Holy Wild, Muse In Brief

A Leap Day Altar (and more)

This post originally appeared on Holy Wild, at alisonleighlilly.com


20160229_change_possibility_leap2

“All the possibilities of your human destiny are asleep in your soul. You are here to realize and honor these possibilities. When love comes in to your life, unrecognized dimensions of your destiny awaken and blossom and grow. Possibility is the secret heart of time.”

― John O’Donohue

“You do not need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going. What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith and hope.”

― Thomas Merton

20160228_adopt_hospitality2

There are two paths to transformation: the way out-beyond and the way deep-within.

In the first, you leave your home and its familiarity behind to journey out into the wilderness of the liminal spaces — the desert, the mountain, the jungle, the ocean, the big city, the Otherworld — where you find the gift of your whole self waiting for you like an animal whose shadow you have been chasing all your life. And when you finally return home again you are different, no longer a child, no longer the old self you left behind. The journey home can take a lifetime.

In the second, the way deep-within, you curl up into yourself like a hermit crab or a caterpillar or a seed inside its shell. You burrow down into the sloppy, sucking mud of inner solitude and silence. You speak to no one, and no one speaks to you (except maybe the gods). And there, inside, is where you change — dissolving the old self, stripping it off, making a space into which the new self can grow. Maybe it feels like sickness. Maybe it feels like the growing pains of old ghost limbs thinning into wings. And it might be that the light will sting a little when you finally emerge again, waiting for your wide new eyes to focus.

Either way will work.

But it’s no good to stay here wavering between the two, weighing which one asks the least of you. Don’t tell yourself, “The way out-beyond is a glamorous adventure. I’ll prove myself, I’ll make them proud and come home to a hero’s welcome.” Don’t tell yourself, “The way deep-within is safer. I can keep the structures of my precious life intact while I go about my unobtrusive work.”

More likely you will come home to a place you no longer recognize, full of people who are strangers, wary of your strangeness and the bloodstains on your hands. More likely you will see the scaffolding of your life collapsing like a fire whose kindling has burned down to embers as soft as ash, unable to support anything that does not feed it.

Either way will work. You do not need to know how it will turn out. You only need to be willing to let your whole life change.


Have you been following along with my Altar-a-Day Challenge? Today marks the halfway point in my journey of daily altar crafting and contemplation. Join me on Facebook or Tumblr, and share your magic and meditations as well!

20160216_inspire_joy2 20160217_trust_curiosity2 20160218_care_fear
20160219_smile_suffering1 20160220_persevere_prayer1 20160221_teach_justice2
20160222_honor_gratitude 20160223_give_creativity3 20160224_listen_friendship
20160225_forgive_dreams1 20160226_relax_mistakes 20160227_discover_heal3


This post originally appeared on Holy Wild, at alisonleighlilly.com

Holy Wild, Muse in Brief, praxis

A Leap Day Altar (and more)

20160229_change_possibility_leap2

“All the possibilities of your human destiny are asleep in your soul. You are here to realize and honor these possibilities. When love comes in to your life, unrecognized dimensions of your destiny awaken and blossom and grow. Possibility is the secret heart of time.”

― John O’Donohue

“You do not need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going. What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith and hope.”

― Thomas Merton

20160228_adopt_hospitality2

There are two paths to transformation: the way out-beyond and the way deep-within.

In the first, you leave your home and its familiarity behind to journey out into the wilderness of the liminal spaces — the desert, the mountain, the jungle, the ocean, the big city, the Otherworld — where you find the gift of your whole self waiting for you like an animal whose shadow you have been chasing all your life. And when you finally return home again you are different, no longer a child, no longer the old self you left behind. The journey home can take a lifetime.

In the second, the way deep-within, you curl up into yourself like a hermit crab or a caterpillar or a seed inside its shell. You burrow down into the sloppy, sucking mud of inner solitude and silence. You speak to no one, and no one speaks to you (except maybe the gods). And there, inside, is where you change — dissolving the old self, stripping it off, making a space into which the new self can grow. Maybe it feels like sickness. Maybe it feels like the growing pains of old ghost limbs thinning into wings. And it might be that the light will sting a little when you finally emerge again, waiting for your wide new eyes to focus.

