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The Garden Altar  –

A Spring Dawn Ritual to Awaken Potential

Just before dawn, at the darkest hour, when the sounds of frogs and crickets begin to die away, you stand before your altar in your favourite part of the moonlit garden.  In silent meditation, you gaze upon your herbaceous altar.  Flowing, cool air currents stir the candle flames, throwing soft, golden light and shifting shadows upon the surrounding bushes and vegetation.  Beyond the candlelight is darkness, the unknown, the mystery.  It reminds you of those areas in your life, and within you, where some light could be thrown in order to see things a little clearer.

Earth quarter altar in the Magic Garden

The Earth quarter altar in the Magic Garden

Light reveals, light illuminates the way; light is vision and light is foresight.  You imagine the light from your central altar candle radiating within you and you look, without judgment, at what it reveals.  Only silent contemplation for now.  Flickering candlelight shifts light and shadow across the small altar statues of the God and Goddess, animating and changing them ever so subtly, as you watch in trance waiting for guidance.

You toss a little of your specially-made incense into the hanging burner suspended from an overhanging branch above the altar.  A breeze wafts over the altar in response, tinkling the assorted bells and feathers dangling in adornment from the burner.  Fragrant smoke carries on the breeze, as you inhale deeply, remembering in turn, each ingredient and its properties.  There’s vervain to attract only the best spiritual powers and to remove obstacles; witchgrass to dispel depression and attract happiness; sesame seed to open doors within; some sweet woodruff for new beginnings, and some drops of bay oil to bring inspiration and courage.  In silent contemplation, you take their powers within, your gaze once again focused on the flickering candle flame – silence.

Then it begins.  In the darkness, beyond the candle light, a lone honeyeater gives a single call to herald the dawn chorus.  A magpie, with its flute-like warble, responds and is soon joined by some blackbirds and the chattering of tiny wrens.  Soon the air is filled with a symphony of birdcalls, the sound rising and building in the lingering darkness, singing the Sun back into being; just as Rhiannon’s birds sing the dead back to life.

As the moon slowly descends towards the western horizon, the eastern horizon begins to glow, bathing the silhouetted landscape and the cloud-wisped sky in soft pink and golden hues.  As sunrays penetrate and dissipate the fading darkness, everything feels fresh and new.  Within, you feel solutions and potentials rising and coming into being, as enlightenment takes shape and form.  The chalice on the altar is brimming with orange juice, representing the light and life-giving energies of the sun, of abundance and sweet success.  Saluting the rising sun with your chalice, you sip down some of its contents, feeling it wash through your insides, permeating every cell of your body.  As a libation, you pour the remaining contents onto the earth, confident that you will also be pleasing the indigenous spirits (libations of alcohol can be offensive to them – one only needs to remember the blight that alcohol has inflicted on their society).

All around, the golden sunlight bathes the foliage and flowers of the growing garden, as it surges forth, pushing through and around, finding its way, reaching for the sun.  Pure life-force, beauty and potential coming into bloom, and what unfolds around you is now unfolding within you – the world is a mirror.  The ritual is complete, may its magic unfold easily and happily in perfect fulfillment – so mote it be.

The heady scents and vibrant colours of Spring beckon to us to come outside and join in with nature.  It’s an inspiring time to set up a permanent garden altar; a sacred place to commune with nature.

The altar table can be anything from a tree stump, to a flat piece of stone, to a decorative concrete garden seat.  Potted herbs and flowers can be arranged and changed as a living backdrop according to season and celebration.  You may decide to choose herbs and plants which are sacred to a particular deity, or arrange pots according to their elemental correspondences or colours.  The combinations are limitless.  For a special touch, you may try planting a small lawn of fragrant thyme around the front of your altar.  Its scent will be released whenever it is trodden or sat upon.  If your altar is under a tree, the branches can be an excellent place to suspend hanging burners, bells and windchimes to catch the air elements.  Spanish moss draped over the branches of trees looks very magical and witchy too; but you may find yourself replacing it after each Spring, as birds love it as a nest-building material.  Positioning your altar against a fence allows you to use it as a support for everything; from hanging baskets to interchangeable banners, posters and wall plaques of deities.  If you’re feeling really creative, you may wish to paint your own Pagan mural and let your imagination guide you.

The statuary departments of garden centers can prove a treasure trove for Pagans setting up a garden altar.  You’ll be surprised at the number of deities you recognize; particularly from the Greek and Roman pantheons, even if the retailer hasn’t a clue what they are.  I once found a beautiful copper statue labeled ‘Nubian Guard’, but on closer inspection of this armoured person – who looked decidedly female – I noticed Medusa’s head on the shield.  The ‘Nubian Guard’ was, in fact, Athena!  Bird baths and small fish ponds can make a lovely representation of water, whilst concrete urns can be used quite effectively as cauldrons.

Whether your altar be bold and formal, or rustic and natural, most importantly, it should reflect you; your personal needs and practices.

Julie Snodgrass

“Julie Snodgrass owns & runs the Esoteric Bookshop in Victoria.  She holds open seasonal sabbats & workshops on natural magic.”

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