Reblog: How Altars can Alter our Practice

Reblogged from my channel, Druid Heart, at Witches and Pagans.

P1000491 (1024x640)Altars can have a very significant role in daily practice and worship, providing a focal point in establishing relationship. I try to highlight this importance with my students, explaining the benefits of have a focus within an area in which to open up communication with the spirits of place (or land, sea and sky), the ancestors, and the gods. Communication is essential to good relationship, and finding a spot to come back to again and again helps us to not only strengthen the bond between the person and the place, but also gives it a ritual context within which to commune. Often this ritual context is held within a temple, whether it is a building or creation of stone and/or timber, or a sacred circle cast with energy around the practitioner. The importance of the altar and the temple should not be taken for granted, though neither are exactly essential.

When beginning on the Druid path, having a place to work in that you can come back to repeatedly creates a special bond between the person and the place. A place has a very real impact upon a person, as we come to realise that we are not separate from the rest of the natural world. When we find our place within a place we are able to communicate openly, sharing freely that wonderful dose of awen (inspiration), the hum of energy where souls meet… (cont’d)

To read the full article, click HERE.


barley stubbleSacrifice – it’s one of those “old” words, like honour and duty. Many who have read Roman accounts of the Druids associate the word, sacrifice, with the priest caste of the Celtic people at that particular time. However, the word goes even further back into the beginnings of time for the human animal, when the importance of relationship with nature was everything, when we knew that to disconnect ourselves from the natural world meant death. Today, we must remember this, remember each and every day how much we are a part of the world, how much our everyday actions count, no matter how small. Each day is also an opportunity to give thanks for the blessings that we have. At Lammas, however, just giving thanks doesn’t seem quite enough. When the first crop is harvested, and the land lies stark and naked, shaved and shorn from under the combine harvester, giving thanks and saying words over the field doesn’t feel adequate. This, for me, is where sacrifice comes into play.

It’s hard as the line keeps shifting between giving thanks and the notion of sacrifice. What might be an offering to one person might be seen as a sacrifice to another. I can only speak from my own personal viewpoint, as I may value things differently from my neighbours, my family, and members of my pagan community. So, what is the difference between an offering and a sacrifice?

For me, sacrifice is something of significant value. This is not necessarily a monetary value, but could be something that is cherished, prized, something that is utterly loved and which has a representative value of the threads of connection we hold with the gods, the ancestors, the spirits of place. What is it that I have which I value? What am I willing to give back in return for the flow of awen, that spark where soul touches soul and is inspired? What am I willing to do to achieve that?

When the barley in the field by my house is cut, the energy of the land drastically changes. Between the homes and the heathland there are two arable fields, one which was harvested in the spring for green barley, and one which still has the golden, bowed stalks waiting to be harvested. Acknowledging the change isn’t enough, for when we hear the songs of the ancestors, I feel how important these crops were for them, how important their relationship with the land meant their survival and success. In a field of growing barley, there is potential, a shimmering energy waiting to be harvested. When that field is cut, the potential can be scattered if the land is not honoured. The ancestors knew this, but we have forgotten. Modern farming depletes the soil of essential nutrients that must be replaced, often by less-than-natural means. The barley is cut, and the field then stands, barren and forgotten for weeks, until the farmer and his tractor are ready to plough in the winter or spring crops.

The land isn’t respected, isn’t acknowledged anymore. As an animist, I find this appalling. When the land has been used, has given us so much in a beautiful field of barley, and we don’t even give thanks, much less sacrifice then there is dishonour. As with any relationship, if one side continually gives and gives, and the other continually takes and takes, the balance will shift, the relationship will crumble and great suffering will ensue.

What can I give that will honour the lives that this crop will feed, that will honour the land that grew it, that will honour the ancestors that worked it, that will honour the spirits of place who live there? What will be a significant gift for all we have received?

The sacrifice will change year upon year. What matters most is the importance of the sacrifice to me personally.

