Wicca 101: Lesson 1, Wiccan or Witch?

| Wiccan or Witch? | Paganism vs. Wicca | Self-Dedication | Choosing A Path | The Pentacle | Choosing A Hidden Name | Setting Up Your Altar |

Welcome to Lesson 1 of the Beginner Wicca 101 course. This lesson will contain subjects of interest to anyone new to Wicca. Make sure to follow the off-site links, if any, to get the full scope of information available for each subject. At the bottom of this page is a link to move forward to the next lesson. At the end of the course, there will be an online test.

A Wiccan or A Witch?

What’s the difference? It seems at first glance that these two terms are really the same thing: referring to someone who practices witchcraft. This is a common mistake. A Wiccan is someone who follows the religion of Wicca. Wicca is a spiritual path, that does happen to include the practice of witchcraft. On the other hand, a witch is simply a person who practices witchcraft, regardless of their spiritual outlook. These people are often referred to as “dabblers” or ceremonial magicians/sorcerers because they only practice witchcraft for the sake of manipulation. Dabblers are typically teenagers or deluded adults who are fascinated with witchcraft, but do not respect its rules or power. Ceremonial magicians tend to be well-learned adults with great respect for their Craft, even though they may not adhere to any particular religion. Sorcerers are magicians who tend to practice the dark arts with little regard for Threefold Law. In regard to Witch versus Wiccan, many Wiccans do refer to themselves as Witches because they practice witchcraft, which is part and parcel of being Wiccan. Wicca is basically the combination of practicing witchcraft and divination with the religious rituals and beliefs of Paganism. Without the addition of Paganism, Wicca would not be a religion at all.

Paganism vs. Wicca

Most confusing is the difference between Paganism and Wicca. Since Wicca steals aspects of Paganism in order to define itself as a religion, many Wiccans also consider themselves Pagan. Paganism is a separate religion unto itself and there is much debate within the Wiccan community over which path should take precedence from a historical perspective. My contention is that Paganism is the oldest living religion beginning with the spiritual connection with the elements of our prehistoric ancestors. What causes the rift is that Wiccans refer to everything pre-Christian as the practice of witchcraft because those ancient and prehistoric practices fit the definition that Wiccans concocted just for the purpose of claiming them. This insatiable desire of Wiccans to connect with the distant past has caused much confusion and dissension with historians and anthropologists who have little respect for Wiccans who project their own definitions onto a system and culture they know nothing about.

Paganism transcends the boundaries of religion and dogma. It is a way of life born of the need to survive in an ever-changing and unpredictable world. Pagans do not invoke the aid of deities or animal spirits to manipulate people or the environment, nor do they will it through their own personal power. That is witchcraft. Witchcraft is all about manipulation. Pagans believe it is morally wrong to manipulate people or situations. A Pagan will improve his/her own self confidence or self esteem, whereas a Wiccan or Witch will cast a spell to manipulate a situation. This is not wrong, per se. It is simply one of the differences between Pagans and Wiccans. Paganism follows the laws of nature; it does not manipulate those laws and throw the natural order out of balance, which would cause chaos. Pagans believe in law and order and they obey those laws. Wiccans are the outlaws from a Pagan perspective because they make up rules and definitions to gratify their own desires. Paganism also refers to a variety of non-Christian religions that are usually polytheistic and are often nature-based. Wicca is only one Pagan religion, but there are others such as Santeria, Asatru, or Norse. Many people do not necessarily identify with a specific religion, and use the broad term "Pagan" to define their spiritual path. Pagan religions are distinct and separate from each other. They are culturally specific, and it should not be assumed that they are just different names for the same faith.

Self-Dedication

Some traditions require that you be part of a group or coven, but more and more people are choosing a solitary path. Whether you choose to perform a ritual to mark your dedication to a Pagan path, is up to you. Many feel that it gives them a sense of an 'official' beginning. Sometimes this is referred to as self-initiation. I prefer the term 'dedication' because initiation usually means that you are becoming part of a group. If you are working as a solitary, that's not really accurate. A self-dedication ritual typically involves a declaration from you, that you will continue to learn, study and develop your spiritual beliefs. An offering to the Gods, as well as the consecration of new altar tools, are other things you could include in your dedication ritual. You don't necessarily need to dedicate yourself to any particular God or Goddess at this time, but you certainly may if you feel a connection to a particular Deity. Feel free to modify the wording in this ritual to suit you.

