Monday, November 24, 2014

Celtic Tree Month of Elder begins tomorrow

Elder Moon: November 24 - December 23

 - Image © Photographer's Choice/Getty Images; Licensed to
The Elder Moon is a month of beginnings and endings.
The winter solstice has passed, and the Elder moon is a time of endings. Although the Elder can be damaged easily, it recovers quickly and springs back to life, corresponding to the approaching New Year. Called Ruish by the Celts (pronounced roo-esh), the month of Elder is a good time for workings related to creativity and renewal. It is a time of beginnings and endings, births and deaths, and rejuvenation. Elder is also said to protect against demons and other negative entities. Use in magic connected to Faeries and other nature spirits.

Friday, November 21, 2014

How To Make a Book of Shadows

BOS1e.JPG - Image © Patti Wigington 2014; Licensed to
The Book of Shadows (BOS) is used to store information you'll need in your magical tradition, whatever it may be. Many Pagans and Wiccans feel a BOS should be handwritten, but some use a computer to store information as well. Bear in mind that a BOS is considered a sacred tool, which means it is an item of power that should be consecrated with all of your other magical tools. Copy spells and rituals into your BOS by hand – this will not only transfer energy to the writer, but it also helps you to memorize the contents. Make sure you write legibly enough that you’ll be able to read your notes during a ritual!

To make your Book of Shadows, begin with a blank notebook. A popular method is to use a three-ring binder so items can be added and rearranged as needed. If you use this style of BOS, you can use sheet protectors as well, which is great for preventing candle wax and other ritual drippings from getting on the pages! Whatever you select, your title page should include your name. Make it fancy or simple, depending on your preference, but remember that the BOS is a magical object and should be treated accordingly. Many witches simply write, “The Book of Shadows of [your name]” on the front page.
What format should you use? Some witches are known to create elaborate Books of Shadows in secret, magical alphabets. Unless you’re fluent enough in one of these systems that you can read it without having to check notes or a chart, stick with your native language. While a spell looks beautiful written out in flowing Elvish script or Klingon lettering, the fact is that it’s just hard to read unless you’re an Elf or a Klingon.

