13 SEVEN STEPS TO A NEW WAY OF LIVING

Creating Sacred Space

“Either the gods have a place in one’s home, or
they do not.”
So says Marcus Cassius Iulianus, a contemporary Roman Pagan and founder of
the reconstructionist organization Nova Roma. He was speaking of the
household altar, and I completely agree.
Once you have made a connection with Spirit, your next action should be to
establish a place where you can maintain and continue to build that connection.
This can be as simple or as elaborate as you wish, but there should be some place in your home that is sacred and set aside for your gods.
The design of this sacred space will depend on several factors. The first factor to
consider is your spiritual focus. A Greek altar will always have a flame, even if this is only a single candle. A
Saxon altar (wéofod) will always have a statue or symbolic image (wéoh) of the
honored deity. Whatever path you have chosen, your altar should be a reflection
of its aesthetics. The sacred space you reserve for your gods should be a space
where they can rest comfortably.
Where you live will also influence the design of your sacred space. Some Pagans
devote entire rooms to their worship, furnished with appropriate wall hangings,
cabinets for incense and regalia, and the altar itself. This obviously is not an
option if you are renting a studio apartment. Nor is it necessarily the best choice
even if you do have that option. For one person a separate room may be a place
of wonder and enchantment; for another it may be a room that is easily forgotten
amidst the distractions of daily life.
My own household altar is in the living room, where I pass by constantly. This
works best for me. The altar itself is a library table. This gives me plenty of
space and fits the room, which is fairly large. In theory, I could have the same
altar in a studio apartment, but it would be overwhelming and unattractive.
Consider the surrounding environment, and keep in mind that bigger is not
always better.

Another factor is how “out” you are as a Pagan. Nobody looking at my
household altar—with its idols and runes and offering bowl—is going to mistake
me for a Southern Bap-tist. But many people, because of fear or circumstance,
do not have this freedom. Sadly, even in the 21st century, some of us could lose
our jobs if our spirituality became common knowledge due to the ignorance and
prejudice of others.

Others are simply afraid of censure by friends, neighbors or relatives If this presents a problem for you, there are two possible solutions. The first is to
locate your altar where it will not be seen by others. You could set up the altar in
your bed-room, or even in a basement. This is where a separate room becomes
practical if you have a large house. Keep in mind that somebody may discover
your altar no matter how care-ful you are. And this really is a problem, then,
because the altar was hidden, which implies that you have something to be
ashamed about.
A better solution is to “hide” the altar in plain sight. Your altar can be subtle and
unassuming, appearing to the uninitiated as nothing more than a table with a
couple of knick-knacks. A Saxon Pagan, for example, could arrange a small
table with a single, attractive candle, a large quartz crystal (representing the god
Thunor) and a ceramic (offering) bowl.
While it is better, of course, if you can be out and open about your spirituality,
the important thing is that you have sacred space where you can connect with
Spirit undisturbed.
Your primary household altar should be indoors so you can approach your gods
even in the most inclement weath-er. But if you have the resources, by all
means, touch the earth! A secondary, outdoor altar will give you the opportunity
to listen to the wind, to enjoy the warmth of the sun against your skin and to feel
the rich soil beneath you. Like your primary altar, an outdoor altar can be as
simple or elaborate as you wish. When I moved to Pennsylvania, I bought a
house with a gazebo in the back garden. From the beginning I knew there would
be very little “sit in the gazebo” time.
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Does anybody today really spend much time in a gazebo?
Rather than let it sit empty and useless, I converted the gazebo into a
wéofodsteall, a Saxon shrine, dedicated to the god Ing Fréa. Following AngloSaxon tradition, I placed an image representing Ing Fréa inside the gazebo. (The
Old English word for an altar, wéofod, literally means the place where the image
of the deity stands.) I placed a few decorative stones around this image just to
make it attractive. Then I planted herbs and flowers around the gazebo, because
Ing is the Lord of the Elves and governs green growing things.
But an outdoor altar can be as simple as a flat stone set in a place where you feel
especially close to your gods, along with the minimal requirements, if any, of
your spiritual path.
