How much Pagan stuff do I need?


I’ve been practicing Paganism off and on again since 2007. I admit that I’ve acquired a lot of Pagan stuff over the years, mostly books, but also quite a few divination tools and Pagany tchotchkes. I purchased most of these items myself at thrift stores or at one of several excellent magical shops that we’re lucky to have in Austin. Other things were gifted to me by friends, or things I picked up at Reclaiming events, or bits of nature that I brought home with me from walks: rocks, seeds, shells, feathers, the occasional dried leaf or bone. Why have I been collecting all this stuff? The longer I’m Pagan, the less I think I need any of it.

I used to maintain multiple altars around the house. One for honoring ancestors, a kitchen altar, a personal altar to help me hold space for meditation and journaling. I find the very act of creating an altar to be a powerful magical act. Making and tending these altars has been an important way of exploring Pagan practice, of figuring out what I actually need to do as a Pagan. But now I find the jumble of multiples altar spaces distracting. Clutter fractures my attention, if I’m not careful.

I’ve come to understand that I honor (or dishonor) ancestors with everything that I do. My entire kitchen is an altar. I can meditate any time, any place. So what is my Pagan practice like now, and how much stuff do I need to do it?

For daily practice, I’ve been grounding before gratitude journaling and drawing a rune (not from the Elder Futhark, but from a homemade set of witch runes). For this I need only my own breath, my journal, a pen, and a small bag of runes. I say a very short verse at the front door when I leave each morning. I use hag stones that I’ve collected on walks to ward both the runes and the front door.

I walk outside with Poe, and I care for my herb and native plant garden at least weekly. For these activities I need only my dog’s leash and my gardening tools.

IMG_8807 (1)

Monthly I volunteer with a local seed saving organization. For seed saving, I need only the seeds I’ve collected from my garden or other local plants, some envelopes, and a pen for labeling them.


For crafting home herbal remedies like teas and tinctures, I generally use things already in my kitchen: knives, cutting boards, bowls, mugs, jars.


I facilitate sabbat circles for the Pagan Alliance at First UU, but I find I need surprisingly little special Pagany stuff to do it.

As a Pagan, I believe that the divine is plural. I celebrate a cyclical view of time with seasonal ritual. I try to be in right relationship with the rest of the living world; I especially need to be in active relationship with plants, I’ve learned. One journal, one set of runes, garden and kitchen tools, candles, and some stones I’ve collected are all I need to do it. Which is why I’ve gradually been shedding my Pagan stuff, giving it away or donating it, and I plan to shed even more.

Connect with me on Instagram

I plan to keep this wordpress blog as a place to write longer bits about pagan practice and theology, but I’m posting about lived experience a lot more often on Instagram these days:


My Instagram feed is only rarely explicitly pagan, and it’s plant-heavy; if you’re not into gardening, hiking, cooking, and/or art, it may not be your thing. But I hope you’ll find me there!

Pagan Philosophy Nugget #2: Nature vs Wilderness

It’s tricky to identify what makes someone Pagan, since Pagans hold neither concept of divinity nor creed in common. Pagan practices and community structures vary. However, most self-identified Pagans would likely endorse a deep reverence for nature. But what do we mean, when we say we revere nature? The word is commonly reserved for that which is separate from humans, or at least not man-made. Clouds, trees, and wild animals come first to mind as examples of nature, for example. What about our cars and paved streets? Although they’re not what comes first to mind, for those of us who fancy ourselves to be monists, they can’t possibly be anything other than nature.

IMG_7861 (1)Grounded eastern screech-owl fledgling that I recently transported to a local wildlife rescue organization.

Distinguishing the terms nature and wilderness helps clear the confusion. Nature is everything, all that there is, the physical universe. Wilderness is that which is wild, relatively free from human influence. What I think most big-P Pagans actually revere is wilderness, not nature. See, for example, this recent passage by Pagan theologist Yvonne Aburrow on her wonderful blog, Dowsing for Divinity.

A lot of European literature is about the distinction between wilderness and civilization. The wilderness is characterized as “pagan” and civilization as “Christian”. (There’s a reason why fourteen popes took the name Urban.) Naturally the Pagan Revival ran with this distinction and inverted the value system associated with it to mean “wilderness good, civilization bad”.

Now I’m as guilty as the next Pagan, of making pilgrimages to places that I imagine to be more “wild” than my own backyard or the clinic where I work. (My family and I are planning a backpacking trip to Enchanted Rock this fall, yeah!) I also understand that, especially in the present era of human overpopulation and anthropogenic climate change, there’s no such thing as pristine wilderness free from human influence. Wilderness as a concept is a dualism.

As a little-p, animistic pagan, I hope to revere nature as it is, where I am, whether that’s walking through the wilderness or standing in my suburban driveway. The world as it is, where I am, is all I’ve got. It’s where I know for certain I can exert influence, where I can’t help but be a co-creator of change.

Cultivating small-p paganism

Sometimes friends see you more clearly than you see yourself. A few months ago, John Halstead wrote about my particular brand of small-p, backyard paganism in a post so flattering of my approach that I was embarrassed to read it. It was a profound gift, to have my practice reflected back to me. There’s precious little space for spiritual reflection in my life at this time, while also fulfilling commitments to parenting, partnership, community obligations, and nurse work life. Yes, I do practice “being here, now” and “loving here, now.” Yes, I do think that cultivating “a quiet, devoted relationship to nearby life,” to borrow again the words of Martin Buber, is a worthy spiritual goal. And increasingly, I’m becoming aware that this brand of animistic, small-p, backyard paganism may be a very different approach to practice than what big-P, Pagan-identified people have in mind.

I want to cultivate a particular way of approaching experiences of all kinds, not only the ones that occur within magic circles.

