Witch at Large: Ruminations from a Grey Perspective

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Creating Sacred Space with Pagan Prison Inmates – III

Next Steps

Now that we have the banners, we await other supplies, primary among them being incense.

Fire – Illumination and Aroma

Unlike in some prisons, we at San Quentin are allowed to have candles and incense.  The inmates do not have access to lighters and matches, nor can they burn candles anywhere except in our weekly circles.  So I bring a ‘pocket dragon’ in my pocket to light our two candles and our incense, and take it out with me when I leave.


Another way we plan to demarcate our sacred space is with the placement of appropriately colored glass novena candles at each cardinal point.  We can turn off the fluorescent overhead lights so that the altar candles and quarter candles are more visible, although we meet in the daytime.  However, since they’re glass and inmates cannot have glass objects, we have to keep them in the chaplain’s office instead of in the Wiccan locker.

Ideally, I’d like to see some seashells placed around the blue candle in the West, some feathers and maybe a bell around the yellow East candle, acorns, conifer cones, crystals or geodes in the North, etc., but I don’t think that’s gonna happen because of the various restrictions of the DOCR.  Frankly, I feel good that we can have the novenas at all.


We began with two white pillar candles representing Goddess and God.  These are the only candles we have so far; others are on order.  I got approval to bring in two glass patens upon which to place the candles so they don’t burn the altar cloth.  Again, since these patens are made of glass, they have to be stored in the office of our supervising chaplain.

The fact that we’re allowed fire means that we can do a bit of candle magic using birthday candles that will burn out before we leave our circle.  So far we haven’t done that yet, but we do plan to.

We also had a few pieces stick incense when I arrived, and part of a piece of charcoal.  I got approval to bring in an abalone shell for the incense (stick), now sitting upon a coaster to protect the altar from the heat buildup when our pending order of charcoal, frankincense, myrrh, and copal arrives.  I’ve brought in some Nag Champa (their favorite) and other miscellaneous stick incenses that I had around the house to tide us over until our supplies arrive, but it’s pretty much all gone now.

Our Native American friends offer us some of their sage to use as well.


As it turns out, I have no worries about aggravating the condition of those with breathing difficulties because all members of this circle love incense, and plenty of it.  My intent is to allow the scents to permeate the banners, and our clothing and hair, so that when the Witches are no longer in this sacred space we’ve created together, they can reconnect with the sense of the circle with the scent.  Our sense of smell is our most primal, and our body knows when it encounters a familiar, or unfamiliar, odor, even if it’s faint and we are not conscious of smelling it.

We have an order for tools and supplies, including incense burners (for stick and resins), a bell, candles and the like, with our friends at AzureGreen, courtesy once more of Matt Whealton.  I know that AzureGreen will send it out right away, but before it can be accepted at San Quentin, a detailed donation form must be circulated for about six signatures, from the Native American Chaplain who supervises us, through the Community Resources Manager, and all the way up to the Warden.

We eagerly await the arrival of tools and supplies.

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Aline O’Brien (M. Macha NightMare), Witch at Large, has circled with people of diverse Pagan paths throughout the U.S., and in Canada and Brazil.  Author of Witchcraft and the Web (2001) and Pagan Pride (2004), and co-author, with Starhawk, of The Pagan Book of Living and Dying (1997), Macha has also contributed to anthologies, periodicals, textbooks, and encyclopedias.  A member of the American Academy of Religion, the Marin Interfaith Council, and the Nature Religion Scholars Network, Macha also serves as a national interfaith representative for the Covenant of the Goddess (CoG) and on the Advisory Board of the Sacred Dying Foundation.  Having spent the last eleven years developing and teaching at Cherry Hill Seminary, the first and only seminary serving the Neopagan community, Macha now serves on its Board of Directors. An all-round Pagan webweaver, she speaks on behalf of Paganism to news media and academic researchers, and lectures at colleges, universities and seminaries. www.machanightmare.com


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