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Creating Sacred Tools, A Ritual For Manifesting Spirit

Carved Box

Sacred objects can be a very important part of one’s spiritual practice. When we make our own tools in a sacred way, the act of creation itself is a ritual, a powerful mixture of our intention and the movement of spirit through our bodies. In this way we begin filling the piece with our personal magic at the first glimmering seed stage of an idea, through careful selection of materials and working environment, so by the time we begin using them as ritual objects, on altars, or in sacred play, they are already rich receptacles of spirit, a deep well available for us to tap as we need to remember and reconnect. These principles, like any spiritual practice, are part of a whole life and are applicable to its many facets. Play with them and see what works for you and compost what doesn’t.


Beginnings, Intuition and Intention

Sacred SpiralCreation stories everywhere open with the void, a great sea of darkness. It is from this great, watery deep that spirit births the entire cosmos. It is also from this place that our own creations are first born, as a lightning flash of inspiration or a knowing that swells up rich and full. There is often a stirring or restlessness, a physical pull that indicates something is moving and needs to come to form. Though sometimes we are the channel and inspiration comes fully formed and raring to go, we are also able to nurture and open our connection with the ancient collective unconscious to aid in the birthing process. There are as many ways to do this as there are people; meditation, movement, writing a stream of thought, doodling, tarot, walking in nature, drumming and shamanic journeying, anything that stills your waking mind and engages your younger self, the one who dances wildly to the song of spirit.

Your own intuition is the most important tool throughout the entire process. Taking the time and space to feel your way, keeping your awareness open to spirit, and trusting what you know in your bones to be true and right will guide you in your creative process. Staying aware of how you feel as you work will help you make choices as you go. The voice of Spirit speaks to you through your intuition. By restoring reverence for one’s intuitive voice each of us begins to mend the split patriarchal culture has torn in the fabric of our beings.

In addition to following your intuitive current, focusing your intention from the very beginning creates an energy that carries you through the creative process. If you know why you’re doing something and know what energy you want your piece to hold, then you have a framework that will support you while you work. This need not be specific, most often my intention is focused on simply being open to spirit and fostering connection. Our intention is a powerful force, affecting the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual parts of ourselves, out environment, all of Earth and the Universe as its energy ripples out to the four corners of the cosmos. The creative process now becomes a meditation on what you want to bring into being. As you work in this way additional insights bubble up about the nature of the piece and bringing further clarity about where you are on your path at the moment.

Working With the Seeds of Inspiration

Your Book of Secrets

Journaling is an invaluable tool for all of life. When employed while you’re engaged in creative work, a journal helps you stay focused on your intention, growing into a record that can be useful for future reflection, taking the pressure off you to understand everything in the moment. You are making something that may be a part of your life for years to come, and your understanding of its function will deepen over time. Now you are just beginning to form a relationship with your creation and will be able to feel what sort of connection is developing between you. Of course, knowing how you feel doesn’t always reveal truths on the spot, but keeping track of what you feel can illuminate truth later on, much like how a mother can’t know all the physical and emotional complexities of the child in her womb, for the moment the two of them are one, wrapped in the profound mystery they are living out. Might we all sink into the wonder of what we are creating, and swim in that current.

A journal can hold the thoughts that come, photographs of what inspires as well as our working process, drawings and collage, poetry, dreams (both from our sleeping and waking times), records of our journeying, a list as well as samples of materials gathered and what correlation came to mind as you worked with them, song lyrics or chants that you sing or listen to while working, on and on…

When you are creating on a specific project it can be helpful to begin working with a stone also. Pick one that is speaking to you and seems willing to join you on this adventure, one that represents something to you that you want to remember or connect with while working. This could be a reminder of your life path, your ancestors, some part of yourself that you treasure, or something you want to call into your life. Take some time to meditate with this stone, listen to what wisdom it holds already, and breathe into the stone what it means to you. In many ancient cultures stones are receptacles of power and wisdom, the very bones of the earth. Just sitting with them and feeling all they have witnessed is dizzying. The stone you are working with is a very old being, requiring respect and reverence.

