So remember how I said I wasn’t going to plant anything this year? (No, well I did somewhere, so bear with me). Apparently I spoke to soon. I walked into my local WholeFoods about three weeks ago and did the sapy eyed thing over a bunch of plants. Me! over plants! What the heck? Agricultural Goddesses, I tell yay!

So I yeah, I bought some plants and some potting soil. Then I rant out of soil. And pots. So I *just* had to the local plant nursery to get more supplies. And of course, since I was there, I just happened to see a few plants I liked… er… yeah… and so I filled up the back of my van with stuff.

Mind you all this was After my husband got his garden on by working on our front yard! *sigh* The House Kaleidicopia (yep, that’s what we call our home) yard project of 2009 is well and truly under way and I and up to my neck in dirt and plants and loving every minute of it all! Who’da thunk?

To begin at the beginning…

We have been needing to redo our front yard forever. About a month or so ago my hubby asks me if I would like a labyrinth in the front yard. Would I like??? He knows me far too well! Thus began the plotting of the front yard. We don’t really don’t have enough space to do a full size labyrinth, but we should be able to squeeze in a mini five circuit beastie similar to this kind:


The “Classical” Pattern. Original graphic © Shane Odom.


To do that we first have to move all the roses that are (were) where we want the labyrinth to go. That, and offering to buy my hubby a few more roses got him rolling. Over two weekends he, our youngest son and two friends moved first our ailing pear tree from what we now call the Rose side of the front yard to the back yard, where it will get much more sun and be waaaaay happier, transplant all but one of the Labyrinth side roses to the Rose side of the yard, and plant not one but nine more roses all told in the front yard! When they all the grow in we will have two hedges of yummy lavender and white simplicity roses (one on either side of the front yard). The Rose side is now a mini Rose Garden with only one rose still in shock from the transplant process.

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The Labyrinth side still needs to denuded of its top layer of weed infested soil, but once that is done, I have a friend who is a wiz at building labyrinths and she has agreed to help me experiment with layouts till we find the right design for our yard. Then we can start laying down the ground cover (probably Irish moss) and pebbles to make up the pattern!

Ugh… lots of work, but it is amazing to see it all coming together!

In the back yard, my adventures in container gardening feel like they are going better this year. I have been reading up on the plants I potted, so I might actually be able to have produce by the end of the season this time!

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I now have cantaloupe, watermelon, cucumbers, tomatoes, sunflowers, digitalis, mint (two kinds), sage, rosemary, Echinacea, hollyhock, California poppies, aloe, and Aeonium canariensis growing in my garden. Oh, and I have seeds sprouting for the Lupines and poppies that I am going to add to the front yard, and the cilantro that I will be growing in the back. And just today I planted my summer crop of barley. I’m keeping it in back with the rest of my produce, and hoping that without the massive rains from the winter, I might actually produce some barley plants this time. We shall see.

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And last, but never least I have achieved Pomegranate! Yup. I am the proud owner of a pomegranate shrub. It now lives in an enormous faux terracotta pot a former housemate left us, and sits beside my external Demeter altar.

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So somehow, in all of odd Chemically Sensitive, exhausting life, I have managed to garden. I don’t feel like I can be called a Gardener yet, maybe if I pull off an actually harvest this year, but I do feel like I am making a better connection to the earth and myself. And behind all of this has been Demeter, puttering around behind, inside and with me all the while I have doing working on myself and my plants. It’s a new sense of spirit and spirituality for me, to just be in the moment with no expectations and no requirements. I’m finding I rather like it.

For the ritual my buisness partner Jamie and I wrote for PantheaCon 2009 I set myself the challenge of crafting the main god figures for the center altar. It took a while, but i managed to get them done just in time for the convention and the ritual!

Now that ritual is over they are for sale in our Artfire shop and I can show them off here! 🙂 The awesome photos are by Jamie (of course) who now has a whole bunch of her photography up in the shop by the way!

I’ve also been doing a little bit of writing for Artfire.com’s Art Daily. So far they have posted two of my pieces. One is a short article about how to create your own beaded doll head. The other is about how to be friends with people with allergies and chemical sensitivities (like me!) I hope you’ll swing by Artfire and take a look!

Blessings,

Kate

I love researching Greek festivals. *snerk* First off we have the issue of when the event actually took place since our contemporary calendar does not line up well with their calendar. Figuring out when something should happen now is interesting. Then there is the process of deciphering what actually happened at the festival in the past and therefore what we might want to do for our reenactment of the festival in the present. For some festivals and rituals we have great records. We know the event happened, when, where, and even why, but not what was done during the event. Sometimes, like with the Eleusinian Mysteries this is because no one outside of the ritual staff and attendees was allowed to know, so no written records have been found and published to date. In other cases records have been lost, and in still others it may have been a case of people thinking it was so obvious that it no one thought to write about what they were doing.