So far we have looked at the altar as sacred space for our gods. Some people,
myself included, like to maintain a separate altar to honor their ancestors. This is
not strictly necessary; however we tend to approach our ancestors in a different
way than we approach deities. As one Pagan recent-ly described it to me, going
to your deities with a problem is like seeking an audience with the king, whereas
going to your ancestors is like asking help from your family.
An ancestral altar can include photographs of ancestors who you knew in life, as
well as symbolic representations of more distant ancestors. I have known some
Pagans who made ancestor “dolls” sculpted from clay or sewn as stuffed
poppets. Some of these dolls were intended to represent specific ancestors, while
others were more symbolic. The ancestral altar might also hold items that were
significant to one or more of your ancestors. My grandfather’s fishing knife rests
on my own ancestral altar, next to a photograph of him. An f 22 2
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incense burner and offering bowl on the altar will serve to receive the gifts you
bring to your ancestors.
As I mentioned earlier, ancestors are not necessarily limited only to your
biological lineage. I define ancestors as those who have, in some way or another,
shaped us and brought us to where we are today. An adopted parent (and that
person’s parents) is an ancestor. If you are widowed, your spouse is an ancestor.
A teacher or older neighbor who inspired you as a child is an ancestor. A close
friend who shaped your life significantly before he or she passed away could be
considered an ancestor. Even a beloved pet might be an ancestor, for we rely on
our companion animals today to a degree that people previously did not.
I do honor the companion animals who I have shared my life with, but not at the
same altar where I honor my human ancestors. Again, this is because I have a
different relationship with them. I might commune with my dog Sheena for
comfort, but I am not likely to go to her for advice, as brilliant as she was.
Not everyone has the space for multiple altars, and not everyone feels the need
for this. However you should have at least one sacred space somewhere in your
home where you can connect with Spirit. Do the gods and ancestors have a place
home where you can connect with Spirit. Do the gods and ancestors have a place
in your home, or do they not?
Step 3: Creating Sacred Time If you do nothing with your altar, it is not truly an
altar; it is merely a table or shelf holding an incense burner, a couple of candles
and perhaps two or three interesting statuettes. The activities that take place at
that table or shelf—the reverence, f 23 2
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the offerings and the meditation—are what give meaning to your sacred space.
Therefore your next action should be to set aside sacred time to connect with
Spirit consistently.
The value of this step cannot be overemphasized. Life happens to all of us. You
may have an important test coming up, or your boss has asked you to work
overtime, or the baby has kept you up all night. These things happen, and when
they do it is easy to put your spiritual needs and obligations aside “until
tomorrow”. The problem is, tomorrow is always a day away, because life
continues to happen constantly. Next week you may have the flu, or a surprise
visit from an old friend. The week following that will bring its own demands.
Those perfect, serene moments when you can connect with Spirit without
interruption are rare unless you take action to create them yourself.
Consistency is the key. People who are successful in any endeavor have made a
habit of actions that lead to their success. They act consistently. A crash diet will
not lead to long term weight control. People who succeed in weight loss have
developed consistent, healthy eating habits. Likewise, you cannot have a well
trained dog simply by taking it to a series of ten obedience classes. Well behaved
dogs have owners who consistently reward their good choices and ignore their
bad choices. Successful artists paint or draw consistently, successful writers
write consistently and successful athletes exercise consistently. Habitual
behavior keeps us focused on our goals.
To develop a habit of connecting with Spirit, set aside a specific time for doing
this. You are setting aside sacred time for yourself, your gods and your
ancestors. Find a time in f 24 2
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your schedule that you can devote to this. You devote time every day to your
physical body: bathing or showering, brushing your teeth, preparing meals. You
perform these actions consistently, and it is no more difficult to set aside a
consistent time devoted to your spiritual body. When you create sacred time, you
begin developing a habitual, empow-ering behavior that will nurture your
relationship with your gods and ancestors.