Creating a Sacred Womb in Which to Work

Sacred SpaceMost of us have busy lives and full homes, but even so you have the amazing opportunity to create an environment in which to work. I have found myself in a wide variety of living situations over the years, some pretty tight, but even if it’s only a few square feet in the sleeping loft, I have always staked my claim on some space to work and keep my sacred things. Preparing your work space is a ritual of beginning. If possible, find a space where you can leave your things out, or at least won’t be in the middle of household activity (unless of course you want your object to be steeped in the rich hustle and bustle of your house mates, young ones, animal friends, you get the idea…). You are casting a circle that will hold you and your creation as you work together. As you start clearing the area of clutter and bits of debris you are also clearing out stagnant energy. Burning white sage leaves or other pure incense has an incredibly cleansing effect on a room, and if you continue to smudge when you begin sacred work the sweet smell of the smoke soon becomes a deep reminder of spirit. Now when I smell sage smoke or burning copal resin I feel like I’m being called home into my body, helping me find my center, setting aside the stresses and worries that I may be carrying so I can focus on the work at hand. Leave a window cracked open to let the smoke carry your prayers and wishes to the spirits as well as clearing off that which you no longer need.

I love altar building, they sprout up like colonies of mushrooms on every vacant shelf, nook or cranny in the house, flourish for a while then are reabsorbed into the collection of totems, crystals, rocks, feathers, bones, and bits that sleep in baskets safe out of the way until the day they once again set up camp out on the great plateau of the dining room table.

Altar building is also a way to draw together the things that inspire you, that feed you. It is sacred play, a reunion with stone, plant and animal friends, the companionable flame of a candle, a reminder of all those who walk with you on this journey. As you prepare your work space think about what special things you would like to have with you. This can be as simple as a single candle of spirit and inspiration that you burn while working, or it could be a cloth covered with items of meaning for you: totem animals, artwork or photographs, tarot cards, beautiful crystals, other ritual objects... The whole idea is to have the material things that bring you close to the mystery of spirit with you, carrying you into sacred space so you can open to what needs to be born. When I can I also build altars on my equipment, even if it’s only a magnet on my sewing machine, this helps me remember that my more mundane tools sacred too.


Material Selection: Branch and Stone, Flame and Bone

What and Who are you Gathering?

Eagle FeatherThese claws were born, ran through the woods and field. They saw many seasons, chased prey, howled with the pack in the icy nights. These claws lived. When I hear a coyote, how can I wear these and not feel called to run with the pack? How can I not know the sharp ice and the rich soil and moss under-foot? How can I deny that these are of and hold the spirit of a passionately live creature? I wear them in the swirling snow and feel my body shift ever so slightly, I howl, I pounce, I run and run and run. They are not mine… I am theirs.

Material selection is a pivotal point. You are choosing what energies you are bringing together into your piece. Respect is so important throughout this journey but here you are beginning to touch bits of the Earth. Your materials are eyes and noses, they hear and feel. They have walked and flown and set on the Earth, in the sea, under the stars and sun and moon. They are filled with the grace of living on earth. Knowing where your materials come from, how they have been processed, what they are made of connects you more easily to the wisdom that they hold.

It’s like cooking lunch and taking an egg from the fridge. Whether you got the egg from the grocery store or the coop in the back yard, the egg was formed in the warm body of a bird who ate grain that grew green from the earth, watered by the rain, ripened by the sun… Being conscious of this opens up a whole world, you are still holding an egg, but you are also holding the earth, sky, cycle of seasons, warm feathers, the photosynthetic wonder of sun light turned into nourishment. If the egg comes from the back yard you are holding the spirit of a place you know. If the egg comes from the farm stand down the road you are holding a trip to market, the smell of onions and fresh-baked bread, rows of glowing, amber honey pots and streams of familiar conversation.

Knowing where your materials come from is a powerful connection to the earth, even if it is simply recognizing how it grew (even stones grow), where it lived, etc… I have found that starting form scratch when I can helps me stay connected and aware. At the same time I also know what my skills are and that may mean buying something to incorporate because to make it myself is cost prohibitive, or not currently within the realm of my creative abilities. Shell beads are much easier to purchase than to make, allowing me to complete a project while it is still alive in me.

I try to let spirit lead where it may and trust that I will come to things when I need to. At the moment I can’t carve stone but I can carve wood. If there were something that I felt needed to be made of stone and it didn’t feel right to be made of wood I would wait on this project until I felt ready to invest the time and money to become more fluent at carving stone. By then there would be other creations lined up to come out and something new would be born from the original desire that led me to stone work.

