The Heart of the Initiate is a wonderful book. This book was created by Victor and Cora Anderson for their students and those interested in the Feri tradition of witchcraft. The forward states:
“THIS BOOK IS A VALENTINE from Victor and Cora Anderson to you. For those of us who are their initiates, the Andersons live on through the many personal recordings and letters we held close and treasure. We’re grateful for this great opportunity to share rare insights into the Anderson’s teachings, and offer you an imitation of what it was like to be their student.”
It is clear that the Andersons wanted their teachings to be preserved and shared. That they wanted more people to understand and know what their tradition was and is all about. The proof is in the quote mentioned above. For this reason the book was created which allows seekers like me and students of Feri to see what the actual founders and high masters said about the tradition and their teachings.
Due to the nature of this book there are not chapters. The book reads like correspondences which is what they are. There are a few sections in which various teachings are written about in letter or essay form, but not your traditional chapters and sections style.
The first section of the book is called Some Pictish views on the old religion. Here we learn about some origins of the practices and how the religion is different from others. It talks about the origins and how sex is sacred. There is a little bit on basically all aspects of the Craft in this section written by Victor.
The second section of the book is called Commentaries. In this section there are a few specific articles on points important to the specific Feri tradition of witchcraft as they teach it. Topics include Raising power to divinity, Sexual Initiation, Sexual ethics, Training and Initiation, The Consort, The Guardians, The morning prayer, Possession, and Salvation. All of these concepts are teachings important in the Feri tradition to some extent and these basic articles express how they work and what they mean.
The third section of the book is the most informative section of the book. Here there are glimpses at some of the rites and materials actually presented to their students. There are exercises and explanations given. The letters are written by Victor and Cora presented to us as they responded to their students. The only thing missing in this section would be the letters from the students to their teachers so the context makes more sense.
The very last section of the book is important for seekers like myself. In many books on traditional witchcraft there is an exercise to switch from a Christian path to a Traditional witchcraft path which involves the reciting of the Lord Prayer backwards. Here Victor describes yet another prayer that can be used which is essentially a modified version of the Lords prayer for seekers trying to be open to new paths and teachings.
Ancestral Work and Practices
Last year my post in the Pagan blog project on ancestors (Ancestors and why Ancestral Veneration exists)was at the start of my exploration of ancestral worship and working with the powers and spirits of our ancestors. Most of what I was doing there really had no meaning to me. It was a basic understanding of concepts. Yes I had an ancestral altar that was set up but there really wasn’t any meaning to my work. I prayed to my ancestors because I thought I should. The altar was set up because I thought I needed one. There was no reason behind any of it.
I did believe that our ancestors had power. I just wasn’t sure how to work with them. I knew that as I had said in ancient cultures it was a common practice. I also knew that there were a few modern pagan religions that had continued the practice of ancestral veneration. I saw that it was a part of many forms of traditional witchcraft and as well as part of Asatru. So I wanted to make it a part of my path. I wasn’t sure how.
For me part of it was the process of how complex my ancestry is. I consider the fact that I have spiritual ancestors. Those are the people who were the first authors in bringing witchcraft to the world today. In that group is Gerald Gardner, Doreen Valienete, Sybil Leek, and several others. I also have my ancestors of the heart. This is where my Foster and Adoptive ancestors lie. They are not connected to me by blood but by the bonds of love through my adoption and family ties. Then I have my ancestors of blood. These would be the ancestors tied to my biological family. These multiple ancestral lines were some of the reasons I wasn’t sure how I could work with my ancestors. Which type did I honor and work with?
I recently started to realize that I can work with all of my ancestors in different ways. I just needed to think about applying ancestral veneration in different ways that did not just relate to prayers and offerings at the altar. I found that because I had the different lines I could find three different ways that I can honor my ancestors and so far this revelation has been working for me.
My witchcraft ancestors (Gardner, and the like) I work with and honor simply by continuing to practice witchcraft and keep it alive. They feared that witchcraft would die out. Instead it has grown beyond what they imagined. So for me to practice, study, and explore as many venues of witchcraft as I can is a way of honoring the witches who have walked the paths before me. This was one of the first ways I actually started to work with my spiritual ancestors.
My ancestors of the blood were a bit different. I did some traces of where the various ancestral lines my biological family came from. In this practice I have found that my ancestry is Germanic in nature. Around the same time I had a dream where several of the Germanic/Norse Gods appeared calling for me and for one of them. I concluded that by studying and by working with the Gods of my blood ancestral tribes I could honor them as well. So that was another way I could honor my ancestors. It has worked well for me.
