Ceremony is one of the most fundamental tools animists use. In the West, we can get a bit suspicious when we hear the words ceremony or ritual; most of us only have experience of religious rituals like Catholic Mass, stuffy civil ceremonies like graduation, or Satanic rituals in dodgy newspapers!

But ceremony is a powerful way to access parts of ourselves and the world that are usually hidden. Ceremony works on the principle of active symbolism, intent, and set-apart or sacred space; through symbolising our intent, we can communicate that intent to our own unconscious, energy and environment more clearly than if we were to use our rational, word-obsessed minds.

There are many, many ceremonies that are used in traditions the world over, both animistic and religious, and you can find a ceremony for almost anything you need.

Some ceremonies you might be familiar with are:

  • Funerals are usually (but not always) ceremonies to mark the letting go of a person’s life and to give structure to mourning. They can also have elements intented to help the deceased through the transition.
  • Rites of passage, such as First Communion, can be found not only in Western religious traditions but in animistic traditions, where by young people were given challenges to meet or were celebrated as they made their passage into adulthood.
  • Weddings often, of course, include a type of ceremony that we all recognise. The intent is obvious – to call upon good fortune and love for the happy couple.
  • Animistic traditions have ceremonies for healing. Ceremonies like these can be performed by a professional or by the person calling on the healing.

You can create your own ceremonies, and it can often be very powerful to do so. That way, you can craft the ceremony to your exact intent and resources, and to your own type of personality.

All you need to do is choose a symbolic action that matches or harmonises in some way with what you want to achieve, and to then perform the symbolic action within a set-apart or sacred space.

Symbolic actions can be anything that’s appropriate, but here are some simple examples:

  • Burning a piece of paper on an open fire
  • Throwing flowers into a river
  • Burying a stone
  • Cutting through a knotted piece of yarn
  • Getting a tattoo

Ceremonies feature prominently in my series on protection, because they are available to everyone and are independent of heritage; whatever your ancestral line, you can know with certainty that somewhere back in time your ancestors performed ceremonies.

And because of that, ceremonies can also be a solid way to re-connect with that heritage and those ancestors. They will understand the language you are using to speak with them, the language of symbolism and energy.

Sacred Space

Sacred space is a very simple, space that been set apart for a special, usually spiritual, use.

It can be set apart permanently, such as a church, temple or ring of standing stones. Or can be set apart temporarily, through ‘opening’ sacred space with a brief ritual.

Sacred space is a very important concept. It allows us to give power to ceremony, through making them clearer in intent and energy. It gives us a spiritually, symbolically and energetically clear space to do deeper spiritual work. It allows us to recharge in a calm, supportive energetic environment. And it can, in it’s own right, be a powerful protective method.

To open sacred space, all that is really needed is the strong intent to set-apart the space with a spiritual boundary. But most people find that they need a simple ritual to help keep their intent strong, and that by using their ritual over and over, it becomes more and more effective.

Examples of rituals to open sacred space include:

  • Lighting a candle
  • Calling on the four compass points
  • Calling on the elements
  • Saying a prayer
  • Calling on the ancestors
  • Drawing a boundary for the space with salt or stones

But really, anything that works for you is perfect. Something from your own heritage, if you can find an example, would be ideal, but that’s not necessary.
Sacred space is a concept inherent to all people of all heritages. It’s a fundamental principle of our spiritual experience, and we all understand it intuitively when given the chance. The most important thing is to keep your sacred space clear, both physically (so no mess) and mental (so no doing the accounts in it, unless that’s why you opened it!).

And also, remember to close it when you’re done. If you don’t, you’ll lose the effectiveness of whatever method you used, and might find it harder to open a sacred space in the future.


Altars are the one animist tool that I’d recommend for everyone. They tap into our more intuitive, creative and emotional depths, and allow us to relate to everything in our lives differently.

Altars are a kind of special sacred space, one that is set aside for the purpose of working with relationships and energy directly through physical objects. They work on the principles of symbolism, intent and attention; by representing those elements in our lives that we want to work with, they create a bridge between our concrete senses and the luminous and subtle reality that we don’t normally get to perceive.

To create an altar, you simply need to open sacred space and fill that space with objects that symbolise the elements you want to work with.

Objects that you might work with, and their possible associations, could be:

  • Actual spiritual symbols such as crosses or runes – to represent your relationship with a particular faith or tradition, or to represent their own common meaning.
  • Fabric and ribbons – to represent the fabric of your life, and the ties you have to objects within it.
  • Flowers, seeds and leaves – to represent your relationship to that particular plant, or to the natural world itself, or to represent the power of that plant.
  • Personal items like drawings or poems you’ve written – to represent your intent and feeling when you created them, or to represent your creativity.
  • Water, fire, earth or air – to represent the fundamental forces of creation, both internally and externally, and your relationship to them.
  • Images of symbolic power, such as paintings and sigils – to hold the meaning of whatever the images signify for you personally.
  • Stones, either natural or polished – to work as receptacles, holding the meaning and energy of whatever you choose for each stone.