The Bigger Picture: Ethics and Responsibility

HomageAgain I must stress the importance of respect and compassion through this process, keeping in mind how our actions impact the earth will help us make good decisions. Remember as you are collecting or purchasing materials that everything comes with physical and energetic price that someone has to pay. If gathering from the wild, do so with respect and gratitude. Be careful to leave plenty behind so the plant, animal, or mineral people can replenish themselves. Take only what you need and leave a song or a gift behind. When you can, try to find suppliers who also respect the earth and her creatures. Showing gratitude for the materials you buy fosters an important connection. Stones, bones, hair, and wood… all contain a living spirit. Though easier to feel in raw materials, processing does not strip spirit from them, we just have to try harder to remember that it’s there.

All resources are renewable or non-renewable, but if we expand our notion of what that means then digging a root, felling a tree, and using an animal’s skin means killing the whole creature, she will not renew herself and continue to live and grow as a direct result of our actions. Collecting empty shells from the beach where the wave tossed them and bones from coyote’s dinner leftovers in the woods also mean that a creature has died, but in it’s own time by predation and there is a subtle energetic difference held within them. Using wool shorn from a living sheep, antlers shed by a deer in winter after the rut, a branch blown from a tree in a wind storm, or reeds cut from the marsh leaves the creature alive to renew itself. The materials we use hold a collection of energetic experiences, how the animal lived, where the rock slept, what the tree heard and saw are the core of this energy body. How and by whom it was collected, how and what sort of processing it experienced, how and where it has been stored and for how long, are all layers of energetic influence that are wrapped into it and back into the earth. None of these materials are better or worse to use, it is simply a matter of making decisions that consider all the costs.

Part of this cost is also what you will leave behind, waste products and the actual thing you are making will eventually return to the earth. What will you leave as your legacy? Be a responsible consumer and remember all the costs, both the ones you personally incur and the costs due to decisions made during manufacture and packaging of the materials you will use. If you would allow me to indulge myself for a moment as I climb onto my own personal soap box, petrol chemicals are completely ubiquitous in our culture at this point in time and they will be the death of us. If you have the choice, please choose alternatives to plastic, or heavily packaged products. Once you start trying to circumnavigate the plastic abyss, you will be amazed at the wealth of innovative techniques and materials you will come across. This is an adventure! Why limit it to plastics, hemp is an amazing plant and is a more environmentally friendly alternative to wood based papers, cotton cloth, on and on… We have power as consumers. We create a market when we choose to buy an item. Living in a free market economy, if we want something chances are there is someone who is willing to sell it to us. It is up to us to keep aware of the bigger picture. Did the material come from a scarce or threatened resource? How was the ecosystem treated during and after harvest? How did the harvest of this material affect the remaining biological community?

We all make choices, and I am no purist, but I try to consume as gently as I can, with compassion and awareness. Above all else, ask before you take. Try to get a sense if the bone wants to come home with you, that rock may not be ready to leave right now, and that feather may be working really hard to get your attention. As an avid and life long collector of bits that cross my path, this has been a powerful lesson for me, that and knowing when it’s time for me to let go so they can return to the earth.

Learn the Lore

Though everyone will have their own way of working, to make work that is meaningful and strong enough to have a life of its own I need to get my heart and mind working together as I use my body to help give form to inspiration. This may mean beginning to create then opening the books and researching the tool, which inspires more creation, which makes me ask more questions about other’s experience as I sort out what the tool means to me. Or it may mean coming across a reference to an object that resonates with me in that moment, piquing my curiosity and leading to shamanic journeying and other work to explore what the tool may mean for me on my path. Each new object or concept I encounter is an opportunity to sift through myth, ancient art, and mysteries of the natural world as I try to get to the roots of a thing. To peel back layers of dust and superstition (which is often a great place to start) heaped on these ancient traditions and tools by later conquers, reading between the lines to hear the subtleties that whisper of deeper meanings and to the music of the spheres that runs through all things. I keep digging and journeying and practicing with the object and slowly begin to understand the depths of what is growing within and around it.

Learning folk wisdom about your materials can shed light on the synchronicities that occur as you follow your intuition in deciding what to use, or help inform a choice between various options. There is a wealth of information about magical properties and energies that correlate with trees, animals, minerals, plants, symbols, colors, numbers… the list goes on and on. By doing some research or being mindful of what feelings arise in us we can become more aware of what energy is all around us and make choices about what we whish to call in, drawing up our own table of correspondences as we go, connecting us to the symbolic language of the sea of collective knowing.

