One more pre-Samhain post: Ritual Tools

In looking over tonight’s Samhain ritual, I realized I’d left something out. I’ll be mentioning various tools and such, but I haven’t explained what the altar for a Keltrian ritual looks like :-). This is relevant even for most other pagans, since I’m not using the “standard wiccan” tool set (the usual caveats about calling anything pagan “standard” apply >G<).

Fortunately for my day, I found an image online (thanks to Keltria’s web site), so I don’t have to set up an altar, take a picture, and image-tweak it into something postable. You can click on the image for a larger version.

[altar - click for larger image]>

At the top are the altar candles. The little things between and below them are a container of incense, a vial of oil for anointing, and I’ frankly not sure what the third item is :-). Below those, in the center, is the altar plate. This is symbolic of Earth, and is used to ground some of the energies called on during the ritual. The symbol is the Keltrian Sigil.

On either side of the altar plate are chalices, one of which holds water and the other mead (though as always a non-alcoholic drink may be used if appropriate). To the left is a branch, ideally of oak, ideally freshly (and respectfully) cut. Below the branch is a seashell, used when calling on Manannan. To the right of these is a sickle, a crescent knife — the ancients supposedly used gold, but we neodruids usually opt for the less expensive, similarly colored and less malleable bronze :-). The sickle and branch are used together in blessing objects.

In front, there are three small cauldrons. These contain earth (I have rock salt in mine, and a small stone*), water, and “air” (i.e. incense). For the “Celts,” there were only three “classic” elements, because Fire was considered to be other-worldly. “By land, sea and sky” was a common oath. On either side of the cauldrons are two small bowls. These hold the “remembrances” for the matron and patron of the ritual — for Samhain, I usually use raisins for the Morrigan and granola (grains) for the Dagda. For one Imbolc (Feb 1) we used red-hot candies for Brigid and candy hearts for Angus Og.

* Several years ago a co-worker was going to Stonehenge, and I asked him to pick me up a stone. No vandalism, just a small rock laying around.

There are also some tools that aren’t in this image. One is the bell branch, which is just what it says (a branch with bells on it), which is used in marking sacred space and time. For wafting the smoke from the cauldron of Air, I have a fan made of turkey feathers that a friend made while we were all going through our Native American phase several years ago. It doesn’t look particularly druidic, but it’s got sentimental value.

If there is no place for a fire (I use the fireplace when we’re indoors) another cauldron or candle can be used for the “grove fire.” Outdoors, I have a portable “fire pit” that we use for this. If there’s a large enough fire, a wicker (or other burnable) bowl may be used to collect offerings that will be burned (usually slips of paper). When indoors, these are lit by a candle and burned in a safe container (cast-iron dutch ovens work nicely) on the altar. If the ritual is being held indoors or some other place where libations can’t be poured out onto the ground, there will be a libation bowl for this (someone will pour the liquid onto the earth after the ritual).

Sometimes there are other holiday-specific items. For Samhain, there’s another chalice/cup that is passed around the circle and then set out for the Ancestors to share. Also, there will be space left on the altar, or a second altar set up, for people to put the candles and other tokens (photos, etc.) they have for those being remembered.

And of course there are the little things like matches or a lighter, a spoon to keep putting incense onto the coal in the Air cauldron, etc.

And that should cover everything :-). When I start the ritual, I’ll include links back to all these reference posts. If you have any other questions (regarding the ritual, you silly people, but Assyria had four different capitols and the air speed velocity of an unladen swallow is aprox. 24 mph), ask away!

16 comments

Whoa! (4.00 / 3)

Re:

These contain earth (I have rock salt in mine, and a small stone*), water, and “air” (i.e. incense). For the “Celts,” there were only three “classic” elements, because Fire was considered to be other-worldly. “By land, sea and sky” was a common oath.

A tradition that is actually historically accurate! Them Celts, they liked everything to come in three’s. I didn’t think any tradition actually followed what history has to say about the Celts! Be gentle Morgan, I’m not used to this…

My Blog: Recovery, Spirituality, Politics and Kilts.What more could you ask for?

by Andy Ternay on Mon Oct 31st, 2005 at 13:16:35 PDT

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I wonder… (4.00 / 4)

The four elements are consistant in shamanic traditions around the world.  I certainly saw a lot of that in England and Scotland.  In fact, I first learned of the four elements from an English mystic/magician who is an authority on all ancient traditions.

What is threefold is the layers.  Down below, you have the animals.  In the middle, you have the conscious world.  Above, you have the heavenly level.

This is represented by the tree (roots, trunk, foliage) that is a very well-known symbol in Celtic lands.  I think the sea, land, air reference fits with the threefold shamanic layers-of-reality image.

