As I've mentioned before on this blog, I've decided that in response to the popularity of Witchcraft in the Goth community in recent years that I would chronicle what I do as a 'Celtic' Witch (for lack of a better term... I'm an ex-Wiccan, gradually re-embracing the term 'witch'. I'm also interested in various magical and folk traditions from the British Isles and Brittany, at many different points in history from prehistory to Druids to medieval, renaissance, 18thC, Victorian to present) in order to show people who might be new or just curious what it is some of us do. I'm only an example for me, but I share a lot of practices with many Neo-Pagans. As it is a few days in advance of the Equinox, I'm writing about that spoke on the Wheel of the Year.
Before I go into what I'm going to be doing for the Equinox this year, I want to explore what I did last year. For the last Equinox I attended my first ever Pagan event hosted by Highland Fire Gatherings. I have helped run group events with the Highland Open Circle, and celebrated the Sabbats with them, but this was the first time I'd been to an event hosted by this different group. The Fire Gatherings are not formal ceremonies like the Open Circle run, they are - as the title states - gatherings with fire.
I have organised many of the rituals I've participated in with the Open Circle are ones I've been leading and/or organising, and that is a lot of responsibility, and despite being Neo-Pagan for close on two decades now, I don't feel like a Priestess, I don't feel like I have got to the spiritual stage for that. I always struggle to write rituals that cater to our eclectic group, to pick the right words that don't sound contrived or pretentiously theatrical, to organise the ritual to work practically... I have the ability to speak in public and to adapt to alterations in situation, but I feel more like the 'mistress of ceremonies' than an actual Priestess. I get so caught up in trying to make a functional ritual on a practical level that I struggle to do the key, core element of any Neo-Pagan ritual; to engage in spiritual practice. Being part of someone else's gathering or ritual is something I much prefer. I'm happy to work as a solitary witch/Neo-Pagan, and I'm happy to be part of a group energy, but I don't want to be the group leader.
Corn-dolly, eggs, and candles on the altar. Photograph courtesy of Highland Fire Gatherings and used with permission.
The gathering was outdoors, in a deciduous woodland grove near to a pine-woodland, on a hillside overlooking the Moray Firth. Spring can be late and slow to emerge here in the Highlands, due to the northerly climate, so instead of somewhere green with new growth, the trees looked quite bare, and the autumn leaves still lingered over the grass. One of the benefits of celebrating outdoors is that you end up appreciating the seasonal changes at their pace, not one of the artificial calendar of the Wheel of the Year, which is only approximate because the weather fluctuates yearly, weekly... multiple times a day because this is Scotland and the weather is best described as 'changeable' and 'damp'! In Southern England it was likely a time of flowers and greenery, and that is probably what Gerald Gardner saw when he celebrated with his New Forest Coven in the early 20thC, but firstly I'm a long way North of that, and secondly climate change is noticeably affecting seasonal patterns. It ends up that the Sabbats are day to take the time to see how the wheel is turning, rather than expecting it to have turned exactly to a specific point on a specific date. The seasons should turn the wheel, not the wheel turn the seasons.
Spiderweb woven from yarn and string-lights, made by one of the organisers. Photograph courtesy of Highland Fire Gatherings, used with their permission.
Those attending brought their own materials to make shelter, and their own contribution. I didn't intend to stay the night, so instead of a tent, I brought a purple Celtic (well, Insular) knotwork blanket, and built a shelter out of fallen branches, propped up against two trees, and with the base filled with an extra layer of gathered dried leaves for insulation. With the large purple blanket acting as a windbreak, and my tote-bags acting as something damp-proof to sit on, it was actually quite cosy in my shelter, and I spent a lot of time in there during the gathering. I am not the most gregarious person, actually quite introverted in person, so I needed my own little space away from the gathering proper, and so my little shelter on the periphery was quite useful to me, I could retreat to it between moments of being social and friendly. I also hung my little silver lantern on the end of a branch to light my shelter, as I stayed with the group well into the darkness of evening. I didn't bring a camera, as I didn't know if that would be considered impolite, so I don't have any of my own photographs, and I'm most sad that I didn't take any photographs of my little shelter. It was a lean-to, with one ridge-pole branch, supported at either end in forked branches rammed into the ground, and then numerous branches lent against that, with the blanket over it all, tucking in the edges and partially under the rear to keep the wind out. At the front, I made a slightly higher entrance way with two more forked branches creating a triangular opening, and the blanket pulled down low either side. My shelter was against a slope, so it seemed quite low at the front, but with the ground dipping towards the back, it was actually quite roomy inside.
An eight-fold woven spiral frames the forest beyond. Photograph courtesy of Highland Fire Gatherings.
Me singing in my black robes. Photograph courtesy of H.F.G
The gathering itself was quite informal in structure, and there was a blessing, but there was also lots of drumming and communal music, which had a really good energy. I'd brought some recorders and whistles with me, and I played a lot of music that day - sometimes in the circle (where I used two plastic recorders knocked together as a percussion instrument as well as playing them the conventional way), sometimes just playing tunes while sat in my little shelter. I find music is a good way to express the sort of spiritual feelings that just come out awkward when expressed in words - if the best I can do with language is cringe-worthy attempts at poetry, I will stick to wordless sound. I did attempt to sing at one point, but singing publicly is not something I comfortable with so I was nervous and thus did not do so well at that.
My purple shelter is on the right. I think I'm inside it! Photo courtesy of H.F.G. Faces are obscured because I don't know who might be 'in the broom closet'.
As you can see from the photograph above, there was a reasonable but smallish group. I think I was in the shelter when this photograph was taken, obscured by the lady sitting in front, and there were a couple more people not in the shot. We gathered firewood communally from fallen timber to build our little fire - which was built on a bed of stones as not to damage the ground. On the tree behind us is an ancient sun-wheel symbol which exists in cultures worldwide and may be very, very ancient indeed - it's certainly simple to draw; a circle with an equal-armed cross, which occurs in ancient carvings across Europe, might well be the heritage of the Celtic cross, and which is also similar to the Medicine Wheel. It can be the four elements, the four directions, the sun the cross of the solar year within the eight spokes of the Wheel of the Year (appropriate for an Equinox which is part of the solar cross), etc. It's Earth in Astrology, copper alloys in Alchemy and Odin's cross in Norse Paganism. In its centre is a stag's skull. I don't know what that skull meant to the person who made the sun-wheel, but to me the horns are that of Cernunnos.
I really enjoyed the way music flowed in and out of the group. There was a planned drum circle, but there were also moments where music seemed to spontaneously spring up, and we would just jam, with a variety of instruments present. A lot of the people brought frame drums and bodhrans (traditional drum from Irish and Scottish music), and apparently they know each other from a drumming group for those specific types of drums. I nearly bought a bodhran many years ago, while visiting Ireland with my great aunt Judith, but it was just outside my price range, and instead I bought a whistle. After this bodhran-rich music group, I went and bought a half-size 'mini-bodhran' with Insular style knotwork painted on it. It's nothing as beautiful as the one covered in beautiful Celtic spirals pictured with the firelight through it. The owner of that drum is a lucky person; it's a beautiful drum with a beautiful sound.
A row of lanterns hung with garlands at the entrance to the grove. More distant lanterns as specks of light in the distance. Courtesy of H.F.G
I stayed with the circle late into the evening, until it was quite dark indeed. I spent a while as a self-appointed lantern-lighter, stringing lanterns up into the trees and lighting the tealights - often relighting when the wind extinguished them. I actually found out afterwards that my attempt to secure them from the wind taking them down was a bit too successful as it made the lanterns difficult to get out of the trees, especially the ones hung over high branches. It is something I have learnt not do again. I have felt there's something particularly magical about lanterns for a long time, especially after a dream I had, where I was riding a white horse through a dense deciduous forest all hung with coloured lanterns. Another young lady from the group joined me in cooperative lantern lighting.
Dusk, looking back towards the path. Photo from H.F.G.
Eventually we got to the far end of the camp, and I looked back and it seemed truly special seeing all the lanterns glint and glimmer through the trunks of the trees, the woven wheels at the far end bright with LED string-lights. It really inspired me, and since then I've nearly doubled my personal collection of lanterns, and brought them with me for the Open Circle Beltane Gathering I organised that was an outdoor event, to the Summer Solstice (although it was still light when I left that! The sun lingers long on the Solstice this far North!) and even to the Winter Solstice ritual in the garden of another Circle member, each time finding a few more lanterns. Eventually I will have enough lanterns to recreate the vision from my dream, of the trees hung with lanterns as jewels. It was seeing lanterns in the trees in actuality that made realise I had to make what I'd seen in the dream a reality.
I stayed until it got truly dark, but as I had to be at college the next day, I went home late, but not too late, and didn't camp. I really enjoyed attending the event, and I went to other events hosted by the same group last year, including their Summer Solstice event, which I will post about nearer this year's Summer Solstice.
The Highland Fire Gathering group has a Facebook page ::here:: if you're local and interested. The Highland Open Circle has it's Facebook page ::here::, too.
As I have mentioned before, this year I will be blogging about the Neo-Pagan festivals of the eight points of the 'Wheel of the Year', celebrations shared by Wiccans, Druids, and some other Neo-Pagan paths, based off four solar festivals which, being based on celestial events, are common celebrations many cultures (the two solstices and two equinoxes), and the four 'fire festivals' or 'cross quarters', which are tied to folk festivals of Britain and western Europe. The Vernal Equinox is when day and night are equal, in spring. Many Neo-Pagans celebrate it as 'Ostara', named after a celebration mentioned by the chronicler 'the venerable Bede', and which may be named after a Germanic dawn goddess, and which is likely the root-word for 'Easter' in English (most other languages have a name deriving from 'Pascha'). I just celebrate it as the Vernal Equinox.
Full Equinox altar.
