Special Feature: Altars of Writers & Artists: Callie S. Blackstone

IR: How did you begin the practice of creating an altar or spiritual space in your home? What does the process of tending to the space entail for you?

CB: I initially approached spirituality–a path that led to witchcraft–out of a need for deep healing. I had been scarred by the mental health industry and I didn’t have insurance, so I took up more holistic pursuits: St. John’s Wort, yoga, meditation. I was partially attracted to witchcraft because it is self-defined and self-directed. As a female survivor of trauma, I identified deeply with this reclamation of power. I identified with the othered figure of the witch, someone terrifying and powerful. 

I have kept altars in various homes since 2012: one was out in the open where acquaintances discovered it and asked me earnestly if I worshiped the devil; one was in a closet so I could have private meditation space; many were temporary altars so my practice could be hidden from abusive eyes. My current altar was constructed after I broke up with my abusive partner and he moved out of my home. He left behind a set of furniture in an attempt to manipulate me. I have constructed an altar on his desk in his wake: what he attempted to destroy me with, I will celebrate myself with. 

I moved the abandoned desk in front of a window so I can gaze upon the moon in all of her glory. I cleaned it and freed my witchcraft supplies from their hiding places in my attic and my closet. Many items had been kept out in the open, places he had never bothered to look. 

My altar is a working space where I worship my deity, light an abundance of candles, and set my intentions. I meditate and read tarot. I do magic. Due to the nature of my altar, it is often “messy:” cluttered, covered in candle wax, layered with tarot or oracle cards. This is not a space of untouchable divinity. It is a space where I make things happen. So, the tools and evidence of that are often obvious. I clean and cleanse the altar whenever I clean my bedroom deeply, or whenever the new moon passes. Here, things are organized: the new moon was only two nights ago. 

You can also see the results of a tarot reading I did to determine if I should write and submit an essay about my altar space. How do you interpret the cards?

IR: How does this altar or spiritual space interact with your creativity? How do you see it relating to your writing or art?

CB: Our mindsets and intentions are witchcraft. In this regard, everything I do is magic: when I cook, water plants, chant affirmations in a mirror telling myself I am beautiful after someone spent years telling me I am not. All of creativity is witchcraft. It sends our energy flowing into the universe. We have the power to direct it. (Of course, terrible things outside of our control happen sometimes–no toxic positivity here.) 

More specifically, my altar and spiritual place have a direct connection with my creativity–my writing. My writing pulls on witchcraft and other feminine folklore. I explore the othering of women through my work and elements of my own magic populate my pages. 

I light candles and set intentions for my writing. I want it to be published wherever it belongs–not just in a market based on reputation or competitiveness alone. I embrace every acceptance because of this: I am confident each piece has found the correct home. I have also predicted when a magazine would accept a certain piece. It was just a feeling, and the feeling was right. 

For the majority of the COVID-19 pandemic, my workings involved my ancestor. He was an estranged friend, a brilliantly talented poet, a wildly intelligent person. In this photograph viewers will see a mug. During the pandemic I would make a special tea I associate with him. I spoke to my ancestor about what was going on in my life and my writing journey. I asked for his guidance with my own work. I asked him to help my poems find the homes they are meant for. After I reached out, I would drink the tea while I performed my morning writing.

Much of my work deals with his death and my disenfranchised grief. I carried his loss for several years and attempted to approach it from several angles. The only way I have learned to communicate with him and to work through some of my grief is through this ritual and doing poetic things in his honor. And he has answered me: certain poems about him were accepted at meaningful times, including Samhain, or Halloween, long associated with the dead. One of these poems was rejected thirty-six times and was only accepted when I undertook my work with my ancestor. I consider its publication an especially clear message.

Our ancestors are like the living. They have personalities, wants, and needs. These relationships are not always easy. At this time, my relationship with my friend is paused. I no longer carry out this ritual and will not until Samhain, when the veil is at its thinnest. I rarely write about him during this period. On Samhain I will slather my wrists with protective oil, wear the protective rings pictured on my altar, and decorate my home with protective golden mums. At that time I will reach out to my friend and determine the next steps. 

I made this ritual tea for documentary purposes, then disposed of it far from my home after taking these photographs. I also cleansed my home with chanting, incense, and the ringing of bells once it was removed.

IR: What is at least one valuable thing you have learned from your practice of creating a sacred space? This lesson doesn’t necessarily have to be about art or writing or creativity; it can just be something about life.

CB: Witchcraft has given me many things. Lately, I have learned that I can make the choice to leave behind my attraction to toxic men, something I have pursued in the shadow of my abusive father. I don’t know who I am when I am not with a man. Witchcraft has shown me that I am not only strong enough to be single, but to move away from ruminations in which I wonder why I was not enough for the most recent abuser. Witchcraft has taught me that I am quite literally divine, valid, and enough. During a recent new moon ritual, I was meditating on the question: What do I need to let go of that is not part of my story? And the universe responded clearly: it is time for me to move on from the narrative that I am a child engaged with a domineering, emotionally unavailable, verbally abusive man. While I showered to cleanse myself a message rang out clearly: I AM THE POWERFUL ONE. 

Callie S. Blackstone writes both poetry and prose. Her work appears or is forthcoming in  Rust+Moth, West Trestle Review, and others. You can find her online home at www.calliesblackstone.com.

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