Self Dedication Ritual

Consecrate Sacred Space clockwise with sage:
O Great Spirit, who is the messenger of Air,
Bring down the wisdom in which I might share.
Cast the Circle clockwise from the North:
With this Athame and power from above,
I construct this Circle with light and love.

Light candle:

I light the night which you have made.
Let ignorance and darkness fade.
Bring now to me the gift of light,
and bless me with your power and might.
Anoint forehead, heart, left and right shoulder with salt water:
Blessed be my thoughts that I shall see.
Blessed be my emotions that I shall feel.
Blessed be my actions that I shall be.
Blessed be all that shall please and honor thee.

Hold up the Chalice of mead:

My Lady of Earth to my dreams give birth.
My Lord of the Sun let my will be done,
That I shall work and walk in Your light
as I dedicate myself to You this night.

Drink some of the mead. Rise and hold your arms wide in the air:

This rite is now ended.

Bless me, my Lady and Lord, that I shall walk in Your light, life, and wisdom.

So mote it be.

Meditate on your goals and ambitions, both physical and spiritual. Go outside and pour the rest of the mead and salt water on the ground as an offering to the Sidhe. Let the candle burn throughout the night. Source: (Earth, Religion, and Power, 21-24)

Choosing A Path

Which path should I follow? I'm sure you've noticed the word 'tradition' floating around. You could think of traditions as being different branches of Wicca, much like the different denominations within Christianity. There are a number of them, though Gardnerian and Alexandrian are considered the oldest and perhaps the most 'authentic'. I suppose that depends on your point of view. Both of these traditions are coven-based and cannot truly be followed by a solitary. But you could still incorporate their teachings into your own path, if you wish. If you are a solitary, you don't have any restrictions on how you follow a tradition so you could even mix and match different concepts. But then you couldn't really identify yourself as belonging to a particular tradition, since you have modified the teachings. The term 'eclectic' is generally accepted for anyone not following a specific tradition. The best books for a beginner to read are: Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner and Living Wicca: A Further Guide for the Solitary Practitioner by Scott Cunningham.

To study various paths, I recommend these books:

Alexandrian: King of the Witches by June John
Celtic Shamanism: By Oak, Ash, & Thorn by D.J. Conway
Crowleyian: 777 and Other Quabalistic Writings by Aleister Crowley
Dianic: The Holy Book of Women’s Mysteries by Zsuzsanna E. Budapest
Druidism: The 21 Lessons of Merlin by Douglas Monroe
Egyptian: Egyptian Magic by E.A.W. Budge
Faery: Faery Wicca Series by Kisma K. Stepanich
Gardnerian: A Witch’s Bible Compleat by Janet and Stewart Ferrar
Gypsy: Gypsy Sorcery and Fortune Telling by Charles Leland
Seax: Tree: The Complete Book of Saxon Witchcraft by Raymond Buckland
Quabalistic: The Golden Dawn: A Complete Course in Practical Ceremonial Magic by Llewellyn
Voodoo: Original Black and White Magic by Marie Laveau
Witta: Witta: An Irish Pagan Tradition by Edain McCoy

The Pentagram and the Pentacle

 