Consistency requires a realistic goal on your part. Let’s go back to the example
of training a dog. My own dogs are relatively well behaved because I work with
them, consistently, every day. Do we have an hour long session of obedience
work? Of course not. Professional trainers of animal actors can devote
themselves to long, daily lessons, but most of us, including me, cannot
consistently have daily, hour long training sessions. Instead Lucky and Caesar
wait patiently while I fill their food bowls, sit at the back door until I tell them
they can go out and, once a day, every day, we quickly run through a set of
activities: sit, down, stay, give me your paw, stand, go do the dishes. (Okay,
neither Lucky nor Caesar will wash the dishes. I am still working on that.) They
practice what they know in short intervals. I can be consistent because I keep it
short.
If your goal is to give an offering to Woden and then meditate for thirty minutes
every evening, you will almost surely fail. Your sacred time should define the
minimal time you will invest in connecting with Spirit. You are not limited to
this. When the circumstances are right and you feel the need, you absolutely can
give an offering to Woden every evening and then meditate for thirty minutes.
But be hon-f 25 2
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est with yourself and acknowledge that this is not something that you can do
indefinitely. Your sacred time is a long term habit, something that will
eventually be as essential and natural as putting on your underwear in the
morning. Assuming it is your habit to wear underwear.
How much time can you give to your gods and ancestors consistently? How
much time can you fit into your life, not just today or this week, but for years to
come?
A commitment of fifteen minutes every week is not unreasonable. Does this
sound ridiculously simple? It should, because a ridiculously simple commitment
sound ridiculously simple? It should, because a ridiculously simple commitment
is a commitment you are likely to stick with. Choose a day and a time when you
will spend at least fifteen minutes at your altar, giving offerings to Spirit and
listening to what your gods and ancestors may have to say. The day and time
should fit your lifestyle. One person may find it easiest and most natural to
commit to fifteen minutes every Tuesday evening, while Sat-urday mornings
may be more suitable for another.
Exactly what you do during these fifteen minutes should reflect your spirituality.
Some offering should be given to Spirit to nurture the process of reciprocity. We
give to our gods and our ancestors so that they might give to us in return. The
offering may be as simple as a pinch of incense.
Norse and Saxon Pagans will probably offer libations of mead or ale. A Roman
Pagan may offer spelt, a grain related to wheat that is often sold in health food
stores. Tradition-al offerings for the Egyptian Pagan include bread and beer.
After giving the offering, the remainder of your fifteen minutes can be spent in
prayer, in singing or chanting, in meditation or in any other activity that connects
you with Spirit.
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You might find yourself doing this every day, and spending half an hour or more
at your altar rather than just fifteen minutes. However when life becomes
complicated, you should strive to the best of your ability to honor the sacred
time—those fifteen minutes each week—that you have set aside for your gods
and your ancestors. By creating sacred time you ensure that your spirituality
remains a part of your routine throughout the most chaotic periods of your life.
However simple this commitment may seem, there may be an occasional week
when even that is impossible. You have to make a sudden trip to the emergency
room, either for yourself or for somebody else. Or you discover that your
basement has flooded. There are things that can disrupt even the easiest
commitment. When something like this happens, attend to the problem but make
your sacred time the next highest priority. If you put it off any longer than
absolutely necessary, you diminish its worth.
Step 4: Sacralize Daily Activities You have connected with your gods and your
ancestors.
You have created a sacred space—an altar—where you can approach them, and
have set aside sacred time to do so. When you have done all of this, the time has
come for your next action, which is to expand your spiritual awareness beyond
the altar and more fully into your life.
This is the goal of Hal Sidu. Holistic tradition entreats us to integrate our
spirituality with the rest of our lives. Just as your physical body is sustained by
the air you take into your lungs throughout the day, your spiritual body is
sustained by the mindful actions you take to sacralize your daily activities.
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These simple actions will help you connect with Spirit from the moment you
awaken until you go to sleep in the evening.
The third chapter of this book is devoted to the daily rituals that every Pagan can
use to integrate his or her spirituality into a daily routine. Your personal routine,
however, is unique to yourself, and for this reason you should strive to develop
unique ways to sacralize the activities in your own life. Hopefully the
suggestions in the third chapter will inspire you to do just that.
