_I was recently asked this question over on twitter and I knew straight away that the answer was going to be a blog post and certainly couldn't be limited by 140 characters. 

I wasn't quite expecting how passionately I would feel about such an innocent question, which has been a interesting journey in itself.  This might even get a bit controversial!

The quick response to the question is "no I don't" and frankly the words seem like a bit of a cop out.  It isn't that I don't want to "harm none" or fail to work only for the "highest and best interest" but I think these caveats and qualifications lead to a certain kind of moral and magickal laziness (there I said it, judgmental warts and all).

If I do a piece of magic then I should have considered well in advance whether it harms any or serves a selfish and damaging desire rather than something in my highest interest.  This moral/psychological preparation requires a lot of work, hard work where you have to be brutally honest about your motives, desires and where you must really think through the consequences of your actions, possibly even question your values and whether you really live up to them.  Once this sort of "hygiene audit" has been done I have the confidence of knowing that there is nothing within me which will lead to an unwanted result.

There are four scenarios behind using the above words, two of which I disapprove of, two of which could be useful.

Firstly, you haven't don't any sort of moral audit or mental
preparation prior to doing your magick then you can't make the
Universe your safety net by making one of the above statements.  That abdication of personal responsibility is not cool and often cited as a reason for Pagans leaving mainstream religion. If I actually want to cause harm or revenge is deep in my heart this will be expressed in my magic regardless of what I *say*.

Secondly I have done all my soul searching and moral preparation and yet still feel the need to have a safety net.  By doing all the hard
work and *still* whacking a caveat on your magick you are putting a
big sign up to the universe that you are not confident, perhaps even
that you don't really believe you are capable of assessing a situation
and choosing the right course of action.  That should be a big signpost that you need to work on your confidence and self belief because if you do harbour secret doubts about your magick then they will probably come out somehow - probably not by causing harm but these insecurities will undermine your magick.

Thirdly, there may be a situation where you have done all your soul
searching, are completely confident and don't need a safety net and
you may choose to use these words anyway to announce to the Universe that you have done your homework and are confident you are causing harm to none.  I can see how giving voice to the preparation you have done could be a powerful magickal tool - but easily confused with scenario two.

Lastly, I can see an argument for using a form of these words in group magick, just because you are working with a group of individuals who will likely be at different stages in their personal development etc. and in this case it works well to bond the group and remind everyone that you are doing this for some sort of highest good.  Using it as one of the many tools to align a group of disparate individuals to a single focussed magickal working is a very different proposition to the above.

Successful and responsible magick is a discipline, it requires a lot
of personal work and confidence.  I am a Witch, I work magic according to my will (possibly even my Will).

I don’t hedge my bets.

What do you think about making these statements in your own workings?
Rocking on with the last part of the ten steps...

6. Permanent Altar Items.  I liken this to directing a play. If you were directing a play how would you arrange your scenery and setting to enhance the action?  What important and significant items do you want on the altar which will be a constant reminder and inspiration to you; a representation of the Gods and Goddess in some form, a pentagram, chalice or drinking horn.  Perhaps even your favourite tarot deck or runes.  This is the ideal place to really express some of the cornerstones of your religion and magickal practice.  This forms the main and constant backdrop to the altar - but permanent doesn’t have to mean forever, don’t feel compelled to keep something on your altar if it no longer serves you!

7. Temporary Altar Items.  These the things which are on your altar for a defined purpose and for a limited period, they may reflect a current magical working, something you want to keep in your subconscious mind for a particular time period,  or even perhaps seasonal or festival specific decorations and offerings.  The key with these things is to treat them consciously and remove them when their purpose is served – don’t let them linger and become part of the background or start to rot, this will dilute their power and purpose and might start to dilute the powerful associations you hold with the altar itself.

8. Keep it clean and tidy.  I am not the world’s most enthusiastic cleaner, I have a dust allergy as well which only reinforces my view that I was not born to do lots of housework.  But even I make an exception in the case of my altar.  Seeing your personal altar choked with dust and covered in rotting flowers and fruit can give you a shocking insight into the state of your spiritual health so keep it clean.  I try to clean my altar as an act of meditation rather than as part of the same frenetic and hateful job I do all over the house – perhaps one day I sweep the floors and clean the oven in the same way…but I fear that day is a long way off.

9. Make it Personal.  If it wasn’t already obvious I am saying this again.  Your altar is your personal connection to the Universe, the Gods, Spirit, and the Ancestors etc.  So make it all about you.  Don’t accept anyone else’s word for it concerning what should be on your Personal altar – re-examine all your beliefs and associations and pick what resonates for you now.  Then in a week, a month, six months check that this is all still what is right for you. If we were setting up a specific altar for a particular ceremonial magical purpose then I might say something different – but we aren’t.  This is a personal empowerment altar.  Make it personally empowering!

10. And Activate!  My experience of altars as described in my last few posts is that they can be active or passive.  When I want to activate my altar I light the candles and incense I keep on it.  Then I stand before the altar and place my hands palms upwards on either side of the top of the altar.  In this position I close my eyes and feel the power in the altar, I feel and visualise the altar opening up like a door or even a chakra and I know it is working when I feel the energy start to flow into me, through me and around me into the room.  It makes the room feel charged, positive and empowered.  Great stuff.