Either way will work.

But it’s no good to stay here wavering between the two, weighing which one asks the least of you. Don’t tell yourself, “The way out-beyond is a glamorous adventure. I’ll prove myself, I’ll make them proud and come home to a hero’s welcome.” Don’t tell yourself, “The way deep-within is safer. I can keep the structures of my precious life intact while I go about my unobtrusive work.”

More likely you will come home to a place you no longer recognize, full of people who are strangers, wary of your strangeness and the bloodstains on your hands. More likely you will see the scaffolding of your life collapsing like a fire whose kindling has burned down to embers as soft as ash, unable to support anything that does not feed it.

Either way will work. You do not need to know how it will turn out. You only need to be willing to let your whole life change.


Have you been following along with my Altar-a-Day Challenge? Today marks the halfway point in my journey of daily altar crafting and contemplation. Join me on Facebook or Tumblr, and share your magic and meditations as well!

20160216_inspire_joy2 20160217_trust_curiosity2 20160218_care_fear
20160219_smile_suffering1 20160220_persevere_prayer1 20160221_teach_justice2
20160222_honor_gratitude 20160223_give_creativity3 20160224_listen_friendship
20160225_forgive_dreams1 20160226_relax_mistakes 20160227_discover_heal3


This post is part of the WordPress Daily Prompt: Leap

Holy Wild, Muse In Brief

An Altar-a-Day Challenge: Deepening Daily Practice

This post originally appeared on Holy Wild, at alisonleighlilly.com


“To learn to appreciate difference, you must attentively contemplate apparent sameness.”

– Venkatesh Rao, from “On Staying Grounded

For Yule this year, my aunt gave me a beautiful Word of the Day calendar – the kind where the same words spiral through every month as the dates and days of the week change and shift around them. I keep it on the windowsill by my desk, and now each day when I sit down to work, the first thing I do is shuffle the little cards into place and sit for a moment contemplating that day’s word.

To dig my soul-toes deeper into this fertile soil, I’ve decided to pair my Word of the Day practice with reflections on the #UULent Photo-A-Day challenge. My Word-of-the-Day calendar is full of verbs. The #UULent reflections are mostly nouns. Each morning, I sit down and craft an altar that expresses an aspect of these two words in combination. I’m looking forward to discovering what intriguing combinations I’ll spiral through over the next six weeks!

I’ll be sharing my altars daily (along with some inspiring quotes and a few words of reflection of my own) on both my Facebook page and my Holy Wild Tumblr, if you’d like to follow along. Here are some excerpts from my first week of practice:

20160210_praise_mindfulness

20160211_empower_devotion1 20160211_empower_devotion2

20160212_plant_quiet2The rain is pouring outside my window this morning, turning the leaves of the laurel tree into a shivering, wet green tangle.

I love today’s words: plant quiet. It reminds me of the deep peace of growing things – root-quiet, leaf-quiet, soft-moss-quiet, rough-dark-bark-quiet. The quiet of pressing your ear to the earth and hearing the tiny bugs trundling along beneath the litter and rot. The quiet of the rain dripping from limb to limb. The quiet of early spring, that makes me lean in close to listen.

But it also makes me think of planting quiet, as if quiet were a seed. Am I going through my life treating quiet like a thing that only happens to other people? A luxury, an expense? A commodity that somebody else has already made, and all I have to do is buy it up (at a discount, if I’m lucky – maybe they have a groupon for it)? Am I taking responsibility for cultivating quiet?

I imagine making space in the rich humus of my heart, poking a hole in it with one gentle finger – just a few inches deep, but it’s enough. Then dropping in a few seeds… covering them again… leaving them to nestle quietly together in the dark….

