Pagan Studies

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Creating Sacred Space with Pagan Prison Inmates – IV

Altars

As I mentioned in a previous post, our altar went from a 24” square of white cloth with two pillar candles, a leather pentacle about 4” across, a stick of incense, a bowl and a shaker of salt to one with larger purple altar cloth bearing a Celtic design, an abalone shell, some feathers, and a chunk of amethyst crystal.

We Pagans have no organizations that support practitioners (Witchen or otherwise) in prisons or other places with no or very limited resources, nor do we have any that support the efforts of priestesses like me who volunteer with these people.  That topic is fodder for subsequent posts.

The inmates at San Quentin have benefitted by the fact that some Pagans who know me have contributed to their circle.  I’ve mentioned Kemetic Matt Whealton who provided us with banners and has ordered some supplies from AzureGreen; that order is somewhere in the process of being approved by various prison authorities.  I was telling some Witchen friends about the work at a social gathering some months ago, and two of them gave me donations to be used in this work.  They obviously support this effort and they trust that any money they give me will be used to its benefit.  They do not require an accounting of how the money has been spent. 

We humans tend to be visual.  The inmates have told me they appreciate images.  We Witches tend to use a lot of ‘stuff’ in our rituals – visuals, aromas, lighting, colors, tools, music, chanting, rhythm, bells, and the like.

Sacred Images

I would love to see some statuary on our altar.  However, since that’s not likely primarily due to the constraints of what can be used and the potential for misuse (brass, for instance, or marble can be used as weapons).  Not that I think these inmates would do that, but they could, and I don’t want to jeopardize this effort by pushing too hard against DOCR regulations.

So one of my first purchases with these donations were three Plexiglas stands in which to mount images of deities on our altar.  Two are vertical and one is horizontal and they hold standard 8-1/2” x 11” paper.  I got approval to bring them in.

I found colorful images of the deities they had been working with, Isis and Ra, and printed them to insert in these stands. So now we have something vertical, and more visible, on our altar.

Nearly every time I come to the prison, I bring different images for those stands.  We keep them in plastic slip sheets in their Binder of Shadows[1] so we can use them whenever we want to.

b2ap3_thumbnail_angel-oak-tree-l.jpeg

Depending upon what we’re doing in a particular meeting, whether celebrating a sabbat or learning about various concepts, lore, or deities, I now bring different images to put in these stands.  For example, at Yule we had the Oak King in one vertical, the Holly King in the other, and an image of them dueling in the central horizontal stand.  At Ostara we had a photograph of beautifully colored eggs in the center.[2]  When learning about Cernunnos, we had images of him in the verticals and this image in the horizontal stand.

I need to be mindful to avoid images with nudity, so I won’t be bringing Isis with Horus at her breast.  In spite of that prohibition, I can enhance their lives and practices by bringing printouts of deities, charts, and the like.

Month after month the specialness of our circle space grows.


[1]   More about our Binder of Shadows in a subsequent post.

[2]   More about Yule, Ostara, and other sabbats in subsequent posts.

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Aline O’Brien (M. Macha NightMare), Witch at Large, has circled with people of diverse Pagan paths throughout the U.S., and in Canada and Brazil.  Author of Witchcraft and the Web (2001) and Pagan Pride (2004), and co-author, with Starhawk, of The Pagan Book of Living and Dying (1997), Macha has also contributed to anthologies, periodicals, textbooks, and encyclopedias.  A member of the American Academy of Religion, the Marin Interfaith Council, and the Nature Religion Scholars Network, Macha also serves as a national interfaith representative for the Covenant of the Goddess (CoG) and on the Advisory Board of the Sacred Dying Foundation.  Having spent the last eleven years developing and teaching at Cherry Hill Seminary, the first and only seminary serving the Neopagan community, Macha now serves on its Board of Directors. An all-round Pagan webweaver, she speaks on behalf of Paganism to news media and academic researchers, and lectures at colleges, universities and seminaries. www.machanightmare.com

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