Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Alter vs. Altar

Just a quick post this week, on a little pet peeve of mine.

Folks, alter and altar are two different words. To alter something means to change it, to make it different in some way. "The main road was closed so we had to alter our course." Or, "I had to take the dress in to have it altered."

An altar is the table or other such structure where you preform religious rites, worship, leave offerings, etc. "I have a statue of Artemis on my altar." Or "I left offerings to the spirits at the altar."

Like I said, not the most earth shattering thing, but a mistake that's quite common.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Prayer Beads, Part Three

Now that I had a goal in mind - making a set of prayer beads dedicated to a Deity, specifically Artemis - I could begin thinking a bit more on design specifics. I wanted to make something simple and small, about the length of a loose bracelet, something that could easily fit into a pocket. I also knew that I wanted to include a rosary style drop pendant.

I had a large green and gold glass bead in my craft box that I decide to use for the pendant, rather than a charm. Keeping this in mind, I visited the local craft store. There I found some green-brown beads with black marbling. The coloring reminded me of the forests and mountains sacred to Artemis. I wrapped the strand of beads around my hand to see if it would give the length I desired - it was a little short, but I wanted to include some smaller beads as well, so it would work out. I also spent a bit of time touching and holding the beads, making sure they felt nice to the touch, and didn't have any little defects that would distract me from my prayers/meditation.

I picked up some small bronze-gold spacer beads, which I thought would go well with the gold on my focal bead. I like to include the smaller spacer beads because I find it helps me feel the break between each bead a little better. I'd also need something to string the beads on, and chose some 10lb hemp cord.

When I got home I set my design and began to string it. I cut off a good amount of cord, several inches more than I thought I'd need (this helps with making the final knot).

I began with the main part of my prayer beads, which was just a simple pattern of spacer bead, large bead, spacer, large, etc. I began and ended with a spacer bead, as these would be the ends that would eventually come to the drop down. (The cord was stiff, so I did not require a needle or anything special to string it. Be sure to consider the size of the holes in the beads when picking a stringing material!)

With the main section finished, I brought both ends of the string together and slipped a bronze bead down both strands. This is the beginning of the drop.
Here you can see the loop of beads, being brought together by a bronze bead with both strands running though it.

Next I added a few more bronze beads, and finally the focal bead, again stringing them through both strands at the same time.

Finally I tied a knot at the base of the focal bead, and cut off the excess cord. I dabbed a bit of super glue all over the knot to help secure it. Bead stores sell special glue for this, and school glue works as well. I've also been told a dab of clear nail polish can help. A very tight and secure knot can also stand alone.

That's it, my beads were made and ready to be cleansed and dedicated to use in the worship of and meditation on the Goddess Artemis. All in all, the project cost me around $13 - although $5 of that went to the cord, which I have plenty of for future projects now (as well as having a number of the bronze beads left). It's an inexpensive project that's not hard to do, but can be very rewarding in the end.

Again, this is just one of many uses/designs, so expect a few more how to guides in the future.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A good day for a walk.

I try to get out and walk a little every day, it's good to get a little fresh air and it helps me to clear my mind and enjoy nature a bit. I've taken to walking down the road to a field with corn growing in it. When I first started walking down to that area I had no idea what would be growing in that field. It was pretty interesting to see the little shoots come up, and the plants grow, until now when they're heavy with corn and almost ready to be harvested.

Now for various reasons I hadn't been out in almost a week. I went out this evening, and on the way to the field I cross a bridge - down below something caught my eye. A large doe was standing down there, eating clover. She saw me and froze for a minute, then went back to eating. I was pretty close to her and was able to just watch for a good while. While deer usually come through the back yard at my Grandparents' house, I have not been this close to a deer in a few years. Eventually a car came by and scared her back into the woods (the way the bridge is, she wasn't in danger of dashing into the road).

On the way back from the field I saw a fox crossing the road - they seem to be pretty common here, actually. I see one every other week or so, usually around this same spot (wonder if it's the same one?) - it was carrying a little mouse in its mouth.

It was a very nice evening for a walk.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Prayer Beads, Part Two

Prayer beads are fun to design and create, but before you can start thinking about the design of your prayer beads you must first decide what you wish to use them for. Will you chant traditional mantras with your beads? Dedicate them to a specific deity, or pair/group of deities? Use them to meditate on a specific topic - such as the Wheel of the Year, the elements, or the moon phases?

What you wish to use your beads for will help you determine how many beads you want to use, what material and color(s) the beads should be, if you want to include charms, and other such details.

For example, say I wish to make prayer beads dedicated to a specific Deity. I now have a basic goal, and it's time to start working out the details. I can consider which gems, woods, and other materials are sacred to, or associated with this Deity. I should also consider which materials are disliked by the Deity - for example, bone is often considered to be ritually impure for many Egyptian Deities. I can also take into consideration any colors or numbers that may be associated with the Deity.

Many Deities can be associated with symbols. Artemis has several sacred animals, including the deer, bear, and wolf. She is also associated with her bow and arrows, the cypress tree, and the moon. Hathor's symbols include the mirror and the sistrum. An ankh would also be a good symbol for many Egyptian Deities. You may want to include charms or images of the Deity in your beads.

Now is also the time to begin considering if you wish to use a set of prayers with your beads, if you'd like to have longer prayers on larger beads and a shorter prayer on the smaller beads, or the same prayer on each bead. Alternatively, you may wish to meditate on a different title or attribute of a Deity for each bead. You can also just hold beads while you pray from your heart or meditate on the Deity in general.

