Some Fields – aka Lenses – for Studying Polytheistic Religions

Polytheistic religions are, by design, multifaceted. There is no single model that encompasses every polytheistic religion. There are, however, several different fields that can be used to explore polytheistic religions, just as there are different fields in every subject. History, for example, can be broken down into many different fields – environmental history, labor history, queer history, women’s history, race history, statistical history, microhistory, etc. In the same vein, polytheistic religions can each individually be explored through certain fields of study.

I try to utilize the twelve fields that follow when I am studying a polytheistic religion. I’ll go more in-depth with each one in regard to the Heathen religion in my future posts, but for now, I am just going to introduce the fields themselves.

The first field is cosmogony, which is the study of the creation of the universe. Every religion has an origin story for the cosmos – some have several. Understanding those creation myths are vital to understanding the religion they underpin. In Heathenry, the creation myth revolves around the collision of fire and ice giving rise to the spark of life in the middle of the Ginnungagap, or yawning void, which then gave rise to everything else.

The second field is cosmology, which is the study of the universe itself. This differs from cosmogony because cosmology looks at the structure of the universe after its creation. Said a different way, the creation myth/s of religion are so integral that they require a separate, in-depth study. In Heathenry, the cosmology centers around the World Tree, Yggdrasil, the Nine Worlds that rest in its branches, and the Three Wells that lay at its roots.

The third field is theogony, which refers to the lineage of the gods. This gives us information about the family of the gods, how the gods structure and arrange themselves, and what the relationships are between different gods. Within Heathenry, there are two or three families of gods, depending on your perspective. Traditional Heathens only acknowledge the Aesir and Vanir families, but others acknowledge the Jotuns (Rokkr) as a third family.

The fourth field centers around sacred calendars, rites, and practices. This includes the calendars that the religion historically used, the days considered sacred, the rituals practiced and the method of practice, and the daily way of life. Many people approach polytheistic religions through this field, as most polytheistic religions are centered on right practice (orthopraxy). Polytheistic religions are lived religions, so practice is a necessity – it is the only requirement. While there are many ways to study a religion, there is only one way to follow a religion, and, in polytheistic religions, that means through practice.

The fifth field is eschatology, which is the study of death, judgment, and final destination. It is the study of the afterlife. Every religion views death differently. Considering the fact death is the most intriguing and terrifying phenomena in the universe, it makes sense that there are so many different ideas of what happens when you die. Within Heathenry, there are several different afterlives, but there are also several conflicting views as to who goes to which life. Most polytheistic religions are life-affirming, so they are rooted in a this-world mentality. Heathenry is no different, as the afterlife you receive is considered to be one based entirely on the deeds you perform in this life.

The sixth field is axiology, or the study of values and ethics. It is the moral creed that underpins religion. Many polytheistic religions do not have creeds that are explicitly stated; instead, the moral codes are culturally embedded and learned through the myths themselves. Within Modern Heathenry, the moral codes are often found in the Poetic lay known as the Havamal. This is a set of maxims supposedly given by Odin himself, as the translation of Havamal is “Words of the High One.”

The seventh field is pneumatology, or the study of spiritual beings and phenomena. This deals with the types of spiritual creatures a person would be expected to encounter and/or honor. This can include the gods but is typically focused on other classes of spirits. Within Heathenry, that includes elves, wights, and trolls – Kvedulf Gunndarson has a wonderful book on the topic called “Elves, Wights, and Trolls: Studies Towards the Practice of Germanic Heathenry” that really explores the pneumatology of Heathenry.

The eighth field is soulology, or the study of the soul or soul-complex. Soulology itself is a modern term, as the traditional word here would have been psychology. Psychology was once understood to be the study of the soul, but in its modern iteration, it is known as the study of the human psyche. These aren’t identical concepts, so it is important to differentiate them. Within Heathenry, the soul is considered a soul-complex with many parts to it. It is not unusual, in polytheistic religions, to see soul-complexes that describe five or more souls or soul parts.

The ninth field is semiotics & symbology, which is the study of signs & symbols and their interpretation and uses. Within Heathenry, there are many signs and symbols, all of which mean vastly different things. Runes are the mainstay of Heathen symbology, but there is also the Helm of Awe, Mjolnir, the Runic Compass, the Valknut, and the Irminsul (to name a few).

