How have I managed to be pagan so long without knowing how to draw a basic labyrinth! 

Recently I hosted a Stitch and Witch at my home with invocations to Brigit, great company, great cake and a skills exchange.  I taught sock darning and various aspects of knitting and in return I learned to draw a 7 step labyrinth.  Thank you M!

It is so elegant and simple I want to share it all with you.

1. Starting point.
2. Now draw a connecting loop from the top point of the inner cross shape to the top of the L shape on the right side of the page.
3.  Then working from your left to your right draw loops linking the points of the cross and the points of the L's.  Move out one on each side every time  until all the points have been connected and you have circled the whole Labyrinth.
Just remember that the top of the Labyrinth will be much bigger than the bottom so make sure you take this into account when choosing where start your drawing.

I am so impressed with this technique - I don't draw often and yet I shall always be able to make a Labyrinth, it won't be long because I am embroidering them on prayer flags, icing them on cupcakes and splashing them all over my house. Best of all if I want to lay out a huge Labyrinth in my garden for a ritual working I can just use this template.  Want it to be bigger than 7 steps just keep on adding the L shapes in the four corners.

It couldn't be simpler!

You will be drawing labyrinths on everything for days to come, I promise you.
One of the challenges for a modern Pagan is to take the sense of the
sacred, the elation and joy we experience in ritual circle and weave it into everyday life.  Aromatherapy has always been a cornerstone for me in threading enchantment and happiness throughout everything I do and it is achieved through both the types of scents I choose but also the divine experience of of intermittently smelling an ephemeral scent throughout my day.

Take this week. Work was proving somewhat stressful and challenging. I experienced this as feeling this cloak of something unhappy closing in around my bright centre; smothering me.  At times like this there is always a special trio of oils I turn to:

Lemon - As I have said before, this does what you expect and smells of lemon.  It's powerful citrus scent is like experiencing a bottle of sunshine and it is the most joyful, carefree and uplifting oil I have ever used.

Lavender  - a clean and herbal scent which is something of a cure all. It balances your mind and body, de-stresses and it a generally, aids relaxation and reduces stress.  Really something of a wonder herb!

Rosemary  another clean and herbal scent but with an extra kick of something, Rosemary wakes up my whole brain.  If I need something to get me focussed and to keep me sharp then Rosemary is always my first port of call.  The herb has traditionally been associated with good memory - even in Shakepeare's time when Ophelia says "There's Rosemary, that is for remembrance".

On tough days at work I use a combination of either Lemon and Lavender or Lemon and Rosemary dabbed on the neckline of my clothing, perhaps on a seam where the oil won't show but where I can smell it easily. In both cases the Lemon is a really bright and uplifting scent which makes my mood light and joyful.

       -  In combination with Lavender it clears my mind but acts as a
            gentle stress reliever.

       -  In combination with Rosemary it doesn't have the same stress
            relieving punch but my mind works like a clear and clean
            supercharged machine.

By using the scent on my clothes it wafts around me all day and I am constantly absorbing the uplifting, clear and stress relieving
effects.  Everytime I consciously notice the scent I use it as a
memory trigger.  This reminds me to bring myself back to my centre of calm and joy and this happens several times in the day. 

In this way there is an ambient effect and more powerful individual instances of mindfulness.  I have often heard other people remarking on the lovely smell and so in some way I feel like I can be the centre of a wave of joyful calm in the office.

My only words of warning on this gorgeous practice are:

1. The oils can stain your clothes so be careful about where you apply them, you might prefer to use a tissue tucked in somewhere.

2. Oils such as Lemon can irritate the skin so don't put it somewhere where the oil will be able to soak into your skin.

3. Don't use the same oils everyday as your nose will become accustomed to the scent and you won't be able to smell it any more. Using more and more oil will solve this temporarily but will
get expensive and eventually you'll end up overpowering the office.
Better to only do it a couple of days a week for maximum effect.

Happy Scenting!
_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?
When I set out in Spring consciously trying to move all parts of myself into one whole I didn't even think about exercise.  Big mistake. My relationship with exercise has deteriorated since doing my Masters as I feel I barely have enough time in the day to eat and breathe.  Exercise is something which it is easy for me to drop, despite the fact that intellectually I know it is as vital, in many ways, as eating and breathing.  Now I am in the process of ramping up my daily practice I suddenly realised a connection with magick and exercise.  Not that simply doing exercise regularly is better for my magick (which it is!) but that I could be doing magick whilst I exercise.