Case in point, the Festival of Haloa. There seem to be two competing ideas about what the Haloa was about. On the one hand it appears to relate to grain and agriculture since the word Haloa is related to halōs meaning “threshing floor”. On the other hand the festival has sexual overtones and a few notations from writers about it being a women’s only ritual at which lewd and lascivious behavior and speech was encouraged. And on the third hand it may have something to do with the verdant growth going on all around the land at this time of year in Greece, much like in California, and by extension pruning of the vines and a connection to Dionysos.

“Starting from the beginning of the year, we find a festival celebrated at Athens about the commencement of January. Our information about it and even its name seem to be contradictory. The name, Haloa, 11 is derived from halos, which means both threshing floor and garden. Since the first sense of the word would be inapplicable to a festival celebrated in January, it must have been a gardening festival. It is said to have comprised Mysteries of Demeter, Kore, and Dionysus and to have been celebrated by the women on the occasion of the pruning of the vines and the tasting of the wine. It bore a certain resemblance to the Thesmophoria, and sexual symbols were conspicuous in it. If we think of the labors in the vineyards of modern Greece, this account is intelligible though not quite correct. In December the soil is hoed around the vines, and their roots are cut. At the same time the first fermentation of the wine is ended, and the wine can be drunk, although it is not very good. Thus, the description of the Haloa fits in with what we know about the labors in the vine-yards. On the other hand, the Haloa is also said to have been a festival of Demeter, and this, too, is possible. The crops grow and thrive during the winter, and, as we have seen, sacrifices were brought to Demeter Chloe at this time.”

– Greek Popular Religion by Martin P. Nilsson p 32-33

As a solitary practitioner honoring Demeter in her rounds, I am going to stick with the simplest ways to celebrate this festival. Since my altar to Demeter has been rather neglected so far this winter I will spend some time today cleaning and righting the altar, changing out the decorations and lighting her candles. In honor of the vines and new growth I will be getting some grapes and fresh greenery, and in honor of the grain I will get a nice wheaty loaf of bread to share with Demeter and some friends who are coming over today. And since I have friends coming over today I suspect there will be lewd talk at some point, there being only ladies present today, and perhaps we will indulge in a silly and lascivious movie or two at some point. All in all that should take care of all the bits of honor and respect for this fest day and my level of energy this year.

Happy Haloa!

I feel like I should title this post “bad priestess no biscuit”. October has been a wash, ritually speaking. Thankfully Demeter seems to understand and be rather tolerant of my efforts to get my life in order. Or at the very least she has not ripped open the ground at my feet or anything that dramatic.

My plan in drafting a Demetrian Wheel of the Year for my own working was to follow it for at least a year to see how it fit into my life and to learn from the experience. After all, if I claim to be Demeter’s Priestess shouldn’t I walk that talk in a very real sense by walking the path of her festivals? Well as with many well intentioned plans… life er… had other plans?

This is the complication of being a priestess and having a chronic illness, everything needs to be adjusted to the needs to the body. Oh. Goodie. So October has become “Flue” month rather than “ritual” month as I was planning. *sigh*. But then again, Demeter seems to understand what she has in me… so this all seems to be part of the process. Yeah, the process of teaching an Aries to mellow out and walk instead of run into everything! Riiiiiiight. Good luck!

All that being said… a few things have been accomplished, a little out of order… but I’ll take all the successes I can get.

I now have my out door altar to Demeter. This is a stand in for the Temple that is to come. The hubs and a cluster of other crazy friends have offered to assist in the creation of a larger exterior “temple” for her in the same spot. We are designing it along the lines of the Asian Spirit / Ancestor Houses which are built as mini houses in various designs for the spirits to live in. Since this is for Demeter, it will be Greek in style of course. And I have finally worked out what I want… hmm… what we want I guess is the better phrase. A four (Doric) column, single room temple with three steps leading up to the entrance. Nice and simple.We are going to rig an opening in the roof so that I can place the Demeter Altar Doll I made several years ago inside during the dry summer months and take her out in the winter. I’m pondering painting the image in Pediment rather than trying to create a set of mini sculptures for the whole thing! I found this very cool website that goes through the stages of development for the Greek temples complied by John Porter of the University of Saskatchewan. I’m hoping to have the temple built and put in place in time for Plynteria in April/May.