Perhaps I shouldn’t speak — because I am not a Wiccan.  But I do so love the ancient cultures of Britain!

by Rain on Mon Oct 31st, 2005 at 13:48:08 PDT

I’m not a wiccan either (4.00 / 4)

🙂

AFAI’m concerned, all viewpoints are welcome. That’s how we learn.

by Morgan on Mon Oct 31st, 2005 at 13:51:38 PDT

You are rediscovering something… (4.00 / 3)

there certainly isn’t any “wrong” way to put the pieces of an altar together as long as you do it with Love and Respect.

If it feels right and resonates, it is good, IMHO.  When you get the pieces together just so, the energy is palpable — you know it is working.

For another discussion another day — do you ever think of your dinner table as an altar?

I think humans’ first altar involved communal meals.  Passing a cup…

Blessings!  And Happy Samhain!

by Rain on Mon Oct 31st, 2005 at 14:02:54 PDT

Dinner table? (4.00 / 2)

You mean that thing that holds the pile of stuff off the kitchen floor? 😉

If we did the sit-down meal thing, I probably would. What I do have is a) the mantle, which I’ll have to take a picture of if we do a discussion of altars (not today, please!), b) a “threshold altar” next to the front door with an ironwood whale that’s a symbol for my patron & threshold god, Manannan, c) a candle holder dedicated to Brigid that sits on the computer, to be lit when someone is at the keyboard creating, and d) the “eternal flame” of the gas stove, by which all of our non-nuked food is cooked (I usually light the candle in “c” from that, for the continuity).

by Morgan on Mon Oct 31st, 2005 at 14:10:30 PDT

Yes, another time (none / 1)

let’s discuss altars.  And sacred space.  Lots to cover there.

Tonight, it is enough to begin a new year!

Blessings!

by Rain on Mon Oct 31st, 2005 at 14:48:40 PDT

Rain, I think you nailed it (4.00 / 2)

As a history buff I was excited by the fact that Morgan’s trad follows what we historically know of the Celts beliefs with regard to elements.

But for me, when alone,often a single candle is more than enough. With friends, a cup of whatever, communal bread and usually a candle.

It feels right and it resonates.

My Blog: Recovery, Spirituality, Politics and Kilts.What more could you ask for?

by Andy Ternay on Mon Oct 31st, 2005 at 14:16:46 PDT

Old Soul, aren’t you? (4.00 / 2)

What you describe probably brings back memories on a cellular level.

Beautiful.

by Rain on Mon Oct 31st, 2005 at 14:37:02 PDT

Morgan, I’ll be away from home (4.00 / 4)

while you are doing this — apologies because I had planned to participate.

I volunteer at our library on Monday nights.

I’ll say some prayers when I get home.  I have a shamanic altar — some differences from what you lay out here but many similarities.

by Rain on Mon Oct 31st, 2005 at 13:36:34 PDT

Post if/when you can (4.00 / 4)

I may even leave it open overnight depending on how things go.

Besides, the ritual takes place in “a time that is all times,” so even if you post after I dismiss sacred space, you’re still participating ;-).

by Morgan on Mon Oct 31st, 2005 at 13:57:17 PDT

Beautiful.And thanks! (n/t) (4.00 / 2)

by Rain on Mon Oct 31st, 2005 at 14:04:13 PDT

Morgan (4.00 / 3)

Do I need to have all of these items in front of me? I think I can whip this together, but the slips of paper are going to be blog posts. Do I make slpis to burn also?

God has many names

by leftofcenter on Mon Oct 31st, 2005 at 13:40:03 PDT

As you wish 🙂 (4.00 / 4)

You don’t need to have any of the tools to participate (otherwise I’d have given people a lot more lead time! >G<). If you wish to burn slips of paper, you may (be safe!), or you may just send them into the “aether” of cyberspace.

I’m very much in the “do whatever works best for you” school of thought on most things like this. It’s our intention that matters.

Goodness, is it almost 2:00 (5pm EST) already? Eep! And I haven’t even had lunch yet. Time to take a bit of a break from the keyboard so I’m ready to do this thing :-).

by Morgan on Mon Oct 31st, 2005 at 13:55:25 PDT

Thank you (4.00 / 2)

for doing your Samhain ritual here, I have to confess I have always had a hard time taking Paganism seriously and I am trying to understand it better and it is still alien and a little uncomfortable to me. So I think it helps a little to see the “practice” side of Paganism rather than just “what we believe” in abstract.

by Elizabeth D on Mon Oct 31st, 2005 at 14:44:31 PDT

The rose offering (none / 0)

What do I do with it during/after the Ritual?

God has many names

by leftofcenter on Mon Oct 31st, 2005 at 18:03:01 PDT

Offerings (none / 1)

Reply to the “Offerings and divinations” comment, with whatever you wish to say.

If you have a real rose (not just a virtual one), set it someplace appropriate (on an altar or mantle, for example). Later, you can dispose of it however seems right to you. The gods will have taken of it’s essence. Some people burn the physical remains of offerings, or bury them, add to your compost heap, whatever works.

Hope that answered your question :-).

by Morgan on Mon Oct 31st, 2005 at 18:18:08 PDT

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