The tenth field is sophology, or the study of wisdom. In this sense, wisdom comes from reading the myths, applying appropriate cultural interpretations to those myths, and using the myths as guidelines for experiential living. It also requires utilizing knowledge gained from other fields of study and/or life experience and synthesizing that knowledge into a composite whole. Wisdom does not operate in a vacuum nor can it be found in a single place. Ethics are a part of wisdom, but morality changes depending on the culture. Due to its nature, wisdom is virtually impossible to pin down or describe, as it has a variety of forms. Within Heathenry, wisdom is highly valued, as Odin, the chief god of the pantheon, is a god of wisdom who always seeks more of it.

The eleventh field is sexology, or the study of sex. This includes the act of sex itself and how it was viewed, as well as gender and how that is construed within the religion. Different religions view nonbinary identities as incredibly sacred; others view them as perverse. In some religions, there are gods that require practitioners to be of one sex or another, and some practices are restricted to certain sexes. In the modern world, people often find it offensive when religious restrictions prevent them from accessing certain gods or certain rituals. Not all people need access to all things. That is why there are still closed religions, and it is important to respect the closed nature of those religions.

The twelfth field is occultology, or the study of the occult (meaning secret). Within polytheistic religions, this refers to magic derived from religious practices. Within Heathenry, there are three specific branches of magic. There is seidhr, which is a type of trance/oracular magic, traditionally only performed by women (there were and are exceptions). There is galdr, which is runic vibrational magic, that was traditionally magic done by men (again, exceptions exist). Lastly, there is spaecraft, and in today’s terms translates to herbalism and/or cunning.

The fields can, and do, overlap each other. That said, it is sometimes easier to use a narrow lens to look at a complex subject to better understand it. Though each of these fields can be used as narrow lenses to explore polytheistic religions, it is important to keep in mind that every religion is far more than the twelve fields listed here – i.e. the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

I am the farthest removed you can get from being a reductionist, and I highly discourage anyone from trying to use these fields in a manner that suggests that they are the only parts of a religion. They are not – these are simply the ones that I have found useful in my own studies. I’m sure there are thousands upon thousands of other techniques to use to approach the study of religion. These are just the ones that I have developed for myself. If they help you, great, but do not go out and try to tell people that they are the “only way to study religion.” That is a mindset born from living in a monotheistic culture, and, if you are practicing a polytheistic religion, it is one I highly encourage you to divest yourself of as soon as possible.

Going forward, I will be examining Heathenry through these fields. Some will require more discussion than others, some will require less – in any case, it won’t be as simple as a 12-part series. Moreover, the views I express are mine alone, and they do not represent the views of the entire Heathen community.

Amulets

Let’s talk about a universal aspect of personal magic: amulets. These are the magical items we wear or carry to protect us (usually by warding against bad influences). Don’t particularly want things like disease or danger around you? Not a problem, ’cause there’s numerous amulets to choose from. I’m going to take a moment to discuss some of today’s most common amulets; however, I will try to focus on amulets that aren’t overtly tied to one particular form of practice/religion, so that I can discuss options that would be available for use by a variety of people. Amulets are especially helpful tools in that they can do their job with little prompting, having already acquired years of cultural intent behind them; this means that they’re a great help in particular to those who don’t practice magic, or those who are just learning magic and could use a little extra protection as a sure precaution. (Of course, experienced practitioners can also benefit from, and even enhance the boons given by an amulet.)

Nazar
These blue glass beads resembling eyes are often referred to themselves as “evil eyes” in the English-speaking countries of the West. Their design stems from ancient amulets, and their production/use has spread across various cultures around the Middle East and Mediterranean. They are usually believed to protect against the Evil Eye, a malevolent gaze received by a person who is envious or malevolent themselves, which then causes misfortune for the recipient. Today, the readily-available nazar can still commonly be found hanging in houses, offices, or cars, as well as being incorporated into jewelry.

Cornicello
This regional Italian charm has become more accessible over the years, especially as numerous Italian immigrants brought it to places like America with them. (In fact, the first time I saw one, it was a silver necklace charm being worn by an American woman of Italian descent.) Often referred to in English as the “Italian horn”, the origin of this horn- or chili-like shape has been speculated on, but the sure truth seems to have been forgotten. Many cornicellos made of various metals are now on the market as necklace charms and such, as traditionally favored materials (i.e., red coral, horn) would be more expensive. The cornicello is comparable to the nazar in that it is also used to ward off bad luck or the Evil Eye, but it comes with the added bonus of promoting fertility as well and was traditionally favored for use by men.