Over the weekend I ordered Barley seed so that I can plant a winter batch as soon as they arrive. I will need to work out a private honoring of Proerosia (about a month late, ah well) and include preparing the container and the location I am going to set the seeds out in – near the new altar.

I have a great idea planned for honoring the Stenia, but my schedule keeps getting messed up and timing with the group of ladies who are game to join me has been fubared – we all seemed to have gotten sick this month. My plan is very un-ritualistic and horribly contemporary but entirely within the spirit of the thing. A Girls Night in with videos, tasty things to eat, questionable drinks, and lots of bawdy girl talk. In particular we’ve been plotting a viewing of a lovely little musical called Naked Boys Singing. The Musical is much fun and the dvd was well done… and well… what can you say about lovely men with no clothes on who are enjoying themselves and singing about it? So again, the celebration will happen… just very out of sequence to the actual calendar.

I did manage to do an honoring of the Thesmophoria in a way… another very contemporary approach to ritual, but honoring the spirit of the festival if not the actual script. October 15th is the anniversary of the day I went into the Emergency Room at Disneyland in anaphylactic shock, which is a much longer story that does not need to be told here. That event triggered the toxins that had been stewing in my body from an exposure to Formaldehyde about 18 months earlier. The anaphylaxis pushed me over into full blown Multiple Chemical Sensitivity – the chronic illness I now live with. This year my business partner Jamie and I created a ritual to help me mourn some of what I had lost through that experience and celebrate some of what I have gained. We performed the ritual on Friday October 17th at the Berkeley Marina with a handful of other friends who shared in letting go some of their grief and celebrating some of their joys. It was a quiet and poignant evening.

Now the wheel turns and the Wiccan in me prepares for Samhain this weekend. More honoring of grief and joy at the end of the year. Somehow it all fits together. And just behind me, supporting and offering comfort and understanding, I can feel Demeter’s presence. Sister, Lover, Mother, Goddess, Cohort in Crime, and Friend.

Altars and Altar Building

November 15, 2007

I have been an avid altar builder for years. At first it was simple things, a candle or two, a feather, some incense and off we go. Over the years, and depending on the reason and need, I have built more lavish altars to the point where some folks have suggested I write a book about altar building. In this case, my lack of compiling with this suggestion is more about my own puzzlement than any procrastination in my head. And by puzzlement I mean thoughts running through my head like “well… ok, but you just put stuff on the altar and it looks pretty.” I am really not trying to be dense, I guess I just do altars as an instinctual process so much of the time that I forget that others don’t do things the same way. For me, building an altar is “simple”. I really am not trying to sound like an ego maniac here… I just don’t think it through most of the time. So I thought I would give it a shot and try to describe my altar building process.

I build altars for a couple of reasons. One reason I build altars is to have a focal point for meditation, ritual, or magical work. Another reason I build altars is because they are pretty and fun (I know that’s a two for one, but work with me here). A more practical reason is because sometimes you just need a place to put the script and the cork screw, so you might as well make it pretty. Altars are also made for specific functions and seasonal needs.

Like most humans I am very visually oriented. I need images, objects and the written word to move between tasks and places. So magically an altar serves as one of the anchor points for me. the main altar is usually the main place of focus and attention, though not always where the majority of decorating happens. This altar needs to be functional, so there must be room for the matches, the wine, the cakes and the script along with the ritual tools (in my case usually this means a cup, an Athame, a pentacle, a scourge and a wand). If the space for the altar – the table or box is small then this altar needs to be stripped down and basic. It needs to have the tools first and foremost, the mundane as well the magical, and only after those needs are seen to does the decorating happen.

Other altars get to be prettier more of the time. Directional altars, altars for specific deities, the ancestors and so forth, while at times the focus of the working, usually are not the focus of the mundane elements and so can have more decorative components.

I guess this is where I say that while altars don’t have to be pretty, and filled with lots of stuff, I think if they are not at least aesthetically pleasing in their simplicity, then something is not working quite right. Maybe that’s my bias, but that’s what I strive for when I build altars – beauty along with functionality.

Before I start building an altar I decide what its function will be: will it be the main altar of an Essbat or a Sabbat? Will it represent a deity or archetypal energy like one of the elements? Here are a few examples of work I have done, two are for deities, and two are main altars for specific events.

Deity altars are lots of fun because for most deities there is enough information about who and what they are, what elements or energies they work with, what animals they are associated with and the like, to provide many options on things to include on the altar.

