the hunt.  The call to the woods, to smell the death of the world as it drifts into slumber.  To wait in the dark before earliest hints of dawn and into the dark long after dusk, breath misting in the air as my senses strain for the slightest hint of prey. I feel the call to wait, muscles straining against bow, brow flushed as my arrow seeks its mooring in steaming flesh. 

I have known that Cernunnos wanted me to take up my bow once more.  I did not expect wanting to as well, but with the turning of the year I feel it in my bones, in my blood.  The hunt is in me.  Yet there is so much I must do…check to see if my permit is still valid, look into the cost of a license, renew my long-since-lapsed FOID card, and train, train, train to regain skill with gun and bow.  The shot must be clean, and lethal.  I will not condemn a creature to slow agonizing death with clumsy aim.

I come from a family of hunters. For as long as I can remember my father would disappear for long stretches in the fall and winter, to return with some deer or none to feed us. I remember opening to door to the garage only to be assaulted by the stench of blood and death, see the body hanging from the beams.  It was natural. It was a part of life.

My father lost my love long ago by his own hand. Yet he is Herne’s own, an outdoorsman through and through, and when the call is in the air he responds.  He knows much of hunting and the wood…much that he has tried to “protect” me from, for though I hunt I have always been a daughter and not the son he yearned for.  Though I hunt I know not how to field dress any creature, have never set up my own tree stand…when I learned from him he did all himself, not allowing me to learn because it was too dangerous, too bloody.

Yet I must learn.  One day I must do this on my own.  And when the time comes I will learn, with him or without. Yet I will give him the chance…one last chance to pass on what he knows, so that the knowledge is not lost. A chance to continue on when one day he is no longer here. Whether he understands it or not, I will give him that chance.  Only then will we see if he values it or throws it away.

It Begins

The cards and stones have said for some time now that I face an ordeal. Now it is upon me, its first taste already on my tongue. Come then, and let this end. Let me scream aloud until my throat is raw and bleeding, let my eyes stream tears hot and scathing as the primordial sea.  Let rage and grief and fear beat about me, tear me asunder and fling my soul from its moors to the farthest expanses of the unknown.  Comfort me Pain, my ever-constant friend, sweet and soothing as the sharp tang of copper on the tongue….

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