This though came to me whilst I was in the middle of a rune working meditation on Uruz, the rune of the Auroch, of strength, vitality and courage.  I just couldn't quite get the working right and was thinking about why that might be.  Then it came to me.  In order to absorb and resonate in harmony with this rune I need to be in my body feeding my own vitality.  My practice over the last few months has moved very much into my head (something I will have to watch in future) but in order to fully integrate I need to be really present in my body.  In particular it felt like I wasn't going to get my work with Uruz without bringing it into a very physical place.

So I got up early and prepared my space with fresh water for drinking and an Aerobic Pilates DVD.  I wanted to start with a form of exercise which would allow me to work magick and get a good work out at the same time, Pilates has a great emphasis on core strength and breathing both of which felt very supportive of the magickal working.  The aerobic aspect would give me a great work out but without the ultra complicated steps of some of my other routines.  Then down to business, but only for a short work out - I wanted this to be a test run.

It was a challenge keeping the rune resonation going throughout the whole 15 minutes and it did   honestly come and go with my concentration.  I sure that this will improve in time.  The session was hard work but focussing on Uruz definitely helped out with some of the postures (and vice versa) and I felt a definite uniting of body, mind and spirit during some parts of the exercise. The best aspect was the 15 minutes of meditation I did straight afterwards - that was some of the most powerful meditation I have done recently. This was quiet surprising as I had always assumed I needed to get really calm and chilled out in order to meditate, and that getting my heart rate up (as with all aerobic exercise) would be terrible for meditation.  Whilst this was true in a way it also helped me to achieve a different sense of altered consciousness.

I am going to try and keep up something similar for the next month and move into a more physical realm again whilst bringing that magickal headspace with me.  If I can crack this then I will feel like I have been able to take a big step forwards.  I'll be logging some of my experiences as I try new ways of combining the two.  Hopefully next I'll be combining it with some wild dancing!
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!
Antara's Altar
Altars are common in so many faiths around the world in both halls of worship and homes. They can be both temporary and permanent but in all cases there are multiple layers of meaning, enlightenment and empowerment within the form.  At its most basic level it is a surface which provides a focus point for religious worship (and magickal acts) on which can be placed a number of objects with religious significance, such as offerings and ritual tools.  It is a sacred place consecrated and dedicated; but the many uses of the Alar are wildly and gloriously divergent according to faith, culture and personal practice. Some faiths are proscriptive about what should (and should not) be on the altar – others like Eclectic Paganism are totally freeform. 

But I want to get into the nitty gritty of what an altar can really do for you and how I underwent a recent altar renaissance which has profoundly changed my outlook on this form of practice.

I use altars in three primary ways: 

a) As a Sacred Space.This aspect is probably familiar enough to most people. I keep the altar clean and tidy, I may put offerings to various Deities in the space as a means of connecting with them but vitally I only place items on the altar which I actively WANT to have in the space. This means that when I stand before the altar and tune in to the sacredness of the space I am turning my thoughts towards the spiritual, and away from the mundane.  It is one of the many ways I use to help me tune in to a more sacred mode of being and thinking from time to time.

b) A physical workbench for doing Magick.Because an altar is consecrated and sacred and therefore contains only those things I want in the space it is a perfect blank slate for performing acts of Magick. Nothing will be jarring in the space, physically or energetically and so nothing will interfere with the Magick in a way I do not desire. Equally doing Magick in this space feels (even more than usual) like I am bringing it to the attention of the Gods and the Universe.  The Altar is a direct and powerful link with the spiritual realm (I’ll talk a bit more about this in later posts) and therefore when I do Magick on the Altar I am asking the Universe and the Gods to pay attention…be very careful about what you ask the Universe to pay attention to!

c) As a Second Brain.Finally, if I have an idea I want to mull over in my sub-conscious then I can put a representation of that on my altar. I will seethe object as I go about my business and it will be a reminder of the thing I want to connect with.  I love this idea of a gentle sort of magickal act forming part of the background hum of my day but nevertheless slowly and quietly changing me.  Examples of this might be a quotation or a tarot card; currently I have an old worn key on my altar as a precursor to some work I’ll be doing shortly.