Its been my adoptive ancestral lines that I have really had some issues working in. While I prayed to my Grandmother for advice (she had made herself known to me early on as a spirit guide for me) I had no real way to integrate the rest of that ancestral line into my life and I honestly didn’t think that they would approve of the work I was doing. So it was something I didn’t quite understand.
Even in my studies of Traditional witchcraft while I would acknowledge the power of the ancestors in the land I wasn’t I was sure I actually believed in. I also never actually called my ancestral powers into ritual before. I would call on the spirits of the land and the God and Goddess but not my ancestor when I was doing that work.
Now things have actually changed. I am actively working with my ancestors. I pray daily and I actively maintain an altar to them. On this altar I regular light a candle to them as an offering. I also give them fresh and clean water on a regular basis so that when they visit they always have a clean drink. In rituals I have an item I use to give them a manifestation in the room that sits on the altar the rest of the time.
Yes. I never actually worked with my ancestors in magic or in rituals before. Now things have started to change. I actually call them into my rituals. They have a place that they can manifest in ritual and in magical work. Like the God and Goddess can manifest in my statues and in me, my ancestors have a vessel with which they can manifest in this world during ritual. I am actively forming relationships with them like I would any other spirits, through now working with them in formal rituals.
Recently I have started to study a new magical tradition. I have started to study Hoodoo. Now I am not African American nor do I belong to the culture that Hoodoo was created in and for. That being said I do respect the origins and I know that today Hoodoo is not practiced by just those of African American descent or in that culture. There are Caucasian Americans who practice this art. They all however pay respects to the origin of the path and understand where the roots of Hoodoo come from.
Hoodoo in some forms was heavily influenced by forms of Catholicism. My adoptive ancestry on my mother’s side is all Catholic. I have felt that by practicing and studying Hoodoo I could connect with that part of my ancestry. In Hoodoo a lot of time is spent focused on working with ones ancestors. So for me Hoodoo provides a way for me to connect with my Catholic ancestors while still remaining the witch that I am and that forms the base of the tradition I am developing.
I feel that my connection with my ancestors has started to grow because I have started to work with them in ritual and pray to them daily. I invite them into my life on a regular basis. I know they are around me now. I know that they are there. I just needed to find a way to interact with them all and I have found a way to work with them. Now I just need to make sure I maintain the practice.
One of the things that I have been lacking in my practice is proper altar maintenance and management. Now what is altar maintenance? Not to mention what is altar management? Well that depends. There are many things that it can mean. It can be as simple as remembering to pray there regularly to build up power. It can be washing the items on the altar regularly so that dirt or dust don’t accumulate. It can be many different things. Proper altar maintenance is part of establishing a healthy spiritual practice with regular applications in daily life.
For myself altar maintenance actually means all of those things I mentioned and more. For a long time I have had my altars set up as a part of my house decoration. I would nod at them in the morning occasionally as a reminder that each day is a gift from the Gods but aside from that they weren’t used often. Seeing the altars set up did make me feel connected to my spirituality so it did serve a purpose but I wasn’t letting it serve its main purpose which is to serve as a focal point for workings with the various spirits that I work with.
I have lacked altar maintenance. Altar maintenance would be cleaning the dust off the altar. Making sure that there is fresh water daily for the spirits, cleaning the altar cloths on a regular basis, bathing the statues ritually, cleansing and consecrating the place on a regular basis. These are all little ritual items that I could have done and should have done on a regular basis that not only would build my connection to my spirit allies but would also keep my spirit soaring.
Altar management for me is a bit more complicated than that. Altar management is the actual use and working of an altar. Here we have decorating for rituals and sabbats, we have performing offerings, prayers, and magical workings. All of these things are part of altar management.
This is yet again and area that I have lacked in my spiritual progress and development. I rarely decorate the altars for the sabbat or esbat at hand when I do work those rituals. I haven’t been good about praying at my altars as a regular communication practice and as a way to build a relationship with them. Nor have I been particularly good about giving them offerings either.
Altar management is also for me changing the altars around periodically. For me it is about really letting the Gods and spirits know what sort of items they want on their altars. Each spirit and altar is going to be different so its important to make them all unique. So if the Gods and the elements tell you to use one tool over another in ritual and on the altar that is altar management.