When it comes to the contents of your personal BOS, there are a few sections that are nearly universally included.
  • Laws of your coven or tradition: Believe it or not, magic has rules. While they may vary from group to group, it’s a really good idea to keep them at the front of your BOS as a reminder of what constitutes acceptable behavior and what doesn’t. If you’re part of an eclectic tradition that doesn’t have written rules, or if you’re a solitary witch, this is a good place to write down what YOU think are acceptable rules of magic. After all, if you don’t set yourself some guidelines, how will you know when you’ve crossed over them? This may include a variation on the Wiccan Rede, or some similar concept.
  • A dedication: If you’ve been initiated into a coven, you may want to include a copy of your initiation ceremony here. However, many Wiccans dedicate themselves to a God or Goddess long before they become part of a coven. This is a good place to write out who you are dedicating yourself to, and why. This can be a lengthy essay, or it can be as simple as saying, “I, Willow, dedicate myself to the Goddess today, June 21, 2007.”
  • Gods and Goddesses: Depending on what pantheon or tradition you follow, you may have a single God and Goddess, or a number of them. Your BOS is a good place to keep legends and myths and even artwork concerning your Deity. If your practice is an eclectic blend of different spiritual paths, it’s a good idea to include that here.
  • Correspondence tables: When it comes to spellcasting, correspondence tables are some of your most important tools. Phases of the moon, herbs, stones and crystals, colors – all have different meanings and purposes. Keeping a chart of some sort in your BOS guarantees that this information will be at the ready when you really need it. If you have access to a good almanac, it’s not a bad idea to record a years’ worth of moon phases by date in your BOS.
  • Sabbat rituals: The Wheel of the Year includes eight holidays for most Wiccans and Pagans, although some traditions do not celebrate all of them. Your BOS can include rituals for each of the Sabbats. For example, for Samhain you may wish to create a rite that honors your ancestors and celebrates the end of the harvest, while for Yule you may want to write down a celebration of the winter Solstice. A Sabbat celebration can be as simple or complex as you wish.
  • Other rituals: If you’ll be celebrating each full moon, you’ll want to include an Esbat rite in your BOS. You can use the same one each month, or create several different ones tailored to the time of year. You may also wish to include sections on how to cast a circle and Drawing Down the Moon, a rite that celebrates the invoking of the Goddess at the time of the full moon. If you’ll be doing any rites for healing, prosperity, protection, or other purposes, be sure to include them here.
  • Herbs: Ask any experienced Pagan or Wiccan about a specific herb, and chances are good that they’ll expound on not only the magical uses of the plant but also the healing properties and history of use. Herbalism is often considered the core of spellcasting, because plants are an ingredient that people have used for literally thousands of years. Put together a section in your BOS for herbs and their uses. Remember, many herbs should not be ingested, so it’s important to research thoroughly before you take anything internally.
  • Divination: If you’re learning about Tarot, scrying, astrology, or any other form of divination, keep information in here. When you experiment with new methods of divination, keep a record of what you do and results you see in your Book of Shadows.
  • Sacred texts: While it’s fun to have a bunch of new shiny books on Wicca and Paganism to read, sometimes it’s just as nice to have information that’s a little more established. If there is a certain text that appeals to you, such as The Charge of the Goddess, an old prayer in an archaic language, or a particular chant that moves you, include it in your Book of Shadows.
  • Magical recipes: There’s a lot to be said for “kitchen witchery,” because for many people, the kitchen is the center of hearth and home. As you collect recipes for oils, incense, or herb blends, keep them in your BOS. You may even want to include a section of food recipes for Sabbat celebrations.
  • Spell workings: Some people prefer to keep their spells in a separate book called a grimoire, but you can also keep them in your Book of Shadows. It’s easier to keep spells organized if you divide them up by purpose: prosperity, protection, healing, etc. With each spell you include - particularly if you write your own rather than using someone else's ideas - make sure you also leave room to include information on when the working was performed and what the outcome was.
The biggest dilemma with any Book of Shadows is how to keep it organized. You can use tabbed dividers, create an index at the back, or if you’re really super-organized, a table of contents in the front. As you study and learn more, you’ll have more information to include – this is why the three-ring binder is such a practical idea. Some people choose instead to use a simple bound notebook, and just add to the back of it as they discover new items.

You may want to use one notebook for information copied from books or downloaded off the Internet, and another for original creations. Regardless, find the method that works best for you, and take good care of your Book of Shadows. After all, it’s a sacred object and should be treated accordingly!

By Patti Wigington
Paganism/Wicca Expert

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Ancestor Altar Cloth

AncestorCloth2_1500.jpg - Image by Patti Wigington 2013

Make an ancestor altar cloth to honor your family tree.
An ancestor altar cloth is something you can make any time of the year, although it can come in particularly handy for Samhain, when many people choose to perform ancestor-focused rituals. This project can be as simple or as complex as you like, depending on your time constraints, creativity, and crafting skills.
You’ll need:
  • A plain white or cream-colored tablecloth, or other piece of fabric
  • Fabric pencil
  • Embroidery floss and hoop, or fabric markers
  • A genealogy of your direct ancestors
A few notes here, before you get started. There’s no hard and fast rule about how to do this - it’s a craft idea that is very personalized. Do what works best for you. If you’re handy with a needle and thread, you can embroider the cloth - it will definitely last longer that way. If you’re not confident about your stitching abilities, you can use fine-tipped fabric markers (keep in mind that this option may limit your ability to wash the altar cloth if it gets dirty or stained during ritual).

As to your genealogy, you can keep it simple if you like, or if you’ve never done any genealogy research. You’ll need the names of your parents, of their parents, their grandparents, and so on. If you want to include your children, you can do that too.