Once your sacred space is open, you can arrange these objects however feels most appropriate. Allow your feelings and intuition to guide you more than your rational mind – you might ‘think’ that particular objects and their representations ‘should’ be arranged a certain way, but find that the arrangement that feels right to you is very different.

Allow this to unfold; it’s through allowing these feelings and the energy contained within them to have voice in a set apart space, that altars gain their power.

Also, remember that you can set up your altar with any objects you feel necessary. It’s personal, and there’s no ‘right’ way to do it; allow your altar to become a place of self exploration and expression. (The only caveat I’d add is, please, don’t use body parts from endangered animals – an image or carving can be used instead if you really need to represent a tiger, rather than real tiger skin).

Once you’ve set up your altar, you can work with it in various ways depending on what you need. As you gain more experience working with an altar, you’ll develop a feel for what kinds of work are helpful for you.

But here are some suggestions to keep in mind:

  • Bells, rattles and drums – playing music and rhythm for at your altar can help you enter a relaxed state so that you can allow understanding to surface about the placement and state of the objects/relationships.
  • Flame, incense and smoke – by feeding the altar with the light from a candle or the smoke from a bundle of herbs, you can feed the relationships themselves.
  • Oils – similarly, oils are a lovely way to make physical contact with a carving or stone, to feed the relationship it represents.
  • Re-arrangement – if you’re trying to harmonise various aspects of your life, arranging the objects that represent them in various ways can help you gain insight, as well as helping to actually shift the relationships into different patterns.
  • Breaking and creating – taking apart objects that represent relationships you’re done with can be as important as creating new objects that represent new relationships. Creating can include drawing, carving, knitting, sewing, bundling together and modelling with wax.

The important thing to remember is that you’re working with relationships.

So if you have an object on your altar that represents a family member, you aren’t trying to change that family member but to change your relationship with them – this is a subtle, but imperative, concept to keep in mind. Unintended and messy consequences occur when we begin to try to influence other people directly!

Altar are very powerful, and it’s possible to have several working at the same time.Ideas to play with are family altars, garden altars, marriage altars, body altars, work altars, creativity altars, home altars, ancestor altars and altars for working with healing energies. The possibilities are endless!

Morning 24th of June (Or Mourning)

Sitting at my computer trying to focus on a new story, or a blog post for SongBoneStar, or just anything really – and all I can think about is the future of my – yes mine, even if I’m not there all the time – country.

There’s a sense of relief that I’m not there right now, to see it on the streets, to have to talk to everyone face to face about how it went so wrong, but also guilt: Maybe I should have been there? But I just didn’t see this coming.

From where I’m sitting (on my floor cushion, in my undies cause it’s damned humid today) the forces of somnolence and silence and  silliness, of a serious lack of critical thinking skills, of poor educational priorities, of a media system that’s forgotten it’s thoughtful and honest ancestry, and of old, white dinosaurs who’re frightened by these crazy colourful things called mammals – all these forces have won.

And I’m angry – really spitting angry actually – that the generation that doesn’t even understand the world as it stands now, you know, the ones who struggle with word processors and need help unlocking their phones, that these are the people who have lead the charge when it’s not even them that have to live with the consequences.

I know, the world will go on turning. And with friends, and family, and bit of spit and shine, we’ll figure it out. But you can bet your arse I’m backing the Scottish devolution, and when that happens I’ll be claiming my Scottish citizenship with pride.

Model of Human Existence

As I said earlier, paradox is important when approaching mysticism or animism. My ultimate understanding, for the moment, is that I am a movement or projection of the fabric of reality, which I call Spirit. On another level, I understand that as a human I exist on a number of levels, as a body; as a collection of thoughts, emotions and perceptions; as a field of energy and symbolism; and as undifferentiated, un-conditioned Spirit.

Most of the time, we’re not really aware of these different layers of existence. We’re almost entirely focused on our physical and mental aspects, so much that we believe we are these aspects. We mostly forget about our energetic nature, and how to work with it; this is the level of reality that animism works with, through symbolism, ritual, ceremony and art. We also forget about our ultimate nature, as the un-conditioned fabric of existence; impersonal, unified, the reality of the mystic.

Of course, all of these levels are not in fact separate or different at all. There’s no real delineation between our bodies, thoughts, energies and Spirit; they all exist here, now. They are simply perceptual stances, tuning reality to a particular station depending on how we want to interact with it. As far as I know, there could be other maps of how reality works, maps that are useful for interacting with life in totally new and different ways. But this is the map that I’ve experienced to be reliable, relatively workable, and shared with others who’ve had the same experiences as me.