Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Review Time! Handcrafted Cedar Wiccan Altar by DragonOak!

The Place Where Magic Happens!

Throughout history altars have played an important role within religion and spirituality. Altars have been used to strengthen spiritual devotion and to act as a central point for religious practices. In most ancient religions altars were the place where ceremonies and religious rites took place. In modern times altars can still be found in many religions including Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism and Neo-Paganism. The use of altars within such a diversity of religious backgrounds stands as a testament to the amazing spiritual benefits people of all faiths have experienced through the use of altars. Even though each religion has their own way of setting up and utilizing altars, all agree that having a personal altar for prayer and devotional practices can be a moving spiritual experience. An altar is a place where you focus on the Divine and the power of the Divine working in your life. For many it is a place to relax and contemplate the mysteries of life. For others it is a place to simply let go and unwind. In honor of this beautiful tradition and Wiccan Awareness Month, I have decided to share my knowledge of how altars are used within Wicca.

DragonOak's Hand-Crafted Wiccan Altar:
Amazing Craftsmanship!
For Wiccans an altar is a sacred place for prayer, mediation, and ritual work. A Wiccan altar is a place set-aside for only these purposes – it is a place where one focuses on the Divine and changing one's life for the better. For this reason altars are blessed and consecrated with the highest good of all in mind. Altars are often central to both spirituality and personal expression as well. You can often tell much about a person by the type of altar they choose and by the items they choose to keep on their altar. Choosing and setting up an altar is a profound spiritual experience. But the truly profound experiences come from using the altar to aid your spirituality and your relationship with the Divine. At DragonOak.com they understand this principle and the impact having a personal altar can have in one's life. For this reason I choose to request this beautiful handcrafted altar for review. Unlike many altars you will find elsewhere all of DragonOak's products are crafted from solid wood and made with love and care.

About The Wood:
Only all natural woods are used in the creation of DragonOak altars. The use of all natural woods adds great spiritual meaning to each altar. The altar featured in this review is created from solid cedar – a beautiful wood with great spiritual meaning. The English word “cedar” comes from the Hebrew "qatar" which means, “to smudge”. Smudging is a time-honored practice of ritual cleansing through the use of herbal smoke and prayer. The Hebrew meaning indicates that cedar wood may have been used in ancient purification and cleansing rituals. The idea of cedar wood as sacred can be found throughout history. Ancient Sumeria revered the cedar tree over 7,000 years ago, calling it the World Tree, the abode of Ea, their chief deity. The Christian Bible also has numerous references to the cedar tree, including its use in the Ark of the Covenant. Cedar wood is symbolic of healing, purification and spiritual protection. It is thought that spiritual properties of cedar help to promote peaceful thoughts and aid in interpreting messages from the inner self. Due to the use of all natural materials each altar created by DragonOak is a unique work of art.

About The Designs:
Stunning Artistic Details!
The beautiful designs on this altar were created by hand using a technique called Pyrography. Pyrography is the art of decorating wood or other materials with burn marks resulting from the controlled application of a heated object such as a poker. It is also known as wood burning. As someone who enjoys wood burning as a hobby, I have to say that I honestly don't know how DragonOak created such prefect lines. The detail of the pyrography is very impressive. It is dark and neat with well defined lines. Simply Beautiful! The designs burned into this altar are sacred Wiccan symbols and statements of faith. Let's take a look at the meaning behind each of these beautiful designs.

Maiden, Mother & Crone:
Gorgeous Symbolism!
Along the top of the altar is written "Maiden Mother & Crone: The Power of Three Within Thee". This statement is a celebration of the power and wisdom of the Divine Feminine. It is also a celebration of the Divine working in us and through us. In Wicca the Divine Feminine is viewed as having three sacred aspects of young woman, mother, and grandmother. Similar to the Christian Trinity, the three faces of the Divine Feminine are considered to be one Divine being.

The Triple Moon:
Towards the front of the altar is a large Triple Moon symbol. This symbol represents the three aspects of the Goddess that of the Maid, Mother and Crone. In Wicca the moon is viewed as a sacred symbol of the Divine Feminine. Each phase of the moon has its own meaning and symbolism. The waxing moon is symbolic of the Maid and is a good time for setting goals or beginning new projects. The full moon is symbolic of the Mother and is the prefect time for healing, giving thanks and creating change in your life. The waning moon is symbolic of the Crone (or Grandmother) and is traditionally time for banishing negativity. Each aspect is sacred and helpful in your daily life.