The pentagram is one of the most potent, powerful, and persistent symbols in human history. It has been important to almost every ancient culture, from the Mayans of Latin America, to India, China, and Egypt. The earliest pentagrams were found scratched into Stone Age caves. They represent the star of the cosmos and the way they are drawn is the manner in which humans saw them. While they are believed to have some spiritual significance, the meaning of the star to early humans is a mystery. It has been found in Babylonian drawings where it marks the pattern the planet Venus makes on its travels- a secret symbol of the Goddess Ishtar. Scriptures, especially Hebrew, are abundant with references to pentagrams. In early civilizations that followed, it held various meanings. It served to mark directions in Sumerian texts, and represented the five visible planets. The emblem remained popular through many cultures and time periods- it was called the pentalpha by the Greeks, who believed it had magical properties. For a time, it was the official seal of the city of Jerusalem. In alchemical texts, the four elements (in Latin)- flatus, ignus, aqua, terra, superseded by light, or divine energy- illustrated the process of creation- Fiat Lux, or, "let there be light." A pentagram enclosed within a circle is known as a pentacle.
According to the Greek mathematician and philosopher Pythagoras (known among Masons as “Peter Gower”), five was the number of man, because of the fivefold division of the body, and the ancient Greek division of the soul. According to Pythagoras, the five points of the pentagram each represent one of the five elements that make up man: fire, water, air, earth, and psyche. (Energy, fluid, breath, matter, and mind; liquid, gas, solid, plasma and aethyr). The Pythagoreans held the pentacle sacred to Hygeia, the Goddess of healing. Pythagoras used the pentacle as a symbol of health and his followers wore them in order to recognize one another.  This particular symbolism has persisted for centuries, and has greatly influenced theologies of diverse traditions. Later, the pentacle was important to many doctrines of esoteric Medieval and Renaissance belief systems- alchemy, Kabbalah, and Ceremonial magic. Ritual magicians, like the Greeks, used the Pentagram as a microcosm of the human body. The practice of Ritual Magic was used to create a state of closeness with god through the use of symbols and rituals to imitate the divine state. It was believed that like affects like, that the connection between the world of symbols and the world of actions could also be manipulated for evil purposes. 
In the Jewish Kabbalistic tradition, which borrows many Pythagorean ideas, the pentagram represents the five upper sephiroth on the Tree of Life- five numbers, being indivisible by any but themselves, which represent pure archetypal forces: justice, mercy, wisdom, understanding, and transcendent splendor.

The Christian Pentagram?

 
Early Christians wore it as an emblem to represent the five wounds of Christ.  Christian Kabbalists who attempted to use Jewish mysticism to prove the divinity of Christ were especially enamored of the pentagram- to them, it symbolized Christ as the Holy Spirit manifest in the flesh. A favorite geometric feat by Gnostics was to add the Hebrew letter Shin (symbolizing fire and the holy spirit of Pentecost) to the Biblical four letter name of God (YHVH, ‘Yah-de-va-heh’ most commonly mispronounced 'Jehovah' by English speakers) yielding YHShVH- Y'heshua, or Jesus. (There is a secret biblical connection, as well, in the name of the Christian holiday of Pentecost- the day the Holy Spirit descended on the apostles of Jesus is one of many geometrical 'proofs' in the New Testament disguised as stories). The book, The Da Vinci Code, refers to this symbol as proof of the existence of Christ. The Masonic Lodge makes the same mistake in referring to this symbol as ‘proof’ that Jesus was a Mason. They are wrong on two counts. Firstly, if Jesus did exist, he would not have been a stone mason because in the Middle East, homes were not constructed with stone. They used mud brick and what little wood they could scrounge. According to the Bible, Jesus was a carpenter of wood who built cabinets. Secondly, the Masonic Lodge is a modern survivor of the ancient Christian Kabbalists and Gnostics who screwed up this history in the first place. The Lodge simply and unknowingly perpetuates the myth. There are many connections between the pentagram and Christianity. Before the cross, it was a preferred emblem to adorn jewelry and amulets. It was associated with the five wounds of Christ, and because it could be drawn in one continuous movement of the pen, it also symbolized the Alpha and the Omega as one. It was also an expression of a secret Gnostic heresy, found hidden here and there throughout Christian history- a symbol of Isis as the secret goddess. The most notable instance of this symbolism is in the Arthurian Grail stories, which are Gnostic and Kabbalistic teachings disguised as tales of knightly quests. The small, five petaled flowers found in many gothic cathedrals are secret pentagrams. In Medieval times, the Knights Templar who originated as Knights for Christ, used the pentacle as their symbol.
Druze was founded in the eleventh century by al-Hakim, 6th Fatimid Caliph, as a reform movement within Islam. The reforms proposed by al-Hakim never caught on to mainstream Islam. al-Hakim began to believe himself first to be a prophet, and then, to be an incarnation of Allah. His mysterious disappearance while riding led many to believe he had been lifted directly into heaven. The Druze are strict monotheists. They revere al-Hakim as an incarnation of Allah, and expect him to return one day. Druze are also Unitarians, believing all mankind to be divine. They believe in reincarnation and the spiritual superiority of women. One must be born into Druze in order to be initiated. One cannot convert into the religion. The green, top point represents the male principle and the sun. The red point represents the female principle and the moon. The yellow point represents the Word, which is the mediator between the divine and the material. The white point represents manifested will and actualization. The blue point represents will and the realm of possibility.