I think it’d be nice to be a Johnny Appleseed of quiet. Traveling from town to town, reaching into my chest to pluck the blossom-quiet, the fruit-quiet that I’ve grown there – and tossing the quiet wide in all directions. Then everywhere I go, the seeds of quiet would be sown in the muddy waiting land. And the hush would spread out across the hills and valleys. And all the people would come out of their houses, and kneel down to press their ears to the ground…

20160213_envision_humility

20160214_dedicate_love1 20160214_dedicate_love2

20160215_create_difference

It is said by some of the goddess Brigid that she has two faces: one that is beautiful and bright, and the other dark and terrible. Like two faces of a fire: glowing ember and crumbling ash.

Every act of creativity is the creation of difference – the remaking of a material or medium, the transformation of an old way of relationship into a new one. We long to “make a difference” in the world, and to make ourselves different as we strive to learn and grow.

Brigid is a goddess of creativity: the divine inspiration of the poet and the hard spark of the forge.


If you want to join in with the #UULent Photo-A-Day challenge, check out more info here. And let me know in the comments so I can follow along!


This post originally appeared on Holy Wild, at alisonleighlilly.com

Featured, Holy Wild, Muse in Brief, praxis

An Altar-a-Day Challenge: Deepening Daily Practice

“To learn to appreciate difference, you must attentively contemplate apparent sameness.”

– Venkatesh Rao, from “On Staying Grounded

For Yule this year, my aunt gave me a beautiful Word of the Day calendar – the kind where the same words spiral through every month as the dates and days of the week change and shift around them. I keep it on the windowsill by my desk, and now each day when I sit down to work, the first thing I do is shuffle the little cards into place and sit for a moment contemplating that day’s word.

To dig my soul-toes deeper into this fertile soil, I’ve decided to pair my Word of the Day practice with reflections on the #UULent Photo-A-Day challenge. My Word-of-the-Day calendar is full of verbs. The #UULent reflections are mostly nouns. Each morning, I sit down and craft an altar that expresses an aspect of these two words in combination. I’m looking forward to discovering what intriguing combinations I’ll spiral through over the next six weeks!

I’ll be sharing my altars daily (along with some inspiring quotes and a few words of reflection of my own) on both my Facebook page and my Holy Wild Tumblr, if you’d like to follow along. Here are some excerpts from my first week of practice:

20160210_praise_mindfulness

20160211_empower_devotion1 20160211_empower_devotion2

20160212_plant_quiet2The rain is pouring outside my window this morning, turning the leaves of the laurel tree into a shivering, wet green tangle.

I love today’s words: plant quiet. It reminds me of the deep peace of growing things – root-quiet, leaf-quiet, soft-moss-quiet, rough-dark-bark-quiet. The quiet of pressing your ear to the earth and hearing the tiny bugs trundling along beneath the litter and rot. The quiet of the rain dripping from limb to limb. The quiet of early spring, that makes me lean in close to listen.

But it also makes me think of planting quiet, as if quiet were a seed. Am I going through my life treating quiet like a thing that only happens to other people? A luxury, an expense? A commodity that somebody else has already made, and all I have to do is buy it up (at a discount, if I’m lucky – maybe they have a groupon for it)? Am I taking responsibility for cultivating quiet?

I imagine making space in the rich humus of my heart, poking a hole in it with one gentle finger – just a few inches deep, but it’s enough. Then dropping in a few seeds… covering them again… leaving them to nestle quietly together in the dark….

I think it’d be nice to be a Johnny Appleseed of quiet. Traveling from town to town, reaching into my chest to pluck the blossom-quiet, the fruit-quiet that I’ve grown there – and tossing the quiet wide in all directions. Then everywhere I go, the seeds of quiet would be sown in the muddy waiting land. And the hush would spread out across the hills and valleys. And all the people would come out of their houses, and kneel down to press their ears to the ground…

20160213_envision_humility

20160214_dedicate_love1 20160214_dedicate_love2

20160215_create_difference

It is said by some of the goddess Brigid that she has two faces: one that is beautiful and bright, and the other dark and terrible. Like two faces of a fire: glowing ember and crumbling ash.

