Each journey needs a beginning.
Our Samhain ritual journey’s starting spot will be either an altar or an artwork, or a bit of both.
Traditional Samhain altars I’m familiar with tend to have certain elements in common: images of dead family members or friends; candles; crystals, or other natural items; images of skulls or bones; items that belonged to people we have loved and lost.
A friend of mine who grew up connected to the magical roots of her Appalachian heritage warns that if the only picture of a deceased ancestor you wish to honor has living people in it, it’s better not to use that photo at all. To put the photo of a living person on your ancestor or Samhain altar is to wish that person dead.
If you don’t have a photo of an ancestor or life event that came forward in your Day 1 meditation, it’s OK. You can simply write the name or description on a piece of paper and use that. Or, you can create a piece of art that represents it.
I like the intuitive nature of collage. I’ve used it for years to record my impressions of journey or magickal work. I usually have a good collection of magazines to use. If you need to pick up something, I find the images in magazines like O, The Oprah Magazine, Real Simple, Martha Stewart Living, and Spirituality & Health, as well as travel magazines, work well.
After the altar objects are found or created, it’s time to construct the altar. You can use a bookshelf, an end table or coffee table, even the floor in a little-used room.
Place a cloth on the altar if you like. For Samhain workings, dark is good. Black, dark blue, deep purple or brown. I’m using a blue and gold silk scarf that was created by a member of a two-year apprenticeship program that started my most powerful journey to healing and wholeness.
Some people like a small votive candle to represent each person. I tend to use a method I read about in Orion Foxwood’s The Faery Teachings. There’s a black cloth or piece of paper with a white X, or a white cloth or paper with a black X. This represents the crossroads between life and death. I prefer black; however, the one I’ve used for years is so faded I didn’t want to use it, and I haven’t yet made another. So I’m using white paper with a black X.
In the center of this X, place a white candle. I use a seven-day candle, which can be left lit for the length of the working (although, officially this is not advised). Nearby, place a glass of water and keep it filled. The flame and water give the spirits of our ancestors the energy to connect to and work on our behalf in this reality.
The altar I have created will most likely accumulate other things as the working progresses. Since taking the photo, I’ve added a cameo ring worn by my Grandma Hill. I don’t have a photo of her that I like, so I’ve also written her name on a piece of paper and placed it under my crossroads representation. I also have the names of my birth father, and one of my first ancestors to come from Ireland to colonial America.
The white candle is one I’ve been using for a while. The glass belonged to the grandparents in the photo, Grandma and Grandpa Wright, my mother’s parents. I also like the imagery–deer and evergreens. The knife was Grandpa’s. It was sharpened so often the blades are curved on one side. The candle with the copper cover and eight-pointed star represents Inanna, the Goddess I work with most closely. The first of her stories I read was the story of her descent to the underworld.
The red cloth down the center represents the River of Blood which tradition says runs through the land of Faery; it represents all the blood shed in the mortal world, and speaks also to me of my lineage of blood ancestors.
The small cottage is usually on my Fae altar. It is home for those who want to stay in it. It is Belleek porcelain. Its Irish clay and cottage shape speak to me of distant ancestry and traditions. The amethyst crystal is one I have used in many healing rituals. The clay skull figurine was a present from another magick worker. I’ve had it so long I don’t remember who gave it to me. But thanks!
The dark scrying mirror at the left corner is there because I think I may use it in Saturday’s journey work. It also speaks to me of those images the unseen world can project to those who look for them.
I’m also including a link to articles with other suggestions. One is by Patti Wiginton; the other is by Ro Longstreet. There are many other fine examples easily found on Google or Pinterest. Don’t be afraid to include other objects or colors if those speak more to you than those included in any of these sources–including mine.
Use whatever items or images seem right to you. You can add or take away items as the week progresses. I likely will also make a collage emphasizing my desire to embrace joy and healing.
Also, if you would prefer to construct an altar first, then do the journey to focus on your healing issue, that’s fine. I originally had altar construction as the first step. But then I thought I’d personally prefer to focus on my issues more, then build an altar. If putting together something concrete is more helpful to you than journey work to help focus, please do it first.
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