When you get right down to it, for the tool to be powerful you should use colors, imagery, and symbols that feel right to you. Tables and charts are fun and helpful but it’s what the tool invokes in you, what the tool reminds you of that is important. The moral of the story is: if you want it to be blue, paint it blue.

Tools You Use: Tradition versus Technology

LifetoolsWhen it comes down to tools, at this point in history there are many options before us. It’s like going down the road. You can drive down a country road in the summer and see the trees and the sparkling lake. If you ride your bike you also smell the pine resin and feel the sun on your back. If you walk on foot you see the individual plants as they grow from the soil and hear the bird’s song, gravel crunching under foot. As you walk you may also get bitten by mosquitoes, and have to stop and dig a pebble out of your shoe. You will intimately know your surroundings, or the swirling landscape of your thoughts, but you will have crossed the land bit by bit and will have a deep appreciation for the distance you have passed. In the car you may have seen and even smelt what you passed, or you may have put on the air conditioning and listened to the radio as you followed the car in front of you, but you most certainly got to your destination more quickly than if you had walked there. Whether you’re walking or dancing or driving, what you get out of the journey depends on where you put your attention.

Applying this principle to our creative process, if you sew the altar cloth by hand, you are undertaking an extended meditative task that can be extremely profound. Each stitch is filled with your intention, chant, or prayer. The cloth becomes saturated with this energy and vibrates with it. In the same breath, if you bite off more than you can chew, a project in this style can begin to loose its appeal, its life energy dissipating as the cloth sits in the work basket and begins to feel like a nagging chore rather than a joyful expression of inspiration. That’s not to say that you couldn’t work through it and find the life in the cloth again, but for me these projects often become great gifts for someone else, they just don’t touch what I wanted them to when I began. They don’t mean as much to me as I wanted or needed them to.

Other times I may want to bypass technology but don’t know enough about the process to achieve the results I desire. For example, judging my early attempts at pit firing clay I have a lot to learn before I can successfully fire my clay figures in that way.

Trust the process and your intuition. It may feel very important to work by hand and see what emerges, or you may want to work quickly with a band saw and grinder to develop the form and move into detail work. Or you may want to leave the piece rough and begin living with it and see what happens.

Be gentle with yourself as you work. Knowing your personal work style is very important. It may be much easier to start things then stick with them to the end, or you may be fine spending a few hours a month and savor a creation for a year or more. Getting disappointed happens too, but stay open to where spirit may be moving your work and experiment. Hanging on to an idea that wants to grow into something new is extremely frustrating.

Friends on the Journey: Seasons, Cycles, and Passers By

Working outside can be amazing, or extremely frustrating. Keeping an eye out for who comes by as you work can help illuminate what energies walk with you or are beginning to dwell in your creation. This past fall I was working on a series of large wall hangings about Raven Woman and the wisdom she carries. I often hauled my work table out into the yard so I could sew outside. Time and time again I would hang a newly completed piece in the pine grove to get a better look at her and clusters of crows would fly over and caw.

As you work there is a whole cycle of activity surrounding you. The dance of the sun and the earth moves us from day to night to day and through the seasons. What time of day do you prefer to work? Does this change depending on the type of project? How do seasonal changes inspire your work? Where is the moon in her cycle? Are the ocean’s tides high or low? Where are the other planets as they wander through the stars of the zodiac? What is the weather like?

All these energies are part of the matrix your creation is formed in and of. You can choose to engineer the time and place or you can cycle through it like the tide and simply notice what is happening around you. Seeing your place within the cycle is a great gift. For example, as I sit here and write, it is just after sunset. The moon, just past full, will soon be rising in the east. It is a week and 3 days after Winter Solstice, clear and cold. For me this is a time of long nights, dazzling ice and stars, clarity, insight, and dream, the light of inspiration growing with the new sun.

Make Some Noise

If given the choice I usually opt for silence, open the window and listen to the birds or the wind in the trees. But sometimes music is just what I need. By carefully selecting music that complements the work I’m doing I am able to keep my focus, maintain energy, and add a certain liveliness to my work atmosphere. It also helps is there is excess house noise or other radios turned on. Choose with care though, our bodies are mostly water, an amazing conductor of energy, so what you listen to will come through in the work. Your creation will hold the energy of the music as well, at the very least as a reminder of what you heard while you worked.