 The ancestor altar cloth in the photos contains eight generations going in four different genealogical directions - it’s a lot of people, spread out over a full-sized tablecloth. If you’re keeping yours small, you may not need as much room - or you can choose to make the text larger.

Start by putting yourself in the center, and writing your name carefully with a lightweight fabric pencil - these wash or brush off easily when you’re done. Branch out, including your parents’ names above you, one on each side. Using lines to connect everyone, gradually add the names of your ancestors. You can even include dates of birth and death, or place names if you have the room.
It’s best to do all of this in pencil first - or better yet, use Post-It Notes, one for each ancestor’s name - to position people around the cloth. If you know the names of lots of ancestors on one side, but only a few on the other, it can start looking lopsided pretty quickly, unless you’re able to rearrange people (this is why sticky notes are great).

Once you’ve figured out everyone’s placement, add the names in fabric pencil until you’ve included as many people as you like. If you’re going to embroider the names, work from one side to the other, just to keep things simple - you may even want to do different branches of the family, or different generations, in alternating colors. If you opt to use fabric markers for the final work, be careful! Stitches can always be picked out, but markers are permanent.

Keep in mind that the very act of creation can be a magical one, and you can utilize the crafting of this altar cloth as a ritual in and of itself. Particularly if you're stitching, there's a very meditative aspect to the creative process.

After you’ve put everyone’s names on the fabric, use it as an altar cloth for rituals involving ancestor work.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Make a Ritual Robe

 - Image © Patti Wigington 2008

A ritual robe is simple to make, and can be created in any color your tradition calls for.
Many Wiccans and Pagans prefer to perform ceremonies and rituals in special robes. If you're part of a coven or group, your robe might have to be a certain color or style. In some traditions, the color of the robe indicates the level of training a practitioner has. For many people, donning the ritual robe is a way of separating themselves from the mundane business of everyday life -- it's a way of stepping into the ritual mindset, of walking from the mundane world into the magical world. Most people prefer to wear nothing at all under their ritual robe, but do what is comfortable for you.
It's not uncommon to have robes for the different seasons, symbolizing the turning Wheel of the Year. You can make one in blue for spring, green for summer, brown for fall, and white for winter -- or any other colors that symbolize the seasons for you. Do take the time to put some thought into your color selection -- it used to be that most Wiccans wore white robes, but many people prefer to use earth tones, because it's a way of establishing one's connection with nature. Some people choose to avoid black, because it sometimes has negative connotations, but use the color that feels right for you.
 - Image (c) 2007 Patti Wigington

Fold your material in half, and cut out a piece from either side, leaving a t-shaped piece of fabric.
To make a basic robe without buying a pattern, you can follow these simple steps. You'll need the following:
  • A piece of material in the color of your choice -- make sure you select something that will be easy to sew and comfortable to wear. On the average, you'll need about three yards, but if you're heavyset or extra-tall, add in some more. A flat bedsheet is actually the perfect size for this.
  • Scissors, thread, tailor's chalk, and a measuring tape.
  • A sewing machine.
  • A length of cord or light rope, approximately 6 feet long.
You'll need some help for this first step, because you need to measure yourself from wrist to wrist with your arms outstretched. Unless you have a third arm, get a friend to do this for you. This measurement will be Measurement A. Next, figure the distance from the nape of your neck to a point even with your ankle -- this will be Measurement B.  
Fold the fabric in half (if the material has a print on it, fold it with the pattern side in). Using your A and B measurements, cut out along the lines indicated in Figure 1, making a sort-of T-shape. Don't cut out along the top fold -- that's the part that will go along the top of the arms and shoulders.