I can't sum up these 10 steps better than William Morris so I'll leave you with his famous quote...

“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” (William Morris)

I would love to hear about your altars and see pictures of them so please do comment and let me know how you use this practice!
Here is the first five of ten ideas for transforming your altar:

1. Location, Location, Location. Work out where you want to put your altar. You might want to dowse, or you might just *know* where the perfect spot is. But I would always urge you to consider that the more times in a day you pass the altar the more likely you are to be provoked to use it.  Of course everyone is different and you might have important practical reasons for wanting the altar hidden and out of the way but if you can give it a go in a more public space then trial it for a week and see if it works for you!

2. Cleansing the space. Before you start to use your altar you will want to spiritually cleanse the space.  This has two effects – firstly, psychologically you will feel better about the space if it is cleansed; it will feel more sacred to you.  Secondly it will remove any unwanted energy from the area, this space should be a heartfelt manifestation of your spiritual being so don’t allow anything in the space which you don’t put there yourself actively and with intention.

3. Establishing ground rules with your housemates.  Most people live with someone else and it is polite to establish some ground rules here about what it is and is not ok to do in a communal living space.  Be respectful of their wishes and ask that they respect yours – for example your housemates may be fine if you have an altar in a communal space as long as you don’t burn incense because the don’t like the smell.  Equally you might ask that they do not touch your altar, lean on it or leave mugs of tea on it.

4. Make it special.  In my last two posts I talked about how I treat my altar as a combination of an amphitheatre where I converse with the Gods and the Universe, a workspace, a portal, an energy centre and a part of my subconscious.  Any one of these things is special so dress you altar in a way which reflects how and why it is special to you.  If you need your space to be clear and uncluttered then make it clean and simple but above all I think that altar should invoke a sense of wonder and beauty and it is to this end that I decorate my space with things which are deliciously scented and gorgeous to look at. If you treat the altar as a special place by decorating it and cleaning it in a mindful way then it will be a special place.

5. Getting you in the Mood.  I have talked a great deal in the past about using positive triggers to get you in the mood for spirituality. On my altar I light candles, I burn incense and I keep sweet smelling herbs – all of which are things which I associate with being in a spiritual state of mind and which therefore invoke that state of mind in my when I use them.  I think that the act of candles and lightening incense in itself is a powerful act.  It draws a line under the mundane day and signals to your subconscious that you are ready to start some serious spiritual work.

Tune in tomorrow for tips 6-10!
I have been thinking about this concept for a long time:  The Whole of my Brain. Then this interesting post cropped up on Michelle's wonderful Lets Radiate Blog which got me to thinking.  It got me thinking that there is a whole other side to this problem which I need to explore. Like Michelle says, there are people who feel that because they are creative they can't be organised.  But there are also people who have been told they are left-brained who feel they cannot be creative and alongside all of this appear to be two competing cultures both failing to value the other.

I want to heal that divide.

Which led me to make this short video.

Click on the link and type in the password below.

Password - Wholebrainme

This is my Whole-Brain Manifesto, set yourselves free!

I am not a right-brained person, capable only of creativity, fun and instinct.
I am not a left-brained person, capable only of logic, rationality and organisation.
I am not a right-brained person who cannot write a business plan or practise punctuality.
I am not a left-brained person who cannot dream, imagine, write and paint.

I am a whole person and I can do anything I want.

I am a whole person...and I darkly suspect that you are too!
I was flicking back through my last few blog posts and they seemed to have concentrated on self empowerment a great deal.  Now that is important and I truly belief that unpacking and examining your own psyche is essential for practical magic work but I felt like it was time to give a little bit more of an insight into the nuts and bolts of Antara’s ritual work personal.

I don’t tend to use a lot of physical tools in my personal magical practice but rely more on visualisations, trance work, meditation and getting my psychology in the right place.  Any physical tools I do use will be as an extension of my visualisation work and deliberately keyed to create certain emotions and thought processes in my mind.  This works in two ways

  1. I have certain formulas, mental exercises, breathing exercises, smells, music and sights which will (if I wish) quickly get me into a ritual state of mind to work magick.
  2. I will use other smells, environments, physical objects, herbs, sigils, drumming etc. to build energy for ritual work, build up new correspondences and to use as physical triggers to execute the magickal work done internally.  That is not to say these objects don’t have their own energy which I might be using to either make the direction of my own will flow more easily or augment what I am doing.

Group work for me involve trying to attune myself as much as possible to those people I am working with and to build up shared triggers and associations. I read widely and practise lots of things but always with a view to building a core of practices, ideas and exercise I can call on with ease and confidence. 

I was reading the first issue of the Gaian Times, I know the work of the people running it and was also wondering if I could pitch an article to them.

Then I stumbled across this fabulous article on magic and psychology (a pet subject of mine if you know me!)  I have never seen such a good articulation of some of my views and would recommend it to everyone who practices magic!