Black, Red, & Blue Maneki Neko
The Japanese maneki neko, or “beckoning cat”, has very quickly attained widespread usage and developed a complex variety of colors/appearances relating to specific associations. For this discussion on amulets–that is, items which ward off the undesirable–we will consider a few colors of maneki neko in particular. It is the black maneki neko who is employed to ward off evil or evil spirits, even to the point of its recent popular usage by women to ward off stalkers. The use of a red maneki neko will ward off illness. The less-common blue maneki neko is sometimes believed to ward off accidents, offering safety both at home and in traffic, although some have also given completely different associations for the blue. There is also significance to which paw the maneki neko has raised; most say that both paws raised is best for protection (ideally with the paws at different heights, however, so as not to look like a sign of surrender).

Yansheng Coin
Also referred to as “numismatic charms” in English, these coins are common throughout the history of China, as well as in Japan and Vietnam. In other countries, these coin charms can now often be found woven on red cords in metaphysical shops, where they’re sold as feng shui decorations or such. In truth, the history and purposes of these coins is extremely complex and varied, so I will simply make a quick note that common modern variations of these coins–often brass-colored with a hole in the center to be strung onto jewelry or decorations–are inscribed with Chinese writing or Yì Jīng (I Ching) hexagrams that include the purpose of protection.

Horseshoe
A common good luck token, the old horseshoe also offers protection. It is often hung above doorways to ward against anything malicious entering. Many say that a horseshoe that has actually been worn by a horse is ideal. I was always told, as an American of British Isles ancestry, that the horseshoe should have both ends pointing up. However, in some cultures the horseshoe points face downward; I’ve had the idea behind this difference described to me as being a belief in the upward-pointing horseshoe being able to hold luck so that it isn’t lost, versus a belief that the downward-pointing horseshoe will pour luck out onto those who pass underneath. Today, the horseshoe is commonly available as a jewelry charm, making it wearable protection as well.

Herbal Amulets
There are innumerable herbs whose presence is said to offer various protections; some are planted to protect the home, others are dried and can be carried. Among many other magical uses, carrying dried heather on your person is believed to ward against sexual assault or unwanted advances. Along with well-known garlic, angelica root, bay leaves, blessed thistle, and countless other herbs are also reported to repel malicious energies, and can be dried or used in a variety of magical practices. Some say planting live ivy around your house will protect from negative energies or thieves.

Amuletic Colors
For some amulets, or even just warding purposes, color is a crucial component. This is often a matter of the color associations held by that particular culture, as with most other magics. In multiple cultures, red is a color very commonly used in amulet-making; it’s so auspicious in China, that even just red clothing may bring good fortune. In the American South, a light blue color referred to as “haint blue” is used to paint parts of houses to ward off harmful spirits.

Images of Protective Deities
In many ancient cultures, a tiny statuette of a deity with a loop affixed to it would be worn as a pendant to invoke the protection of that deity. For example, this was quite prevalent in Ancient Egypt, and the tombs we discover today are still full of necklaces bearing figurines of various deities. I personally have a modern ceramic pendant from Etsy featuring the full figure of the Egyptian goddess Taweret, allowing me to wear it today to protect myself from malevolent spirits much as the ancient women and children of Egypt did. With affordable materials like pewter being commonly used today, and the advent of niche internet shops, this is a wonderfully personal way for modern devotees to show their devotion to a spirit while asking that spirit’s protection in their everyday lives; even many of the less-common spirits celebrated in paganism can sometimes be found.

Taweret - National Museums Liverpool, World Museum
Ancient Egyptian Faience Amulets of the Goddess Taweret (Courtesy of National Museums Liverpool, World Museum)

Harm None?

In my time on the Pagan part of the Internet I’ve seen plenty of posts about whether or not you have to be vegan in order to be Wiccan, or whether or not it’s OK to euthanize a critically injured animal. I’ve even seen people go as far as to say non vegans practicing Wicca aren’t actually Wiccans at all. What it basically all boils down to is the true meaning of “harm none”. It’s actually impossible to go through your life without causing any harm.

You harm microbes when you wash your hands and when you clean. You squash ants when you walk. If you eat meat then an animal had to die. If you are a vegan then a plant in many causes had to die. They are living things as well. Vegetables and other crops must be planted, the equipment used for this kills mice and bugs who live in the fields. Bugs hit car windshields, animals accidentally hit by cars and so on and so on.

My point isn’t to be depressed or upset by this harm. Animals can’t go through their life without harming others either, it’s just the world we live in. The Rede is very important but it’s not the be-all end-all. It’s not our version of the 10 Commandments.

It is extremely good advice, something to strive for in our lives. Do not however expect perfection, do your best to be a good person and to minimize the harm you cause but realize that you will cause harm to someone or something just in the course of living. This doesn’t make you a bad person or a bad Wiccan. This makes you human. The world isn’t black-and-white, it’s filled with shades of gray.