I think I do the Equinox a bit differently from many Neo-Pagans as I don't incorporate rabbits, hens and eggs. Neo-Pagans now regard these as fertility symbols, and I think that's a very valid perspective, but their association with Easter had more to do with which food were restricted during Lent - meat was forbidden, as were eggs and dairy (Thomas Aquinas wrote against consuming these), and so of course once the fast was broken on Easter, people wanted to consume them. Lambs are very much an important Christian symbol, with Jesus as the Lamb of God, and I can't help but think of the rather beautiful Pre-Raphaelite inspired mural that graced a church I used to go to of the adoration of the lamb when I see lambs in a religious context. My rejection of these symbols because of their Christian (and particularly Catholic) associations is not a protestation against Christianity or an act of my disliking Christianity, more that I wish to separate my current faith from my old faith, and I feel awkward doing things that remind me too much of Christianity; I feel like I'm misappropriating, or somehow trying to Paganise things, which may or may not be a valid concern or just a manifestation of my anxiety and over-thinking.
Instead of these animal symbols, I prefer floral ones - picking what is in bloom in my garden at the time. I don't rear chickens, rabbits or sheep, so it seems a bit disconnected for me to celebrate lambing (which is often quite a bit before Easter in the UK, anyway), or their lifecycle in relation to the agricultural year. The birds nesting in my garden are more seasonally appropriate to me than chickens. [Interestingly, chickens need about 12 hours of daylight to signal the summer period for laying eggs - so the Equinox is actually directly relevant to chickens. Some will lay in winter even without an appropriate light source, but egg production goes up with daylight hours. I do, however, grow flowers (and vegetables, herbs, etc.) so I feel more personally connected to flowers.
Another photograph of the altar as a whole
You can see on my altar a bunch of hyacinths and daffodils in the centre. I changed my altar set-up from its Imbolc set up to this pre-Equinox set up at the start of March, and it is definitely geared more to a visual celebration of the changing seasons and the greenery and flowers of spring. Daffodils and hyacinths are both poisonous to cats, but this set-up was before Archimedes arrived, and was dismantled before Archimedes left his acclimatisation period in the spare room, with any pollen hoovered up.
I have two altar cloths again, layered over each other. The bottom altar cloth is a printed light green one with a leafless tree, an image that makes me think of a tree about to spring into life, rather than a dead tree. The upper altar cloth is actually a vintage table-runner I bought on eBay because it reminded me of my grandmother's handicrafts. She used to make things very similar to this, and as the item seems entirely handmade, I can picture someone else's grandmother making this the same way. I wish I had inherited some of my grandmother's embroidery, but I was a child when she passed, and did not end up with anything like that. I found some daffodil doilies secondhand that I tend to use for tea-parties, but I put one under each of the candle-holders to protect the altar cloth from any wax drips that ran off the candle-holders, because it is an old and fragile embroidery, sold to me as being from the '50s, and I don't want to damage it. The embroidered flowers are somewhat stylised, but they remind me of marigolds, which are currently flowering in my garden.
Daffodil doilies to protect vintage altar cloth.
The wreath at the back is a hand-made house decoration some students at my college were selling as a charity fundraiser. It has lovely spring colours, so I use it as an altar decoration each year. I really like using circular symbols for solar festivals, simultaneously representing the sun and the cycle of the seasons. I don't have space on my altar for both the pentagram candle-holder and the wreath, so the pentagram candle holder has been moved to in front of our fireplace. To represent the elements, there is a jar candle on the altar; it has five layers in different colours, made from the melted down stubs of past elemental candles used on our altar.
Pink candle, daffodils, wreath, Goddess censer
The left side of the altar is used primarily for the symbols traditionally associated with the Goddess in Wicca once again as with my ::Imbolc altar::, but this isn't a strict attribution. Incense is used to symbolise the element of Air (and to be burnt as an offering, and to create a ritualistic atmosphere through scent), and many traditions see Air as a masculine element, associated with 'masculine' attributes, but I don't see the point in gendering an element, or even more so of gendering characteristics like logic, clarity of thought, communication, etc. I have an incense holder with a Neo-Pagan style Goddess figure holding up the incense censer, but that does not mean I see the element of air as feminine, either; I just like the figure as a sculpture representing the divine feminine, and it happens to also be a perfectly good censer at the same time - I have another incense burner that is a pentacle (visible in the photographs of the full altar). I think it's probably a bit cliché to attribute pink to the divine feminine - especially as a girl that hated the colour pink growing up - but I chose it to represent Bloduweudd, who was made of flowers, specifically oak, broom and meadowsweet.. Now, I somehow thought oak flowers were light pink, which I am quite wrong about; they're a greenish yellow. Broom flowers are yellow, and meadowsweet flowers are white, so I would have probably done better with a pale yellow candle, in retrospect!
The daffodil picture is not a Goddess symbol at all, it is actually a card I gave Raven for St. David's Day - the saint day for the welsh patron saint, who is St. Dewi in Welsh. St. David's Day is seen more as a national celebration than as a Celtic Saint's day by many, including Raven. I have mentioned before that he is Welsh-Irish. Daffodils are Wales' national flower; the national plant symbol is a leek, and daffodils are 'cennin Pedr' or Peter's leeks in Welsh, which is presumably where the connection comes in between the two plants. Anyway, the card was placed on the altar as another mark of the passing seasons, and a nod to Raven's Welshness.
I have a light green candle to represent the Green Man, a vegetative spirit (or even deity to some) that I associate with the changing seasons as visible through plant life. New spring leaves are slowly emerging, light and vibrant, not yet darkened to the richness of summer. I light the pink candle when invoking the divine feminine, and light the green candle when invoking the divine masculine. The central, multicolour candle is represented of the divine as simultaneously transcendent of material existence and immanent within it. I am a pantheist that sees individual deities as spiritual aspects or manifestations of the greater divine that is in all things, and that candle made of all colours seems like a good representation of that. It is a lovely hand-made textured candle, but I can't remember where I bought it. I think it might be from 'The Maker's Mark' in Newcastle Emlyn, but it could be even older - a souvenir from a lovely witchy shop I found behind a record shop in Henley on Thames over a decade ago. I have kept it safe in my wicker basket store of candles for a long time, but felt like this is the right time to burn some of it. I must admit I'm sort of clingy about candles, and don't like burning the prettiest ones, especially all in one go - I want to stretch it out so I can appreciate them for longer! Quite silly when candles are intrinsically transient, made to be burnt. Perhaps I'm a sentimental fool.
Ceramic cauldron over tealight.
The blue cauldron hanging over a flame is Raven's. It's meant as an oil-burner, but as many oils are toxic to cats, we are no longer using the oil burners for their true purpose. However, watching the water evaporate off as misty vapour is rather aesthetic, so I am still putting water in them. We will need to look further into what oils can and can't be used around cats, as we don't want to poison Archimedes. I chose this blue cauldron to represent the element of water on my altar. It's purpose is more symbolic than practical for my Equinox ritual, unlike the bigger copper cauldron I used as a temporary planter, and as a receptacle for any drips after I watered my snowdrops from the Well of the Spotted rock for Imbolc.
Marigold and salt in pentacle dish.
I have a carved stone dish for salt, to represent the element of Earth. It is interesting that salt is what we use when 'salting the earth' is something done to make it infertile. Salt is sometimes used for drawing a circle on the floor, but I think that's a waste of good salt. I am thinking of replacing the salt-as-Earth-representation with sand, fine gravel or soil. Salt as ritual ingredient is still useful, but I associate it more with sea-salt (I know rock-salt exists) and the ocean, and I want to change things around that I no longer connect with. Neo-Paganism is -in general - quite a flexible path, and while we practice similar things, there is room to alter things in accordance with what works best for us. We're a non-dogmatic religion, with each Pagan being their own Priest or Priestess. We tend to be closer to orthopraxic ('right practice') than orthodoxic ('right doctrine') in that we are more connected by ritual practice than theology or cosmology, but even within ritual practice there is plenty of scope for variation.
I hope this blog entry has been useful and informative as an example of one Pagan witch's practice. There's a lot more I could say about each thing, but I think I am rambling on quite a bit already. As I have said before - I'm just one person, and I will do things differently to other witches and other Pagans, but I don't consider myself much of an outlier in terms of my practices. I am doing this to counter some of the stereotypes about Neo-Paganism and witchcraft - especially those about it being a dark or evil practice. Most of what I do is making a ritual of ways to connect to the natural world and changing seasons; mine is definitely an Earth-based spirituality.
My regular readers might be surprised at the colours - especially green wall paneling in my ritual space, and plenty of yellow and pastels for this seasonal celebration, but I don't think my religious practice necessarily has to reflect my Gothic aesthetic - some of it does, especially my work with the Morrigan and Her aspect as Badb, and with the Cailleach of winter - and these are things you will see on my Samhuinn altar and my altar in the 'Dead Time' between Samhuinn and Winter Solstice, but for the rest of the year, the colours reflect the seasons more than they reflect me - after all, my spiritual practice is more there to connect me better with nature, rather than for me to express my personal style or aesthetic.
The pentacle shelving unit is by CAS Design and I reviewed it ::here::
We've adopted a new cat. who arrived today. He's also a shelter cat, and an older cat. He was rescued from an animal hoarding situation where someone was keeping at least 18 cats in a small apartment, so he is quite nervous. At the moment Archimedes is hanging out in the spare room as he's too scared to go any further. He's being checked in on, but given his space, with gradual interaction from us until he is more settled. He is likely to be an indoor cat as he is quite timid and not used to the world outside (I think he was kept within the apartment and not allowed out), and already an adult cat of a few years, so it may always be too much for him. We're a quiet household with no other cats, which is ideal for him as he doesn't like being around other cats after being crammed in a small apartment with so many of his extended family for so long. He got called Archimedes because he looks like a smart cat, so I was trying out classical thinker names, and he looked up at me when I said Archimedes. We're calling him 'Archie' for short. When we got him, he was called Oreo, but he's not a biscuit.
Archimedes in his 'blanket fort'. We're replacing the beige carpet soon.
I've mentioned my previous cat, Kuro ('Black') before. Kuro moved with my Dad to a rural small-holding. My Dad is still mildly allergic to cats as he has always been, but with antihistamines and the cat spending a lot of time outdoors, they are doing well. My Dad has become very attached to Kuro, and I still live a very long way from my Dad, and as Kuro is getting older, we think the journey up to Scotland would just be too stressful for him. I still get to visit Kuro, and I do miss him, but I think Kuro would not be happy as an indoor cat, and we live too close to a busy road to let a cat that likes to wander some distance roam free. Kuro lives in the middle of nowhere, with acres and acres of car-free land to roam about as my Dad's small-holding abuts farmland. I think a quiet retirement in the countryside is good for both my father and Kuro.
