Monday, July 27, 2015

Birth Altar

With a little more than a week (give or take) to go before Poppyseed is born, we're in full-on preparation mode. My hospital bag is packed, Poppyseed's hospital bag is packed, the bassinet is put together, clothes are washed. There are still a few things that need doing but, for the most part, if she wanted to come tomorrow, we're ready. (I'm really ready! The sooner, the better!)

I came across this article about birth altars early last week and realized I had forgotten something. Well, maybe not forgotten, because I researched this at the start of my pregnancy, but I definitely had a little more preparation to do. Some people bring things to help them before, during, and after labor. They can be items to focus on or to help calm them or a reminder of something that gives them strength, as faith often does. Tangible objects are unnecessary when it comes to faith but, the truth is, they help for a lot of people. That's what a birth altar is: objects to help with those things like focus and courage and healing on a spiritual level. Giving birth is a transformative event and transformation is a big deal in many neo-pagan faiths. 

Building a small, portable birth altar to take with me to the hospital is fairly easy. The first thing I needed to do with this project is to realize and understand that, once active labor starts, I'm probably not going to be thinking of much of anything else. So, I designed my altar with that in mind: putting objects in a bag where they can be brought out if time/space/mental capacity allows but will still lend their energies if they don't. 

So, I started with the bag that will keep all my objects nicely contained. I modified this free pattern to make a little bag in the size I need and in colors that meant something to me- purple for me, blue for my husband, and green for growth and new life (yes, I know that purple, blue, and green are the colors the pattern designer used, that's not the point!).

A bag!
Next, I began gathering gemstones. I started with a quartz point, which is one of the most effective healing and energy-amplifying stones around. I have a rose quartz, also good for healing but has some calming properties too. A red carnelian is a great stone for grounding and healing the female reproductive system (and, as a bonus, can help with lower back healing too). A green aventurine is good for healing and reducing inflammation. Amethyst, one of my power stones, is a great stone of balance. It helps to focus and calm the mind. Moss agate is considered a birthing stone, historically used by midwives to lessen pain and ensure a good delivery. It is a stone of new beginnings and can help speed up recovery. Tiger's eye has long been accepted as a stone of courage and overcoming obstacles. It can also be useful in healing the reproductive system. I have extras of a couple of these that will stay on my home altar and contribute energy and meaning from there.

A collection of crystals.

I'm also the kind of person who likes the symbolism in statues. I made two, not sure what would suit me best for the hospital altar. The first is a design I came up with years ago: an abstract mother and child figure. The mother figure is me, a blend of purple for me, yellow for my mother, and blue for my grandmother. I included them as the two largest maternal influences in my life that will be passed to my daughter. The child figure, just a ball held by the mother figure, is Poppyseed, of course: a combination of lilac for my purple and blue for her father. The second statue I made is based on the popular Millennial Gaia statue by Oberon Zell. I did not need all the "Mother of the Earth" symbolism of the original statue, but the form and pose was appealing to me. I made her from a stone-look clay in brown with lilac hair (again, to represent me) with a world-like belly because Poppyseed is already my world. I haven't decided yet which statue is going in the hospital altar bag, probably the abstract, but the other one will stay on my home altar with the extra stones.

Mother statuary!

While I doubt that the hospital will allow a burning candle or incense (I haven't bothered to ask and I won't), candles and fragrance are an important part of my spiritual practice. Thankfully, I already have a safe alternative that will be enough of a symbol of the actual thing for me to do the trick. The LED candles we got for our wedding are vanilla scented. The look of a flickering candle will help sooth me, as well as the vanilla scent it gently emits.

Modern witches use modern tools!

Next, I made an herb pouch. I put a few pinches of three healing herbs in it: peppermint, arnica, and white willow. There are also some cleansing herbs: sage, lavender, and dragon's blood resin. I've found that just having herbs near me lends their energy and I don't need much. 

Tiny pouch of herbs.

My birth altar also needs an altar cloth because, while it's likely to stay in the bag for the birth itself just for practicality, all of these things will be helpful in recovery too. I picked a piece of cotton in a pleasing pattern and color and cut approximately a 9x9 square (9 being a sacred number) and serged the edges.

Altar cloth.