Time for reflection is valuable throughout the process. I often stand back and look at what I’ve done, but the challenge can be to keep my mind from overworking things or wandering down an unrelated train of thought. Drumming breaks have been the solution for me. I will stand back and drum for the spirit of the piece, for the ancestors, for my heart, and in this pause I often gain clarity about what to do next even though, or possibly because, I’m not actively seeking it.

Tending the Temple: Body Wisdom

Body WisdomI find moving in sacred space a timeless experience, precious opportunity to drop into the deeper currents of my soul. Creating the space to ground spirit and transition back into ordinary reality is an important part of staying whole. The body is a fabulous teacher of balance. As you dance with spirit it is easy to forget simple things your body needs, like water and breaks for stretching and rest, food and more. Remembering that our body is the tool which allows us to create, as well as the home where spirit dwells makes it a sacred act to care for our bodies. My aching shoulders and back teach me I’ve been still too long and need to move. Making sure I drink water through the day means building in break time later when, as long as I’m paying attention, I stop to pee, often providing the opportunity to forage for snacks, look at the clouds, and play with the dog.

These pauses are important to the process of creation and can often provide new perspective and inspiration as we return and see our work through fresh eyes.

Opening to the energy of our creation, of the materials and the universe changes us as well so it’s good to take this time to rest and digest what is happening as we go, enabling us to honour the creative process fully and be whole as we work.

Clearing, Feeding and Blessing

As you finish your work remember that you have brought together many pieces to make something new. As you complete the creation of this new whole you have the opportunity to welcome it into the world. Creating a ritual of blessing can be as simple or as complex as you feel it needs to be.

Energetically clearing all that doesn’t need to be a part of your piece is like physically sweeping off dust. Use the elements that feel right for you and your creation, bathe it in smoke from burning sage, incense, or other burning herbs or resins. Set your creation in a bowl of water or salt under the light of the moon or sun. Leave it hung in a tree for the weather to wash clean. Sweep away stuck energy with a feather fan or balsam fir tips. Wear it in the shower or the rain. Sing a song to your creation and feed it with a pinch or cornmeal. The most important part is to bless the object you have made with your intention, with the spirit that inspired its creation. This is what makes it magic; this is what keeps it alive.


So what does this thing do?

The tools we make and feed and bless are a connection to something much larger than ourselves, a reminder of a truth, a knowing. As you work with your tool your relationship will deepen, become more familiar, and more truths will be revealed. During its creation more may have been revealed about how to use your object, now it’s time to experiment.

Understanding that ritual tools aren’t always used in ordinary reality can be very helpful. We make them, get to know them and trust that we will know what to do with them when the time comes.

This became clear to me when I felt compelled to hand silver a scrying mirror. I had never done any scrying before but was really drawn to the mirror. Now six months later, having worked with this mirror the exploration deepens. I’ve researched how mirror has been an important part of ancient people’s lives, as a doorway to other realms, a soul catcher, fire starter, a reminder that all reality is a reflection of the divine, and mysteries beyond my understanding at the moment, I have learned much about reality and the importance of reflection. I still wasn’t sure what mirror meant to me. It felt like an important tool, but scrying didn’t seem to be part of it for me. I was thrilled to find myself pulling the mirror from my pocket while in the depths of a shamanic journey, using it to perceive both my spirit and power animals. To look into my mirror in ordinary reality and see the spark in my luminous eyes and be reminded of the sacred pool has been a rich experience and place of learning, but to call on my mirror from the non-ordinary reality and know what to do from some deep part of myself was an important reminder to trust spirit, and not get frustrated when my thinking mind gets tangled in doing something “right.”

You may need to use your tool in dream, in journey space, in waking reality, or some realm beyond our understanding in the current moment, but trusting that you will know when you need to and giving yourself the space to be in that place of not knowing is a great gift. As a small girl I received both a tool box and a sewing kit. It took time for me to learn how to use all the tools they contained, but I will never forget what it felt like to look in and see saw and drill, scissors and needle, and know that I had what I needed and would figure out the rest. So here we go, best of luck as you fill your own tool kit.

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