Paganism, the Self, and How to DIY Your Spirituality

Paganism, the Self, and How to DIY Your Spirituality

by Irene Glasse

One of the things that drew me to Paganism early on was its emphasis on sovereignty: our path through this spiritual form is a self-governed one. We are our own priests, liturgists, omen-readers, and teachers. The edges of our Path gradually form themselves out of the different approaches and techniques we try. Over time most of us find a pattern: a set of practices that link up to a natural rhythm that works for us. The only problem? Where once there were three paths through the woods, there are now thousands that intersect and double back on themselves in an ever-growing array of potential routes to follow. We have reached the point where beginning the Pagan path, or simply choosing where to go next, can be an overwhelming prospect. 

The good news is that everyone has their own individual True North: a spiritual and energetic alignment that is unique and leads to the best paths for each of us. We can think of this True North as supporting our autonomy – our ability to choose what is right for us. However, in an over-culture that prioritizes conformity and obedience, the voice of our True North can become muted. This deep voice is the voice of spirit rather than logic, and too often we lose that voice when we’re weighing options through the lens of logical, linear thinking. 

One helpful tool for getting a clearer message from our True North, and the practices that will support it the most, is understanding our core self. We can see that self in the choices we’ve already made, the relationships we’ve cultivated, and the activities we’ve loved. I’ll use my own life as an example: I’m a creative: a writer, a musician, a poet, and an artist. I’m a helper human: I am drawn to situations where I can lend a hand. I’m an adventurer: I like to try new things and visit new places. The path of Paganism offers me many ways to address this core: devotional litanies and poetry, spell and ritual creation, shrine building, healing techniques for body and spirit, community work, festivals and conferences, and pilgrimages to sacred sites. Notice what’s not on the list as well: the more math- and science-based paths within Paganism. My core is fluid: word based, art based, intentional-connection-with-others based. Areas of focus within Paganism that fall into those categories are the most nourishing for my own spiritual growth. My True North nudges me toward those paths, even if the logical part of my brain wants me to get better at Astrology or Sacred Geometry. Although Astrology and Sacred Geometry are both awesome, I also know they’re not a good fit for my core self.

Knowing our core self and its alignment helps navigate another gap many of us encounter at some point along the path: the space between academic learning about the deities/pantheon/cultures we are drawn to, then pulling together a personal practice that works for us individually. The first part is vital, especially as all of us strive to step away from the cultural appropriation that was common in the early years of our movement. Learning about the history, mythology, and culture of deities and pantheons we feel attracted to should always be step one. It’s the second step where we need to include our core alignment in order to create a nourishing, sustainable spiritual practice.

Again using my own alignment as an example, the way I approach a new spirit or deity I wish to connect with is to learn where in that being’s comfort zone my own alignment fits. During a Deity Internship (a way of practicing devotion and connecting with a deity outside my regular spiritual “circles”) with the Kemetic goddess Serqet, I first learned everything I could about how Serqet was honored, what her stories were, and what her culture was like. I performed a divination to make sure she welcomed a connection with me (remember, the Gods and spirits have opinions — always get consent). I acquired incense that was reminiscent of the kind used by Serqet’s people and created a shrine for her using colors and items that would be familiar. Then, I brought in my own core nature: I created a litany of praise to Serqet that could be sung or spoken, and offered it to her when I burned her incense. I spent time journeying to visit with and speak to her. I brought my connection to her into my wanderings in nature so she had the option of seeing a very different landscape than her own. I combined what works for Serqet and what works for me into one practice. Serqet responded through signs and symbols in the mundane world and dreams and visions in my spiritual practices. Although my internship with Serqet is over, we still communicate regularly, and I value my time in service to her. 

Spiritual practices are meant to grow. It’s important to remember that without the break in veneration due to the rise of other religions, our understanding of —and our relationship with— the gods and spirits of the ancient world would have continued to evolve just as we do. Using history as a starting point is good – it gives us context and prevents cultural appropriation – but history should be the base of a practice that extends upward and outward. People in 870 C.E. and 1290 B.C.E. experienced an entirely different world than we do now. We can only make guesses as to how they felt and what their cultural norms were through fragments of evidence. The gap between academic research and building a personal practice is a careful, conscious effort to place the history and mythology into our own world, our own lives. 