There are two final touches for my birth altar. The first is for me; I made a bracelet out of gems to aid in birth and recovering. I used fluorite, long used as a healing stone and to bring balance to the body in times of stress, and moonstone, good for balancing feminine energies, to promote a safe birth, and encourage healing of the female reproductive system. After I have charged and dedicated my items, I will wear this bracelet daily. There are 27 stones, the same number I use for my wrist malas. I definitely don't think I'll be able to count prayers with a mala while in labor but I certainly can, and plan to, in the days leading up to it. Counting prayers with a strand of mala beads is a calming and meditative act to me - and to many who use prayer beads. I have also prepared some affirmations and prayers to repeat in the coming days and after Poppyseed finally arrives.

A wrist mala of fluorite and moonstone.

The last item I want to include is a gift for my daughter. Even though there is no shortage of gifts for my daughter, many that were made especially for her, this one will be packed with the altar if it arrives in time. It is an amber necklace, and there is one for me as well. Amber necklaces on infants seems to be a fad right now, but a witch already knows the value of amber. It is a stone (yes, not technically a stone) that has been used for ages to draw dis-ease from the body. As a healer, it promotes tissue regeneration and balances and cleanses the chakras. She is not going to need this right away, but it will go in the altar bag just the same, my first magical gift to her.    

All the things, sitting on my altar for dedication. 

Preparing a portable altar for a specific reason goes beyond just getting things that have meaning and purpose for the task. Like most magical items, you want to dedicate them: specifically state in a ritualistic way what the altar is for and why those items were chosen. This also serves to cleanse them of any previous, unrelated purpose, so all your tools and items are fully dedicated to the task at hand. Since I only just finished putting my altar together, with the exception of the amber necklaces that should be in the mail and on the way to me soon, I haven't done this yet, though some cleansing has already begun. My dedication ritual is simple, and there is no need for something elaborate and complex anyway. This final part will be completed, and the items packed away and ready, this evening. 

27 birth affirmations, to be repeated four times (this is why we count with a mala):

I will have a strong and healthy baby.
I trust my body to know how to birth this child.
I trust my instincts to know what I need in labor. 
I am a strong and capable woman.
My body was built for this.
I accept myself completely here and now. 
I feel inner peace and serenity. 
I feel the love of others around me. 
I am a powerful, loving, and creative being.
My baby knows how and when to be born.
I will breathe deeply and slowly.
I am completely relaxed and comfortable. 
I will have an uncomplicated birth. 
I will have a joyous birth.
Birth is a safe and wonderful experience.
All I need to do is relax and breathe.
Everything is going as it should. 
Inhale peace, exhale tension.
My baby is healthy. 
I know my baby feels our calmness and confidence.
I am ready and prepared for childbirth.
My job is to relax and allow the birth to happen.
I am excited to give birth to my baby.
I have courage, faith, and patience.
My courage and patience will send my baby into my arms.
I am open to the energy of birth.
I deserve this wonderful birth experience.

Some pre-birth prayers:

Mother Goddess, sitting so gently, 
I will need both gentleness and strength in the days ahead.
Aid me as I become a mother:
You know well what that means.
May I know also. 

Stand about her, servants of the Mother,
Singing the birth songs clearly
So that my baby, although deep inside, 
May learn what she must know
To do what she must do.
Go before her, Great Mother,
Open the gates, open the doors, 
Open all the ways, that the birth might be easy.

The child moves down the birth canal
On the first of her many journeys.
Mother Goddess, make her journey be smooth and safe.

Some post-birth prayers:

On this baby who rests in my arms,
Pour blessings, O Lord, pour blessings.
On this baby who rests in my arms,
Pour blessings, O Lady, pour blessings.

May the gods walk beside this child throughout her life,
Guiding her steps into the way proper to her,
Guiding her way along the sacred path.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

If I Build It, Will They Come?

Last night, my husband asked me about my last blog post. He does not share my faith but respects that I have it and how important it is to me. Anyway, he said something very interesting that had me stuck deep in thought for most of the night and today too. 

He said, rather than look for a local fellowship that fits what I want and possibly being disappointed by what I do or don’t find, why not start my own. 

Why not start my own?