As a writer, for example, I spend much of my day sitting at my computer. More
often than not this routine begins with a fresh cup of coffee. The coffee helps
wake up my body, and the act of writing itself stimulates my mind, but what of
my spirit? I want to bring my entire being into the process of writing; to
integrate my body, mind and spirit. To do this, I set aside a moment for prayer,
saying: “Woden, World Wanderer, Let my words be true,
That they might bring honor to my folk and to the elder ways.
Ic bidde the nu.”
The last line is pronounced “eech biddeh they noo” and is Old English for “I ask
you now.” Woden, if you are not familiar with Saxon tradition, is a god of
inspiration and magic.
His name gave us our word for the fourth day of the week, Wednesday
His name gave us our word for the fourth day of the week, Wednesday
(Woden’s Day).
You can see here how this little ritual is unique to my own daily routine. It takes
the form of a prayer because that f 28 2
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reflects my spirituality. A Wiccan author might do something similar by casting
a quick, simple spell. I direct the prayer to Woden and finish this with an Old
English expression because I am a Saxon Pagan. A Gallic Pagan writer would
more likely direct his or her own prayer to Ogmios, a Celt-ic god of eloquence
who was worshipped throughout Gaul.
And of course the purpose of the ritual itself is directly related to my profession
as a writer. Saxon Pagans who work as salespeople, or nurses or research
scientists would devise entirely different rituals more appropriate for their
respective lifestyles.
Your unique rites to sacralize daily activities need not be limited to your work.
In the following chapters we will explore a variety of ways to re-connect with
the earth, and all of them involve imbuing otherwise mundane activities with a
sacred mindfulness. Whatever hobbies you might have— jogging, playing a
musical instrument, art, keeping tropical fish—can be sacralized.
Tropical fish, you say? Well, why not? Whenever we interact with other
creatures we connect more with the earth, so sacralize your tropical fish hobby!
For a Hellenic Pagan, an aquarium can be a place to commune and speak with
the naiads (water nymphs). A Roman Pagan might offer a prayer to Volturnus,
god of the waters, as he feeds his fish. A Welsh Pagan with a saltwater aquarium
could do the same, pray-ing instead to Dylan Eil Ton. Exactly what you do and
which spirits you connect with will of course depend on your spiritual focus.
You could go so far as to decorate your aquarium with a theme that reflects your
spiritual path.
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Or do you play a musical instrument? Before you play, ask Apollo or Hathor or
the Muses for inspiration. Give an offering as you ask for inspiration. Integrate
your passion for music with your spiritual life. Let your private performance be
your offering when you come before your gods. The effort you invest in a
musical performance is as worthy as the effort you would invest in any other
offering.
Any worthwhile pursuit can be a sacred act.
Step 5: Observe Regular Húsles As a Saxon Pagan, I observe a húsel once each
month near the full of the moon. Húsel is an Old English word meaning
“sacrifice”, and is simply a more formal offering usually given to a specific
spirit. Some Saxons call this a faining, which simply means a celebration.
Whatever your path, there is probably a similar custom of formal worship,
although it will have a different name and be observed in a different way. For the
Wiccan this time of worship is known as an esbat. For an Ásatrúar it is a blót.
On the day after the new moon, Hellenic Pagans give offerings to the Agathos
Daemon, a spirit of good fortune.
It might be argued that these are all different kinds of ritual, and that is true, but
they share several defining traits. They are more formal than a person’s ordinary
devotionals, they recur at specific times (often monthly) and they are often more
likely to be observed with a group rather than by yourself.
Húsles, esbats, blóts and other similarly recurring observances further ensure our
connection with Spirit. (For the sake of convenience I am going to use the term
húsel here, because húsles are what I celebrate and it is the term I am f 30 2
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most comfortable with. Feel free to substitute whatever recurring observance is
appropriate for your own spiritual path.) To understand the importance of this
deeper connection, think of how you interact with your friends and close
relatives. On a daily basis you may only connect with friends by an occasional
phone call or email, but periodically you get together to share quality time. The
húsel is the quality time you spend with your gods, your ancestors and with the
indig-enous spirits around you.