Earth, Air, Fire, Water:
Simply Elegant!
In front of the altar is written "Blessed Be - Earth Air Fire Water - Blessed Be". Blessed Be is a traditional Wiccan greeting and blessing. It is also used many times in the Christian Bible making Blessed Be a good blessing for people of all faiths. The four elements of earth, air, fire and water are called upon in Wiccan rituals. Each element is symbolic of an aspect that we all seek to find in ourselves: Earth – Strength/Fortitude, Air – Intelligence/Wisdom, Fire – Passion/Courage, Water – Emotion/Creativity.

The Pentagram:
A Fabulous Interfaith Symbol!
A pentagram is burned around each candle holder. Due to the misunderstandings most people have in regard to this symbol I have decided to share a sermon I wrote about it below.

"The pentagram (or pentacle as it is known when not written or drawn) is one of the most persistent symbols in human history. It is one of oldest symbols dating back to the time of Uruk of 3500 BC in Ur of the Chaldees in Ancient Mesopotamia. The pentagram is found in many ancient cultures including India, China, Greece, Egypt, Babylon and the Mayans of Central America. Each culture has its own symbolism attached to the five points of the pentagram.

    Wicca Symbolism: The Elements
  • In Wicca, the five points represent the five elements and their metaphysical aspects. The element of earth represents physical endurance and stability and is the symbol of the lower left point. The lower right point is symbolic of fire, which represents courage. The element of water represents intuition and emotion and is the meaning of the upper right point. The upper left point symbolizes air and represents intelligence. The fifth point is symbolic of the element of spirit, and represents the divine. The meaning is basically similar to the old saying "mind over matter," which means the ability of one's spirit to control the lower aspects of our being.
    Wicca Symbolism: Other
  • As the primary symbol used by Wiccans and other Neo-Pagans, the pentagram also represents aspects of their faith. To some, the pentagram represents the spiritual aspects of life and seeking secret knowledge. To others the five points symbolize the four directions of north, south, east and west with the fifth point representing sanctity of spirit. When within a circle, the star symbolizes wholeness, unity and divine knowledge.
    Jewish Symbolism
  • In antiquity the Hebrews viewed the pentagram as a symbol of divine truth. The five points were ascribed to the five books of the Pentateuch and to truth found in Hebrew scriptures of the Torah. In the Jewish Kabbalistic tradition, the points represent the archetypal forces of justice, mercy, wisdom, understanding and transcendent splendor.
    Christian Symbolism

  • In antiquity Christians viewed the pentagram as a lesser-used symbol of their faith. The five points of the pentagram represent the five wounds of Christ. Early Christians also attributed the pentagram as a symbol of the Trinity with the two other points representing the two natures of Christ. It also symbolizes truth, the work of the Creator, the five joys of the Virgin Mary, the Alpha and the Omega and the five virtues of generosity, fellowship, purity, courtesy and mercy. To knights it represented the five knightly virtues of generosity, courtesy, chastity, chivalry and piety."
Embedded Candle Holders:
This altar features two brass candleholders that are embedded into the wood. The candleholders provide a wonderful way to burn your candles safely without having to worry about knocking your candles over during ritual. The holders are designed for standard 6" household candles that can be found in most supermarkets or candle shops. Sadly due to my allergies, I was unable to find any taper candles that were soy-free, dye-free and unscented.

With the needs of the solitary practitioner in mind, this altar is designed to be portable so that you can calibrate ritual anywhere! The surface of this altar measures 18" by 9 1/2" by 13" tall making it easy to travel with and easy to store.

About DragonOak:
DragonOak was born R.S. Elvey, June 22, 1964 in Flagstaff AZ. He was inspired by his grandfather who was fully self sufficient although totally blind. Encouraged by his mother in all craft endeavors and rewarded with praise by his grandmother for diligence and hard work. DragonOak received his BA in secondary education at SMSU in 1991

DragonOak began to apple his artistic abilities in the medium of woodwork and pyrography, the art of wood burning, in 2003 when a local metaphysical shop requested his help in building boxes with mystical themes. Prior to this the woodwork had been a hobby. Today DragonOak creates a variety of wood products in his home wood shop in Southwest Missouri, and sells both wholesale and retail for a worldwide audience. DragonOak desires that his crafting be both artistic and functional. To that end he has created trinket boxes, ouija type spirit boards and other pagan cabinetry.

In 2009, he received entry into the Historisches Museum Der Pfalz Speyer in Germany and is listed in their catalog HEXEN Mythos and Wirklichkeit, 2009 Ed Minerva Hermann Farnung GmbH, Munchen. DragonOak's entire collection can be seen at his website www.dragonoak.com. DragonOak also takes commission work for custom items, as this gives him more creative satisfaction than merely repeating the same designs.