 - Image (c) 2007 Patti Wigington

Cut a hole for your head and neck, and then stitch under the arms and down the sides.
Next, cut a hole for your head (X) at the center of Measurement A. Don't make it too big, or your robe will slide off your shoulders! On each side, sew along the underside of the sleeve, leaving an opening at Y for the arms (Figure 2). Then sew from the armpit down to the bottom of the robe. Turn your robe right-side out, try it on, and adjust it for length if needed.
 - Image (c) 2007 Patti Wigington

Add a cord around the waist to keep your robe from flapping about during ceremonies.
Finally, add a cord around the waist, as shown in Figure 3. In some traditions the cord may be knotted to indicate degrees of training or education. In others, it acts simply as a belt to keep the robe from flapping around during ritual. You can also add trim, beadwork, or magical symbols to your robe. Personalize it, and make it yours. You may also wish to consecrate your robe before wearing it for the first time.
By Patti Wigington
Paganism/Wicca Expert

Friday, November 14, 2014

Make Your Own Besom

 - Image (c) Patti Wigington 2007

The besom is the traditional witch's broom, and can be used for ritually cleansing a space.
The besom is the traditional witch's broom. It's associated with all kinds of legend and folklore, including the popular notion that witches fly around in the night on a broomstick. In addition to being good for playing Quidditch, the besom is a great addition to your collection of magical tools -- it's used in many traditions as a method of cleansing or purifying a space. In some cultures, the rite of jumping the broom was considered an important part of a marriage ceremony. This ritual has seen some resurgence in popularity as more and more Wiccan and Pagan couples celebrate handfastings.
While it's easy to just buy a broom, it's also pretty easy to make one of your own out of different types of wood. Although the items that follow are for the more traditional style of besom, you can use nearly any types of branches available to you. You'll need:  
  • A four-foot length of ash or oak for the handle
  • Thin branches of birch for the bristle part (you can substitute a woody herb like mugwort or thyme for the bristles if you like)
  • Lengths of willow or heavy cord to bind everything together
You'll also need scissors and a bucket of warm water.
Whatever you'll be using for the bristles -- whether it's birch, an herb, or some other wood -- should be soaked in the warm water overnight to make them pliable, as should the willow binding, if you're using it.
 - Image (c) Patti Wigington 2007

Line up your broom handle and bristles, with the bottoms of the bristles pointing towards the top of the handle.
Lay the handle on a table or the floor, and place the bristles alongside it, lined up about four inches from the bottom. Point the bottom of the bristles towards the top of the broom, because you're going to flip the bristles in a minute (see Fig. 1).
 - Image (c) Patti Wigington 2007

Tie the bristles in place around the handle.
Use the willow branches or cording to wrap the bristles around the broom (Fig. 2). Add as many as you want to make the broom full. Make sure you tie the cording off securely so your bristles don't come popping out later.
 - Image (c) Patti Wigington 2007

Finally, fold the bristles down over the inner tie, and then tie on the outside.

Now, take the bristles and fold them down over the willow binding or cording so that they're pointing towards the bottom of the broom. Tie them down again at the base of the broomstick to secure them(Fig. 3). As you're wrapping the cord in place, visualize your intent for this besom. Will it be strictly decorative? Are you going to hang it in place over a door? Perhaps you'll use it ceremonially, or maybe even for physical cleaning. Focus on what you're going to be doing it, and charge it with energy.
Let your broom dry for a day or two, and when it's all done, consecrate it as one of your magical tools
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By Patti Wigington
Paganism/Wicca Expert

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Make Your Own Altar Pentacle

AltarPentacle_1500.JPG - Image by Patti Wigington 2007
This altar pentacle is easy to make using a simple wooden circle and a woodburning pen.

The pentacle is one of the most commonly used magical tools in the Wiccan religion, as well as in some traditions of Paganism. Typically, it is used on the altar as a place to hold items that are about to be ritually consecrated or charged. In some traditions, the pent represents the element of Earth.
There are many absolutely beautiful pentacles available commercially, made of wood, tile, metal, ceramic, and just about every other type of material. If you're operating on a budget, however, or if you just like the idea of handcrafting your own magical tools, it's not hard to make a pentacle of your own.