But as I said before I recently changed my Altar set up. Since then how I use the Altar has radically changed and taken on a life of its own.  Read all about it in the next post!
The Ladies all met up this weekend for some shamanic journey work.  We are soon to be entering a phase where power animals, totem animals and spirit guides may be particularly important and useful. Only some of us already had met their power animals, and I wasn't one of them and so in preparation for the months ahead we wanted to make sure everyone had had the chance to find their particular power animal. We planned to travel down to the Lower Realms through a recent portal we have done a tiny bit of work with before.

Although I have done a little shamanic work, a long time ago I had never experienced a full trip in to the lower realms to meet with power animals and it was a very powerful journey.  I do find drumming is a very easy way to start altering your conscious state and this session was no exception. However, in the past, the drum beat has been a fairly slow steady rhythm which lulls the senses.  This was very different.  Fast drumming is used to accompany the trip into the other world and back out again and this created a completely different sense of consciousness.  I do not remember the slow steady drumming which happened whilst we were in the lower realm but I do have a vivid and urgent memory of the drum beat on the journey in and out.  It was fast, and almost frantic and it was so easy to envisage myself travelling down through the earth, roots, worms and stones in both directions of the journey as a result.

I have long thought that (despite some declarations to the contrary) what hypnotherapists do is NOT shamanic journey-work.  Certainly my experience of this trip into the lower realms was a very different experience to the hypnotherapy I have undergone throughout the years. This was a far more visceral experience than the hypnosis I have experienced, with a far greater connectivity between body and mind whilst in the lower realm. I would certainly be open to using this technique again and going on more journeys in this way.

Now for the nitty gritty... 

Was I tempted stay in the Lower Realm when the call came to return? 

Yes, but I have a pretty strong will and it isn't the first time I have had to tell someone down there that I cannot stay with them. My advice would always be stand firm and make a clear decision.  This type of work involves an altered state of consciousness it does not mean that you lose your ability to make decisions.

Was I surprised by my power animal?

Yes. There was no elegant deer, regal eagle or powerful tiger for me.  I met a black hare with an American accent who insisted on referring to me as "Kiddo".

Was I disappointed by my power animal?

Strangely no. I hope that means it worked!
This is a blog by people who believe that magick is real.  Many excellent people have written about what magick is and one day I may mention them and posit my own little theories but at the moment I am more interested into exploring the *how* of Magick rather than the *what*.

My view is that effective magic has two broad components.  Technique and Trappings.  There are a variety of Techniques which work regardless of tradition, paradigm or genre.  I'll refer to them again and again in this blog and other writings - probably as the basics.  These are the elements that I always put in my rituals where all else is flexible.  The Techniques have an element of the personal as what I find an easy Technique may seem hard to someone else, what I find impossible someone else may find easy.  For example although I often meditate I find I need an active meditation, focussing on a series of steps or an intent or a journey.  If I try a more zen approach of the empty mind it just never works for me.  So meditation is one of a number of Techniques which are practised in many different ways.

Trappings are the traditions, myths, legends, paradigms or genres that are attached to the techniques.  A simple example for me would be the many and manifold lists of correspondences that you find on pagan websites.  I'll never write any such comprehensive list (although my personal correspondences will pop up in rituals I post) because to me they are Trappings and Trappings are personal. Broader Trappings are traditions such as Wicca (Wicca is also a religion but I am using it here in the context only of a magical path), Thelema, Norse mythology.  These are equally as important as the techniques.  For me Trappings are the missing link between me and the magickal undertow of the universe - in the same way computer code is the language that gets from me typing these words (technique) to sending them out into the universe for people to read. No amount of Technique is going to get me magickal results without the Trappings to lift my mind into the ritual headspace where I can actually interact with the universe.  That would be like typing on a keyboard when the computer is not switched on. Likewise no amount of Trappings will get me magickal results without the Techniques behind it - i.e. all the computer code in the world won't make this blog appear if I don't tap these keys.