The Pagan autonomy and sovereignty of path is both blessing and challenge: it calls us to know ourselves deeply so that we can choose wisely as we navigate our way in the world. It teaches us to learn first, but to adapt those learnings to our own individual nature. It is the ultimate DIY spirituality, but it is built on a solid triad of self, history, and practice. 

So, what is your core? Fluid, smoky, fiery, earthy, edgy? When you connect to it, where does your True North tell you to go? Hit me up in the comments. You never know when your own ideas are exactly what illuminates the path for another. 

Irene can be found at

January: Purification, Divination, and Hitting the Reset Button

January: Purification, Divination, and Hitting the Reset Button

by Irene Glasse

The very first pre-Christian Deity I served was Brigid, an Irish goddess.  As a young musician with a military background, she was easy for me to relate to. “A musician AND a blacksmith? Sign me up! I want to make music and hit things too!” I still consider my time in service to her to be incredibly valuable – it laid strong foundations for my spirituality. 

One of Brigid’s holy days is Imbolc, February 1st – 2nd, and in my own devotional practices for her, I found the time between Yule and Imbolc to be very potent. I wore my hair long at the time and would style it in braids every day, an outward sign of an inward focus. My practice was centered around deepening and clearing, creating space for the light to come. 

Although the center of my own beliefs has shifted to the Heathen gods of old Norway, I still consider this time of year to be perfect for getting my spiritual “head” straightened out. There’s a simplicity to these cold days, to a natural world streamlined to reveal its core shapes and colors: brown branches, gray stone, faded grasses, white snow. As the world reveals the structures that support the growing season, we can follow the pattern by looking more closely at our inner structures. 

I like to start with purification. If it’s been a while since your last smoke-bath, break out some purifying herbs and resins and waft that sacred smoke around your body. It can help to have a partner to assist here. If you’re working alone, consider carefully placing a smoldering cauldron on the floor and allowing the smoke to drift upward to cover you. If using smoke isn’t an option where you live, take a salt bath/use a salt scrub in the shower and remember to completely rinse the saltwater off your body when you’re finished.

Then, sit down with a journal or your preferred note-taking medium. This reflection is based on underlying structures, so the questions I use for my own purposes are simple.

1)    What’s working right now? What practices or patterns help you stay centered? What are you already doing that feeds your sense of spiritual connection? When are the moments when you feel calm, and what’s happening during them to cause that experience?

2)    What’s getting in the way? What patterns, behaviors, and obligations are distracting you, or keeping you from spending time and energy where you’d like to? What practices or patterns got jostled by the rush of activities around the winter holidays?

The movement of energy at this time of year is downward and inward flowing. The culture of the United States tends to encourage wild expenditures of energy under the guise of “New Year’s Resolutions,” but to do so is to fight the stronger, older pattern of the natural world. If we shift to purifying, streamlining, releasing, and going deeper, we work with the prevailing flow of energy rather than against it.

Bearing that in mind, look at your reflections. The practices that are already working can be ones to take deeper whether that’s daily devotionals, meditation and journeywork, walks in the woods, or yoga. How can your existing practice(s) become even more centered, even more stable, even more rooted?

Look at your reflection on what’s getting in the way. Are there obligations or patterns that you can let go of? Are there any “shoulds” you can release? Many areas of life where we experience stress, tension, and frustration are unavoidable, but there are also some funny little places where we tend to make things harder for ourselves.

We often think of purification as a practice for our bodies, or spaces. We’re familiar with spring and fall cleaning, with smoke and water purification, with fasting and vigils, etc.  But purification is a practice for our lives and patterns as well. In my own experience, the small daily patterns we engage in often arise due to necessity or by accident and then perpetuate themselves simply because most people follow patterns once they’re set. Looking more closely at those repeated behaviors and making a few adjustments can help us get recentered.