My first thought was that I absolutely could do it. It would include celebration of the holy days, lessons and learning and teaching, everyone sharing what they know, celebrating together, being together. It would require space. We could use the big room in the basement until I could get an outside area ready (and I could). There would be room for Sabbat-related crafts (one of my favorite parts of those previous gatherings), and pre-ritual pot-luck feasts. Not a carbon copy of what I learned from my time with Shadow Grove, though I would probably use that as a starting point. And it wouldn’t have to be just Sabbat rituals, there could also be Esbats, classes, meditation sessions. Possibilities. Just the thought of this makes my heart pound with excitement. 

There are some hurdles. 

The only space I have to work with is our home, and we’re in an urban area, not nearly as secluded as Shadow Grove is. But, I think that’s okay too. It just means our outdoor rituals would have to be quiet and reserved rather than loud and boisterous. And there is plenty of indoor space to work with as well.

Is there a demand for a pagan-oriented, non-denominational ritual, learning, and gathering fellowship in Southern Maryland? Are there people here searching for what I’m searching for and willing to build? How do I find them, or help them to find me? 

My husband also cautioned that I would have to be willing to see it change beyond what my first vision is. I completely understand that. While I reference Shadow Grove, it was not my only group, just the most recent and the best fit for me out of all the others. Even the Grove evolved and changed over the years I was involved with them. Any endeavor like this would eventually be shaped by those who are invested in it. I already understand and accept this, as I've seen it happen.  

So, what do you think? Why not start my own? If I build it, will they come?

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

A Ramble

Someone in my minister group posted this interesting blog that briefly touched on the outward and visible devotion of other faiths that modern American paganism seems to be lacking. It is a brief read.

However, I think the point that Krasskova is missing is that modern paganism isn't like any denomination of modern Christianity where she sees such devotion and piety. Pagan paths are as numerous as the people who claim to follow one and there is no one single authority leading us or telling us how to worship or how to be 'good pagans.' Additionally, paganism of any kind is still shunned and persecuted in many communities, so of course we're less likely to be seen on our knees in front of some sacred building (do pagans have sacred buildings, even?) in an effort to protect ourselves. The fact that my relationship with Deity is truly a personal one and not something that I flaunt in front of the public eye does not make me any less devoted or pious than my brothers and sisters who make a big show of how very devoted they are.

Part of her point, though, I think I do see. A lot of people who claim paganism as their faith learned it from a book, and not a sacred and unifying text like the Bible, but probably something published by Llewellyn, which has the regrettable reputation of teaching McWitchcraft. Without the equivalent of a head church or knowing how to find who pagan leaders are even within your own community, all we really have are books and there is no criteria or proof of authority or authenticity required to write one.  In that regard, pagans the world over are reaching in the dark for some guidance or structure and only finding it in books penned by people with Wolf somewhere in their name. That is not to say that learning from books is bad, but the books available to us aren't teaching us the right lessons. What we need to know is that we can design our faith based on what feels right to us. That we can mix pantheons and official traditions and thoroughly build that personal relationship with the Divine. That a solitary path does not mean a lesser one and that keeping your devotion personal and private does not mean that you lack it.

I had a conversation with a friend recently who expressed an interest in paganism but did not know where to begin to learn and asked me for guidance. It made me wish I did have a Bible-type book to pass along to her as a good place to begin. What I need, instead, is something closer to a Sunday school lesson plan. I'm fully confident in my ability to put such a thing together but just being asked has made me miss the days when I lived in close proximity to a fellowship where dozens of us, all on our own unique paths, would gather for Sabbats and spend entire weekends celebrating that which makes our faith special and meaningful and powerful.

Then I find myself in the same position that I just stated most of us are in; not knowing how to find something within my community. And it comes with it no small amount of trepidation that any fellowships I do find would fit me and my path as well as the one I had. In addition to that, starting with a new group often puts you at the bottom, where people just assume that you know nothing just because you are new to them and treat you accordingly. In that, I have no interest. I have been walking this path for more than 20 years. While every step has the potential for a new direction, back at the very beginning when I was one of those people who only had a book by someone named Wolf is not one of them.

I was going to add that I don't feel like my current spiritual journey is missing something, but it occurs to me that I wouldn't be writing about this if that were so. I am a solitary priestess, but gathering and celebrating with others did bring a certain comfort to my journey that I can't create on my own. If only finding pagan circles was as easy as driving around town and making note of any church that matches your denomination so you can go during their scheduled times of worship and see if it is a good fit.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Infinity Scarf Tutorial

Another tutorial! How to tie an infinity scarf as a headwrap!