You'll need a wooden disc in the size of your choice, available at nearly any hardware or craft store.

The one in the photo is a 7" circle, and cost less than $3.00. You'll also need to decide whether you want to paint your pentacle pattern, or burn it into the wood. The one in the photo is burned on, using a woodburning pen that I bought for $2.00 at a craft store. Finally, you'll need some clear polyeurethane and a brush.

First, print out the image of the pentacle above, in black and white. Use a copy machine with resizing capabilities to either enlarge or shrink the image, depending on the size of your wooden disc. Once you have it the size you want, place it on top of the wooden disc.

Using a pencil, trace over the outline of the pattern, pressing down so that you make an indentation in the wood. Once the design is indented, use the pencil to go back over the indents, making a complete penciled pattern on the wood.

If you're painting, use your paints to go over the pencil lines. If you're using a woodburning pen, carefully trace over the lines -- depending on how experienced you are with woodburning, it may take a couple of hours.

When you're done, brush a few coats of polyeurethane over the design to give it some shine and to protect it from wear. If you like, use a small drill bit to make a hole in the center for incense sticks. Finally, if you're concerned that your pent might scratch your altar top, cut out a circle of felt the same size as the wooden disc, and glue it to the bottom of the wood.

Use your pentacle on your altar to consecrate ritual items, to bless or charge talismans, or to represent the element of Earth. Alternately, you could attach a hook to the back and hang it on your wall.

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By Patti Wigington
Paganism/Wicca Expert

Monday, November 10, 2014

Portable Altar

 - Image © Patti Wigington 2008

This simple box holds a stone to represent Earth, a broom for Air, a tealight candle symbolizing Fire, and a seashell for Water.
Why bother? Well, the obvious reason is that a portable altar is... well, portable. For some people, that's a desirable thing. You may wish to have a portable altar for any number of reasons. Perhaps your job requires you to travel a lot. Maybe you're a college student in a cramped dorm, and space is at a premium. Do you belong to a group that holds rituals in a different place each time? Got small children who will knock over anything and everything that you set out on a table top? Any of these -- and more -- are good reasons to creat a portable altar kit. It's easy to do, and it makes it a snap to just grab-and-go on your way out the door.
 - Image © Patti Wigington 2007

A small box can hold an altar cloth, and tools representative of the four elements for your rituals.

The first thing you'll need to do is decide what items you want to include in your portable altar. Some people like to put in every single magical tool they own, five different decks of Tarot cards, and their entire gemstone collection, but I've found that simple is usually better. In fact, if you keep just four items in there, you've probably got it made -- and those are the ones associated with the four classical elements.
Earth is symbolized by a pentacle, so if you can find a small one for your altar kit, add it. If you can't find one small enough to be portable, improvise. Use a small decorative dish, a small flat stone, or even a small vial of salt to represent earth.

Air can be represented in a number of ways, the traditional tool being the wand. If you don't have room for a wand, consider a feather, or even incense - the smoke is associated with both air and fire.

Fire is often connected to the athame, but if you're traveling around you may not be able to put anything with a blade in your bags. If that's the case, never fear -- use a candle (and bring matches or a lighter), or some other fire symbol. Deer antlers are also good substitutes for an athame.
The cup or chalice represents water. You can carry actual water with you in a small vial, or use the cup as symbolic of water. If you don't have access to water, try carrying a seashell or some other symbol of the feminine.

If your tradition requires you to use other items, you can add those as well. Some things you might want to include in your altar kit are:
  • A crystal
  • Tarot cards
  • A small statue representing deity
  • A bell
  • Finally, add a piece of fabric to use as an altar cloth. It doesn't have to be big, just large enough to spread all of your tools on, so you can perform a working anywhere you may be.
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    By Patti Wigington
    Paganism/Wicca Expert