Feminist Craft - Susan Harper
Chapter 4: Building a Practice
As a Craft, Feminist Witchcraft is not just something we believe, but something we do. And that practice is intensely personal -- while there are some common tools that one finds across Contemporary Witchcraft traditions, in the end each Witch must shape their own practice if it is to be meaningful and sustainable. This chapter provides a framework for building your Feminist Witchcraft practice and offers up some suggestions of tools and techniques you may wish to use as you create a practice that works for you. It is in no way meant to be prescriptive or to put forth the only way to practice Feminist Craft; please take what resonates and leave what doesn’t. I do encourage you to experiment with different things as you build your practice. If there are things that you love from other spiritual traditions you’ve been part of or spiritual practices you have found meaningful, I encourage you to bring those forward into your Craft.
Your Sacred Space
A helpful first step in creating your personal Feminist Witchcraft practice is to set up a designated sacred space for yourself. While Witches tend to believe that all spaces are inherently sacred, creating a dedicated spot in your home is useful as you begin building your practice. A dedicated sacred space can serve as a repository for your spiritual tools (more on those below), a peaceful spot in which to meditate or pray, and a working surface for spellwork and rituals.
The type of sacred space you build is up to you. The size and layout of your living space, the number and ages of the people you live with, whether you have pets, and your personal preferences. It is more important to create a sacred space that works for you than to create one that conforms to some ideal you find in a book, on Instagram or Pinterest, or in another Witch’s home. The best sacred space is the one you will use and enjoy on your journey.
An altar, simply put, is any surface or dedicated area that holds objects that are sacred to you. Altars can be very ornate or quite minimalist, and there is no right or wrong way to construct one. You may choose to create an altar that is up all the time, or you could choose to create a simple altar each time you practice.
An altar can be as simple as a special candle that you choose to light during your practice time, set on a stable surface. Any type of candle will do, though for fire safety, jar candles tend to be my preferred style. If you want to go a little more complicated, placing crystals and stones, images of Goddesses, and other items that are meaningful to you around your central candle are all options. You can choose to leave this altar up at all times -- I have a similar set up on my nightstand -- or gather the objects from their places in your home each time you want to practice. If leaving your altar up all the time is not an option for you, you might find a pretty basket or other container to keep your items together. One of my favorite traveling altars, for example, is housed in a wooden wine crate. Another, which I take on the go, has small items that travel in a repurposed Altoids tin.
There are no rules about what you should keep on your altar. If you are coming from a tradition such as Wicca, where specific tools such as an athame (ritual knife) or chalice are typically placed on the altar, you can feel free to continue to use that set up. I personally do not keep my working tools on my altar all the time -- I find it makes the space cluttered -- but other Witches like to have everything close at hand. Some things you might wish to have on your altar include:
- Representations of the five Elements -- Earth, Air, Fire, Water, and Spirit. You might use a candle for each Element, placed in its cardinal direction. (The most typical alignment is Earth/North, Air/East, Fire/South, Water/West, and Spirit/Center). Alternatively, you can choose other items that represent the Elements to you.
- A central candle. This can be the candle that you light during your spiritual practice. I recommend a jar candle of some kind for fire safety purposes. A simple white jar candle that you can find in many supermarkets works great, but a pretty scented jar candle from your favorite home store is also a solid choice. Never leave a burning candle unattended!
- Representations of Goddess. While there is a great deal of beautiful Goddess statuary on the market, don’t feel you need to rush out and purchase any before you build your altar. Choose items that represent Goddess as you know Her. I collect Paleolithic and Neolithic inspired Goddess figures such as replicas of the Venus of Willendorf. But I also have a vinyl figurine of the comic book character Red Sonja on my altar, because she evokes Goddess’s warrior face to me. A friend of mine has a figure of Wonder Woman on her altar, to remind herself of her own power. Another friend doesn’t use human-looking figures at all, but represents Goddess on their altar with a large cowrie shell.
- Elements from Nature. Stones, crystals, shells, and feathers are common items found on altars, but anything that connects you to the Earth and is meaningful to you can go on your altar. A dear friend of mine keeps both a shed snakeskin and a spent wasp nest on their altar, as these were found on nature walks and felt like gifts. Fresh or dried flowers, a potted plant, a dish of soil from a place special to you, or water from a body of water that feels sacred to you might also find places on your altar.