 

The Pentagram in Freemasonry

 
In Freemasonry and related traditions, the pentagram is usually referred to as the "blazing star," and is sometimes symbolic of the descent of the divinity of Christ into the world of matter, in addition to more traditional Pythagorean symbolism. In this, it represents the Star of Bethlehem. Freemasonry emphasizes Pythagorean geometry in its system of allegorical symbology, and as the pentagram was the chief of the Pythagorean, it is not at all surprising to find it among Masonic symbols. The Masonic use of the pentagram has provided endless fodder for conspiracy minded fundamentalist Christians who see its use as proof of a vast Satanic Masonic network. Many absurd connections have been made between the Satanic pentagram and the Masonic pentagram by enthusiastic evangelicals, who fail to note that the first association of the reversed pentacle with 'evil' is a relatively recent attitude--adopted long after Masons had been using the star without controversy for several centuries.
The Order of Eastern Star symbol is also based upon the Druze Star, but is inverted. It is said to represent the Star of Bethlehem, symbolizing the descent of spirit into matter- the divine in man, or even the presence of God on earth. Its appellation also implies a relationship with the planet Venus, also called the "eastern star." Each point on the star has an emblem of a different biblical heroine (Adah, Ruth, Esther, Martha, and Electa) and the qualities they represent- fidelity, constancy, loyalty, faith, and love. The initials "F.A.T.A.L." found on some are said to stand for the phrase, "Fairest Among Thousands, Altogether Lovely."

The real origin of the Eastern Star, like Masonry, will always be shrouded in mystery. Many researchers believe it had a French origin as early as 1703. By some, this is claimed to be the first inception of "Female Masonry" or "Androgynous Degrees" -- (degrees for both men and women). This is referred to as Co-Masonry in the United States. There appeared at this time, to be a demand for "Side Degrees" or Degrees conferred on ladies, and quite a list sprang up -- "Heroines of Jericho", "Danger in the Dark", "Tall Cedars of Lebanon", etc. These were extensively used but soon fell into decay, for lack of lasting worth. As to the real origin of Eastern Star Degrees in its Initiatory form, there is not the least shadow of doubt that the honor belongs to Dr. Rob Morris and its real origin comes under the First Era. Dr. Morris had traveled many years. He had written many books on Masonry which are now valued references in many Masonic Libraries. Never quite satisfied that all the good in Masonry should be confined to men, Dr. Morris felt that Masonry should be for the whole family. But according to 18th Landmark, women are not eligible for its degrees. Knowing he could not change the Ancient Landmarks of Masonry, Dr. Morris sought some method by which women could share with the Masonic Brother the same inspiration that "prompts man to noble deeds." Although he harbored these feelings for years, it wasn't until 1850, while confined to his home after an accident, that Dr. Morris fully developed the Eastern Star Degrees in their present initiatory form. During this time, he carefully thought out the symbolism and significance of the floor plan and the corps of officers. He conferred the degrees upon his wife and daughters, and some neighbors, presumably having an idea to clothe the ladies with certain words or signs whereby they might make themselves known to Master Masons. These signs and so-called mysteries of the Order were communicated freely to all Master Masons and their relatives. Dr. Morris and other prominent Master Masons gave many lectures and conferred the degrees on many ladies throughout the nation.

There is another reason why Dr. Morris might have written the Eastern Star degrees. This reason, I believe is much more plausible than the one cited by members of the Order. There are two documented instances in history when women were made Masons. These instances are also cited as the historical basis for the creation of women’s Masonry or Co-Masonry.

1) Prior to the formation of the first Irish Grand Lodge, a clandestine lodge, meeting in the home of Arthur St. Ledger, First Baron Kilmayden and Viscounte Doneralle, had their privacy invaded accidentally by the Honorable Elizabeth St. Ledger, later Mrs. Richard Aldworth. The lodge members decided the only way to preserve the secrecy was to obligate her. She was therefore duly initiated as both an Entered Apprentice and a Fellowcraft.