Kuro, also known as 'Satan Kitty', in my Dad's garden.
Interestingly, my Dad is only allergic to cats with a specific fur type, and he got a second cat, with a much finer, sleeker coat, called Yami ('Dark') which he is not allergic to! Yami is a black cat that had escaped from a temporary foster cattery and followed Kuro home. After taking the cat to the vet, and noting he was microchipped, my Dad went through the process to adopt Yami because Yami just wouldn't leave my Dad alone!
All of these cats are rescue cats - please, adopt - don't shop. There are so many cats wanting homes, especially as they breed pretty rapidly. I've written about Kuro and cat adoption before ::here:: and my advice remains the same - if you're thinking of getting a cat, please consider adopting an adult cat. Archimedes had been with the shelter quite a while as timidity causes some minor behaviour issues (he gets scared of people, and hisses, will scratch if he feels crowded) but it's something is highly likely to work itself out with time and patience as he gets used to being around humans.
I know Neo-Paganism, Wicca and Witchcraft aren't inherently Goth or Gothic topics, and this is a Goth blog, but it's also my personal blog, and these things are a big part of my life. There are also a lot of Goths interested in these topics, and I would say that in terms of percentages, a greater percentage of Goths are interested in these topics than of mainstream people. Witchcraft is also trending in younger Goth circles, and a lot of younger people are thus being introduced to Witchcraft through Goth, so I'm trying to show what this witch actually does, to counter some of the misconceptions and to inform people.
I practice a mixture of 'Celtic' spirituality (from a range of 'Celtic' regions and time-periods, hence the umbrella term), Druidry and Wicca. Wicca was my introduction to Neo-Paganism, and I like the Wiccan formats for a lot of the ceremonial aspects, but I'm not Wiccan. I currently use the term 'Celtic Witch' as it's nebulous and ill-defined enough to cover a lot of what I do and my interests, especially as my attitude to spirituality is organic rather than dogmatic, so those things and the balance of them both shift. I have been a Dedicated (as in went through a rite of Dedication) Pagan for 18 years, and had an interest in such things since I was a child, so this is something that has been an important thing to me for a long time. I've been Pagan longer than I've been Goth!
Imbolc altar, mostly in full.
In our house, we have a permanent altar - it is on a wooden serving trolley that has wheels and a drawer (presumably for cutlery) under the table top, with a shelf half-way down its legs. It's pretty useful because we can wheel it into the middle of the room for rituals. Around it are various bits of Pagan iconography, and the pentacle shelving unit I ordered from CAS Designs (review of that ::here::). While the altar is permanent, what is on the altar changes with the seasons. This post is about what I put on it for Imbolc, and why.
I will start from the bottom up. I have two altar-cloths layered - partly because I know I will spill at least a little wax, and I'd rather not glue my altar-cloths to the wood, especially as it has old varnish. Beyond the basic practical purpose, they have an aesthetic purpose and a symbolic one. The aesthetic purpose is simple; they look nicer than the scruffy table-top of the trolley. The symbolic purpose is multiple. Partly, the act of placing a cloth on the trolley is marking it as something more than an old bit of wooden furniture I salvaged from the discounted section of a charity shop, it's an act of respect, it helps signify that this is an altar and not a wheeled table. The second part of the symbolic aspect are the colours - the light yellow represents returning light, life, and the future daffodils that will bloom in a few weeks; it is a lively spring-like colour, but not as rich as gold, not quite as vividly solar as amber. The darker green represents the sort of foliage that is emerging - it isn't bright luscious green like the leaves of later spring plants, it is the darker green of snowdrop stems and buds that have yet to open, of pines that have been green all winter but are now starting to put forth some new needles. This altar-cloth was actually spring green and solid black on solid green when I bought it, but the first time I washed it, the green faded dramatically, so I re-dyed it. I tie-dyed it, with the ties arranged to match the print - I feel the varied colours are a little more organic.
The third aspect is the knotwork print I selected. As I mentioned above, my practice involves a lot of Celtic deities, spiritual beings (faeries/sidhe/sith) and the like, as well as connections to the land (I am in the Scottish Highlands, land of both the Gaelic folk that came with Dal Riada and the Brythonic Picts) and my ancestors (English and Breton) and my wider family (Welsh and Irish). The design is knotwork, and anthropomorphic, a style that was a fusion between Celtic art and Norse art, common in Ireland and Scotland in the early medieval, and which emerged from the positive interaction between the two cultures - it wasn't all raiding and pillaging by Vikings! The Norse element reflects my partner's heritage and beliefs (although he is not a Heathen).
At the back is a large-ish pentagram candle-holder. It holds two sets of 5 candles - at the points are soy-wax votives in purple (top; Spirit/Energy), yellow (middle right; Air/Gas), red (bottom right; Fire/Plasma), green (bottom left; Earth/Solid) and blue (middle left, Water/Liquid). I've listed both the four elements as commonly conceived in Neo-Pagan cosmology, but also five states of matter and energy, as a way of linking that to something more tangible than the usual correspondence tables. There's something a bit more literal and concrete about four states of matter and energy - those things are all observable, solidity is am observable quality whereas the idea of something being 'earthy' is often more reliant on association and metaphor. I have both because I like both the mindset of recognising things as they are, and of being poetic about them, and I feel that these two things - the scientific and rational, and the poetic and spiritual - are best in balance with each other. So far, I'm the only Pagan that I know that has this dual approach to the 'five elements' idea.
Lantern with my Sacred Flame.. and a lot of waxy bits.
The lantern is my 'sacred flame' of Brigid - the same candle as I had up on the brae by the cairn at Dunain, but unfortunately not the same flame. For safety reasons I had to put it out when boarding the bus. Maybe next time, I will not venture quite so far. The glass is not crackle glass, it's just covered in little waxy flakes because as I carried the lantern down off the hill, it was a rough walk over uneven ground, with my slipping on the ice a couple of times, and the molten beeswax in the tealight splashed and splattered onto the inside of the glass. I have no idea how I'm going to clean it because it's a top loading lantern, and there's only a narrow tea-light diameter opening at the top. Maybe I will soak it in hot water and try and melt the wax out, but I imagine that will still leave a residual film! I use that lantern a lot - I took it with me on several Pagan gatherings in the last couple of years!
The association of flames with Brigid starts with a more concrete attribution to St. Brigid of Kildare, who started a sacred fire or flame (not sure if a candle or hearth fire) at the convent she founded in Kildare, where the Brigidene Sisters maintained the fire for years after Brigid herself. St. Brigid was Christian convert, and she was likely named after the pre-existing Goddess of the same name, and in the way Christianity often ended up syncretic with local traditions, it seems that there was some conflation between the saint and her pre-Christian namesake. Sacred flames have existed long before Christianity reached Ireland - and chaste nuns tending a sacred flame has definite echoes of the Vestal Virgins in Rome. Whether it was a similar idea that just happened twice, or whether somehow the concept got transmitted from Rome to Ireland - either from tales of ancient Rome brought by those who came from the Roman church, or through some earlier syncretism (Romano-British paganism often mixed the local gods of the 'Celtic' tribes with similar Roman deities, and it is possible that this approach crossed the sea to Ireland with some notion of a Vesta-hybrid goddess), I do not know. My knowledge of the history of this is muddier than I would like. It's one of those things that a lot of non-scholarly Neo-Pagan books mention, but not something I've yet read more scholarly material looking into - neither the history of St. Brigid (or St. Bridget as she is sometimes Anglicised) or the goddess.
Spell candle, cauldron and oil burner.
At the very front of the altar is a little yellow beeswax roll candle. I burnt the candle all the way down as part of a spell for renewal and recovery with some mental health issues I have been experiencing recently. Many practicing witches will probably recognise the type as the sort commonly made for spell-candles. All the candles I use for my ritual practice are from natural materials as I think it goes against the spirit of a nature-orientated path to use candles made from paraffin wax when paraffin is a petroleum derivative; i.e a non-renewable fossil fuel. I currently prefer beeswax to soy, as there are issues with over-cultivation of soy, but also a problem of a lack of bees - and more demand for bee-keeping means more bees, even if they aren't wild bees, but a lot of bee-keepers let their bees buzz where they want, or have them at farms to help pollinate specific crops. A lot of the beeswax candles I buy are from small businesses, and there's some you can get in Wales where the supply chain is very local; the beeswax comes from small-scale apiary/hives just outside the village where I buy the candles. The candle is in what is actually an incense burner in the shape of a five-point star, but the recess for an incense cone was just the right diameter and depth for the stubby little candle.
Behind the spell candle is my cauldron. Cauldrons are associated with the Welsh witch/goddess Ceridwen, who in the Mabinogion made the potion of poetry and wisdom in her cauldron. The Irish goddess Brigid is also connected with poetry, and in modern Neo-Pagan art at least, there's some syncretism between the two; Brigid is often depicted much like Ceridwen, with a cauldron. My cauldron of hammered copper and iron is fitting to Brigid's association with smithing. The cauldron as a symbol of the pregnant belly, or the swollen seed, is very in line with the celebration of Imbolc as the time when the dormancy of winter gives way to germination - and for Imbolc my cauldron is not a cooking pot but a flower-pot, with snowdrops bought that afternoon at the farmer's market.
Snowdrops with the tealights of the pentagram behind.
The oil burner I chose (I have a few that I have collected over the years) was also selected because the shape made me think of that pregnant-belly cauldron shape, and it is also a warm-hued stone that has a cheery sort of glow when lit. The pentagram motif is pretty obvious in its selection.
