Week 17 (I): incense
I started burning incense because Scott Cunningham told me to. The book that started me on my witchy path was Cunningham’s Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner and in it he recommends incense as an integral part of pagan ritual. Specifically, he said “the Goddess…can sometimes be seen in the curling, twisting smoke”. That’s the line that really stuck in my head.
Once my beliefs evolved beyond the bounds of Cunningham’s paganism, I found that I still liked incense as a part of my rituals. Smoke makes everything seem inherently more mystical. Picture the scene: the smoke from the incense spirals up, twisting around the dancing body of a woman. The light from the full moon turns the smoke silver, and turns her skin to a glowing jewel in the candlelight. Tell me that isn’t more magical than a woman dancing in the woods during a full moon*.
I believe that incense carries prayers. Our desires are borne by the smoke and wafted into the waiting hands of the Goddess. I meditate best with a stick of incense smoldering next to me. The smoke makes every space sacred, and it has the capacity to delineate the boundaries of the sacred space in which I work. Unfortunately, I can only burn incense for my outdoor rituals. When I do get to use incense in my practice though, I plant smoldering sticks in the ground at intervals and it perfumes the entire circle. And it’s that smoky border that makes me crave the outdoors, particularly when the weather is like this: a delicate New England spring.
* Ok, ok, both are magical. Still, I maintain there’s something about incense that gives my rituals that je ne sais quoi.
Week 10 (E): emergency ritual kit
Ever had to do an emergency ritual? Or been traveling and realized you really just needed to build a mini altar at the drop of a hat? Yeah, me too. (Ok, so maybe I’m the only weirdo around here.) But I do like to have this kind of thing on hand for just such an occasion.
Sometimes you just need a candle or three, and you’re somewhere other than your usual spot. I’m lucky enough to have an altar in my house, so most of my rituals and spellwork take place at home. I’m also blessed to live across the street from a big beautiful park, with plenty of hidden ponds and groves of trees to hide away in and light a stick of incense. But sometimes, you’re just not at home, with all your beloved tools and familiar items left behind and you’re really feeling the pull.
That’s where the emergency ritual kit comes in. This type of kit is also good for rituals on the go or perhaps contributing to group rituals. Here’s what’s in mine (listed deosil):
- Stick incense (I never bring a holder because I just stick them in the ground, but that might be another useful piece to have on hand)
- Candle in a jar with a lid (makes it easier to transport even if the wax is still warm)
- Matches or lighter (my trusty lighter folds down to keep the end from scorching anything else)
- Small knife (only included when I am not traveling by air because I don’t think the TSA would like that very much)
- Amethyst (I wrote here about how amethyst is my go-to crystal to work with, so it makes sense to have a piece in my portable altar kit)
- Tiny figurine or other totem (this is my tiny crystal goddess figurine, which hangs out on my altar when it’s not in the emergency kit)
- Small bowl (this particular one is hand carved from soapstone from a lovely little Etsy shop that unfortunately no longer exists)
I like to make more elemental-focused altars when I’m
out of my element traveling. Since I’m usually near a body of water, I fill the small bowl with water. The salt is to represent earth (particularly useful if the ground is frozen), the stick incense is for air, and the candle is for fire. On my home altar, my tools represent the elements, but there’s no literal representation of them as there is with my traveling altars.
As of now, I don’t have a regular carrying case for these items. They just hang out in my altar at home, but when I know I might want something like it with me, these are the items I gather together most often. I was thinking of getting a nice sturdy box to house these, almost like a tackle box but flatter, just so they’re always ready, but that hasn’t happened quite yet.
Where to Get Things & Further Reading
Week 4 (B): Book of Shadows
A Book of Shadows (BoS for short) is a pagan text comprised of rituals, invocations, blessings, divinatory results, and other related witchy things. My first was a spiralbound notebook with a black cover, on which I drew a triple moon pentagram with puff paint (cut me some slack, I was 13!). I’ve had many others over the years, but currently I have this beautiful blank book that I am steadily filling with spells, meditation guides, and other things:
I also have a digital Book of Shadows, which is a constantly changing document that will hopefully one day be printed as a single volume for my own use. It is a hybrid, containing correspondences and other information that has been with me since my first Book of Shadows, to recently acquired information on balancing the chakras. While my handwritten one is simply writing because I cannot draw to save my life, my digital one is filled with art that moves my spirit. By comparison to my often messy handwriting in plain black ink, the digital BoS is an explosion of color.
My written Book of Shadows is actually more like what I’ve always called a mirror book. I don’t remember when or where I learned the term “mirror book”, so if anybody recognizes it feel free to chime in. A mirror book is sort of like a witchy journal: it’s a collection of spells and invocations, just as a BoS is, but with notes on how well the spells work and what changes I might make, along with things like ritual poetry, a record of my dreams, and general thoughts on spirituality. I refer to it as my Book of Shadows, but because it’s also got elements of a mirror book, it’s really sort of both.
Because I’m a lifelong journal writer—my first journal was when I was about 6 years old—so chronicling my pagan life comes naturally. When I started reading about paganism, I wanted to reflect on the things I was reading, so I wrote notes about the books. Nowadays I include the results of any tarot card readings I do, as well as the usual spell notes and sabbat records.
As a great collector of blank books and journals, I’ve probably had ten Books of Shadows in the last fifteen years. Most of my older ones are long gone, lost to the space constraints of apartment living and the constant moving. Of course, the digital BoS has survived, in one form or another. The thing that’s been most important to me is that, like most of my tools, no one touches my Book of Shadows except for me. It’s not a secret what’s in it, for the most part, but since no one touches it, the contents have become secret by default.
What does your Book of Shadows look like? Or does your tradition mandate that you cannot discuss it?