After thinking about all these things a bit, you may start to have ideas on what you want your beads to look like. Next, it's time to gather your materials, lay out your design, and put it all together! That's another post though, coming soon.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Let's Talk Prayer Beads

I've had an interest in prayer beads for a very long time now. Growing up I had several Catholic friends, so the first type of prayer beads I was exposed to was the Catholic rosary. I saw them a few times, delicate strands of beads in a small silk pouch with snap button, usually tucked away in a bedside drawer. At the time I only had a vague idea what they were for. I didn't know that a prayer was said on each bead, that there was a method to praying the rosary.

In my second year of high school I was exploring Shinto-Buddhism (the religion my grandmother was raised), as well as Hinduism. I learned about the mala, beads used to count mantras on (usually 108 beads). I was very interested in using a mala and mantras for meditation, and eventually bought one to use. These were my first prayer beads. Rose quartz beads on metal links, with a Radha-Krishna pendant. I used them to chant the Hare Krishna mantra. I did it often, even keeping the beads in my coat pocket to count silent mantras on the school bus.

It was around this time that I was also taking my first jewelry class. It occurred to me that I knew how this particular mala had been made, and it was a rather simple technique that I could replicate with ease. While I did make some religious jewelry during that time, it wasn't until a few years later that I started to make my own prayer beads.

The first set I made as a Kemetic reconstructionist, even though there was no evidence that prayer beads were used by the ancient Egyptians. I wanted to try a different style from the mala, so I went with a rosary style - a loop with a drop pendant. It was a series of small turquoise beads broken up by larger lapis lazuli and howlite beads. The pendant was an ankh. I used the stand to count the 42 purifications (also known as the negative confession) as well as using the larger beads to pray to Ma'at and my "patrons."

Eventually I made a second set, dedicated to the Goddess Nut. Very simple, blue goldstone (for those unfamiliar with the stone it is a manmade gem, dark blue with silver flecks all through it - looks very much like the night sky), with silver spacer beads. It also ended in a drop pendant style, a small frame which I pasted a picture of Nut in.

That was a few years ago. While I still make use of devotional jewelry, my interest in prayer beads wasn't there any more. Very recently, however, I came across a lotus seed bead mala, and it rekindled my interest. I thought of all sorts of prayer beads I could create, and not just for prayer, but also in various meditation and ritual for different goals.

In the coming weeks, and likely beyond, I'll be posting a bit more on the various uses of prayer beads, as well as how to make your own set. It's not a hard project to take on at all, even for someone with no knowledge of jewelry making, and they can be helpful spiritual aids.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Corn and Wild Carrot

Just a simple picture for today, taken at the end of the corn field. The white flowers are wild carrot, also called Queen Anne's Lace.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Changing Beliefs

"Do your beliefs change over the years as you change and develop?"

They absolutely have changed, and I imagine they will continue to change as the years go by.

If one is truly active on their spiritual path, it would be very strange for their beliefs to not change at all. Even after several years, if there aren't still changes now and then... well, a stagnant spirituality isn't very beneficial. They don't have to be major or radical changes, but beliefs should always continue to grow as you do. Time always brings small changes and new understandings.

This is my 13th year on my spiritual journey. This year alone has brought some major changes, and it has not been the only year to do so. Year 13 has really thrown me out of my comfort zone, and it almost feels like... like it's time to get more serious? I'm not sure that's quite the right term for how I'm feeling. I know where I am, I know where I want to be, I know what must be done to get there. In the past there were many times where I just let a path take me where it will. While I learned a hell of a lot that way, and it was necessary for me at the time, it feels like now is the time to walk the path with more purpose.

There have been many changes as I've grown, some huge, many much smaller. However, I've always had a pretty solid, but small, core set of beliefs as well. They developed within my first few years of exploring my spirituality, if not before I really set out on that road, and they've stuck with me since then. Those beliefs have certainly grown as I have come to have a fuller understanding of them and what they mean to me... but they have not really changed. Although, in many ways growth on a core idea is still a form of change.

Ah well, this prompt is a bit half answered. I want to talk more on the specific changes I've gone through, talk more on how my beliefs evolved over time, but that sort of reflection will come a bit later in the year...

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Finally sitting down to update...

I was visiting with my Grandparents last week, and of course my laptop died on my first day there. While I was able to get online now and then to keep up with things, I never had time to actually relax and write. (Certainly didn't help that I also had to take care of my injured fiance and sick dog for most of the week!)

My Lammas celebration was pushed back a day. I packed a bag with a bit of blueberry wine and a small loaf of bread, and hiked out into the woods behind the house. These woods have changed a bit since I was younger... A small bit of logging was done by whoever owns a particular stretch of the woods a few years ago, which has made way for a lot of new undergrowth. Several of the old deer trails are gone now, so I've had to find new ways back to the old road that runs through the woods.

Before I made it back to the old road, which leads back to a hill I was planning to have my ritual on, I stumbled on a large rock that I visited a lot when I lived at home. I went camping on it with my grandfather when I was little, I remember cooking a can of baked beans and some hot dogs on it. I decided that was the better place for my ritual.

It was very simple, but I've always favored a more informal approach to such things. A blessing of the wine and bread followed by a meditation on the sacred meal.

After, I hiked through the woods a bit more, then headed home, picking some wild blueberries on the way. I grew up with the wild berries, and have never cared for the cultivated blueberries you can get from stores. The wild berries are smaller, with a stronger and sweeter taste. If you haven't tried the wild variety keep an eye out for them, sometimes they're sold frozen in grocery stores. They're great in muffins, bread, and pancakes. Back home I was able to pick some blackberries as well, but most of them need a bit more time to ripen - then it will be time for blackberry jam.