My altar is approximately laid out in the traditional Wiccan way (particularly influence from the set up in Janet & Stewart Farrar's ::'A Witch's Bible'::), with Earth and Water attributes put on the left side, and Air and Fire attributes put on the right side. Traditionally, this is seen as a feminine/Goddess side on the left, and a masculine/God side on the right, but personally I feel that this doesn't align with the nature of the Celtic deities, plus I think some of the attribution of 'feminine' and 'masculine' to objects and attributes reinforces gendered stereotypes (women are nurturing and emotional, men are active and intellectual). I'm not designating a sword (or athame) as masculine when the Goddess I have the greatest connection to is the Morrigan, who herself very much carries a sword, especial in her aspect of Nemain the battle-fury, but also as Macha the sovereign queen. This is where I diverge from Wicca, as in Wicca the athame and chalice become part of the symbolic Great Rite, where the athame represents a phallus, and the chalice a vagina. I don't see sexual union (symbolic or otherwise) as the core of the generative, creative universe - especially when the universe is much more than the animals that reproduce by mating in that manner. It can be a useful metaphor, but there's something of the parthenogenic Earth Mother, too. I do also have an appreciation for the metaphorical union of the Earth and the Sun, too, but it's not something I'm going to work into the basic structure of all my workings - just those where I feel that exploring that concept is relevant (eg. Beltane). I don't think a cauldron is inherently feminine either, but I feel it is useful to use it that way for Imbolc - it can be associated to masculine things, too, as it was the boy Gwion Bach that ended up as the bard Taliesin through the process of transformation that started with three drops of cauldron potion, even if it was Ceridwen who prepared the ingredients, Gwion was the one attending to it (and got splashed by it).
As mentioned above, I do still use the left and right arrangement for Earth/Water and Fire/Air, but just not as specifically gendered. The chalice is an elemental tool for me (attribution being water), but it is not inherently feminine. In this case I'm using a green one - that same deep green as the altar-cloth - and rather than wine, it had elderflower fizz, because I can't drink alcohol. I used it to drink a toast to the coming spring. On the left side are both mine and Raven's wands. I used mine for casting circle for my Imbolc ritual.
I haven't detailed my ritual here; that is personal. Some of what I did is hinted at here, and in my account of my trip to Dunain and the cairn that is in my earlier post ::here::. There are plenty of ritual scripts available in many of the better Neo-Pagan books, but I like to craft my own personal ones, and I write a new one for each celebration, each year (although there are certain poems and elements that I re-use). I think writing your own ritual makes it more personal and connected. Neo-Paganism is for the most part non-dogmatic, with no orthodoxy; some traditions have a set way of doing things, but many don't, and many Neo-Pagans walk their own idiosyncratic path because a strong element of Neo-Paganism is that it is an experiential religion, based on your own spiritual practice. In that manner, what I have on my altar is just the way I personally set things up, this particular time - there is no singular way of doing things, just a lot of things we do in common, or similar-but-different. There's no heresy in Neo-Paganism, well maybe except if someone twists it into something with an ulterior and evil agenda (eg. running a sex-cult, or using it for racist propaganda).
Another instalment of my 'Gothic Travels', which is something I want to focus on this year. Today's visit is to a 4,000 year old burial ground in the valley south of Culloden. I've been there before, and you can see the previous post (with really terrible photographs!) about when I went there for a Pagan gathering ::here::.
On February 4th, my partner Raven and I visited Clava Cairns near Culloden. We drove there, and parked up at the carpark on the site, which only had a couple of other vehicles. I was surprised that there was anyone else there at all on such a cold and frosty Monday afternoon; the carpark was iced over with compacted snow for the most part, and while it wasn't utterly freezing, it was cold enough not to melt the settled snow particularly fast, and even in what is a sheltered valley there was as a certain chill - perhaps the damp air from the river that runs under the viaduct further along. [The viaduct is pretty impressive, similar to the Glenfinian Viaduct made famous in Harry Potter, and it too has a railway crossing a valley, but this one is pink rather than grey; I will give it its own post].
Long shadows from a low sun beside the ring cairn; photograph by me.
I apologise for the lack of clarity and resolution in my photos - my camera broke last summer and I haven't been able to afford a replacement since then, so I'm just using the camera on my phone, which is average at best. Please click on photographs for expanded versions, especially the thumbnails.
Pile of rocks in the carpark. Photograph by myself.
There's what appears to be a small cairn in the carpark, just outside the boundary to the main complex of cairns. As it's not listed on the maps, and it's not in the enclave, I think it might just be a pile of rocks from levelling a flattish plot to make the carpark, or maybe an 19thC folly addition, or even stones removed in the 19thC excavations of the cairns; basically I don't know what it is at all.
Frozen meltwater in a depression. Photograph taken by myself.
Raven and I; cooperative selfie.
Clava Cairns is specifically 'Balnuaran of Clava', as there are other groups of cairns known as 'Clava Cairns'. There's also a ruined chapel and another cairn at the far end of road, which I have visited before in the past, but didn't visit that day. Nearby there are two other cairns in an overgrown field across the road from the enclave run by Historic Scotland, and also a standing stone in a field that sometimes has I think cows in it. Either way, the other two monuments and the standing stone are not open to the public as monuments, and while there is some freedom to walk in Scotland, these fields often have livestock, so going in them could cause a problem (Highland Cattle/Heilan' Coos are very cute but they are large animals with big horns! Be considerate of cattle and farmers if visiting.
The setting sun makes for a beautiful light over the cairns.
Reflected sunlight on ice.
Photograph by myself.
The enclave around the cairns is of old trees, planted between 1870 and 1871 by the land-owner at the time, who had the Romantic notion of the cairns being a 'Druidic temple' so wanted to plant it into a 'Druid Grove' - I think there are a few Neo-Pagans (Celtic, Druidic and otherwise) who are quite grateful for that, because it really does give the site a beautiful atmosphere of being encapsulated by nature, something simultaneously apart from the world and deeply within it. I'm certainly neither the first nor the best photographer to take advantage of the late afternoon light streaming between the branches and trunks of the trees, and I felt that the melt-water and ice from where the snow had been defrosting certainly did something to make that extra-special.
Sunlight streaming through the trees across where the snow has melted.
Near-to-carpark cairn. My photo.
The cairns are approximately 4,000 years old, and they were used as mausoleums of a sort. There are three large cairns and one small kerb cairn. Two of the large cairns have passage entrances aligned with the setting sun on the winter solstice, and the centre cairn is a ring cairn - a central sealed chamber with no entrance, a sort of stony donut. I've read that the stone circles around the cairns were set after the cairns ceased to be used for new burials. The ring cairn in the centre of the three is almost a wheel design, with the ring cairn as the hub and low stone walls as spokes out to the standing stones beyond. I think the standing stones are also on a celestial alignment.
A cleft stone - was it split by time and ice, or is it a pair?
Photograph taken by myself.
Scarf to keep my ears warm.
Selfie by the larger cairn.
The far cairn is the smallest full cairn other than the kerb cairn. There used to be an infographic explaining the sunset alignment at the cairns, but I can't remember if it's still there, and if it was, it was buried under snow. I think the far corner cairn has a cup-mark in a stone within it, and was re-used as a columbarium around a thousand years after they were made, in approximately 1,000BCE. It was excavated in Victorian times, but it wasn't excavated with the modern techniques of archaeology, and a lot of data was missed, lost, or destroyed. I don't know if they disinterred any remains, and if so, what happened to the person who was buried there, but from what I gather, the cairn was the victim of overenthusiastic dilettante archaeology in the 1870s.
The far cairn, aligned with the sunset. Photo by myself.
In South East England, where I grew up, there was a theory relating the placement of barrows to either be prominent on the brows of hills, or to be near rivers, and while I think the builders of the cairns at Clava may have been culturally different, the cairns are hardly on a hilltop, but they are in a valley with the River Nairn flowing through - but I'm not an archaeologist (yet... I'm doing my second undergraduate degree part-time, studying joint History & Archaeology), and it is something I would have to read up on. There's been some interesting papers on the placement of chambered cairns on the Isles, but I don't know about the mainland. Definitely something I need to look into.
Frosty ground. Photograph by Raven.
The Cairns are very popular in recent years due to the success of the show 'Outlander', as apparently there is some connection to the series. I haven't watched much of it, and the opening scene with early 20thC 'Druids' was filmed on a set on a hillock with foam stones, and Clava Cairns is apparently not the site mentioned in the books (a better candidate for that would be the stones that remain of the cairn at Dunain, which I mentioned in my previous blog entry about Ostara), so I'm not sure what the exact connection is, but it's something to do with magical standing stones as part of the time-travel in the story, from what I gather. They've actually become too popular, and have been damaged by people climbing on the stones, and on the cairns, dislodging parts of the rock walls of the cairns. Large coaches and heavy traffic have also caused an access issue for the garage that runs recovery/road-side assistance from a little further down the road - and therefore for the clients they were off to rescue from mechanical trouble. If visiting during busy season, I would suggest parking elsewhere and walking down, as it is a pretty and pleasant walk (there are also several B&Bs, chalets, etc. nearby for accommodation.).
A rather rectangular stone. Photo taken by myself.
Raven. Photo by me.
The ring cairn was buried under snow, as was a stone with cup-marks tooled into it. When we got to the far end of the cairns, a tour-bus arrived with a medium group of tourist, and the peace of the place felt broken, so we walked off to get a better look at the viaduct instead. I must go back there again this year, and take photographs in different weather and seasons. I follow #ClavaCairns on Instagram, and a lot of beautiful photographs turn up in that hashtag, which is quite inspiring. Hopefully I'll be able to afford a new camera soon, and thus able to work on bettering my photography. For now, I am doing my best with my smartphone and some basic editing software.
Snow in the dying light; photograph by Raven
As a historical site, I thoroughly recommend visiting them, just to get a sense of the size and scale of these cairns. As a Neo-Pagan, I visit to reconnect with the sense of place, with spiritual ancestors and those past practices that inspired me to a nature-based spirituality.
We made a tiny snowman made from two snowballs with twigs for arms.
It's also just a pleasant place to be. There are some picnic tables near by, plenty of wildlife lives in the area, and the trees are rather lovely. Apart from solemn contemplation, it's nice to enjoy yourself, and I don't think it is any disrespect to those who were buried there thousands of years ago - as long as that doesn't spill into the sort of exuberance that could damage the monuments or make it so other people can't enjoy their time there too. [My apologies for the formatting errors with the pictures; the blogging wizard keeps putting breaks/paragraphs where I don't want them, even when I remove them in the HTML editor...]