Every act of creativity is the creation of difference – the remaking of a material or medium, the transformation of an old way of relationship into a new one. We long to “make a difference” in the world, and to make ourselves different as we strive to learn and grow.

Brigid is a goddess of creativity: the divine inspiration of the poet and the hard spark of the forge.


If you want to join in with the #UULent Photo-A-Day challenge, check out more info here. And let me know in the comments so I can follow along!

Contemplation & Meditation, Holy Wild, Story & Song

Further Reflections on Death & Fire

This post originally appeared on Holy Wild, at alisonleighlilly.com


I’m usually somewhat solemn around this time of year, sitting quietly at my desk listening to the quiet rain and even quieter fog outside my window, enjoying the damp quiet day in my own little way as my not-at-all-damp-thank-you cat quietly looks on….

But not this year. This year, something’s gotten into me. A bit of trickster spirit, maybe. A bit of fire. I find that I can’t sit still and write solemn, poetical things. (Which is a problem, because I have at least three deadlines for solemn, poetical things due to various editors who have always before been able to rely on me to be solemn and poetical on schedule.) Instead, my fingers want to tap out snark — while my heart quails like a small fat bird in the underbrush (you know, like a pheasant) at the thought of being thought merely snarky.

It’s a little like being in love. Except from the other side. And it’s been going on since March…

Which is when I reread Terry Pratchett’s book, The Last Hero, which begins like this:

The Last Hero

‘Ah, well, life goes on,’ people say when someone dies. But from the point of view of the person who has just died, it doesn’t. It’s the universe that goes on. Just as the deceased was getting the hang of everything it’s all whisked away, by illness or accident or, in one case, a cucumber. Why this has to be is one of the imponderables of life, in the face of which people either start to pray… or become really, really angry.

Since March, which is when Sir Terry Pratchett died, a part of me has become really, really angry. Another part of me can’t stop praying.

I have spent a lot of time thinking about Pratchett this past year. Too much time for someone who is usually rather disdainful of folks who go gaga over celebrities and authority figures. Too much time for someone who would never in a million years call herself a “pop culture Pagan.” Too much time for it to be anything but love.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about Commander Samuel Vimes, too, wondering why I relate to him so strongly as a character. Vimes has a Beast inside him that is capable of killing, something capable of terrible hatred and violence and fantasies of revenge. What makes him a good man (and a great character) is that he keeps it chained, he holds it back, he calls on it when he needs it and then he reigns it in. He makes friends with the Dark.

I don’t think I have that kind of Beast in me. Lots of people like to think they do, but I don’t. I don’t think I’ve ever wanted to hurt someone, not deliberately, not just to see them suffer. On my honor, I am not a violent man. I’ve been a self-described pacifist ever since I read Gandhi when I was twelve. (And I remember the night my best friend’s dad got annoyed with my idealistic anti-war ramblings and tried to take this snotty pre-teen down a peg by growling, “Yeah, well, Gandhi’s fucking dead.” And I remember wondering what role models had been dead for Gandhi. And why that matters.)

If there is a Beast in me, it’s not one of violence or hatred… it’s a Venusian lioness, languishing in the tall shadows of the grass.

In loving memory

And I wonder: why am I so afraid of what that love might do? Is it that society has taught women that our love is dangerous and destructive? Is it our patriarchal culture that fears the raw vulnerability of passion and the inconveniences it might cause? That carefully packages eros to sell off as commodified “Grrl Powr,” so that when we most want to be taken seriously we find ourselves dismissed, reduced to the stereotype of reactionary adolescent irresponsibility?

So I wonder, what if I stopped being so afraid — what if, instead, I got angry? Ah, but it is irresponsible, it is dangerous. I don’t think you understand. I love you. I love you like a serial killer who wants to rip you open and paint portraits of delicate flowers with your blood because I really, honestly believe with all my heart that you are more beautiful on the inside. I love you with a love that would first embarrass you and then make you feel rather worried, until eventually you stopped returning my phone calls. These things happen, I know.

