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Posted by on in Culture Blogs

I recently facilitated a large, public ritual at a local state park.  A lot of friends and old regulars came, and we were lucky to have a few new faces, too.  One of our surprise guests was a young mother who we have known for a few years but don’t get to see very often.  She comes to events when she can, but I really only end up seeing her once a year or so, at most.  Much to my surprise, she brought her kids with her to the ritual.  They’re sweet, clever little devils, and they have a history of being somewhat rowdy and in need of a lot of re-direction.

The children came rushing up to the altar as soon as the family arrived at the park.  This was one of those moments where Childless Trivia thought in panic “Ooh... right… kids…!”  I took time out to speak to them about the altar, making it very clear to them that they could look to their heart’s desire but touching was absolutely forbidden.  The children nodded solemnly and then went to go play on some rocks, immediately forgetting about candles, statues, and various other temptations.

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Posted by on in Paths Blogs
Asatru Altar for Sumbel and Blot

This photo is my altar for a holiday sumbel and blot, such as Yule. Sumbel is the toasting and blot is the blessing.

Altars for different purposes will have different things on them. This one is a portable altar used for community ritual. A permanent altar dedicated to a god or ancestor or to the gods generally, also called a shrine, would generally have fewer working tools and more symbols, and would probably include representations of the gods or other beings to whom it is dedicated, such as statues or pictures, and possibly sacrifices to them. Some Asatruars keep shrines and some don't, but any Asatru community ritual includes a sumbel, and most include a blot.

The altar for a sumbel has to include something to drink since sumbel is a toasting ritual. Asatru uses a drinking horn for this ritual. We use a cow's horn to honor Audhumla, the sacred cow who was the first self-aware being. Our mythology says that before time began or the World Tree grew, Audhumla licked the gods and the giants out of the ice and nurtured them on her milk. So a cow's horn represents the Great Mother.

There are two bottles and two horns on the altar in this picture because one bottle and horn set is for alcohol and one is for a non-alcoholic beverage. This altar also contains a bottle opener. This isn't a dedicated holy bottle opener, just the normal one from my kitchen, but being used for ritual means this opener is going to have a bit of specialness about it even after being returned to normal use. It is traditional to toast with mead, but other beverages work, too.

The altar for blot almost always contains all the things for sumbel as well because sumbel usually comes first and then blot. In the old days, the blot bowl caught the blood of a sacrificed animal, keeping the blood from touching the ground, and then the blood was sprinkled over the participants to bless them. In modern times, the bowl is partially filled with water, and then the dregs of the horn are poured in the bowl after the sumbel, and the mead / water mixture is sprinkled over the participants to bless them.

The pine branch on the altar is the asperger, which is used to sprinkle the water onto the participants. This pine branch is from a sacred pine tree I maintain at my home for this purpose. Before the main ritual, I ritually cut the asperger from the tree with this ritual knife. The knife can then go on the altar, on my belt, or can be put away.

This basic altar contains only the things necessary for the ritual. It can also be decorated with seasonally appropriate decorations, symbols of the gods, and anything meaningful to the godhi or gythia (the conductor of the ritual) or to the ritual participants.

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Posted by on in Paths Blogs
5 Must Have Magickal Apps

The best magickal tool is the one you have on hand when you need it.  I own wands, swords, athames, censers, candles, and all the other accoutrement one might expect of a witch, but what is the tool I use most often?  My phone.  Why?  Because I always have it on me, unlike the vast array of traditional tools that live at home on my altar.  Here are my top five most frequently used magickal apps, in no particular order.

1. Kindle.  Thanks to cloud based storage I have access to my entire digital library anytime, anywhere I have cell signal.  I frequently use my Kindle app to look up references from spell books, herbal formularies, and field guides.  If you’re out and about in the world and need to look up correspondences, herbal contraindications, or who’s who in the witchy world then this app is invaluable.  Unfortunately, a lot of the best magickal books aren’t available digitally yet, so it’s no substitute for a proper library.