This Imbolc I celebrated alone. Initially I was going to go to a semi-public ritual, then I was going to go to a group gathering, then the group gathering fell through and I missed my chance to sign up the semi-public one, so I ended up heading up Dunain hill alone, high above Inverness, near the Pictish fort of Craig Phadraig, and above the building works currently converting the old Craig Dunain Asylum. I mention the old Craig Dunain, because the turning circle/roundabout outside it is the bus stop to get off at if you're heading there from somewhere other than Leachkin/Kinmylies suburbs of Inverness (I took the bus to Inverness then took a local Inverness bus from the city centre up to Craig Dunain), although if you're happy to walk up a steep hill through suburbia (that admittedly does offer some nice views) I guess it is a couple of miles out from the city centre.
The Victorian asylum had pre-empted the notion of occupational therapy, and had parkland, gardens and even apparently a small farm to keep the patients occupied and help them recover through meaningful work. I took part in several gardening and conservation work schemes when I was really suffering with my mental health, set up to help people through doing meaningful, rewarding work, and it definitely helped me, but I don't know how these things were run in Victorian times. The estate stretched part the way up the hill, and included a pond, cemetery for pauper residents (which I have blogged about ::here::) and quite a bit of land that is now housing estates. I headed a lot higher than that, and already from near Craig Dunain you have an amazing view out across the city.
The first path is used is also an access road to both the old water tanks and reservoir pressurising Inverness' water system, and to some of the new water tanks. The hill works as a natural water-tower through its height and steepness, one of the last hills of the Great Glen Way before the Moray Firth opens out. There's a reservoir that serves also as a pond right near the top of the hill (which I will talk more about later), and a small reservoir pond from the old system that makes a tiny pond that seemed quite thoroughly frozen. The access road also passes a pair of abandoned cottages and several broken and ruined street lamps that are quite eerily bent out of shape, like they were snapped by a huge monster.
Beyond the access path I was onto footpaths, which as I got up the hill became snowier and snowier. It was a Saturday afternoon, and I think a lot of children had been up the hill to go sledding and dog-walkers had headed up there too, and the snow had been compacted into slippery ice. I was glad I had good boots and my walking stick with me! There were some interesting stones, including something that might have been part of the old fort, but it was cold and I didn't want to stop for photographs until I got to the cairn. The area is managed by::Dunain Community Woodland:: project, and they have built steps, paths, etc.
The view from Leachkin Ridge at Dunain
The cairn is a ruin. There is not much of it left - it is a few standing stones from what was a centre chamber. According to the Dunan Community Woodland website, it used to 70 feet in diameter, but now there's nothing left of that. I wonder what happened to the stones used for it, whether they were recycled into the fort, into field walls, or what. Unlike Clava Cairns and the cairns on the other side of the Ness, it is of a different design, built on a hill and of the type found around Cromarty, but also on Orkney. It would have been a passage grave, angled North East, perhaps to the winter Solstice, and would have had two chambers within it connected by passages. I would imagine entering it would have been quite a magical experience. I have been in the West Kennet Long-Barrow, but that is quite a different sort of burial mound, and I haven't been in anything like it might have been.
The remains of the cairn. Only one stone remains as an upright.
There are no remains left in the cairn - and I don't know what happened to whoever was buried within it. It makes me sort of sad, that there's this trace of what was once a memorial that had considerable effort put into building it, but who it was meant to commemorate is gone, and any notion of who they were.
Sacred Flame for Brigid, wand, cauldron, incense stick, and yellow candle.
My 'ritual' wasn't much of a ritual, it lacked ceremony. All I did was sit by the cairn ruins, with some snowdrops that I had bought just before in the Inverness Farmer's market (a lucky find) which fit perfectly into my little copper cauldron, and play a short improvisation of growth and emergence on my recorder, a beeswax tealight in my lantern and a beeswax roll candle tucked into the earth of the cauldron. I folded my bright yellow scarf (useful if you wear mostly black and don't want to be hit by traffic) as temporary 'altar cloth', folded double to pad beneath the iron feet of the cauldron and whatever much lighter metal the lantern is made of, so that I wouldn't scuff the stone. Children and animals climb on them and they're exposed to the elements, so maybe it's futile really, but I felt this was more respectful.
Close-up of tools
People walk their dogs there, and I expected to be interrupted, so I had to keep things simple. I played my tune when I couldn't see anyone about, and spent the rest of the time contemplating quietly. My cauldron went back in the tote bag when I heard someone approaching, but I suspect that I still looked peculiar (especially in my long black woolly coat and winter hat) walking off with a lantern instead of a battery torch (flashlight).
The tree seat.
After my little 'ritual', I walked down to a wonderful bench built around a big tree. I would imagine it is particularly nice in summer, a good shaded spot and with an excellent view all year around. I sat down and set down my cauldron as an object of meditation, a focus and symbol - the cauldron as the 'womb' of the earth, the snowdrops growing from it the coming spring. Imbolc is Brigid's day, and I know that cauldrons are more associated with Ceridwen. Snowdrops are a common symbol of the new spring as they are one of the first flowers to emerge and bloom - there are some 'wild' ones growing and blooming in the park in Inverness, so some cultivated ones are not too far off in their timing!
Hard to make out, but the lantern is suspended in a tree. The dark area at the bottom is the water of the springhead.
On my way down from the seat, I walked over to the reservoir, which was frozen over with a good layer of ice, and very picturesque. There were still birds on around the small 'lake' that it forms, and it has an island in it and trees around it, so it looks quite natural - apart from having at least one straight side! Near the far corner of the reservoir is a springhead, and that springhead is 'the Well of the Spotted Rock', a fairy well, and once a clootie well, with a stone surround, but the stone surround was deliberately smashed a few years ago. Last time I was the well, people had left glass pebbles, trinkets, and a few clooties on the tree above - I left something myself, too - but when I was there that evening, I couldn't see any of the objects remaining. Admittedly, as the photograph shows, it was getting quite dark. The spring had obviously been flowing quite profusely recently, so perhaps some of the things left there were just washed down stream. I anointed myself with some of the 'well' water, and used a little to water my new snowdrops, then headed downhill. Conveniently, there was a bus waiting at the turning circle when I got there!
My next post will be about my Imbolc altar at home. I have a post about Clava Cairns coming up soon, too!
I wrote this months ago, when it had just been announced that Sephora would be stocking a kit made by Pinrose that includes some rose quartz, some white sage, a 'Tumblr aesthetic' style Tarot deck, and a set of perfumes, and that is being marketed as a 'starter witch kit'. The witch-kit was apparently withdrawn from sale, something I am happy about as for various reasons that have now been made irrelevant (although I wrote them up at length) I had issues with the witch-kit.
The Sephora/Pinrose witch-kit issue irked me, but it is nothing new. The commercialisation of Witchcraft and Wicca has been a problem within the community for decades, this is just a particularly egregious example because it is coming from a mainstream retailer. When I first got into Wicca and Witchcraft in 2001/2002, one of the first things I came across were people imploring me to avoid being an 'Insta-witch', which before the dawn of Instagram, meant someone who just bought a pre-made kit and declared themselves a witch, with no dedication to the craft itself, no process of learning, and in relation to Wicca, which is a religion, no faith. I read warnings against this in books published long before I took an interest in the topic, and I think there have been phases of popularity for Wicca and Witchcraft before, especially in the '70s and in the late '90s after The Craft came out.
[I think I came across Wicca at the end of that phase of popularity, but I didn't come to it through it being a 'cool' thing for teens, I came across it through finding an expose book that was full of misinformation, but seeing through the nonsense to realise that there were other people who thought and felt and experienced the world the same way I almost always had].
Each time something 'witchy' becomes prominent enough in popular culture to spark an interest in Witchcraft as a practice, there are people who will try and cash in on that popularity, but in the past, before the modern internet allowed us to have a voice to explain why this was insulting and a problem, our complaints were left to admonishments in books on Witchcraft, letters to the editors of magazines and newsletters within the community, and maybe a few internet forums. Now we have more of a platform to explain why this is an issue.
One large issue is that many commercialised 'witchy' things are made by people who have not done their research, and in a community with no central authority, no central text to refer back to, this means a lot of people get a very confused, inaccurate, and sometimes offensive portrayal of Witchcraft, including those trying to learn about it because they are interested in doing it.
There's a whole raft of books about Witchcraft that still perpetuate the notion that Wicca is the survival of an ancient pan-European matriarchal 'witch-cult', who talk about the witch hunts of Europe and the Americas as 'the Burning Times' and as a persecution of actual witches although for the most part it was religious mass hysteria, more akin to the 'Satanic Panic' of the '80s and '90s, giving downright dangerous herbal medicine advice, and conflating a elements of other practices as 'Wicca' or 'Witchcraft' when they are not, and without siting what cultures or belief structures they actually come from. Some of the authors just wanted to make money fast and churned something to appeal to a demographic of neophytes without care, and some of them are just repeating what they have learned from this miasma of misinformation, especially as it takes a lot of research to pick through it. Thankfully for me, I am a nerd, and I like reading about the things I am passionate about, including books written in often stuffy and stilted ways, academic papers, and actual old occult texts (or at least translations thereof), because if I had stuck with what I read in the first few high-selling 'witchy' books I had read, I would have remained quite ignorant, probably believing in over-inflated figures for those executed in the witch hunts (and believing that those executed and accused were actual witches, when very few had connections to folk-magic), and that Wicca really was an ancient faith - not a modern faith inspired by ancient things.
For years, I have gone into discount book retailers and found tarot kits as tacky as the one that was going to be in the Sephora kit. I've also seen independent Witchcraft/occult shops sell pre-made 'spell kits' and 'witchcraft starter kits', and while some are carefully put together by practising Witches, some of them are clearly mass-produced nonsense (I know that there will be non-Witches reading this saying 'but it's ALL nonsense!' but I am talking as a believer to other believers). In some places I've also seen items purporting to be relating 'Voodoo magic' with no true connection to those cultures, and probably culturally inaccurate packaging - similar is invoking various 'ancient powers'; at one point there was a fad for 'Ancient Egyptian' stuff with nonsense hieroglyphs and only a passing association to Kemeticsm or historical Ancient Egyptian beliefs! This is misappropriating Witchcraft, and whatever culture they've themed a product by, just as the Sephora/Pinrose kit was misappropriating Native American beliefs with the white sage. These things are ripping off the ignorant and confusing the new.