As always, these are only suggestions. Trust your intuition. Know that an altar is a living thing and will change over time. In the nearly three decades of my own practice (as of this writing), I have had everything from a single candle and a couple of crystals to a full blown working Wiccan altar with a complete set of tools, and now I’m working with a very simple altar of Goddess figures and crystals.
Finally, remember that even though altars and spiritual tools are wonderful, they are not necessary for you to commune with Goddess or to create powerful Witchcraft. The only altar you ever truly need is yourself, and you hold the sacred within you. Your heart, mind, and intention are more powerful than any item you can purchase.
Building a Practice
Your sacred space can serve as a focus spot as you build your practice. It is not necessary to spend hours each day meditating in front of your altar or lighting candles. I do think it’s worth your time to regularly take a moment to stand before your altar or handle your sacred objects, using this time as an opportunity to connect to yourself and to the Divine. Your life will determine what “regularly” means. For some people this might be every day. But it’s also fine if you find that your life only allows you to spend focused time at your altar on the Full or New Moons (more about those in a later chapter), or if the only time you have to yourself is on Tuesdays for 30 minutes. The section that follows contains some suggested techniques that you can experiment with as you build your own Feminist Witchcraft practice. This list is by no means exhaustive, and you do not have to incorporate all of these techniques into your practice. Meditation
Cultivating a meditation habit can serve as a cornerstone of your practice. The word meditation can be intimidating to those who’ve never done it, as it can conjure up images of monks sitting in silence for hours or twisting one’s self into a lotus pose. But meditation can be very simple, as simple as paying attention to your breathing for a few minutes. A full course in meditation is far beyond the scope of this book, but I encourage you to experiment with meditation and mindfulness techniques as you build your Feminist Witchcraft practice. Spending just a few minutes in meditation a day, or at least with some regularity, provides an opportunity to slow down and connect. My favorite simple meditation is simply to light a candle and sit down in front of my altar and just breathe for five minutes. My mind doesn’t magickally become quiet, but I remind myself to let the thoughts flow. I set a timer on my phone and when the chime goes off, more often than not I feel more connected and centered.
Prayer is another term that many Witches and Contemporary Pagans might approach with skepticism. It can remind us of the spiritual traditions we were brought up with, which does not always call up happy memories. However, prayer in one form or another can be an excellent way to connect with the Divine or to simply slow down and pay attention. Prayer does not have to involve supplication or debasing oneself before Deity. I tend to approach prayer as a kind of conversation with Goddess -- it’s my chance to speak with the sacred as I know it, and to listen for answers. Even a simple prayer of gratitude can change the energy of your day. You can also incorporate affirmations into your prayer practice if you like.
Divination is a common practice among many Witches, and can take many forms: Tarot card, oracle cards, pendulums, Lenormand cards, runes, and a seemingly endless list of other tools and techniques. A brief daily (or otherwise regular) divination practice can serve as a wonderful tool for connection and spiritual growth. A simple practice I have employed for years is pulling a single oracle or Tarot card at the start of the day to get a sense of what the day might bring. Another way to incorporate divination into your everyday practice is to choose a Goddess-themed oracle deck and draw a different card each day, as a way to learn about various Goddesses. If you prefer to work with other divination tools such a pendulum or runes, taking the time to do a brief reading on a regular basis can be a simple yet grounding exercise. I sometimes struggle with my freeform divination practice, and have found a little structure can help me get back on track. You can find daily Tarot or Oracle challenges on Instagram and other social media that offer prompts for each day. Even if you don’t choose to post your daily divination to social media, these can be helpful and fun.
The idea of keeping a journal can be daunting if you’ve never done it, as we often associate the idea of journaling with the belief we have to keep a detailed daily record of our lives. But journaling can be a great way to connect with yourself, ground, and otherwise explore your feelings and your spiritual practice. There is no right or wrong way to keep a journal, however. Taking the time to write just a few sentences to start or close out your day can be a powerful ritual. I have a small journal that prompts me to write down one to three sentences per day, and I am amazed at how centering this is. If the idea of free form journaling is intimidating to you, I recommend using journal prompts. You can find these on social media and Goddess-centered blogs, and there are also a number of journals that contain prompts as well. You could also choose to blog or use social media as a journal, or just type in a simple Word document. And you don’t have to limit yourself to writing -- drawing, collaging, and other forms of art journaling “count” too. A friend of mine uses voice memos in her phone for reflections on her daily divination practice rather than committing them to paper or hard drive.