Offerings represent a more daily interaction, little gifts and niceties that you would present to any friend that you meet: a cup of tea, a biscuit, some of the fresh-baked bread you just made, or your home-brew mead. Finding out what the local spirits of place would like is as polite as asking your guest how she would like her tea: with or without milk, honey or sugar? When it comes to sacrifice, however, the shift of focus changes to become more introverted rather than extroverted.

I’ve previously in earlier articles described sacrifice as something that is not only of great value, but also as something that can help you “get to the next level”, so to speak. No, we’re not playing at Druids on World of Warcraft, but we are seeking to deepen our relationship with the land. Sacrifice is key in this regard, helping us to go deeper, to give more of ourselves in order to understand more of the land.

Many within the Pagan traditions see the Sun King as offering himself as sacrifice at this time of year, to be cut down as the grain is cut, to be reborn at Yule. Yet are we comfortable allowing the Sun King to do this each and every year, or should we also take our part in the sacrifice, participating rather than simply watching the cycles of life unfold?

And so I will spend the next few weeks walking the land, finding out what I can give, what I can do to deepen my relationship with it, to be an active contributor instead of a passive spectator. Some aspect of my self must be willing to die alongside John Barleycorn in order to understand the cycles of nature. Some sacrifice must be made.


(This is from an article that I wrote for The Druid Network a few years ago…)

Many people in the pagan community have differing ideas on the concept of
sacrifice. Here I can only offer my own view, to share with others. These words,
much as the notion of sacrifice, are a purely personal experience.

Let me first describe what to me is the difference between an offering and a
sacrifice. Offerings can be daily elements of the ritual of our lives; offerings
of incense, of songs to the dawn, food from each meal. Offerings are often given
in thanks; for the day, for the restoration of health to a loved one, for a
wandering pet’s return. For some, offerings are a return of what we have in
abundance, for example, a farmer returning a sheaf of wheat to the land, or some
of the autumn’s blackberry port that was made poured back beneath the bushes
from whence the fruit was obtained. Offerings are used to establish a
relationship, to give back for what we have received in turn from an honourable
existence. They nurture a relationship. So, in that context, what is sacrifice?

For me, sacrifice is something that you just don’t want to give up. It hurts.
Yet, to be able to move onto the next level, to deepen a relationship further,
instead of just nurturing it with an offering, a sacrifice must be made.
Sacrifice is giving up something that is sacred to you. It can’t be easy. It
can’t be something that has outlived its purpose. It can’t be something that you
don’t really care about, or that you have in abundance. It can’t be something
that can be replaced. It has to show dedication, devotion, commitment. It has
got to hurt.

When I speak of hurting, I don’t mean physical pain, although that too in a
way can be seen as a sacrifice. If something will forever be changed because of
it, then perhaps it can be deemed as sacrifice (a tattoo, for instance). To push
through barriers of pain can be a sacrifice of what we strive for as human
beings – comfort being one of the greatest drives. Yet there can be an emotional
pain in sacrifice as well. That the physical pain in sacrifice is our own cannot
be questioned – we should never harm another being in the name of sacrifice, or
for whatever reason. If we are to sacrifice our own personal comfort, then it
must be sufficient to move onto a new level of relationship. We may not always
be willing to sacrifice, however, we can be ready to.

Some argue that time can be sacrificed, yet I would argue that if one has
come to a relationship with the god of Time, then one will find that they have
all the time in the world to attain what they wish. Time, for me, can only be an
offering, even though it can be seen as irreplaceable. Time is not a sacrifice
when it means spending more time at the local soup kitchen and less time in
front of the television – it is merely a reprioritising of time, and what is

Can money be a sacrifice? Again, this for me is more of an offering than a
sacrifice for most people. Money can be replaced, for instance. Yet, if one
gives all their money to another, is that not a sacrifice? Perhaps yes, perhaps
no. For me, money can always be made, yet I live in the luxury of not worrying
too much about where my next meal comes from. So, for me, money is an offering,
much as food and time.