2) The second instance concerns Helene, Countess Hadik Barkoczy, born 1833, made a Mason in Lodge Egyenloseg, warranted by the Grand Lodge of Hungary. The last of her race, at her father’s death, she was permitted by the Hungarian courts to take the place of a son, receiving his full inheritance. Housed in the estate was an extensive Masonic library in which she became much interested. In 1875, the Lodge of Egyenloseg admitted her, but the Grand Lodge of Hungary took immediate action on this Lodge for knowingly violating the statutes. The Deputy Master of the lodge was expelled, the officers had their names stricken from its rolls, and the members were suspended for various periods of time.

 

The Pentagram of the Founders

 
Surprisingly, the pentagram also plays an important part in the symbology of the early United States government (a fact not lost on some Christian conspiracy theorists). Many of the Founding Fathers were Freemasons, to whom the Pentagram is an important symbol. The five pointed star appears in much of our early iconography--the US flag, the Great Seal, and on our currency. It is even found in the Capitol, where the White House sits at the apex of a giant pentagram, one of many interesting features in Capitol geometry. However, the left leg is missing which adds to its mystery.  The Pentagon is also constructed in the shape of a pentagon, for which it derives its name. Interestingly enough is the fact that four groups of Masons went public with the organization and formed the Grand Lodge of England on June 24, 1717 at the Goose and Gridiron Alehouse in London, England. Another source says it was the Apple-Tree Tavern, but the groups met at both of these locations. Coincidentally, John Toland (a Mason and who is also noted as the father of modern pantheism) founded The Druid Circle of the Universal Bond at Primrose Hill, England in 1717 as well. Almost 60 years later, America’s founding fathers who were also Masons, signed the Declaration of Independence which was drafted according to Masonic teachings and principles. As a matter of fact, the entire thing was written by a presumed Mason, Thomas Jefferson.

Currently, the most common religious uses of the pentagram are by Wiccan, Neopagan, and Satanic groups. In most Wiccan and Neopagan traditions, its symbolic meaning is derived from Medieval Ceremonial magic: the four elements ruled by the spirit- although as these theologies mature, they have added to its meaning. In many of these traditions, it can also symbolize the unity of mankind with the earth or with the realm of the spirit, the human body, and more.

 
One of the most common symbols used by Wiccans is the pentacle: a pentagram--five-pointed star--within a circle. Though wearing a pentacle is NOT required by any means, it is a well-known way to identify yourself as a Wiccan. To modern Wiccans the pentacle means many things; the five points correspond to the elements Earth, Air, Fire and Water with the center or bottom right point corresponding to "Spirit". The circle connects them, and shows how we are directly connected to the elements around us. The pentacle may also represent a human with their legs and arms outstretched, surrounded by universal wisdom or deity - humankind at one with the environment. The idea of coloring the pentacle came from the Druze Star. A symbol is simply an image or mark in itself. It is the mind and the beliefs of the beholder which attribute to it a particular meaning. Many Wiccans and other Pagan practitioners do not wear the pentacle at all, but have other symbols of special meaning to them. Other popular symbols are the ankh, the triple moon, crystal points or various stones, and a variety of Goddess symbols.

 

Point Up, or Point Down?

A "point down" pentacle is nothing new- nor is it necessarily Satanic when it appears as such. Historical depictions of the pentagram were as likely to be point down as point up- a distinction between one or the other was rarely made by the ancients. Even today, one must not assume a point down pentagram is Satanic, as it is just as likely to be Masonic, Wiccan, or simply upside-down. Some inexperienced Wiccans will occasionally claim that a point down pentacle is Satanic, but such a symbol has at times represented the Wiccan horned God, and is still today an emblem of the Second Degree in Gardnerian Wicca.