The other major issue is that most of these mass-produced items are made by companies not run by Witches or Wiccans, and that they are competing against the people within the community, and often out-competing them because it is simply a lot cheaper to have things mass-produced (often abroad, and I do wonder about sweatshops, health and safety and the environmental impact of production on this scale) on the cheap than it is for an individual to sell their time as a craftsperson, the cost of materials bought in small batches (and often at higher quality) and who has to cover their overheads for a niche business, rather than it just being another product from a conglomerate that sells a broad variety of items. The commercialisation of Wicca and Witchcraft makes it ever more difficult for people within those communities to sustain businesses within their own communities, unless they join in and become re-sellers of these mass-produced items.
One of the reasons a lot of more experienced witches have such an emotional reaction over the Witch-kits is that for many of us, we have a long history of our religion being met with hostility or mockery from the mainstream - a bit like why Goths get grumpy when they see the same people who mocked them suddenly wearing a similar look because it's now cool. A lot of people have had some very negative, sometimes even violent, experiences over intolerance of their faith, so seeing it surface with shallow mainstream popularity can be quite irksome.
Two elements from the Sephora/Pinrose kit are items very popular in magical and spiritual/mystical practice currently, but which can have issues with sustainable sourcing. The kit was cancelled, so this is no criticism of Sephora/Pinrose, but a general discussion of some of the issues around crystals and white sage.
Crystals The stone in the kit was going to be rose quartz. It is very popular in crystal healing and crystal magic (and quite pretty if you like pink). Rose quartz is a mineral, and it has to be mined, and it is a finite resource - just like coal or oil - and while some quartz mines are in America or Europe (a specific type of smoky quartz was mined in the Cairngorms, here in Scotland, and Morion quartz comes from Eastern Europe). Rose quartz is often mined in the Minas Gerais region of Brazil, and is secondary to gold mining, and while it is mostly regulated, there are issues with miners working outside the regulations, and with environmental problems. Mining for crystals in general can be an environmental issue, and encouraging a high popular demand is not helping the situation. There are definitely other crystals that are being mined primarily in ways that are either ecologically harmful or with unethical labour practices.
Crystal healing is a New Age practice, not one originating from either traditional Witchcraft, Wicca or Western Occultism, and the mystical lapidaries of historical European occultism focused on correlations between astrology and precious stones, not the semi-precious and non-precious minerals common to modern crystal practices. I've read that the Hopi of what is now Arizona had a lapidary healing practice, but this is again different to the New Age crystal healing practice, which borrows eclectically from Asian beliefs (it's hard to attribute concepts like chakras to a specific religion; I know they come up in quite a few, especially Hinduism and some versions of Buddhism, and it is likely that these concepts have been incorporated from contact with both Yogic and Buddhist beliefs), mystical interpretations of concepts such as energy, vibration, resonance and crystal structures which are markedly different from the scientific use of these terms, etc.
There are definitely plenty of Witches that have adopted the use of crystals, particularly in terms of symbolic correspondences in spells, but I think it is important to know that this is an adjunct, and that there are plenty of people who believe in the mystical or healing properties of crystals that would never consider themselves witches, and while there is overlap in the use - specifically in the way crystals are given correspondences to certain issues - in how crystals are used in spells, and how crystals are used in healing, they're not quite the same thing. I don't judge anyone for believing in the healing or magical properties of crystals, although personally I don't believe in crystal healing, and think more of ritual crystals as symbolic than inherently powerful; all I am writing about this for is to a) explain the origins of the use of crystals as an adopted practice, and b) encourage people to source their crystals ethically (more on the latter), and if you do believe in those things, that's as valid as any other spiritual belief, even if I don't share that belief. I think the point I am trying to make is that using crystals isn't inherent to Witchcraft, so don't feel like you need to use crystals to be a Witch, or that you aren't a proper Witch without a large collection of crystals. You can certainly use them if you want, but it's not a core requirement.
Since writing this article, I read an article on Patheos called ::The Toxicity of Crystals and Ways to Practice Real Stone Spirit Magick:: that I agree with in places, don't fully agree with on several points, and disagree with on others, but which definitely has again highlighted the importance to source crystals responsibly. Options for responsibly sourcing crystals include buying them secondhand (presumably with ritual cleansing), and buying them from a seller that has a very good grasp of their supply chain, knowing the sort of conditions that the miners work under and the environmental sustainability of the mining
White Sage White Sage for smudging is a practice from indigenous American groups, so attributing it to Witchcraft is inaccurate. Again, plenty of Witches now use white sage, but usually for smoke cleansing, not as an invitation to spirits. The other issue, which I cannot find a clear answer on, is whether or not there is a problem with over-harvesting. White sage is a plant native to the southern states of the USA and to Mexico. Gathering wild white sage is apparently illegal in Mexico (presumably for ecological reasons), and the information I have found on its cultivation in South America, and people circumventing legal restrictions on wild gathering to meet demands have been conflicting, as well as if there is an issue with high demand as an export product causing issues locally.
Smudging and smoke or incense cleansing are not synonymous, so the calling cleansing a space with white sage 'smudging' is an inaccuracy. There's a lot of debate over whether it is cultural misappropriation for European Neo-Pagans to use white sage for spiritual cleansing, and I think a lot of that depends on whether you're doing it because you think it's some mystical 'noble savage' practice with inaccurate and romanticised pretensions to Shamanism or not, whether your white sage is ethically sourced (and if it's profiting off Native American imagery without being a Native-run business), and a lot of other factors; from what I've read, some sort of botanical cleansing incense, often including sage or similar, has existed in most cultures, and I don't want to be claiming offence for a group I don't belong to, plus I think opinions are likely to be mixed amongst different Native American groups, people within those groups, etc. (Just like not all Witches agree with me or were upset about the Sephora witch-kit! A lot were, but it's not unanimous; groups are always made up of individuals, and it is important not to assume any group is entirely homogeneous and monolithic.)
Sustainable sourcing of sage can be from several sources. I think a lot of people can grow their own; I know people even in the Scottish Highlands who have managed to grow it in their gardens - a far cry from the sunny climes of South America and the southern states of America! (This is where my bundles have come from - grown and gifted to me). Another option would be to source fair-trade and ecologically-soundly grown white sage. I don't know if there are indigenous groups preparing and bundling it who are selling it to the Neo-Pagan, Witchcraft and alternative spirituality community, but if there is a way to buy from them that supports their local businesses rather than competes or obscures the native traditions, then that might also be an option. Sage incense cleansing isn't something I really work with; I prefer to cleanse a space with a broom, and objects with ritual waters. (To their credit, Pinrose did say they wanted to source their sage from sustainable Native-run businesses, but this was in response to the criticism.) An Alternative Wiccan 'Starter Kit' Witchcraft, as I will explain later, is broader than Wicca, and includes a lot of different things, so listing the contents for a unifying starter set would not be possible. Wicca is the most common form of modern Witchcraft, and the one I am personally most familiar with, so I will write a little of what someone who wants to become a Wiccan should do in terms of sourcing their first items for personal practice.
The first thing I will say is that the items are tools, and while they help enacting the symbolism of Wicca for spiritual purposes, they are not completely necessary - however it does make it easier, especially for those who are new, to use tangible objects. If you make your tools, you have more of a personal connection, so this is always the best option if possible!The main tools are an athame, a wand, a chalice, a cauldron and an altar to put them on. Athame An athame is considered a masculine symbol due to its vaguely phallic shape, and is representative of the element of Air. It is used symbolically only, and there is some debate as to whether it should be sharp or not. Gerald Gardener took the term from the Key of Solomon, and was deeply moved by the ritual blades of many indigenous cultures, such as the kris of the Malay. Traditionally an athame has a black handle.
My first athame was a secondhand letter-opener that happened to be in the shape of a leaf-bladed sword, with a historically inaccurate hilt, and in brass, which to my under-educated teenage self aligned well enough with my impression of a Bronze age 'Celtic' sword. Any dagger or dagger-like bladed object (such as my letter opener!) will usually do - the easiest to get hold of in the UK are decorative daggers made for people who either like blades from a Fantasy fandom perspective, or a historical weapons perspective, or both. Be careful, however, as a lot of the ones made to look like the traditional notion of a dagger, especially with black handles, are reproductions of Nazi weapons, sometimes with the insignia left off, making them less discernible as related to Nazism (I know some people just want their WW2 historical weapons/reproductions to accurately include both axis and allied forces, but any Nazi-related regalia makes me deeply uncomfortable, and are also very popular amongst actual Neo-Nazis and their ilk. I doubt I am the only person who is uncomfortable around that sort of thing.)
If you are not interested in having one that is metal (or sharp), or you are very good at metal-work, you can either make your own symbolic athame, for example whittled out of wood, or if you're good at metal-work, and amateur knife-making is permitted in your location, then you can do that, too. I know two people who have made their own athames from cutting and grinding a metal bar into shape and then making a wooden handle - as they are not functional knives for actually cutting anything physically, things like differential hardness, forging a blade and the steel being able to hold an edge are not important, making building your own athame an easier project that making a functional knife.
The option for purchasing an athame which would best support those within the community itself would be to buy one hand-crafted by a practising Wiccan or Pagan, through a shop run by Wiccans or other Pagans, or directly, but this is expensive (forging is a labour-intensive process, and good steel is expensive!), but this it outside of the price-range of many. I certainly have designs, and know someone who could make what I would like, but I can't afford something like that just yet. Custom made knives are pretty expensive in general; I have antique swords more affordable than a lot of contemporary hand-forged blades, but to reiterate what I said: making knives, especially beautiful ritual objects, is time consuming work, good steel is expensive, and if you want special woods, silver, actual crystals or anything else in your item then it will be even more expensive - and this isn't a complaint, just a warning to beginner witches and those on a budget that while it might be excellent for craftpeople in Paganism to get new customers, it might not be a very affordable option, and not because of overpricing. Wand A wand is a short stick, preferably made of wood, but sometimes made of other materials, used to direct energy and represent the element of Fire. It is also considered masculine. Wands have a huge history predating Wicca, far more than I can reasonably put in one paragraph. You could do years of research on that topic (maybe there's a thesis in there somewhere... hmm...).