Demeter’s altar

 

This is an altar for Demeter that I built a few years ago for my private use. I like using varying levels in altars to give a variety of visual shapes and looks. The box in the middle is a box of holding – it includes two drawers to hold the items I used to make offerings to Demeter: olive oil, poppy seeds, barely, orange spray and honey. On top of the box is a bowl to receive the offerings bracketed by two stone carvings of horses to represent Demeter’s role as Queen of Horses. Behind the bowl are two different representations of wheat. The front one is actually a candle holder, the back one is a plaque that I accented with strategically placed bits of paint. The colors of fabric range from blue to gold both of which are colors that I associate with Demeter. The gold is the more common color for her with all her associations with wheat and honey. The blue is for her connection to the ocean.

 

When I started building this altar, I converted a bookshelf and so needed to find a home for the misplaced books. Next was a quick cleaning to get all the dust and old energies out of the space. Then honestly there is a lot of sitting there listening to the space, to Demeter, and my instincts. Slowly I get a feeling for what might work and start hanging fabric to create the container for the other elements. Next came height issues… so I played with a couple of different sized boxes to see which would both work well in the altar and give me the storage space I needed for the offering supplies. I already had a collection of items like the plaque, the candles and the horses set aside as elements I knew I wanted to work into the design. Now that the surfaces were set up, I could start playing with laying out these items and see what fit with what. A little tinkering and I settled on a design that felt right. Over the next few days, as I worked with the altar I tweaked a few things here and there, adding one or two more items, taking away some things in balance.

 

Here is another example of an altar to Diety – this time several in one. This is an altar my housemate and I created to honor all the Dead Gods that members of our household are working with: Hella, Ghede, and Mamman Bridgette specifically.

Dead Gods altar 2007

 

This altar was built in a space under the spiral stairs connecting the upper and lower parts of our house. We all like the symbolism implied in the altar to dead gods being under the stairs and on the lower level. Here again we used several levels both for visual interest and to help get all the gods a section for their icons and offerings. In years past we have used black and white, this year black and red felt like a good choice. The first thing we did was to cover the space in black fabric for the color and feel, and to keep the dust off the elements of the altar (all the traffic on the stairs brings lots of dirt and dust between the treads). In keeping with the theme, there are several skulls used here. One is in fact a human skull that was legal purchased from that joy of shopping – the bone room. Another is a resin skull representing Papa Ghede, and the third is actual a votive holder made of plaster. In addition there is the lower portion of a horse jaw bone that is used in connection with Hella. The two bowls of stones and stuff are representative of burial mounds. The one on the middle level belongs to Hella, the one on the upper level belongs to Mamman Bridgette. Once again, we provided a plate to receive offerings as needed and candles, this time home made, for the various powers.

 

Altars for a specific ritual natural have other needs to be addressed. General these can be seen as highly decorated main altars where the decorations help to align the altar with the theme and focus of the ritual.

This first picture is from a ritual my husband and I did with our coven to celebrate our eighth wedding anniversary and to support all the member of the coven in making and keeping strong, vibrant partnerships.

 

Altar for Wedding Anniversary 2006

Here I used the underskirt from my wedding dress, with its heavily beaded trim, as the altar cloth to tie all the energies of the altar and the ritual in to the purpose and theme of the work. The rest of the altar items are things normally used by the coven during ritual with the addition of our wedding goblets as the chalice for cakes and wine, and flowers reminiscent of those used in my wedding bouquet. As flashy as this altar seems, most of the difference and flash comes from the choice of fabric for the altar cloth. Using the skirt could have been awkward, but in fact worked out very well magically for all involved.

These last two altar pictures are from another coven event, this time for Beltane several years ago. The ritual was held out doors in our backyard using an old willow tree stump as the main altar.

Beltaine Altar full

There was an amazing crop of Lilacs that year and I had bought several bunches which we used around the base of the stump to give that luscious Beltane, fruitfulness of the gods feeling that comes with the season.

Beltaine altar close up

The items on the altar are again several tools that are normally used by the coven in ritual with the addition of the plaque and goddess statue in the middle and the bowl of beads (that later had water added to it) to the right. All the statuary by the way is from Paul Borda of Dryad Designs… I just added a little paint to my copies to spice things up.

As far as I can tell, there really is no wrong way to make an altar. Sure, you can put too many things on a small surface or use clashing colored cloths, but in the end, if you come to the process with love and focused intention of making something beautiful for yourself and the gods, then I think you will succeed, no matter how many kitten statues or feathers you choose to use. And above all, have fun and enjoy the process. Altar building is like coloring with three dimensional objects… inside or outside the line does not matter, what matters is having fun and making something you like.

Blessings,

Kate