One of the things I love most about Feminist Witchcraft and Goddess Spirituality broadly is how embodied it is. Incorporating intentional movement into your practice can help foster healthy connection with your body and your own inner Divinity. Finding an intentional movement practice that feels good and that honors your body is a powerful way to honor Goddess and to honor your own sacredness.
When exploring intentional movement, first and foremost respect your body -- you do not need to do anything rigorous or that goes beyond what your body can do at a given moment. I incorporate a lot of dance and meditative movement in my own practice; a dear circle sister of mine who uses a wheelchair sometimes practices with me by moving her arms and hands in beautiful patterns while I twirl around the room. She has found a way to incorporate movement and connection with me in a way that also honors her own body. Some forms of intentional movement you might want to explore include, but are not limited to the following.
- Dance. I love to dance, and dancing in ritual circles and at festivals has been a huge source of healing for me. Though I have some training as a modern dancer, the dance I use in my spiritual practice is much more free form, letting my body move in ways that feel good and that connect to the music or drumming I’m listening to. Allowing your body to move or sway along with music can be a gentle way to introduce dance into your practice, especially if you are at all self-conscious about dancing. You might also explore belly dance (being mindful of issues of cultural appropriation), trance and ecstatic dance such as Gabrielle Roth’s Five Rhythms, or a dance form that is grounded in your own culture. Don’t limit yourself. You’re just as likely to find me dancing to heavy metal as to drums or Goddess chants!
- Yoga: Another way I like to start my day is by doing a short series of yoga poses to wake up my body and to center my spirit. I’ve been practicing yoga much of my adult life, but I return to very simple poses when I start my day. You do not need to be super flexible or have a certain body shape to do yoga -- every body is a yoga body! Learning a few gentle poses via a class, a YouTube video, or a yoga app is a great way to start. There are many different styles of yoga and all poses can be modified to work with your body and range of motion.
- Walking Meditations. If you have difficulty sitting still to meditate, a walking meditation can be a great way to incorporate both meditation and intentional movement into your life. My favorite type of walking meditation is walking a labyrinth, but that’s not always possible with a busy schedule. A short walk around your block or through a local park can be a sacred experience if you allow yourself to focus on the natural world around you. In the heat of a Texas summer, when it was too hot to go out, I’ve even used my treadmill time as a walking meditation!
You should also feel free to experiment with other types of intentional movement, including tai chi or other martial arts, stretching, forms of exercise that you enjoy -- I’ve definitely used my time in the gym or the pool as a time to work on the health of my spirit as well as my body -- or anything else that feels right to you. Maybe your moving meditation is to spend some time on your kids’ swingset in the backyard, to wash your dishes, or to dig in your flower beds. Any movement done with awareness and intention can be a part of your practice.
Build a Practice That’s Yours
The forms your regular practice takes aren’t nearly as important as building a practice that feels right to you. While I have given you some suggestions in the preceding pages, you will ultimately be the one to decide what works best for you and feels authentic. As you read further into Feminist Witchcraft and explore the writings of other practitioners, and as you meet others and enter community (if you so choose), you’ll encounter all sorts of ideas about what regular practice can look like. I encourage you to experiment and try things out. I also encourage you to think about the things that are important to you in your life, and to consider treating them as sacred too. For instance, as I am typing this chapter, I am thinking of my fingers flying over the keyboard as sacred movement, and of the finished product as a gift to community and to Goddess. If you are a cook or a baker, perhaps your time in the kitchen becomes infused with sacredness and intention.
Also know that your practice will change over time. When we first begin, we are typically full of enthusiasm and want to try all the things. But life can also get in the way -- modern life keeps us so occupied and distracted -- and you might realize that a detailed morning practice that worked for you at one point is now incompatible with your life, or with the season of your life. For those of us raised in the religious traditions dominant in the West, this can bring with it a sense of shame or of being a “bad” practitioner. Be gentle with yourself if your practice slips or changes over time, or if you need to take a break to attend to life’s matters -- remember that it’s all sacred! You may also find over time that different practices take on meaning for you, or that you outgrow some practices that were once important to you. This is also OK. We are meant to grow and to change, and our practice will grow and change along with it.
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