The best way to get a wand is to make one yourself. This does not necessarily mean hand-turning it on a lathe (although I'm working on that!), but usually just means whittling the bark off a short branch. In sourcing that branch, try to pick dead wood that has fallen naturally, rather than cutting a living tree. If you want to make it from commercially available timber (like a wooden dowel), make sure that it is from a sustainable timber source. If you take a stick from nature, be mindful not to take something that has already become a home for other living things; firstly you don't want wood-boring insects in your home, secondly fungi may have started to rot the wood, and thirdly, those creatures don't need to be disturbed by meddling humans! If you have your own garden, with bushes and trees, you can probably find a suitable stick there. Once you have your stick, customise it to make it into a wand.
Do not buy a Harry Potter fandom wand or similar LARP or fantasy roleplay wand; those are often resin (and thus sometimes brittle display-only items), or even worse cheap plastic, and they're not intended as religious artefacts. Real Witchcraft is not LARP.
If you want something particularly pretty, there are Pagan wand-makers out there, but again you go into the territory of more expensive handmade crafts - however you can get turned wooden wands made on a lathe relatively inexpensively, usually around £20 in the UK. They're usually spindle-style, made of one type of wood, and have some decorative turning along them, quite nice for the price. Chalice A chalice is a ritual cup set aside specifically for that purpose. It is often used to hold wine or other beverages, so needs to be food-safe. It is considered feminine, and represents the element of Earth, especially the concept of the 'womb of mother Earth' in many variations of Wicca.
Just use a wine-glass. My first chalice was not food-safe because I bought some fancy brass thing, then I was given another metal one that wasn't suitable for actually drinking out of, and now I have a pewter one from Alchemy Gothic that I never use for actual rituals because I don't know if it's food-safe either. I do, however, have a purple glass wine-glass that I picked up in a charity shop. It IS food-safe, and I use that one pretty regularly. It cost me 50p, and it is goblet shaped and looks nice. A lot of charity shops struggle to sell individual wine-glasses as people usually want a set, and only buy a single one if it replaces a broken one from a set they already have, and while glass is widely recycled, it is saving one from being thrown away, and then melted down and all the other energy intensive processes, so I definitely recommend getting a lonely wine-glass from a charity shop or other secondhand seller. You can get some really, really pretty ones quite cheaply!
I advise personally against the resin decorative cups widely available online; while they often feature Pagan and Wiccan themes like the Green Man, or pentacles, they seem more like decorative fantasy objects, and they are again mass-produced items. This is just my opinion, however, and reflects mostly my personal tastes. They also usually cost upwards of £15, whereas you can probably still find a nice secondhand wine-glass for 50p, especially in charity shops and car-boot sales!
There are food-safe and ornamental chalices made by independent Pagan craftspeople, too. Most of the ones I have seen are made by potters and are thus ceramic rather than glass. Always inquire about the use of food-safe glazes if you intend to drink from your chalice!
Cauldron Most of the time, you don't actually need a cauldron. The chalice is often a good substitute in terms of ritual symbolism, and there are practical alternatives if you need a vessel to burn something in, or brew an actual potion - in fact, many cauldrons sold are fine to use for burning spell components, but not safe for brewing any potions that are to be consumed or applied topically. Many are entirely decorative, too, and might crack if you burn something in them or heat them. Most of the time, if you want to make an actual 'potion', then you're better off doing the same as you would for cooking anything else, and using a pan on your stove. If you're making a potion that is not intended to be consumed, and may have ingredients that are poisonous, could damage your pan, etc. then you might want to have a separate pan for that. I've been a witch over 15 years and never had that problem personally!
If you really, really, REALLY must have a cauldron you can cook up an ingestible potion in, look at reenactment camp supplies, potjie pots - as suggested to me many years ago by a friend from South Africa, which is where potjie pots are from. They're not cheap though.
Altar It's a table. You don't need some special mini-table you probably can't fit most of your tools on, carved with pentacles and triquetras - you just need a table, and to consecrate and decorate it, to set it apart from mundane uses. My altar is on a wheeled trolly. It usually sits in the corner of my living room, but the wheels mean I can easily move it to the centre of the room for group rituals, or those that require me to circumambulate it, or whatnot. I think the trolly was £15 in a..
As I mentioned in my previous post, I was in Wales a few weeks ago, visiting my Dad. While I was there, I visited three castles and a few old churches. I'm not sure quite how 'Gothic' in the spooky sense of the word this is, but it is Gothic in the architectural sense. It's hard to feel spooky on a day with such bright sunshine - glorious for many, but too warm for me!
This post does include a spider photograph, so if you're averse to spiders, then don't scroll past the ornate door. I have put it as the last photograph so you can still appreciate the others without having to look at spiders.
Restored curtain wall, Cardigan Castle. Photo by me.
Cardigan/Aberteifi is on the River Teifi, and we went there to visit the indoor market, and have a look around. I had had been there before, and knew it had a castle, and it was restored in 2014 (which I had read about). The first time I had been to Cardigan was before that, and while I think local council owned it at the time, it was in disrepair after having been neglected by its previous owner and inhabitant for many decades. Unfortunately, while the entrance fee was modest, I didn't have enough money on me, so I didn't get to go inside the grounds. From what I gather, most of the buildings on site are later, but it has nice gardens, and I was hoping to at least look at the gardens, but it was not to be. I did take a couple of photographs of the exterior, however.
Secondary wall, embankment, and then primary wall with tower... And a much later additional house/cottage, affiliated with the castle. Photo by me.
Another gem was a rather lovely medieval church that has been extended several times over the centuries. The church is The Priory Church of Our Lady of Cardigan (I don't know what that is in Welsh, although I did read it and I've since forgotten it). It is in a very beautiful graveyard, and next to a hospital but also next to a busy road. I did take some exterior photographs, but they didn't turn out very well. I apologise for no good overview photographs. My partner Raven also took some nice photographs, so with his permission, I have included those too.
Photograph by myself. Gravestones in rows through yew trees.
The graveyard is mostly older graves, although I did not go around and get a particularly good average for the estimate age - looked like mostly 1700s and 1800s gravestones.They are almost all made of the same sort of grey stone as the church and the castle, and most are a slab given a roughly arched shape with text - not like some of the Protestant chapel yards, full of urns and obelisks, or a chapel on a hill we visited, which had a much wider variety of stones. (Unfortunately I accidentally deleted many of the photos of that particular chapel! )
Photo by Raven.
This is the far corner of the graveyard. All along the back wall are grave-stones laid vertical, with the climbing plants sort of taking over in places. I don't know if they are memorials from plots that were re-used, or if this is just where fallen-over stones got placed, or if there were just a lot of people buried along the wall.
I also think this photo goes to show what a bright and sunny day it was - very hot, a few wispy white clouds, and scorching brightness. Personally, I found it too hot; I overheat easily and get sun-burnt just as easily, so I prefer cloudier, cooler days. Some people love the sun, but I have to hide under hats, long-sleeved floaty clothes and lots of sun-screen.
Dead Tree. Photo by Raven
I'm not sure what kind of tree this was when it was alive. There were plenty of yew trees, but yews are poisonous to other plants, so I doubt that there would be other plants growing from it if it were a yew. The tree stump felt almost sculptural, and its timbers bleached grey-white seemed fitting with the stone and almost skeletal itself.
Grave with ornate carving. Photo by Raven.
This gravestone near the entrance was interesting - it had some sort of crest surrounded by a laurel wreath or other foliage, but it has suffered the ravages of time - the central design, presumably a monogram, is pretty much illegible, and any motto or similar on the banner beneath the leaves has long since de-laminated. I think perhaps the topmost leafs have lost some mass, too. It's interesting to see a headstone carved in the shape of a Dutch gable, too.
Architectural salvage. Photograph by Raven.
I'm not sure which part of the building this detail came from - I couldn't even figure it out by looking at it - it's some part of some Gothic details, but it's also a broken jigsaw piece of architectural history. Raven took this photograph of it - I guess it looks sort of abandoned in this corner of the porch, but really it's a sign that someone's put it there so it doesn't get discarded. I don't know where on the building it used to belong - perhaps part of something that has since been altered, so it can't go back - but whatever it was, it is put there where it is not forgotten. It's almost on display.
Monk. Photograph by me
This monk's head terminates the arch over the porch. It looks like one of the more recent additions to the church. From what I gather of the church's history, I think at some point it was connected to a monastery as well as a priory (I'm really no expert on this), which I guess is why they used monks as a decorative motif. There's one at both ends of the archway, looking solemnly upon all those who enter the church. I don't know if they are representative of specific people or not.
Ornate ironmongery. Photograph by me.
Both Raven and I admired the ornate doors - I don't know how old they are, perhaps Victorian, perhaps earlier, but they have the most fabulous swirling ironwork on them. I have a thing for doors and windows - maybe it's liminality of them. I also really appreciate when something that doesn't need to be ornate gets an artistic treatment. Plenty of church doors have much simpler hinges, some have fancier, but it's nice to see something like this. Someone put enough time, money and effort in for this to be not just an ordinary door - probably several people; someone to make the timbers into a door, someone (or some people) to do the metalwork, someone who designed it, someone who paid for it... Someone who checked that it would fit in the aperture of the door frame! It's not as common these days, to have such things made, and I think we're losing out.
There are several stained glass windows in the church - framed by stone tracery that looks very, very old indeed - but maybe not as old as the apertures in the walls, as they look like they once had larger arches and arched tracery rather than arches in rectangles. I don't know exactly how many phases of construction and alteration there have been (I counted at least 5) but it's got so much history built into the walls. It was really quite fascinating.
Spider, photograph by me.
I really like spiders. Raven, not so much. I saw this spindly one on its thread in the porch window.
Originally, when I set up Domesticated Goth, I intended it to be about crafts, homemaking, cooking and decorating - a blog to give people ideas on how to make Gothic things for their house, small art projects, etc. Unfortunately, I moved into a rental apartment that had strict rules on decorating, and that put a real dampener on that idea, and instead the blog evolved into a more general Gothic & Goth lifestyle bog, with Gothic tourism, art projects, accounts of my involvement with Gothic Lolita, photography, the odd musical post (I am terrible at writing about music intelligently) and discussion of the Goth subculture itself.