The Satanic Pentagram

 
To many people, the pentagram is inextricably linked with black magic and devil worship. It was not until the twentieth century that the symbol became associated with Satanism, probably due to misinterpretation of symbols used by ceremonial magicians.  One of these magicians, Giordano Bruno, warned of such misuse of the powerful pentacle by Black magicians.  The 19th century magical scholar Eliphas Levi is the first known to have vested the downward pointing pentacle with any real negative meaning, elaborating perhaps on Bruno's earlier claims. It was in the late twentieth century that Levi's 'Goat of Mendes' pentacle, often confused with Baphomet--a figure from Knights Templar legend, and Pan--the Greek goat God, was adopted as an emblem of modern Satanism.  The Satanic pentagram is a difficult symbol. It is almost always presented upside down, or inverted. Satanists turn the symbol upside-down, which puts the elements of Fire and Earth at the top (Fire symbolizes willpower and passion, and Earth, prosperity and earthly goods) and Spirit, spirituality, at the bottom. This glyph is a representation of  the triumph of matter and individual desires over religious dogma--earth over an illusory promise of heaven. In modern Satanic theology, the pentagram is far more likely to represent the individual, or the choice to pursue individual glory or immortality rather than union or absorption with the divine--where some traditions advocate the sublimation of the ego, Satanism exalts it. It rarely has any deeper meaning; an irony when one considers that its association with Satanism has made the pentagram a feared symbol to many, and the subject of countless conspiracy theories.

For further reading on the Pythagorean Pentacle, go here: http://www.cs.utk.edu/~mclennan/BA/PP/

Choosing A Hidden Name

Where do all the neat names come from? These names are known as ‘hidden’, ‘spiritual’, or ‘magical’ names. In the mundane world, they are nicknames or aliases people use to identify themselves to others. Most often, these names are given to us by family or friends because they more aptly describe us than our given names do. These names can also be culturally specific and many people adopt what they call, “Indian” names as a means to connect with their Native American heritage. Many Native Americans are offended by Anglos who do this. On the flip side, more Anglos of Celtic ancestry are adopting Celtic linguistic names to more closely connect with that culture. In any case, the name will present itself to you when you have earned it and are ready to receive it. When the name comes to you, it will usually be inspired by an animal spirit that appears to you in a vision; it will reflect your heritage or spiritual path; or, it could reflect your geographical surroundings. Whatever the name is, it should match your personality or where you are on your personal journey. The name may or may not be static throughout your life; it could change as you grow to spiritual maturity. You could even have more than one name at a given time. Please don't choose a name just because it sounds mystical. If you belong to a circle or coven, your High Priestess may give you a name when you are initiated, but not all covens operate this way. Your name is always a personal choice.

My own personal name and what it means

My entire pseudonym is Dairhean Leborcham O'Handley. There is no English translation for the names, Dairhean or Leborcham. I acquired the names from little known characters of Irish mythology.

Dairheann (I leave off the second "n") is pronounced [DAW-ree-uhn] with the "r" slurred as in Spanish. This daughter of Bov the Red fell in love with Fionn MacCumhal. He rejected her suit because he wished to wed her sister. Dairheann brewed him a cup of poisoned tea which drove him insane. When the effects of the tea wore off, he had her kidnapped and reported dead so that he could wed her sister Saba.

Nothing more is known of Dairheann in Irish mythology; she remains a tragic mystery of times long ago. Like her character, I too am trapped behind a veil of time. She sees all that goes on around her, but is helpless to make an effect. People choose to ignore the wisdom of the ages because they are afraid to break through the veil and embrace the unknown, the wisdom, the mystery, the woman and all she represents. She represents all the rejection in my life and my disdain and fear of being rejected by those I love. She symbolizes my raw determination to fight for what I want when all odds are stacked against me. In the same vein, she also symbolizes my foolish mistakes and what those mistakes have cost me. Lastly, she represents my loneliness. She is my dark side.

Leborcham is an intentional phonetic spelling for the name "Levercam." The "ch" is pronounced with a "k" sound. This poetess and bard was employed by the court of King Conchobar. She was born a slave and was said to have been very ugly, but her wit and talent raised her status. She was also very sturdy and swift, so much so that she could run the length of Ireland in one day and report back to the king all she had seen and heard. When Deirdre of the Sorrows was banished from Ireland, Lavercam was assigned to go along and look after her. It was she who introduced Deirdre to her lover Naoise. During the exile her loyalties shifted from the King to Deirdre. She even lied to the King on her behalf, telling him that Deirdre had grown ugly in her hardship. When they set out to return to Ireland, Lavercam accurately predicted doom.