My last step is a simple three-card divination. I hold my Tarot deck and think about what the natural world around me is doing. I visualize the land around my home, the clean lines of the winter trees. I think about the way they’re focusing on their roots, on the energy pooling deep in the earth.  Then, I draw cards:

First card: What can I do more of to go deeper?

Second card: What can I let go of to create space?

Third card: What message do I need to hear this winter?

This method would work for any sortilege-based divination system: Tarot, oracle cards, runes, kahina stones, etc.

Balancing the results of the reading with my own reflections, I then choose a few small shifts to make. For my own part, I’m letting go of pushing so hard. I have self-imposed creative “deadlines” that aren’t serving me and ultimately create more stress. One thing that’s working well for me right now is a 20-minute yoga practice at the end of my workday. It got jostled by my schedule and then by a case of covid, so I’m prioritizing that return to the mat. I’m fortunate enough to live in a part of the world that experiences a mild winter while still seeing a true seasonal shift, so I plan to support both of these adjustments by continuing to spend time outdoors. For me, it really helps.

So, what do you want to streamline and recenter right now? What’s working for you? And what do you want to let go of? Hit me up in the comments. You never know when your own ideas are exactly what another person needs to read.

Cultivating Hope, Raising Resiliency

Cultivating Hope, Raising Resiliency

by Irene Glasse

When I was a teenager in the mid 90’s, I spent my summers working as a counselor at a YMCA day camp. It was a fun job and the location was beautiful – a campground in the forest with a swimming pool, flowing stream, open fields for sports…pretty much anything a kid (or a teenager like me) could want. We had a lot of fun and most kids loved camp so much that they cried when their session ended. There are a few children I remember clearly even after so many years. I definitely still remember Jeff*.

Jeff was in my group – Group 5 – which meant that I had a lot of interaction with him. No matter what we were doing, Jeff was unhappy. He seemed miserable at camp. When we were going for a stream hike, he was upset about the possibility of tripping and falling, or of his clothes getting wet. When we were headed for the sports field, he was worried about not being able to play the sport of the day well. When it was time for free swim, he was unhappy because he was tired and didn’t want to play anymore. He didn’t even get excited about Ice Cream day. No matter how much I tried to reframe and redirect, Jeff found a way for whatever was going on to be a source of dismay. None of the other counselors knew what to do, so we managed however we could.

Family Night occurred toward the end of each summer session. There was a big cook-out and overnight camping adventure that family members were invited to. At Jeff’s session, his father attended, and suddenly everything made sense: Jeff’s dad had the same energy as Jeff – he walked with his shoulders rounded, mumbled under his breath about bugs and dirt, and turned every conversation into a litany of complaints and dire predictions for the future. He had the same heaviness to him – a deep sadness that made him difficult to reach.

In the 90s, we didn’t have the same understanding of mental and emotional health that we do now. Those fields were only beginning to blossom and hadn’t really made it out into the suburbs of Western Maryland. I like to think that today, Jeff and his family would be a little healthier. However, although their behavior might have been rooted in very real emotional regulation issues, one thing that meeting Jeff’s dad illustrated for me was how much of our behavior is learned.

To be hopeful is to have a form of emotional resilience. A hopeful person believes that although challenges, grief, and adversity occur in every life, somehow things will work out. They believe that they have the ability to figure out a path forward or respond in a way that makes adversity just another part of the story. And, emotional resilience is a learned behavior. It is a practice as much as an attitude.

For so many of us, staying hopeful can be challenging. We’ve had quite a few rough years in a row and the fissures in society seem to be deeper and more jagged than ever. I know I’m not the only one who has fantasized about just throwing in the towel and becoming a hermit. It’s easy to feel hopeless when it seems like the world keeps stacking obstacles against us.

Approaching hope as a practice is a good way to cultivate resilience, especially for those of us who did not learn hopefulness from our families. Pagans have some advantages when it comes to growing hope. More resources are available to us and we tend to have experience with intentionally changing thought patterns. As with many areas of life, hope can be cultivated through both mundane and magical techniques. I’ll give you the conventional information first, then the mystical.