Three years ago, however, Raven and I bought a house - we didn't buy it outright, we have a mortgage on it, and it's not a very big house, but it's where we call home. Over that time, we've been decorating. Not all of the house is Gothic (the living & dining rooms are open-plan with each other, and have a more earthy, slightly witchy sort of feel, with lots of greens, dark wood and natural and Pagan motifs) and some rooms are more Gothic than others. There's also still a lot of work to be done, so many rooms are still very incomplete; we don't have much money, so we can't hire people to decorate for us, and we barely have the time and the money to do it ourselves, so it has been dragging on. However, my study is the smallest room that isn't a bathroom, and therefore it's one of the more complete.
Spiderweb candelabra and skulls are still quite 'Hallowe'en'
My initial idea was to decorate it in a deliberately kitschy, Hallowe'en-esque sort of way - LOTS of skulls, cartoon bat decals on the windows and ceilings, and quite a vivid purple (Valspar's 'Purple Storm'). However, having had the room for 3 years, I feel that style both feels a bit overbearing and doesn't really reflect my personal aesthetic any more, as I've definitely got further and further into a Romantic, Gothic and very Victorian/anachronistic sort of aesthetic, and I want my study to feel more like it is inhabited by a vampire from an Anne Rice novel than one from a Tim Burton movie. I've still got the vinyl decals on my window because I simply can't get them off, and I think I'm going to have to use a heat-gun to remove them!
My window, with its bat stickers as well as SunSeal mandalas There are a lot of pentagrams and stars hanging up in my window.
Some of the vinyl decals, those of Gothic architecture and Gothic arches, I will keep. I feel like it's still in keeping with the reproduction 1820s Gothic Revival wallpaper of window tracery, especially the arcade of grey/silver arches - something I need to get a good photograph of! I'm in two minds about the vinyl decals of buildings. I'm not sure if they are too cartoonish to look good, or if their simplicity is a good thing, or whether they should go entirely, or whether I should carefully take a scalpel to them and give them a few more details to make them a bit classier (including making some of the Romanesque arches into Gothic ones!). I don't want to make my study too Victorian either; my 1960's house doesn't have high enough ceilings to really pull off the Victorian look without feeling claustrophobic; the spaces are too horizontal.
The rounded arches and lack of details annoy me!
I have two favourite sections of my study so far, my 'book nook' reading corner, and my feature wall. My study has a weird L-shape, with a short stubby bit over the staircase, and an above-the-stairs cupboard that I store manga and art materials in. In the stubby area, I have a book-case, a corner unit, a wicker peacock-back chair (inspired by Morticia Addams) and a two-handed broadsword! The broadsword is a claymore, the distinctive variation from Scotland.
My book nook. Chair pulled out to get a good photograph.
The bookcase is all non-fiction. The top shelf is architecture books, the middle shelf history, culture and anthropology, and the bottom shelf is for big A4+ size books, mostly art, but a few history ones too. It's not big enough for all of my art and architecture or history books, but it's got a few. More shelving is actually something my study desperately needs, and is something I've been working on. Some friends of mine are moving to Scandinavia, and have a lovely double-Gothic-arch bookcase that I would like to buy off them, and I've put two new above-door shelves up in my study, one above the main door for ornaments, and one above the cubby door for notebooks (you can see a bracket for it, sans shelf, in the photo above). I'm awaiting some more shelves in our bedroom, so that I can move all my fiction books out of their stacks under my study desk! I've also got a stack of art books under my study desk, and another stack of art books next to the book-case, all of art books too big to go on the bottom shelf of the bookcase. I've got a few shelves above my desk, but they're for art materials, not books.
Cubby visible in mirror!
My cubby needs a lot of work; it already has shelves, but they're too broadly spaced out, but too close to simply put an additional shelf in between - I need to take the existing shelves out and put new ones in. There's also a crack where the back board of the cupboard has come away from the wall, and I'm not sure what the best way to deal with that is, as the problem appears to be lack of an allowance for the expansion and contraction of the building. I think perhaps an L-shaped piece of wood, attached to the brick wall and not the board, will cover the gap while allowing the different materials to expand and contract sensibly. I'm not sure whether the back wall of the cubby should have wallpaper or be painted, and if so, what colours. I also want to save up to get an electrician in, both to move the main overhead light at the conjunction of the two parts of the study, but also to install an additional light in the ceiling of the cubby, so I can see what's in there better.
The purple and gold book is actually a Harry Potter themed lamp! They're available ::here:: and at the time of writing, they're on sale below half price at £35 (hence why I could afford one!). I'm a bit of a Harry Potter fan, so this was perfect. If there had been a silver on purple version, I would have loved that even more. I had the cover text customised to 'Liber Lux' - book of light (probably slightly wonky Latin; it's been over 12 years since I studied Latin!). When you open it up, the pages light up, and create a lovely ambient glow. I put mine on a mini-lectern/book stand so I can use it while I'm letter-writing or whatnot.
My mini-bodhran and a Gods' Eye weave.
Another thing I use my study for is music practice. I have my bodhran and my doumbek, my fiddle and a whole lot of recorders (flûte à bec, not for recording music), whistles and flutes. Eventually I wish to move my harmonium (pedal organ) up into my study, but my staircase is steep and winding, and Raven and I alone are not strong enough to carry it upstairs; I think it's a four-person job, but not a four-person staircase! I'd like to get a piano for the living-room to sit where the harmonium currently is; I used to play, and my nice piano is at my father's house.
Raven, in front of a resin crow figure from TKMaxx The silver and black damask bag behind has love-letters he sent me. The silver and black box below has letters from friends and family.
I also have a desk, which is where my computer sits, and where I do a lot of my art-work. I haven't taken any proper photographs of the desk itself, because currently my desktop is just some MDF (medium-density fibreboard) and I'd like to get something like some black sparkle formica to make desk-top. I've been looking at the wonderful geode-inspired resin art-work of ::Mrs ColorBerry:: (which is totally incredible; I seriously recommend checking it out!) and I'd like to learn to do something similar to make a cool poured-resin worktop for my desk, although I wonder how heavy that would be! Raven built my desk, and to get ornate table-legs, he cut some banister spindles down to size!
Hand-painted skulls, and easy DIY project. Just prime then paint!
I do like skull motifs, even if they are sometimes a bit kitschy. These three are small skull decorations from Hallowe'en - £2 for a pack of 9 - which I repainted using nail-polish, to immortalise some of my favourite nail-polish combinations. The iridescent green and purple one is my favourite. These skulls are tiny, about and inch and a half high each.
I love the Art Nouveau packaging
I love burning incense in my study, although it tends to leave an ashy, dusty mess around the burner. I keep the incense for my study (which has cheesy names like 'Werewolf's Bite' or 'Gothic Prayer') in that purple vase. I used to have dried roses in the vase, but they just disintegrated entirely. I love the Art Nouveau packaging for the 'Yesteryears' incense, so I keep that particular incense out on display. The wall faces on the window aperture are painted a lighter purple (I think it's called either 'Lightning Bolt' or 'Haunting Melody'; I can't remember which of those two I eventually settled on. More Valspar paint.)
My favourite part of my study is the wall behind where I sit at my desk. I painted it black, with silver glitter dusted into the paint, and it is the feature wall I use to display art work. The art work is on rotation. Currently I've got a lenticular image of a crow on a skull, which I think is from Alchemy Gothic, and a postcard of a cat as Moriarty (having stolen the crown jewels). Half of the picture frames are from TKMaxx and Dunelm Mill, and the other half are thrifted. I'm starting to swap out the artwork for fine art images. Not really visible in this picture, but the image in the concentric rectangles frame at the upper left is a postcard of a Edward Burne Jones sketch (it is of a woman looking down to her left, with a crown of golden leaves, done in chalks or pastels on a purple background, you can see a version ::here::). I'm going to hopefully fill all the frames with classic art soon, just need to accumulate prints/postcards at the right size. The picture of my father (at work, he's an archaeologist) on the far right is going to be re-framed in a black frame and moved to our bedroom, where we have a wall of friends and family pictures.
Display wall from the other angle, with sword. Also note the Gothic Revival wallpaper in grey.
You may have noticed I have another sword. I collect them, especially antiques. The sword on my display wall is an antique officer's dress sword from the 1870s-1880s, from Italy, with a beautifully engraved blade. I love the duality of beautifully made weaponry; both artistic and aesthetic, yet designed for a lethal function. There are dents along the spine of the dress sword that indicate it's been used in some form of combat, and I wonder if someone fought a duel with it. It's definitely not a battle weapon (unlike say, a cavalry sabre).
Unfinished wall with broken sconce; the mirror got shattered.
As you can see, this is not a complete over view of my study, and there is much left to do. I'm going to put a Gothic arched cabinet over my radiator, and I've got facings to put on the shelves over my door. I need to take more pictures of things I have added to my study, like the two new shelves. I still don't have a final floor covering; I've got a rug over floor-boards as I can't afford enough laminate flooring to cover my study yet (however I do have a roll of underlay!). I'm going to try and 3D print a single tile of cornice, then make a mould, and then use that to make dozens of foam ones, in order to get a repeating Gothic arch design to go around where the ceiling connects to the walls. I've already painted skirting board gloss black, but I can't put that in until I've got the laminate floor down. I still don't have enough shelving, as detailed above, and I still have lots of stuff in boxes.
If my readers are interested, I can update the blog with progress on my study, and with how other rooms are decorated. Please comment if you want to see more of the Gothic décor in my house. There's the witchy living & dining area mentioned before, a French belle-epoque inspired aesethetic, just with added skulls, for our main bedroom, a more modern take on Gothic decor for the spare bedroom/games room and the kitchen. The upstairs hallway is going to be quite opulent, with some really fabulous wall-paper, but I'm still currently stripping the original wallpaper!
I also suggest checking out two Gothic DIY blogs: ::GIY: Goth It Yourself::, which is currently on hiatus, but which has an archive of PLENTY of projects worth reading and looking at, and