Most of my magical workings are not done on my altars but on any space I can find. The only times they are is when I am typically doing a healing work of some sort and need the assistance of my guides and allies. Then I work at my altar and pray. The rest of the time its not done at my altar. Though I may occasionally burn the incenses I have made on them. Working magic on the altars would also be a way of deepening spirit contact and relationships.
These two things that seem simple are things that I have been lacking in my life. These are also things that I have been working on correcting in my life. For me right now I have a goal of working on developing a more consistent daily practice of my path. I am really working to integrate my beliefs and my studies into everything I do part of every day. Its a challenge but its been worth it.
The first real thing for me has been developing my new ritual room and ritual space. There is still some more work I would like to do and things I need to get. For now though it really looks like a sacred space or at least a place for performing and working various rituals. Part of getting this room set up was finally getting the altars to where I like them and what I want to do with them.
In setting up my ritual room I now have a place to perform daily rites and workings with spirits. So now I can really work on digging into my spirituality and developing those relationships. The first thing I am working on is altar maintenance and altar management. These two things can be worked on together by creating daily prayer and offering routines.
The first part of the maintenance though was in the creation of some new altars and some new sacred space for those prayer workings and ritual workings. Here now are the new altars and shrines I have created for my new ritual area.
The first altar I am going to discuss is my main working altar:
This altar is where all my actual worship of Gods and Goddesses occurs. On the wall there is a Pentacle with a Stags head for the God and a clay plate impression of a Goddess who is mother earth. These are on the wall to show the places of the God and Goddess as well as to form a background. In the center of the altar there is a birch wood circle which I use to hold the candle lit for prayers and devotions. In the back you can see my wand. My stang and my broom are on either side of the altar. This is set up and basically ready to go for any ritual at any time.
The next altar is my Dragon altar:
Here I am actually performing altar maintenance and management by burning incense for them and lighting a candle. You can also see how that altar is clearly focused on being there for the dragons. The incense that was offered was Dragons Blood. Dragons Blood is a favorite incense of many dragon spirits and they feed off its scent and love. I’ll get into working with dragons another time. For now I performed maintenance then by giving them an offering.
This is my ancestral altar:
Every item on my ancestral altar has importance to me. This altar is actually a new design. My original ancestral altar was much smaller and less formally organized. This altar on one side you see several different pictures. Those are the photos of my deceased loved ones. There is also a photo on there of my biological mother and her father. I don’t know if either one of them are still alive. The photo is there is symbolic of my ties to my blood ancestors so that they know they are not forgotten. The large goblet there is the chalice for them. It contains water I give them as an offering or any other liquid. The candle next to them is light and fire giving my prayers a vessel. The skull actually serves as a place for them to manifest during working rituals. The bottle of GlenLivet on there is a connection to my fiance’s grandfather. Finally the red tie across the altar comes from my grandmother’s robe. I use the red color to be symbolic of blood but also of spirit and all the ties and bonds that we share together.
The next two altars are works in progress. They will grow as my relationships with these spirits grow. I am also going to see about getting more storage containers like the one my Dragon altar is on so I can set up a few more altars and shrines. I feel I should set up one for my Norse God practices. I also sort of feel like there are other spirits wanting to work with me and have altars built for them.
This is my altar to the arch angel Micheal:
Micheal is the protector. He is also called the prince of heaven and is the leader of heaven’s army. This is why there is a sword on the altar. The candle is lit for is prayers. The candle also symbolises the element he is most often associated with which is fire. The water is there to offer him a drink. The plate is there for offerings.
This is my shrine for Moses:
The large staff there is going to be a conjure/hoodoo tool that I am making with the power of Moses. This staff will be used to call on his name and power in basically any rite that I would associate with him. The candles again serve as a place to show the prayers the water is his drink and the plate holds offerings of various forms.
You have now seen my altars. Part of my altar management now and altar maintenance now will be regular saying prayers at these altars. I will be offering fresh and clean water every day. I will wash the altars physically and make sure that they stay clean and fresh. I will in some way work at my altar each day building a relationship with the spirits therein.
Altar maintenance and management now to me is the simplest way I can work on making my religious and spiritual practices an active part of my day to day life. All in all it doesn’t take a lot of time. Its maintaining the practice, the sense of the sacred, and giving the time that becomes the issue in our lives. By writing this essay I have given myself some tangible tasks to do each day to work on my altars and with the spirits there in the altars.