Understand what hope is and what it is not

Feeling hopeful doesn’t mean starry–eyed naivete about the world, or using “love and light” as a way to spiritually bypass our own behaviors and patterns that we need to work on. Remember that hopefulness is simply the realistic expectation that something good will happen, and that we have some influence over it. It’s not an “everything’s going to be perfect and amazing” attitude. Hope is aspirational while being grounded in reality. Interestingly, it’s also a feedback cycle. When we successfully manage a challenge, it increases our optimism that we will do so again in the future. One of my favorite quotes is “You have a 100% success rate of surviving every bad day so far.”

Acknowledging that hopefulness is difficult right now is a great first step. We don’t need to beat ourselves up about feeling hopeless while also trying to cultivate hope. Start with where you are: if hope is challenging, that’s totally okay. Allow it to be difficult and grant yourself some grace.

Observe and alter your thought patterns

This is one of those areas where Pagans often have an advantage. Reframing thoughts is a powerful way to work with the brain’s ability to learn new patterns and behaviors. This flexibility is known as neuroplasticity. Reframing is also part of approaching hope as a practice – it’s something we repeat so we can get better at it. When we’re struggling with low levels of hope, reframing a thought to be happy is frequently unhelpful. However, reframing a thought to be neutral can have good effects. For example, “Everything is ruined now” becomes “I’m trying as hard as I can, and giving myself some patience.” Reframing can also apply to larger areas of thought. If your dreams for the future have been thrown off by life’s slings and arrows, consciously sitting and evaluating how to build a future you still desire is helpful. Maybe your plan happens in six years rather than five, or includes different people, or changes the location you expected.

Begin with observing and reframing your thoughts when you notice them. The practice of slipping into the Observer mode many of us learn in meditation practice is useful here. Don’t worry about catching and correcting every thought – start with just a few (maybe the most repetitive or intrusive ones) and grow from there.

Focus on what you can influence

As in spellwork, the person we always have the most influence over is ourselves. By tending to the aspects of our lives that we have the most control over, we help create the right circumstances for hope to flourish. Think of it as amending the soil a garden grows in.

Keep up with your self-care and creative outlets. It’s tempting to surrender to the gravitational pull of the couch and endless dopamine hunting via social media, but continuing (or starting) a self-care regimen is one of the best ways to cultivate hope and resilience. Small activities that inspire pleasure or joy are the building blocks of hope. Self-care looks different for everyone, so remember to try different techniques if this is a new practice for you. Our self-care gives us smaller moments to look forward to as well as times of pleasure and satisfaction. The combined effect is strongly supportive of a resilient mindset.

Get involved with group efforts and activities. The minister of the congregation I serve, Rev. Carl Gregg, has a wonderful saying: “If you feel like you’re just one person alone, stop being one person alone.” Group activities can be in person gatherings like Rites of Spring, A Feast of Lights, and Twilight Covening, but can also be virtual gatherings (Zoom has been such a blessing over these last few years) like Sunflower Mornings and Evenings, or taking part in a group effort on your own time. Activities with social and spiritual focuses are wonderful. If you’re having a hard time processing some of the political or environmental challenges facing us, getting involved in a group focusing on creating change on those fronts can also be helpful. Doing something, even a small thing, about a big problem can help us feel more optimistic. It also puts us in contact with other people who are trying to make the world a better place.

One of my favorite resources for getting started with political work is This website offers various political efforts to support, shows you who to contact, and gives you a script for calling and leaving a message/sending an email for your state legislators. Getting involved in local social, racial, and environmental justice organizations is a wonderful way to make an impact as well as connect with others of like mind. Acts of compassion and care help foster a sense of control over the world around us as well as have a positive effect on the lives of others.

Lastly, monitor your media intake. If you’re a bit of a news junkie like me, have specific windows of time for checking the news, and then shut off that media feed. We can only absorb so much information before we hit overload. Give yourself plenty of wind-down time after your last news bulletin of the day to recover and reset before bed. Monitoring media includes our entertainment as well. Stay aware of the emotional tone of your entertainment media and choose options that support the emotional state you’d prefer to cultivate.

