We are no strangers to ritual attunements. We believe in the daily grounding magic found all around us in the humblest of things...from the way our bodies themselves feel fruitful after spending time working the earth in our gardens to the pure satisfaction of a clean kitchen after a beautiful meal. The call to connect ourselves to the world around us is deeply human.
Over the past year one of our witchiest friends would check in with us every month or so: "full moon today! geese are on the wing!" or "longest night tonight, bundle up and look at the stars if you can". This was a love language tied to the movement of things greater than ourselves, the gift of the seasons, a loving reminder to be open and gentle in the world—with no response necessary.
Back in February, after a doozy of a week, a dark time in a dark winter, she sent up a flare "perhaps you might want to set up an altar for this moment?" followed by a few suggestions: start with a clean flat space, go outside if you can, find a cloth you love, collect a few objects that bring you joy or carry deep meaning (sadness or grief is ok too), arrange them in a way that pleases you, take some time with it, notice your senses, give yourself some light, a scent, be aware of what can you hear, be outside if you can. Set aside some time to breathe in that space and think about those things. Look at the sky, notice your body, aim for gratitude. Leave your phone somewhere else.
The idea of taking the time to be present and grateful is not revolutionary, but making the time for it can sometimes feel so. The catch 22 of modernity: it is hard to schedule something that has zero "utility"...you know, other than filling the cup of your precious body and heart. We doubt we are alone in bumping this sort of thing to the bottom of the to-do list. On this year's solstice, after a year of searching for light in a world of shadow, we are reminded to celebrate time, to give ourselves space to set intentions, to revel in the green bounty of gardens and wild spaces, and to honor the shifting of light and dark. If this feels like something that would feel good to you, here's a little meditation on altar-making (even/especially if the idea of "altar-making" feels like a *very-perhaps-too-much* woo woo activity to you) from our dear Heather.
I consider myself a very spiritual person, but there are so many ways to express spirituality in the world that I'm unfamiliar with, and I know so little about the meanings and lore behind more nature-based spiritual expression, or even the universal ideas behind an altar.
But I also know that I, too, am a part of this wonderful, wild world, and there are so many different ways to express gratitude and appreciation for nature and the passing of time in my own life, and that's what I was aiming for.
Once you get down to it, it's a very soothing and centering experience to put a collection of things that mean a lot to you in one spot (kind of how I felt on my wedding day when everyone I loved from every corner of my life was in the same room and my heart almost exploded). I love the idea of reflecting yourself back to yourself. I think that's easier for some folks than others, and it's not easy for me sometimes!
I chose to make my altar outside, since it was a hot summer night, and I always look forward to those. I set my little table up in a more private corner of my yard at the base of a towering oak (I took the picture of the branches above looking up while laying back in the grass). What a wonderful and magnificent tree to spend time with!
I gathered some beeswax candles and this beautiful deep green linen cloth I could not take my eyes off of as soon as it came in. I also incorporated a lot of brass, because, thanks to this helpful article on suggestions for solstice altars based on star signs and ruling planets, I realized that I, a whole-assed Libra, am apparently drawn to brass, and that is SO TRUE. I didn't realize how many brass things I have—there were so many things I didn't end up putting on the altar because it was just so much! Wow!
I didn't want my altar to feel too overwhelmed with trinkets so that I could take time to appreciate the few I had chosen and what they mean to me. But!! The more the merrier if there are a lot of things you want to gather to symbolize your own story! I love it!
On my altar:
-The table is from my great grandma! It's got some wear and water stains, but even that tells a story of use and purpose.
-The green cloth: It caught my eye, and I kept thinking about it! Sometimes you gotta trust your gut with what you love. The glow of beeswax against deep green makes my heart soar!
-The brass candle holders and votive holders are a mix of things from my grandma and my wife's grandma! Two people who meant a lot to the both of us, and who I think of and reference often.
-The beeswax: well, you know where I got that :) (**SIDE NOTE: I know beeswax is renowned for *usually* not dripping, but even the sturdiest candle is no match for a warm summer breeze...if you get beeswax on your altar cloth #witchyproblems, you can use the 'ol paper bag trick found here to get it off).
-The incense: Velvetback cedar! The warm, piney smell is one of the most soothing things. I always want my home to smell faintly of this.
-The incense dish: It's one of the little Portuguese salt + pepper dishes! I figured there had to be a little light and dark on the altar, and these reflect little to no light since they're matte black, and I loved that small juxtaposition. Can't have one without the other! They're also 100% heat safe and have a nice little lip. Safety first.
-The brass owl: My grandparents brought this back for me from Greece when I was little! It's so heavy and pleasing to hold, and has always been a friendly trinket and a wise little comfort.
-The prism:A friend gave this to me at the beginning of the pandemic when things felt so dark and scary. I hung it up in my window and let the sunlight cast dancing rainbows around my house. A lovely symbol for this season of light!
- The brass bell: This was my family’s dinner bell growing up, and it was one of the last things I took from my childhood home when we moved out.
-The stones: The mica-encrusted rock I found in my yard as a child, amongst the rather boring landscaping river rocks that edged my childhood home. It was like finding a piece of a star in a place I never would have imagined, and I've carried it with me ever since. The piece of labradorite was recently gifted to me by a friend. This has become one of my favorite stones, since it's full of hidden rainbows that shimmer in the light. Big gay energy here :P
-The flowers: These are all wildflowers from my yard! They are coming in in full force after being planted last year, and it's so fun to have a spot for my bee friends to grab a snack, and to know that that pretty corner of my yard is a refuge for little creatures. They're also doing well in this really dry season.
-The little silvery sprig is from a perennial called Silver Mound Artemisia. I had it in my yard as a child and always loved the way it looked and smelled, and only recently found a plant to put in my own yard! It reminds me of hours of imaginative play in my backyard, pretending to season mud pies in my treehouse. Super comforting.
-Pussy willow branches: There is a pussy willow leaning into our yard that I love! Part of the plant is dead, but the other part is going CRAZY! I thought this was a nice addition, because I can see a living thing in my space that, despite the odds, is trying to make a new life for itself. It's stretching to find the light when it previously had little to none.
And as I was sitting in front of this little altar, the God of Summer herself came by to greet me—a firefly!
Anyway, as I reflect on the items I chose for this altar that symbolizes growth and light, I realized that my little additions were a mixture of the people who have shaped me, cared for me, and helped me through what has been a very dark year. In my own story, it felt more like in order to move forward, I wanted to acknowledge where I've been, and choose some of the best pieces to keep along for the ride. And It was nice to try and find my own meaning for things, and to reflect on why certain objects are imbued with story and comfort and promise.
This is going to be such a different experience for everyone, but you really can't do it wrong!