by Khouzhan Phoenix, editor
In our May and July issues, we covered the essentials — the basic "must-haves" for the average Voodoo practitioner. In this follow-up, we'll discuss a few additional items which you may wish to include in your Voodoo Toolkit.
While not absolutely essential for most spellwork and ritual services, altar cloths are definitely a useful addition to your collection of Voodoo paraphernalia. From a practical standpoint, they protect your work surface from spilled oils, herbs, and wax. From a more spiritual point of view, they enhance the ritual experience immeasurably. Not only do they "pretty up" the altar space and give it a more consecrated appearance, but they provide a means of further honoring the Lwa (Voodoo spirits) and soliciting their attention. The spirits are drawn to bright colors and interesting designs; further, each Lwa has colors which are particularly pleasing to and/or especially associated with him or her. Adorning your altar with cloths in appropriate colors not only helps you concentrate on — and thus better connect with — the spirits with whom you are working, but it also exhibits an extra effort to show respect to them and attract their good graces.
An altar cloth can be as simple as a plastic tablecloth, or as elaborate as a batik you hand-dyed yourself. It's good to have cloths in numerous colors and dimensions, from napkin- to scarf- to tablecloth-size, so that you can mix, match, and layer for interesting effects. A simple white napkin makes an excellent small altar cloth for sessions with the Mummy candles. Napkins, in fact, are also wonderful as accent pieces on top of a larger tablecloth: for an altar honoring Papa Legba, I like to use a red tablecloth and place white napkins across it, positioned diagonally as diamonds instead of squares. Layering adds visual interest and allows you to be creative. For a ritual honoring Damballah and Ayida Wedo, I covered a long foldable table with a white tablecloth and overlaid half of it, on the diagonal, with a lovely rainbow-colored scarf I'd found online; I was pleased with the results, and I think Damballah and Ayida were as well!
One good resource for altar coverings is the remnants bin at a fabric shop. Remnants are "leftovers" from almost-empty bolts of fabric or erroneous cuttings, folded or rolled up for sale to quilters and other crafters who need only a small amount of cloth. They're cheap, usually available in a wide variety of colors and patterns, and are easily trimmed, hemmed, or left as-is. Some stores sell pieces of fabric called "fat quarters" which are used in quilting and appliqué; these are excellent for smaller surfaces or as accent pieces on top of a larger covering.
I prefer to use fabrics which can be easily cleaned, because (trust me on this) they are going to get dirty! No matter how careful you are, either oil, wax, herbs, incense ashes, or some combination thereof will find its way onto your altar surface... and who wants to worry about ruining the linens when you really should be concentrating on your spellwork? The absolute BEST items I've found are fabric tablecloths and napkins which are labeled as "spill resistant"; cooled wax will usually peel right off! You can find these at many linen shops and department stores. If you wait until an end-of-season clearance or white sale, you can stock up on a variety of colors and sizes.
If, however, you insist on using an heirloom lace tablecloth, a fine pashmina, or that hand-dyed batik I mentioned earlier, you can still do so with appropriate precautions. Look for a tablecloth cover of thick, clear plastic — the sturdiest one you can find. If you can't find one ready-made in a store near you, check a fabric or upholstery shop, where you may be able to buy clear vinyl by the yard. By using this plastic as a protective layer over any materials you wouldn't be able to easily clean, you will have an infinite number of possibilities when it comes to dressing up your altar space! Just be sure to use appropriate heat precautions to avoid melting the plastic.
POTHOLDERS AND TRIVETS
Speaking of heat precautions... while you're browsing those kitchen supply stores and linen shops, why not pick up a few potholders and trivets as well? These, too can be used to dress up your altar space (I have some nice, thick, quilted potholders in a bright red color, perfect for Papa Legba and Ogoun!)... but they also serve a very practical purpose. Incense burners can get very hot when in use, as can metal pots or pans used for burning vevés and petitions; it's a wise safety practice to shield your workspace by placing such items on a heat-resistant pad. Again, you can go as simple or as elaborate as you wish here, and you can never have too many of these items on hand. Imagine how a nice wrought-iron trivet would enhance an altar to Ogoun Feraille! And wouldn't those down-homey patchwork potholders which remind you of your Grandma's cooking be perfect for a ritual to honor your ancestors? A year or two ago, I came across some really nice wooden trivets with bamboo inlays... while I've been using them off and on for various ritual purposes, it recently occurred to me that they would be especially appropriate to honor Gran Bwa. Again, use your creativity to combine style with function, and the possibilities will be endless.
PORTABLE WORK SURFACES
Finally, we come to one of my favorite hints, one which I've shared time and again in the Spellmaker Forum. Perhaps you lack the space and/or privacy to set up a permanent altar space. Or, perhaps you have several Voodoo "projects" in the works (such as a nine-day spell kit in progress, plus some adjunct work — such as the Love Doll or Healing Egg — that you're using to supplement the spell), and you don't want to completely tear down and set up each time you "switch gears." Or, perhaps you're working on two completely separate goals — such as sending away a back-stabbing coworker and trying to spice up your sex life — and would like to keep these areas of concentration as separate as possible. All of these situations can be solved quite easily through the use of portable altar spaces!
Folding card tables, benches, and TV tables all make excellent portable altars. However, I've found even more versatile items for this purpose: folding bed trays! I'm sure you've seen them in linen stores or the housewares section of your local department store: little tables with folding legs which double as serving trays, the kind you'd use to serve someone breakfast in bed. The next time you see them on sale, do yourself a favor and buy at least two... they really do come in handy!
If space or privacy is your concern, using a tray table as your altar will enable you to pick it up and neatly tuck it away in a closet after each session (remembering, of course, to extinguished candles and incense and allow them to cool completely before stowing). If you're juggling multiple endeavors, having more than one little altar will enable you to leave each project set up between sessions, saving time and helping you to be more consistent with your spells and adjunct work (after all, the more convenient something is, the more likely you are to stay motivated about doing it). When working on completely separate goals, such as "go away" and love work, I find that having separate altars for each area of concentration helps me to focus better on whichever goal I'm working on at the moment, especially if I keep the little altars in separate areas of my home. Always remember, though, to work on spell kits in separate sessions from adjunct work; also, when working on multiple projects (regardless of whether or not one of them is a spell kit), always allow a waiting period of at least 45 minutes between sessions.
Well, folks, this concludes our series on assembling your very own Voodoo Toolkit. Of course, there are other items not mentioned that you may wish to include; the beauty of the Toolkit is that it is something completely YOURS, a very personal collection of items specific to your own needs, preferences, lifestyle and goals. You can add to it, refine it, be as simple or as elaborate as you wish... the important thing is to USE it, not only to enhance your spellwork and achieve your goals, but also to honor our Lwa as well. Happy voodoo-ing!
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