And now for the magic…

Pagan practices offer us additional tools when it comes to cultivating hope and resilience. Through connecting with different energies and Beings, we can shift the flow of energy in our lives.

The Elements

The primal Elements of Earth, Air, Fire, and Water each include both generative and destructive qualities. By focusing on the uplifting or generative aspect of the different Elements, we can increase the presence of that quality in our lives. For example:

Earth stabilizes. It is the deep roots of the mountain, unchanging in the face of human turmoil. Earth holds and grounds us. Earth is the power of stability and strength.

Air brightens. It is the fresh breeze at dawn, the currents that blow the mist and darkness away. Air is the power of new ideas and effortless communication.

Fire transforms. It is the light and warmth that tempers the cold darkness of winter. Fire devours what no longer serves and illuminates the shadows. Fire is the power of passion and vitality.

Water purifies. It is the flowing waves that wash away the debris. Water nourishes, heals, cleans, and clears. Water is the power of connection and clarity.

To begin cultivating a stronger connection with one of the Elements, create space for it within your home and life. Shift your altar over to that Element’s colors and symbols. Find time to connect with the Element in natural environments. Add associated colors, stones, scents, and symbols to your clothing. Consciously connect to the Element you have chosen when you’re having a tough day, or struggling with hopelessness.

The Ancestors

Our ancestors experienced many challenges in their lives – plagues, famines, natural disasters, violent political turmoil, and more. They lived long enough to make our own presence on the planet possible and left us a legacy of survival. Developing a stronger connection with our ancestors can support our own resilience. Our ancestors have a very real stake in our lives. We are their legacy, their lives and loves still active in this world in a new form.

Learn about your ancestors. If you do not have specific names, learn about the culture you are descended from. Every culture of the world has faced incredible challenges and being able to remind yourself how far your line has come can be wonderful. Consider adding a candle or small altar for your ancestors to your devotional practices. Allow their strength to become your strength.

The Gods

Many of the Pantheons we encounter in polytheistic devotional practice include hopeful figures. So many core myths are about overcoming adversity or remaining strong in the face of overwhelming odds. If you work with the Gods, consider learning more about and making more offerings to the hopeful members of your pantheon. Like attracts like, and even just immersing ourselves in the energy of a deity who inspires hope can be beneficial.

The Self

Humans are incredibly complex beings. Within each of us exist a multitude of faces and facets. As a result, we shift between identities. We are our parent self, our child self, our ritualist self, our goofy good-natured self, our hard worker self, our trying-not-to-freak-out-the-mundanes self, and more. My own students work with an archetype of the self known as the Empowered Witch Self. Along with all those many selves, there’s a hopeful self in the mix.

Take a moment to contemplate your hopeful self. Imagine them. What are they doing or saying? How do they present themselves? How do they feel? Allow that self to become as real as possible in your visualization. Then, if today is a challenging day, take a few deep breaths and draw your hopeful self into your body. Feel their energy spreading out and through you. Experiment with holding the connection for a little while. When we guise or step into a particular facet of self, that guise eventually slips. Unfortunately, we cannot be only our hopeful self forever onward. However, this archetype can be revisited regularly and tapped into when needed. If you noticed your hopeful self wearing clothing or jewelry you do not normally wear, you could experiment with wearing those items and evaluating their impact. Our meditations, journeywork, and visualizations offer us information in many different ways.


Many of us are first in line to light a candle for a friend in need but reticent to do so on our own behalf. Not all Pagans do magic, but if you do, remember that self-enchantment is available to you. Spells to increase hopefulness and resiliency can be as simple as candle magic or as elaborate as a full monthly working. Consider what works best for your path, practice, time, and energy. Remember, the closest and best target for a spell is always the self.

I wish you hope, renewal, and resiliency. May the path forward be a blessing.

*name changed to protect privacy

A Spread and a Spell: Tarot for Winter Work

by Irene Glasse

Within the pattern of the Wheel of the Year, Winter Work is a specific area of self-work we engage in during the dark months of the year. As the lessons and wisdom of our time together at Twilight Covening settle within us, we turn our attention to the path ahead. My own Winter Work generally runs from Samhain to Ostara, but there’s a lot of room for variation. Winter Work is often spiritual or magical, but it can also be related to career, family, mental health, or the home.