This view obviously owes much to Chaos Theory but I believe that Chaos Theory often forgets about a very important aspect of the Trappings - and that is joy and delight.  It may be *enough* to convince yourself to believe in your paradigm to make it work - but it won't make my spirit sing and my heart swell in my chest.  I happen to think I do my best work when I am spiritually inspired by the Gods and Goddess I choose to work with, or when I use myths and legends dear to my heart and bound up closely with my own psychology.

Of course the line between Technique and Trappings is gleefully blurred and I suspect there is a lot of bleed over between the two on that line.  But this is only the first of several posts I plan to make in the future exploring this idea - which is still in its infancy.
Of the many books and techniques I have read over the years one of the themes which recurs is Affirmation.  The idea of making a positive statement to change how you feel or think about something.  Bear with me...this does get magickal.

I have found when I have used this technique (in various forms) that the one problem is that it never seems to last.  I am sure that on a sub-conscious level it makes a difference but even if I do 20 mins of yoga and pledge to maintain that sense of calm, serenity throughout the day it doesn't usually stay.  All manner of things can disrupt that moment of grace and drive it away; perhaps I run late for work, get a deadline unexpectedly brought forward, encounter some sexism, realise I have library fines.  Good things can disrupt those intentions as well; I'll get lost in a book, enjoy an amazing dinner with a friend or watch a favourite TV series. Suddenly the intention is gone from my mind.

What I need is a way of calling that Affirmation, or intention or sense of serenity back to my conscious mind once something mundane, or delightful or stressful has ejected it. One of the current goals in my personal practice is develop a better joined up thinking about magic and the rest of my life.  To be able to bring a spirit of magickal mindfulness to work and everywhere else.  Being able to recall and re-invoke magickal affirmations discreetly, consistently and effectively would be great.  Enter triggers (the good sort this time, not the bad).  When I make my Affirmation, set my magickal intent or complete my yoga I can have a symbol, a token or talisman to excite my senses which I can come back to throughout the day to remind me of that moment.  Simple yet effective.

If I am at home, I'll light a particular incense.  Sometimes I'll forget about the incense but when I do remember it again (perhaps after re-entering a room after fetching a drink) then at the moment I notice the incense again, I will deliberately call to mind that earlier practice and reinforce it.  The moment of noticing is the trigger to remind you to replay the Affirmation or magickal moment. So the item or token must be something which I will notice again and again at little moments throughout the day. That way I spend the day re-affirming my intention again and again.  I have found this is very effective for both doing background magickal practices, sending absent healing or re-affirming statements and concepts I am trying to abide by.

Some ideas for such discreet tokens of remembrance:

1. Jewelry, that you do not normally wear daily, so you "notice" it when you see it. I particularly like anything that jingles and jangles as tinkling silvery noises playing on my awareness is a very magical way to remind yourself of anything.
2. Clothing or a particular colour which is unusual to you.  I am using red a lot at the moment for manifesting things. You can't fail to notice bright red, sunshine yellow, lime green or magenta.  These are colours made to stand out!
3. A bunch of flowers, are discreet on a desk at work, yet the smell will remind you as will the sight of them.  They are unusual on your desk, unusual enough to remind you why they are there, but not odd!
4. Perfume/essential oils/incense -we do get used to smells after a while and cannot smell them anymore.  But it takes a while for this to happen and before that occurs it is quite hard to tune out smells.
5. Candles (probably not appropriate for work or if you are on the move) are fantastic as not only is your eye drawn back again and again to the light, but also to the slight movement generated by the flame itself. Equally anything that catches the light will work nicely, as a sudden flash or flicker attracts your attention.
6. Photographs or Pictures placed somewhere obvious.  This is my least favourite way of using this practice as I find it all to easy to tune out background clutter after a while. But you may find your eye being constantly drawn back to an amazing picture.

I would shy away from alarms, since I always find them so jarring to my mind and sense of wellbeing; and the idea above is not to be forced into remembering, but gently led there as if by accident.  I have no wish to blend the sense of annoyance and interruption an alarm generates with the magickal manifestation I am attempting - but someone else may find that very effective.

The key though, is not to over-use the particular trigger you pick. If it is over-used it will become a part of the background and no longer prompt you to notice it. It is the sudden moment of noticing which reminds you to redo the working so that must be maintained and kept fresh.