Lavercam or Leborcham represents my love for knowledge, my fascination with words, and my inner pride. I'm much more proud of my brain than my physical appearance and I'm not afraid to use it. I never thought of myself as ugly, but never considered myself to be beautiful either, though many men say that I am. I'm just plain and average, but my sharp mind lends to my overall beauty and makes up for socially perceived flaws. I'm not a runner in the physical sense, but I don't stop once I am motivated to do something and I have a sharp eye and keen sense of detail. She also represents my sense of loyalty--difficult to earn and fleeting, but strong and unyielding once established.

Handley was my Irish grandmother's maiden name; I added the "O" to denote kinship.

The name I use almost exclusively is Lady Dairhean. I add “Lady” to my name because I am a lady. I feel like I'm everything a lady should be. I'm strong, capable, independent, courageous, confident, well-educated, caring, sensible, and grounded.

Since I am 1/8 Mississippi Choctaw, I also have a Native spiritual name that was given to me when I first embarked on my spiritual journey. The English equivalent is Lone Dove, but the name is a combination of the white dove symbolism of peace and love which reflects me, and the path my spiritual journey would take. The name actually reflects a prophesy that I received in a vision when I was 15. The prophesy was that I would be a messenger or example of peace and love, but that I would travel my spiritual journey alone. So, the name really means, “she who flies alone” or “she is a white dove who flies alone.” I tend to keep this name to myself, which is the Native way, and only reveal it to those whom I know would understand its meaning. The prophesy has certainly proven itself. I’m not only alone on my spiritual journey; I’m also alone in my day-to-day life. When you look at the bigger picture, my spirituality is part of my daily life, so it’s fitting that I should not have anyone to share my life with if I cannot also share my spirituality.

Finally, my given name "Vera" is of Scandinavian origin and means, "the truthful one" or "the bearer of truth", which I think suits me more than any other. I'm very much a realist and have a gift for knowing the truth. I can see through all the smoke screens and am not fooled by them. A man once described me as a mouse sneaking around with a baseball bat saying, "here kitty, kitty, kitty." *big grin* I think it's aptly descriptive. I like to shake things up a little and I don't always take a diplomatic approach. I seem to have this natural ability to challenge people's minds.

Setting Up Your Altar

What to put in your sacred space. It's important to have a space in your home that you can use as a spiritual focus. Whether you call it an altar, shrine or temple, you should establish some spot for this purpose. The bottom line is that you can place anything you wish on your altar, there is no blueprint that you have to follow. There are some arrangements of tools and candles that are considered traditional, but you can be as creative as you wish. It is common to have items that represent the 4 elements, as well as representations of the God and/or Goddess. You can use this space when you do ritual, meditate or just a spot to hold your tools. Your sacred items need not be specially purchased for this task. Things from nature, or everyday household items can be used if they touch your spirit in some way. Your altar can be a coffee table, bookshelf, TV tray, computer desk, or any other flat surface. An unattractive table can be spruced up with a decorative cloth.

There will be things you keep on your altar all the time, but during the Sabbats, you can decorate with appropriate items. Your altar need not be a static display. Changing it throughout the year can reflect your own frame of mind as the seasons change. One thing to consider when setting up an altar, is the direction it faces. It is traditional to have your altar facing North, but if that is just not possible due to the size or arrangement of your living space, then you may need to place it elsewhere.

If you choose to have items to represent the 4 elements, they are usually placed at their corresponding direction:

Including images to represent the God and/or Goddess are also ideal, like statues or artwork. Sometimes extra candles are used to represent the Deities. I also use stuffed animals for altar decoration. Overall, the items you choose to have on your altar are up to you.

Those following an eclectic path should feel free to create an altar that represents their own spirituality. If you are a member of a specific tradition, you may find that a certain altar layout is expected. In my personal tradition, Fire is in the East and Air is in the South. Once your altar is in place, remember that it is a sacred place and should be treated with respect. Keep your altar dusted and clean. Whether or not you let other people touch the items is up to you. Some people feel that others will bring 'outside' energy to your tools. I personally have no problem with certain known people touching my tools because I’m confident in my ability to cleanse the tools of that person’s energy.

