Copyright © 2004 by Ashleen O’Gaea
At Samhain, we invite our ancestors to share our feast with us and, naturally, we want the table to look nice for them. Just as we put out the “good china” when we invite the living to reunion dinners, we like to make a special place at the altar and our feast tables even for those who are attending only in spirit.
The simplest and least expensive way of making a special plate to hold the ancestors’ portion is, of course, with paper plates and crayons. One advantage is that little children can do this quite easily, and it’s artistically nonthreatening even for adults! It’s certainly possible to use drawn-upon colored plates at more than one ritual, too. Yet for those who want something that looks and feels a little more permanent, and perhaps even stores a little more of our own energy, following is another idea for a special offering plate to honor your ancestors and the other spirits with whom you share your Samhain.
This takes some advance preparation, and may not be feasible for every group; on the other hand, it is suitable for any group of people, coven, or family (Pagan or not), and a solitary can enjoy it as well. The first thing you need to do is find a ceramic shop in your area that sells greenware and glazes. (Greenware is dry but unfired clay.).
Select a plate or bowl for everyone who’s participating. (If you’re ambitious and you can afford it, select a whole place setting: plate, bowl, cup, and saucer!) Also select two or three glazes in colors you like. A coven or other group can share the glazes, and of course, everyone will want a say about what colors to choose. Because it’s Samhain, orange and black are two good colors with which to start, and you might like to add purple and red, too. (Be warned that red glazes can be tricky to work with.)
If other colors appeal to you, get those—serve the ancestors your own artistic vision as well as a portion of Cakes and Ale! The employees at the store can help you get glazes that will work with the greenware you’ve chosen; just be sure they’re willing to fire the plates for you, too.
Greenware does need to be fired once before you glaze it, and it needs to be cleaned up a little before that first firing. As you look at the pieces on the shelves in the shop, you’ll notice some tabs left over from taking the piece out of the mold, and probably some other imperfections. You can take care of these yourself, carefully cutting off the extra bits, and sanding the pieces, or the people at the shop will do it for you.
“My” ceramics lady doubles the cost of the greenware for this service—a piece that costs $1.25 to buy costs another $1.25 for her to clean it up for me, and I find that reasonable. Keep in mind one of the first cautions I heard after I found Wicca: Never haggle over the price of a tool. Because the offering plate this greenware will become is a tool, I wouldn’t dream of complaining about the price, and if I thought it was too high, I’d clean the piece myself.
Something else you need to remember is that some glazes are not food-safe, and so the plates you decorate with them can only be for the ancestors. They can’t hold the Cakes for your ritual, and you can’t let the dog or the cat lick them when you’re done. Most glazes indicate right on the label whether they’re toxic or not. Some of mine say, “SAFE FOR FOOD CONTAINERS,” or “MAY BE HARMFUL IF SWALLOWED, DO NOT USE FOR FOOD CONTAINERS.” Read those labels carefully, and check with the crafters in the shop if you have any questions.
You don’t need special brushes for this project; the inexpensive ones you can get at any craft store will do just fine. Depending on the design you choose to paint on your dish, you might also want a sponge, a pencil with an eraser on its tip, decorative stamps, stencils, or other drawing supplies. You may even want something to carve some designs into the greenware you’ve selected.
This can be a sacred activity, done as magic in a fully cast Circle, or it can be an afternoon’s project, done with friends for fun. Give some thought to your design ideas. If you’re making a plate to honor your own ancestors, then a design resembling a family crest might be appropriate. (Don’t have one? Make one up!) If you’re making an offering plate for the Elements, then a design to represent each one is what you want. Harvest designs are right, too. Maybe you’re making an all-purpose plate, and you’ll have Elemental designs on the rim and ancestral images in the center. It’s up to you! (By the way, this is one of those projects for which everyone is enough of an artist.)
Something that makes this project especially interesting is that most glazes, when put on clay, are not the color they’ll be when they’re fired. This means that you have to read the labels and trust the labels. You won’t be able to tell how the glaze colors are mixing, either, when you combine them on a palette or layer them on your piece. No matter how carefully you plan, there’s always a certain element of surprise in a project such as this one.
Of course, it will take some time to complete this project. It may not take you long to paint your greenware, but when it’s dry, someone will need to take it back to the ceramic shop and leave it there until it can be fired, and then go and pick it up again. There’s some cost involved, too, but small or simple greenware is not usually very expensive, and firing fees are usually very reasonable. When you have your plates back—don’t forget to sign your creation on the back!—you’ll have another piece of altar gear that is all the more sacred because you designed and made it yourself.
This Magickal DIY, plus much more, can be found here:
by Ashleen O'Gaea
Unique among books about the Wiccan Sabbats, Celebrating the Seasons of Life: Samhain to Ostara takes a different approach to explaining the holidays by taking an in-depth look at half of the Wheel of the Year. Rather than dissecting each holiday, Ashleen's goal is to take a broader look at them, explaining how and why we celebrate each, along with how the celebration of one leads to the next.
The first of two new titles from Ashleen offers a vision of the holidays we celebrate from October to March. This book covers each holiday by first giving us its history and original customs, then explaining its place in modern life. Stories are shared for each Sabbat to reconnect us with our lore and bring new meaning to current practice. Ashleen includes ideas for rituals that are ideal for practicing solitaries, covens, or Wiccan families, with special sections on what children of various ages are ready to learn about these holidays.0
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