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Posted by on in Culture Blogs

Focusing is an important part of practicing magic, and there are a number of tools that can help you achieve this--like the wand. Wands are directly linked to Nature and the four elements, the source of all physical life. Wood wands, in particular, are quite common because they hold elements of earth, fire, water and air. In Irish myth, oak, ash, thorn and hazel are the most noble of the trees and, therefore, the best for wand making, but you can use any that “speak” to you. One of our friends, author Pauline Campanelli, liked to use a fallen twig from her favorite twisted filbert tree! The tree is anchored in earth, draws water and nutrients from the soil, releases oxygen through its leaves, and is burned for fuel. Wood naturally conducts energy.

Other materials are popular as well, and for the same reason: conductivity. Crystal wands are great at drawing energy from your hand chakra and directing it outward, as are those made of copper. Your wand can be as simple or fancy as you like. The feel is most important. How does it rest in your hand? Does it feel too light, too heavy, or too awkward? When you extend your arm and point at an object in the distance, does it seem like a natural part of you, or does your arm get weak and shaky? When you draw a pentagram in the air, can you sense your energy moving outward through the wand? These are things to consider when making your selection. Obtaining a wand can be as simple as finding a fallen branch with an interesting twig, buying one from a Craft store or festival, or making your own. Crafting a wand yourself allows you to bind your energy to the wand at all times, not just when it's in use. In fact, you can easily craft a wand that combines wood, crystal AND copper. You will need:

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs

Avast me Witchlings! The Summer Solstice is upon us--and this be no ordinary Sabbat! Sound the trumpets! Break out the MAGIC CONCH! Aaarrrrr!

Pirates (and Sponge Bob) aside, there really is such a thing as a Magic Conch. When you stop laughing, consider this: The life that was stirring at Imbolc blinked it's eyes at the Spring Equinox, started to bloom at Beltain, and now is in full swing--a reason to celebrate!

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Youth Q&A: Swordless in New York State

In the correspondence-based work that I do with Pagan youth, much of my communications revolve around answering questions and giving suggestions about how to live a Pagan life with both the restraints and opportunities that being a young person represents. This Youth Q&A column will be updated regularly with my questions and answers, shared with permission from the questioner. Only the names will be removed for privacy and safety.

Having a sword or athame is the only thing my mom won’t let me do. Everything else is fine with her. I have to have one for my altar, right?
Age 16, Syracuse NY

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Jennifer Bisson
    Jennifer Bisson says #
    I also started out using a letter opener. I have also used a pointed crystal, a wooden folding fan, a pencil, a small spear point
  • Finn McGowan
    Finn McGowan says #
    In the bad old days when living with my parents or unsympathetic partners I would use secret, mundane tools. The Athame was a Swis
  • Diane Hedden
    Diane Hedden says #
    I am a witch who has worked both as a solitary and with a coven for over 25 years. I have met quite a few other witches who do
  • Terence P Ward
    Terence P Ward says #
    For my handfasting, the priest was more than happy to use the titanium spork I provided.

Posted by on in Studies Blogs
Theology is God-talk

I’ve very grateful for all of the on- and off-blog posts to me about the question of evil. It is gratifying to know that I’m being read. Before we go deeper into specific subjects, I want to take a step back and gain some perspective on our project. This blog is an experiment in what is technically called Systematic Theology. It is systematic in that it endeavors to cover core issues pertaining to a religious tradition, here Pagan, in an orderly, coherent, where appropriate rational, and hopefully complete way. This is different from Practical Theology, which has to do with applying theology to life (although we’ll do some of that too). Practical theology has a variety of sub-disciplines like pastoral, political or liturgical theologies, dealing with theology in the context of the practitioner’s service to a population, or in application to political or social discourse, or with respect to ritual practice, respectively. But now, I want to talk about the idea of theology itself.

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Recent comment in this post - Show all comments
  • Christine Kraemer
    Christine Kraemer says #
    Sam, I'm delighted to see you writing on this topic. I have an introduction to Pagan theology coming out from Patheos Press this f

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