Tarot is so much more than a tool for looking into the future. It can also be used to support a project or direction in life. Here are two ways you can use Tarot to enhance your Winter Work: a spread and an altar working.

As I contemplated my own Winter Work this morning, I realized I could use more information, and turned to my deck. The layout I developed is called the Inward Spiral Spread, and should be usable with any sortilege-based system – Tarot, runes, oracle cards, Kahina stones, etc.

The Inward Spiral Spread

Begin by holding the divinatory tool you’ve chosen to use and think about your Winter Work. If you already know your area of focus, visualize what that might mean in practice and how it will impact your life. If you are still settling on your Work, visualize the turn of seasons ahead of you.

Then, beginning at the outer edge of a spiral, lay your cards down:

The Inward Spiral Spread by Irene Glasse

One: Your Winter Work, or an aspect of it that needs to be focused on

Two: What is slowing down your progress or getting in the way of your Work

Three: What information/resources you need to access to support your Work

Four: The next step to take

Five: How to best support your Work within the rest of your life

Six: A message about your Work I’ll share my own reading with you so you can see how this spread can play out:

One: My Winter Work: The Four of Swords: Deep rest and solitude. The need to listen to my inner voice rather than the many voices that surround me. I’m dangerously close to burnout and need to do some reevaluation/prioritization as well.

Two: What is slowing me down: The Two of Swords: Indecision about how best to proceed. Both mind and heart need to have a say here, and consciously sitting with this fork in the woods (and all its pros and cons) is necessary in order to determine the path forward.

Three: What information/resources I need: The King of Wands: I need to delegate more in order to create space for my own Work. I’m surrounded by people who can help, I just need to ask for assistance. My vision is what’s needed, and some of the busywork I spend time on is getting in the way.

Four: The next step to take: The Ten of Wands: Prioritize tasks and spend energy on the highest-impact ones. My workload is heavy, so targeted application of energy is important here. And, just do the Work. Get started now.

Five: How best to support my Work: The Star: Know that this Work is a time of renewal, of recovery after pain and challenge. Prioritize activities that are spiritually anchored, include rest or beauty, or are uplifting in nature.

Six: A message about my Work: The World: This Work is the end of one cycle and the beginning of another, and will place me in a very empowered position when it comes to choosing what comes next.

A Winter Work Altar Practice

Another way Tarot can support our Winter Work is by acting as a focus point on our altars. Select two cards from your deck. The first card corresponds to where you are right now. Choose a card that resonates with how you’re feeling. The second card corresponds to where you will be once your Winter Work is completed. Try to visualize how you will feel and what your life will look like on the other side, and choose a card that resonates with that visualization.

Place both cards on your altar, with the first card, the one representing you now, on top so that it completely covers the other card. In the coming days, when you visit your altar, slide the top card (now) to the side a little bit, beginning to reveal the future card underneath. Perform this action mindfully, contemplating both where you are now and where you are headed.

In time, the cards will be side by side. Sit with that balance as your life begins to change through your Work.

Then, day by day, slide the future card over to cover the starting point card. Again, perform this action mindfully. Feel the way your Winter Work is changing your life. Feel how far you’ve come. Consider how best to continue supporting this transformation.

When the future card has completely eclipsed the starting card, take a moment to celebrate how far you’ve come. Then, evaluate: where are you going from here? If you feel like your end goal card is not quite where you are now, start the cycle again. Choose a new card for where you are now and either the same card for your goal or a different one if the shape of that goal has changed for you. Then, begin the pattern once more.

If you find that your Work is complete, congratulations. Shuffle your cards back into your deck and reset your altar for whatever magic is next for you.

May your Winter Work be nourishing, healing, and transforming. May the deep roots we send down this winter stabilize and support us. May we emerge in spring time better and brighter, and ready to connect with community as our best selves.

Find more of Irene’s work at