So what constitutes sacrifice? In my own experience, an item (so far it has
always been an item) must be thought over for hours, even days, as to whether or
not I wish to sacrifice it. If I can find other things that I would willingly
sacrifice before it, then they are not worthy. Some might think of this train of
thought as merely masochistic. Again, it comes down to what is truly sacred to
one’s self, and what one needs to do in order to progress to the next level.

Recently, I spent all night in my tepee, knowing that I had to sacrifice
something in the morning before the ritual. I knew that I wanted to go deeper
into my druidry, and that the spirits of place and my gods required it of me. I
hummed and hawed over it, wondering if I had anything else in my pack that I
could sacrifice instead of my beloved and sacred bead bracelet. I didn’t. It was
either my eagle pendant or my bracelet. I couldn’t sacrifice my wooden beaded
necklaces, they were just too easy – I didn’t have a large enough emotional
attachment to them. The spirits of place would not accept that offering, as I
felt. It was not sufficient in order to attain the deeper relationship
that I craved. My eagle pendant, after long thought, was replaceable, though I
would miss it dearly in the months that it would take to find another one. My
bracelet, however, one of a kind with many dear memories attached, was not at
all replaceable. That would be my sacrifice.

I have also sacrificed a medicine bag, and a wedding ring. None of these
items I wanted to let go, but just knew I had to if I was to progress
along my spiritual journey. I miss them dearly, but the value in giving them up
makes up for their loss, in a sense. I have a deeper understanding about myself,
about what is important to me, and by sacrificing these things to the spirits I
feel that they know me better, know my intentions more clearly, and that we have
a stronger, deeper, newer and more committed relationship for it. To me, that is
the true nature of sacrifice.

Reblog from SageWoman: Samhain Approaching

My latest blog for SageWoman’s online channel:

Digital art by Ado Ceric,

Digital art by Ado Ceric,

As I sit here, writing this, the rain taps at the window, the wind howling down the street, carrying with it the scent of winter and the first of the autumn leaves. The sky is fast moving and furious – low dark grey clouds set amidst a backdrop of pure white/grey.  The central heating has been turned on.  The apples are juicy on the trees.  The starlings are flocking together. Welcome, Autumn.

My favourite season – as you may have guessed. From bright, sunny days where the sun shows the last of its strength, to watery, wind-filled days like these, it is a season of change like no other.  Quick, altogether too quickly, it is over, at least the Fall is, when the leaves change and drop to the ground.  After that, it seems Winter is here – only allowing Autumn a brief time of grace to shine in her beauty before all is blanketed under the dreamy cold slumber of Winter.

It is third week of October – and the hectic days of summer leading to the Equinox have long passed.  I feel I can almost catch my breath – almost.  The main bulk of the harvest is done – both agriculturally and in a personal sense.  I have worked hard this year, and the rewards have been great.  There are always disappointments – from the tomatoes that didn’t do well to the vagaries of life.  But Autumn, with her beauty, captures our hearts and our minds, our attention, and causes us to stop, to listen and watch Her before She is gone.

Samhain is just around the corner.  Time to let go of that which did not come to fruition. It is also a time to carry forth and collect the seeds of our new intentions – for we cannot throw these to the winds just yet.  We release the dross of our lives into the flames of Samhain fires, and protect the seeds of new ideas and next year’s harvest within the larder of our souls.  We cannot release everything – we must hold onto something to take us into the new year, something to sow our intentions with. It could be lessons learned, ideas that did have the time to grow, or ideas that came too late in the season to be utilised to their full potential. And so carry them over we must.

I hope your harvest has been bountiful, and that what you carry over be blessed as well. May the release of Samhain and the dreamy slumber of winter nurture you. May you find beauty and strength in this, the most inspiring and beautiful of all seasons.  May the Goddess of Autumn bring you joy as she does me. x