Second person narration is a dangerous thing. Like the lion in the grass who has been stalking you, watching you, and knows that if she comes too close you will start to run. If I tell you I think you’re beautiful, you will not believe me, you will think there’s something wrong with me that I could be so wrong about you. Or you will think I’m a liar, because no one who loves you would also analyze you, no one who loves you would be okay with there being so much blood. (Or worse, you’ll think it’s about sex. “As if that’s all you can do with something beautiful, / as if that’s what it means to govern your life by it.” Gods, wouldn’t it be easier if it were just about sex?)

That’s why I’m sarcastic. That’s why I stay home most days listening to the damp, quiet rain doing my best to be solemn. That’s why every once in awhile I get defensive about idealists and say things that someone, somewhere, is bound to take the wrong way. That’s why I stand with my fists clenched and my arms crossed tight across my chest every time you go to hug me. There’s a lot going on in here that you don’t know about. It isn’t all about you. (But sometimes it is.)

So I’ve been thinking about Pratchett a lot this year, trying to learn from him and his life and his work and his death. Trying to learn how to walk the line between “sell out” and “obscure and unpaid,” between “tactful” and “passive aggressive,” between “takes herself too seriously” and “just doing it for the attention.” How to be professional in a world where “professional” means we all agree not to make fun of each other’s neckties or be honest about our pain. Trying to learn how to make friends with the terrible Light, how to make it useful.

ancestor_altar

In my new home office (which I am calling the Rather Yellow Withdrawing Room), next to my altar to Brighid, I now also have an altar to Sir Terry Pratchett as an honored role model and Ancestor of Spirit. On the one hand, Brighid stands with a sheaf of wheat in her hands and a fire in her head. On the other, there is the hourglass, the huge fake ruby, the bottle of booze, all those symbols of what can distract us and steal us away from the work….

…and below, the lit candle, and above, the sprig of lilac. That I might always remember the beloved dead, and the anger that arises from love.

#TerryPrachett #TheLastHero


This post originally appeared on Holy Wild, at alisonleighlilly.com

Holy Wild, Rite & Ritual

Altars: A Showcase

I’ve created many altars, shrines and ritual spaces over the years. Each expressed the unique needs and aspirations of who I was at the time of its creation, and each balanced the limits of my living space with the potential for aesthetic and spiritual engagement. For these have all been living spaces — spaces that were alive with their own energies and moods, spaces that shaped my understanding of myself and sculpted me into new forms even as I organized and cleansed and decorated and invariably made a mess of them in an ever-repeating cycle.

House-hunting in Seattle has put me in mind of these many different sacred spaces, and what new altars I will craft as I make a home for myself on the shores of a new ocean. So, while I’m nursing my jet lag and scrambling to pack, I thought this week might be a good opportunity to take a look back at some of those altars of old as I dream of inspiration for new ones yet to come.

Household Altars

These are the altars I create as permanent fixtures throughout my home. Some of them are indistinguishable from your typical home décor, while others have a more obvious purpose.

This one, for instance:

Three Realms Meditation Altar

A simple meditation altar nestled in the corner of the bedroom, minimalist but with a certain gentle elegance. I used this space as a focus for my meditative work on the Three Realms — land, sea and sky — here represented by a small cairn of stones, a bowl of water and a candle in a sun-etched jar.

Here is another all-purpose altar:

Late Summer Altar

Late Summer Altar

Right outside our front door, we keep this altar fresh with seasonal offerings (here, you can see late summer wildflowers and a small bowl of summer squash harvested from the garden) and whisper a prayer of blessing and gratitude as we ring the chimes each time we pass.

Another permanent altar is this wall-mounted shrine:

Cleansing Altar

Cleansing Altar

Enlisting the help of a spiny aloe plant, a sage candle and a small bottle of sea salt, this shrine honors cleansing and health in one of the messiest rooms of the house: the kids’ bathroom! After a difficult winter of constant sniffles and head colds when we first moved in, we set up this small shrine to welcome cleansing and cleanliness into our lives. Our regular care for the aloe plant reminds us to regularly care for our physical as well as our spiritual and emotional health.