Depending on your space or living arrangements, you may have to keep your altar small and portable. If you are unable to have a permanent altar because of small children, friends or family members, you can just set it up and take it down whenever you need to. Using small items can make this easier. One of the best ideas I’ve had is what I call my “Witch Travel Kit”. It is a 15 x 10 x 5 inch Tupperware box in which I store all the basic items I need in miniature and the top functions as an altar. You can super-glue cloth to the inside as a liner so no one can see inside it and leave enough fabric to cover the contents which can double as an altar cloth. I didn’t bother with this step because I didn’t feel the need. However, you might want to consider it because herbs, incense, and oils lose their potency when exposed to sunlight or heat. The candles, of course, should be kept cool also. When traveling, place the entire box inside a cooler with ice packs so you won’t have to worry about your candles melting.

Here are photos and descriptions of my travel kit:

This is the entire kit, except for my robe and book which I removed for the photo. Inside it are all the basic necessities for craft work. These items aren’t necessary for worship, but they are used in Wicca.

 

This is the Athame that I travel with. It’s technically a boot knife. I like it because it has a clip on back of the sheath. It’s small and practical. It is also far below the legal limit for blade length in Oklahoma. Since the blade is dull and the point blunted, I don’t believe that I would be penalized for carrying it.

 

This is my robe and belt. I didn’t bother to unfold it, but it’s actually my high school graduation gown. It’s perfect for travel or “emergency” situations because it zips on over street clothes. It is very practical and removes the need for special ritual attire.

 

This little ceramic pot is what I use to burn incense in. Inside it is a tiny Ziploc bag full of cat litter. I also have a small piece of plastic covering the hole in the bottom. The accompanying saucer is what I rest my candle holder on. Without this protective barrier, the heat from the ceramic candle holder would burn my paper pentacle.

 

This is what I call my burn Cauldron. It’s really an old silver bowl with a handle that I use to burn things in if I need to. I can also attach it to my belt through the handle.

 

This is my mixing cup. It’s just a ¼ measuring cup that I use to blend herbs and oil before placing them in a spell bag or burning them in the burn Cauldron above.

 

This is my paper pentacle. It’s my favorite Altar piece. I drew this by hand and colored it in several years ago. I have one on my permanent Altar and I keep this one in my travel kit.

 

 

These are my candles. I use the little 4 inch chime candles because they burn down in only 2 hours. That makes them perfect for any kind of Craft work or meditation. There are 20 candles in this plastic canister.

 

 

You can’t see them very well, but this is my bag of herbs. I have about a ¼ ounce of each herb in its own snack size Ziploc bag, with all the small bags inside a gallon size bag. This one item takes up about half the space in my kit. You don’t have to carry as many herbs as I do, but I like to have a good variety to choose from for just about anything. There are 30 different herbs in this bag.

 

You can’t see these very well either. They’re incense sticks that I cut in half and cut the end-sticks off of, and placed in snack size Ziploc bags. These are also placed in a larger bag. There are 7 bags of incense and 1 bag of sage smudging sticks.

 

 

Now this was a pretty ingenious idea if I do say so. These are oils in 1 dram bottles that I placed in a small hinged-lid plastic box. I glued a thin sheet of Styrofoam to the lid so the bottles would stay in place inside the box. There are 20 bottles of oil in this box.

 

This is my little tin box of goodies. Inside it are 2 ceramic candle holders, 14 spell bags, 10-½ dram bottles of stone chips, a colorful selection of 1x1” pieces of parchment, eye dropper for the oil, pen, a small embroidery needle to inscribe the candles, and a cigarette lighter.

 

This is what it looks like when it is set up for a ritual. In the top left is my book that I did not take a photo of. It’s a 7 x 5 ¼ inch spiral bound notebook with a black cover. It fits perfectly in the groove around the top of the box lid and will remain upright when it has something behind it. To the right of it is a bag of herb. I have the eye dropper nestled in the groove to the left and a sage stick in a groove to the right. In the middle is my pentacle with the saucer on top of it and a yellow candle and holder in the middle of the saucer. Clockwise beginning at the top of the pentacle is a bottle of citrine chips, pot with incense stick, Athame, needle, spell bag, parchment and pen, and a bottle of oil.

Well, there you have it--my portable altar. For more Altar ideas, read these books:

Altars Made Easy Sacred Space Little Book of Altar Magic A Book of Women’s Altars
By Peg Steep by Denise Lynn by D. J. Conway by Nancy Brady Cunningham

You can purchase them all new or used at Amazon.com

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