The húsel also takes much longer than a personal devotion. If celebrated with a
group—and, at least for Saxon Pagans, this is the desired way to do it—the ritual
itself is usually preceded or followed by feasting and fellowship. It is not
unusual for a húsel to go on for hours, throughout the day and well into the
unusual for a húsel to go on for hours, throughout the day and well into the
evening. The recurring observances of some other Pagan paths may not be quite
as extensive, but they almost always require more time than the average person
spends at his or her altar on a typical day.
Observing regular húsles (or esbats or blóts or druid moons) is similar to the
other steps you have taken to this point in that you are establishing a new habit.
Setting aside time for our gods is not an instinctive behavior. Setting aside time
is a pattern we must develop and nurture, whether it is the sacred time we are
creating for our daily devotions, or whether it is the time we devote to a húsel.
Step 6: Observe the Holy Tides The majority of Pagans today celebrate or at
least recognize eight seasonal holidays spaced equidistant, or nearly so,
throughout the year. This Neo-Pagan calendar originated f 31 2
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with the religion of Wicca, but is now accepted by Pagans from many different
paths. In the next chapter we will exam-ine the Neo-Pagan calendar and how you
can adapt it to your own needs and environment.
Also called the “wheel of the year”, the high days or holy tides of the Neo-Pagan
calendar are Imbolc (February 1st), the Spring Equinox (March 21st), Beltane
(May 1st), the Summer Solstice ( June 21st), Lughnasadh (August 1st), the
Autumn Equinox (September 21st), Halloween (October 31st) and the Winter
Solstice (December 21st). The names and dates often vary from one group of
Pagans to another.
You may be among those Pagans who observe a different annual calendar. There
is certainly nothing wrong with this.
None of the Paleo-Pagan religions celebrated all eight of the holidays recognized
by contemporary Pagans, and there is no reason why you need to do so. If you
are comfortable with the Neo-Pagan wheel of the year, then of course stick with
that, but there is nothing inherently wrong with following a different sacred
calendar.
The important thing is not what calendar you follow, but that you consistently
observe the holy tides—the holidays— of that calendar. By doing so you touch
the earth, attuning yourself to the seasonal changes occurring around you.
In the next chapter we will look at how you can adapt a sacred calendar to your
own environment, and how you can make the holy tides more meaningful and
fulfilling.
Step 7: Find Your Folk Every step you have taken so far has been or could be a
solitary action. You have had complete control over each one.
You decided where and when you would make the effort to f 32 2
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connect with Spirit. You alone designed your sacred space, and designated a
sacred time to consistently maintain your connection with your gods and
ancestors. You have sacralized your daily actions, observed consistent húsles (or
esbats, or druid moons) and holy tides. You may have done some of this with
other people, but it was entirely your choice to take action. For this seventh step,
however, there is an element of chance. Depending on your circumstances,
months or even a few years might pass before you cross paths with people who
you would want to weave your destiny with.
There are Pagans who remain “solitary” throughout their lives, eschewing any
outward, communal spiritual expression. Humans, however, are social, tribal
creatures, and the overwhelming majority of us are happier when we can share
our life experiences with others. It is a rare person who enjoys spending New
Year’s Eve alone, or looks forward to eating a Cornish game hen by himself on
Thanksgiving Day.
Our celebrations, whether secular or spiritual, are more fulfilling when we are
joined with others of like mind.
For Saxon Pagans, this social collective is often called an inhíred, which is an
Old English word meaning “household”.
Followers of Ásatrú have similar tribal units known as kindreds. A Hellenic
Pagan is more likely to call his or her group a demos. Just as with the húsel or
esbat, whether you call it an inhíred or a demos is not important here. These
Pagan tribes vary a lot superficially, but they all (ideally) provide social support
for their individual members.