Children’s Altars

Speaking of kids, we also have a few altars dedicated for kid-friendly purposes.

This is the Great Mother goddess altar that sits atop the bureau in the kids’ room:

Children's Altar

They helped us bless and consecrate this statue of mother and child with a story about the Modron and the Mabon from Welsh mythology, part of the work we did as a family to help them heal from their parents’ divorce and reaffirm their relationship with their mother while welcoming me into their lives as a not-so-evil stepmom. They also regularly collect offerings — everything from flowers, to colorful leaves, to acorns and chestnuts and cool looking rocks — to place in the small offering bowl to show their gratitude and appreciation for Mother Earth.

As my oldest stepdaughter becomes a teenager, my husband and I have begun to teach her a bit about what it means to be a Druid, and we’ve helped her begin to think about how she can create an altar of her own:

Her First Altar

Here, you can see a few of the objects she’s picked out to start crafting an altar in her bedroom at her mom’s house. A candle, an oyster shell, a volcanic rock and an acorn cap (that she can use as a whistle) represent the four elements of fire, water, earth and air, placed on top of a journal her grandmother gave her.

Altars on the Go

Because my husband and I both do a fair bit of traveling for work, I’ve also crafted a small travel altar that fits snuggly in a suitcase or carry-on luggage:

Travel Altar

Travel Altar Travel Altar

Travel Altar

Included in my travel altar are wooden plaques representing the Three Realms, a set of offering dishes, a small candle, some mini-sticks of incense and small incense holder, a book of matches, a small sachet of dried herbs, a handkerchief altar cloth and a bag containing a set of prayer beads, a compass and a few stones and clay amulets. Packed away inside the travel altar box, the whole thing fits snugly in a small hemp bag along with my tarot deck and a pocket-sized journal and pen set.

Altars for All Occasions

I also sometimes construct temporary altars for particular tasks — holidays, spellcastings and other special occasions and celebrations.

Here, you can see a simple altar set up for a home blessing spell:

Home Blessing Alar

Set up initially on the coffee table in the living room, for this spell I lit the three candles (including the central “house warming” pillar candle) and proceeded around the house, blessing each doorway and entrance with a sprig of fresh rosemary dipped into sea salt water. There’s nothing like a good house cleansing to clear out the cobwebs and invite in the warmth, joy and light of a happy home!

Another spell, somewhat embarrassing now to admit though it was incredibly effective, was this Valentine’s Day Love Spell, which involved a ritual bath and a toilet-top altar:

Love Spell Alar

Love Spell Alar

Yes, that’s right. An altar complete with candles, incense, rose petals and even a small glass chalice of mead — on top of the toilet. But hey, effective and convenient!

I’ve also created altars for holiday celebrations, such as this one:

Brighid's Cross - Imbolc Altar

Imbolc Candle

A Brighid’s Cross woven from the dried stems of crocuses, and a small golden candle floating amongst glitter like star dust in a dark bowl of water. Simple but powerful ways of honoring my goddess, Brighid, on her sacred day.

And of course, I can’t forget about my god, Manannan mac Lir, and the simple altar I set up during my ritual devotions to honor him:

Sea Altar

And finally, this showcase wouldn’t be complete without a few pictures of the altar from our Druidic wedding ceremony down on the beach:

Wedding Details - The Altar with Flowers
Photograph by Matt Lusk Photography

A very special occasion, indeed! You can see in the photograph below symbols of the four elements, a lovely little dish with our offerings to the three Kindreds (the gods, the ancestors and the spirits of the land), the heart-shaped wooden bowl that holds our handfasting cord and the shell that held our wedding bands.

Wedding Details - The Altar
Photograph by Matt Lusk Photography

And here’s my youngest stepdaughter, our Flowergirl and Earth-bearer, walking in procession carrying her bowl of dried herbs and flower petals to sprinkle around the sacred circle as the ceremony begins.

Wedding Ceremony - Fiona with Earth
Photograph by Matt Lusk Photography


This post is part of the Pagan Blog Project 2012.
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