The Benefits of Having a Personal Altar:
Maintaining a personal altar is a rewarding experience. Having a place devoted to the Divine helps you to strengthen your relationship through having a constant reminder of your spiritual life. Expressing your spirituality through prayer, meditation and devotional practices has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety. Many people add a fun element to their spirituality by decorating their altar for each holiday or season. Personally I have found this to be a fun and relaxing practice that helps to keep me grounded. It’s also so much fun to create a theme altar using holiday decorations! You don't have to be Wiccan to enjoy the benefits of keeping an altar. Any one of any faith can enjoy this beautiful spiritual practice. DragonOak offers custom altars to fit your spiritual needs regardless of your religious preference.

The Altar Experience:
There are many ways to use your altar for spiritual growth, fulfillment and for honoring the Divine. Below are a few simply ways you can use an altar to enhance your spiritual life. These ideas are designed for people of all faith, so please feel free to add to this list or change it to fit your beliefs.  

Celebrating the Seasons and Holidays:
Decorating your altar for each season or holiday is not only a great way of being mindful of the world around you - its really fun too! This idea is very similar to how people leave their Christmas trees up year round to decorate for each holiday. Only this idea is far more spiritual as it incorporates prayer. For Example: The photo above is my altar decorated for September 22nd - the Fall Equinox/Mabon. It is a long-standing tradition to count your blessing and give thanks on this day. So instead of simply decorating my altar with fall theme items, I thought of all the blessings I have in my life as I was decorating it. After I finished I gave thanks to the Divine. Now when I look at my altar I do not simply see the decorations, I see all that I have to be thankful for. Each season and most holidays have aspects that can be worked into a spiritual expression of gratitude.

Candles: A Wonderful Symbol of Prayer and Divine Presence!   
Having a place to sit and focus during prayer is a very helpful practice. Not only will your altar remind you to pray more often, it can help you focus during prayer. Think of your altar as your spiritual Facebook wall - anything you put on it is an expression of your prayers. For example: It is a common practice in many religions to light a candle to symbolize one's prayer request. This helps your mind to focus on your intent, making it easier for you to concentrate on the Divine. Another common practice is the burning incense to symbolically carry one's prayer to the Divine. Using herbal incense such as white sage can also spirituality purify your sacred space and bring feelings of relaxation. In Wicca it is a common practice to light two candles to symbolically represent the Divine Feminine and Divine Masculine (Please note: This is not symbolic of different two deities. It is symbolic of the Creator as having a Feminine and Masculine side - similar to how all physical beings were created as male and female.) This idea can be applied to any religion. For Example: If you are a Christian you could use three candles to symbolize the Christian Trinity or two candles to symbolize the two natures of Christ – that of humanity and Divinity.

Focusing on Gratitude:
A good way to use your altar to help you focus on being grateful is to write down all of the your blessings on slips of paper. Place the slips in the center of your altar and read them once a week (or more if you feel really down). As you practice this you will find that you feel more thankful for the blessings you experience. This practice helps you to stop focusing the negative aspects of life. Another idea is to place an object that symbolizes your blessings. For Example: After 5 years of searching for allergy-free chocolate bars I finally discovered chocolate I would safely eat. I placed the unopened chocolate bar on my altar and gave thanks to the Divine. It doesn’t matter if your blessing is small or great, all that matters is that it is something you are grateful for.

Setting Goals:
Let's face it sticking to our goals can be hard. Personally I find it much easier to complete my goal if I place a representation of the goal on my altar and pray about it. This not only reminds you to work on your goal every time you look at your altar, it reminds you to pray about it as well. For Example: If you are studying hard for a big test you might want to place something that symbolizes learning on your altar. It doesn’t matter what object you choose for this as long as you know what it is meant to represent.

My Personal Opinion:
Personally I find this altar to be of superb quality and craftsmanship. Not only is it beautiful it is very sturdy and durable as well. This altar should last for generations due to the quality of the materials from which the altar is made. The portability of the altar makes it perfect for anyone who enjoys the outdoors, but it is always excellent for someone who does not have a lot of space to store things. It can easily be stored without taking up very much room. Personally I couldn’t imagine storing it because of how beautiful it is, but I can see where some might need to. The built in candleholders are an awesome feature. If I had owned an altar like this one as a teenager, it would have prevented more than a few fires. Sadly I was not able to find any hypoallergenic taper candles. This system will work wonderfully for preventing accidents due to the depth of the candle holders. Another aspect that I truly love about this altar is that DragonOak is very mindful of nature and very respectful about gathering his supplies. If you would like to learn more about this process check out http://www.dragonoak.com/Creating-Magickal-Ritual-Tools.html. Over all this is an amazing altar that anyone of any faith could use to aid his or her spiritual practice. I highly recommend DragonOak for any spiritual tools you may need.

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