I want to find my place in a heterarchy, in a world that is wild and radically plural, not in a hierarchy. (See also Wrycrow’s excellent post on seeking alternatives to institutionalized religions.)

I want to know and practice right relationship with spirits that are not human, the ones with which I share this particular place. I can’t meaningfully devote myself to the ancient gods of other people in far away times and places, though I’ve tried.

IMG_7778Lemon beebalm, Monarda citriodora

IMG_7785Latergram: beebalm tisane, my June full moon tea

This is all to say that I used to identify as Pagan. But the shiver of recognition that I felt when I read John’s post told me that I’m actually small-p pagan. Nontheistic animism is my jam, and while such an approach may share some important characteristics with Paganism, such as a cyclical approach to time and sensory rituals, it’s not necessarily the same thing. There’s joy, clarity, and relief in embracing this insight. I don’t have to react to or reconcile what I think and do with what big-P Pagans think and do, because we’re doing different things. Instead I can focus on questions relevant to small-p pagan approaches. How can the worldview of small-p paganism be described? What are its values? What are its common practices? How can we discover and enact the rituals that the world-as-it-is and the other-than-human lives with whom we share it call us to do?


Summer Solstice 2019

Sunflowers are blooming, dragonflies are hunting, and cicadas are droning where I live.

IMG_7754Sunflowers blooming in my home garden

Farmers’ markets are full to bursting with tomatoes and other early summer delights. WeatherBug lights my phone up with heat advisory warnings on the daily now. Ah, summer in Austin. When it’s still beautiful but beginning to be too hot to be outdoors during the day without being in water. Today to celebrate Summer Solstice, my kids and I met friends at Deep Eddy, a spring-fed pool, and the oldest swimming pool in Texas, for swimming and soaking up the summer sun.

IMG_4490Soaking in the spring-fed waters of Deep Eddy

Although we did not ritualize our time at the pool in any way, swimming at Deep Eddy for Summer Solstice is becoming something of a ritual in itself for us, this being our second year in a row to do so.

Over the years it has become less important for me to formally ritualize the solar holidays. I enjoy celebrating them with other pagan types when I have the opportunity, and I find it deeply meaningful to reflect on the change in seasonal tides which they mark. But they may or may not coincide with the timing of spell work, divination, and other personal spiritual practices.

So which themes and seasonal changes am I celebrating right now? Summer solstice feels like the time to express gratitude and celebrate abundance, so I grounded and centered myself poolside and then sent some gratitudes out on the breath today. I’ve also been reflecting on the shift from the growing tide to the reaping tide of the year, particularly as these themes apply to my personal life this year. What goals did I set for myself at the beginning of the year, and how am I progressing on them? What remains for me to manifest in the waning part of the year? I’ll spare you the navel-gazing details, but suffice it to say that it has been productive for me, to reflect on these questions at this particular seasonal moment.

IMG_7757Apple-green inland sea oats growing in my home garden. They’ll ripen to tan over the coming months.

In the spirit of celebrating abundance, I made a veggie soup for dinner from the odds and ends of last week’s Farmers Market haul, this week’s grocery store haul, and herbs from our garden. I hope I’m never finished being humbled to the core by how much food my family and I are lucky enough to have access to, and by how utterly dependent we all are on the sun’s energy and the lives of plants who harvest it.


Basil would have been nice, but I didn’t start mine until late May, so it’s not ready to harvest. Parsley, oregano, and a few sprigs of thyme sufficed instead.


(This soup is an adaptation of the Easiest Vegetable Soup recipe in Mark Bittman’s book on eating vegan before 6pm, which I highly recommend.)


No way in heck this one would eat veggie soup, but how can we know for sure he doesn’t like it, unless he gets a bite?

Happy longest day, dear readers in the Northern Hemisphere!

Culture of life


In a culture of life:

We would cooperate with other nations to mitigate the effects of climate change, in order to protect our descendants from its consequences.

We would not factory farm other animals for food.

We would protect the integrity of Earth’s waterways, because water is life.

We would beg for the forgiveness we clearly do not deserve, for the crimes of colonizers against indigenous peoples.

We would not separate migrant children from their parents, nor would migrant children die in government custody from undetected infections.

Law enforcement officers would serve and protect people of color, not kill them.

LGBTQ people would live openly and safely, without fear of discrimination.

Women would have the unquestioned right to make their own reproductive health care decisions.


Creating a culture of life is a worthy goal. But our capitalist culture of white male supremacy is no culture of life.


The magic of daily practice

I’ve had neither time nor energy to do focused spiritual work since Spring Equinox, much less write about it. Both personal and professional life have felt overwhelming in recent weeks. Personally I’ve been attending to ongoing recovery from family-of-origin issues; adapting to the parenting tasks at hand, as my children grow and develop into tweenagers; and trying to be present as a partner, friend, and community member. Professionally, I’ve been adapting to a new role in a new environment of care with very little training.

Times like these, I’m wildly grateful for the powerful magic of daily practice. My entire spiritual practice lately has consisted of walking outside daily with Poe and saying my threshold prayer when I leave the house in the morning. That’s it. It’s not sustainable, but it’s been enough, to remind me that I’m always in relationship with the interdependent web of all existence, and that I’m not responsible for turning the wheel of the year or loving this world alone.


Happy May Day, dear readers! Are you celebrating?

I shared a shower with my love this morning and later joined him for a special lunch. I walked outside with Poe. I observed bees tending firewheels, found a snail hiding in a patch of wild violets, and glimpsed fireflies igniting and a bat hunting at dusk. The first prickly pear blooms have opened here in Austin, and we’re expecting thunderstorms sometime this week.


Now at my home shrine with candle and incense lit, I’m offering and praying to ancestors for their guidance and support–I could use it right now–and raising a glass to life in full bloom.