The tribe may even be a nuclear family: mom, dad and the kids. More often,
however, it will be an extended “family of choice”, comprised of people who are
however, it will be an extended “family of choice”, comprised of people who are
not all genetically related. One such group may consist of two nuclear families f
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and several other adult members, while another group may consist of five
unrelated persons. What all of the members do share is a common world view.
I cannot overemphasize the value of the tribe. Pagan holy tides are no different
than any other holidays; they can be lone-ly times if we have nobody to share
them with. When I am unsure of a course of action, I can rely on my fellow
gesithas (the oathed members of my inhíred) to give honest but gentle advice.
When one of us needs help, the rest of us are there for him or her. We celebrate a
húsel together every month, and gather for holiday celebrations like any other
family.
Because the tribe can become so very important in your life, it is equally
important that you find the right people to enter into such a relationship with.
This is where the element of chance comes in. As with finding a life partner,
finding your folk is not a simple matter of looking through the Yel-low Pages.
It can be tempting to join the first group you encounter, especially if you have
been looking for other like minded people for a long time. Before agreeing to
join with any Pagan group, you should ask yourself the following questions: •
Does the group share your personal world view? If not, how far are you willing
to compromise your spiritual identity? What connects you to this tribe?
• What are the tribe’s expectations of its members? Are these expectations
clearly defined?
• What is required to leave the tribe if you later choose to do so? If a
membership oath is involved, is there a provision in the oath allowing you to
leave the group hon-orably? (The wording of some oaths do not require this, f 34
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but be sure that you understand exactly what you are promising.)
• Does the group or its leaders take an undue interest in recruiting new members?
• Does the group or its leaders take an undue interest in recruiting new members?
This should raise a red flag.
Pagan groups do not normally recruit.
• Do the other members of the group share a lifestyle compatible with your own?
If you are a single and in your twenties, you may not fit well with a group
comprised of retired couples. Or maybe you would, but it is a factor to consider.
If you are not completely satisfied with the answers to any of these questions, it
is better to wait until you have found a group that you are sure of. An inhíred or
demos or coven is not, or should not be, merely a social club. Membership in the
group is an emotional contract that you should not enter into lightly.
This is why there is an element of chance. With the first six steps that I have
outlined, you have complete control. You decide to take those actions. You do
not have complete control over this seventh step. So while I have said “find your
folk”, it may be more accurate to describe this as leaving yourself open to
finding your folk. To some extent, the process is in the hands of the gods.
I should add here that these tribes can and do sometimes overlap. It is never a
good idea to “collect” covens or kindreds, but a Pagan may belong to more than
one tribe when the groups have different objectives and non-conflicting
schedules. The oathed members of my inhíred are all Saxon Pagans.
We honor the same gods and share similar values. However I also belong to an
Ár nDraíocht Féin grove. The grove’s pur-f 35 2
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pose is to foster spiritual community in our immediate area.
Not everyone in my inhíred belongs to the grove. Converse-ly, members of my
grove do not have to be Saxon Pagans.
These are two separate tribes, with different parameters and objectives. However
it is not a good idea to belong to two groups with similar objectives—two
Wiccan covens, for example—because there will almost inevitably be
competition for your time and energy. This is another reason you should only
become a member of a group that you are completely comfortable with. Once
you have your tribe you cannot reasonably participate in other groups of the
same type.
same type.
*
Now you have read about all seven steps. How many of these have you taken? If
the answer is “none”, go back now and start with Step 1. Rather than simply
reading about Paganism, take that first step and begin to walk the walk.
In the following chapters we will explore various activities that can take your
personal Pagan practice to even deeper levels, but the “seven step program” will
lead you to a new way of living almost immediately. The steps are very simple.
Eventually you will probably elaborate on some of them—establishing a
secondary altar, or sacralizing more of your daily schedule— but the initial steps
are easy actions anyone can take.
The only thing you might find difficult, especially if you are new to Paganism, is
observing the holy tides. Depending on your lifestyle and environment, some of
the high days may not seem relevant to you. In the next chapter we will look at
the sacral calendar and how you can adapt it to your own life.