I remember a couple years ago a person had started a thread in a Wiccan group I was a part of on social media. Essentially the woman was interested in taxidermy and crafting jewelry out of bone, claws and other animal parts, all humanely sourced from natural deaths. Inevitably someone started a second thread about this talking about how shocking and “unWiccan” this was. How “disgusting” this person must be and how they are wannabes for “enabling this behavior” and that they should “go read some Wiccan books”.

To be quite blunt? It struck a very raw nerve with me.

Honestly this narrow mindedness and absolute refusal to acknowledge the natural world (which includes death) while proclaiming to honor it is why other Pagans bash us Wiccans. People of different traditions have always used animal parts in jewelry and sacred ritual, our god (The Horned God) is even a hunter! Heck, The Goddess is often portrayed as one too.

By judging others for engaging in practices that are not causing undue suffering and are in accordance with their own traditions people like that are the ones who aren’t acting Wiccan. Other disrespectful and insulting comments on threads such as this one? How about “Read some Wiccan books”? Which ones? Just the ones that agree with your thinking or any of the hundreds published by different authors with different opinions?

What of people whose ancestors are Native American and  have used animal products in jewelry and sacred rituals since the beginning of their people? I am in no way comparing any form of Wicca to any Native tradition but that kind of Puritanism towards other belief systems makes me all kinds of uncomfortable.

Welsh Goddesses: Blodeuwedd

blodeuwedd-terraincantata

Image by terraincantata

 

One of the most well-known Welsh goddesses isn’t even listed in the Mabinogion as a goddess. She is instead listed as the wife of Llew Llaw Gyffes, a son of Arianrhod. In the story, Arianrhod essentially curses her son, saying he will have no name unless she gives it to him, he will not bear arms unless she gives them to him, and he will have no earthly wife.

Llew’s uncle is a magician who helps Llew by tricking Arianrhod into naming him and giving him armor and weapons. The wife was a whole other issue.

In the end, Llew’s uncle forms a woman’s figure out of flowers. He then uses his magic to give her life, and so Blodeuwedd is created, an unearthly woman. Her sole purpose is to be Llew’s wife.

After they had been married for a time, Llew went away for several days. During that time, hunters come through his lands. Blodeuwedd, being a good hostess, invites the hunters to spend the night at her castle, which they gratefully accept. At dinner, she sees the lord who is the head of the hunt and falls deeply in love with him, as he does with her. They spend three nights together, and decide that they must be together. Over the course of the next year, they slowly gather the information and tools necessary to kill Llew.

Now Llew is rather hard to kill. He must be standing in a place that is neither inside nor outside, and can only be killed by a spear that is forged in a year, among other bits. Blodeuwedd feigns concern for her husband and convinces him to demonstrate how these requirements must be met. When he does so, Blodeuwedd’s lover throws a spear, seriously injuring Llew. In fact, for a long while, all believe he is dead. Blodeuwedd and her lover run away, escaping to his lands. Eventually she is caught and her punishment is to be turned into an owl.

Now, when I first read this myth, I wasn’t exactly thrilled with her. I mean, she plotted her husband’s death after cheating on him with some strange man, then ran away with him to escape punishment. And yes, on the surface, this is what happens. But there is a lot more to the story if you look a little deeper.

Blodeuwedd was created for Llew. She was given life with her sole purpose pre-ordained. She didn’t love Llew at all, but she was made for him. No one asked her what she wanted, or even if she would agree to marry him. The expectation was that she would do as she was told, as it was what she had been created for. She had no choice but to go along with it.

When she meets the hunter lord, she falls in love with him. He is everything she could have hoped for, and he feels the same about her. It is an instant, love at first sight that could lead to the deaths of both of them. So while they plot together, they are risking everything for each other.

Blodeuwedd shows herself to be a very strong woman. She breaks social norms and does what she feels is best for her. For the first time in her existence, she is working for something that she wants. She is strong and resilient. She finds something that she wants and she goes after it.

I feel like this makes her much more relevant to women today than ever. Too often we are forced into roles that do not suit us, things that we accept because we have to, not because we want to. If we follow our hearts and minds and break through those expectations, we are labeled as troublesome, headstrong and a whole list of worse derogatory words. Even with the advances in feminism today, we still have to fight to be what and who we want. Blodeuwedd shows us that we can do it.

Working with her has been eye-opening for me. She has shown me that the only one who defines my purpose is me. I don’t have to do something just because someone dictates that I have to. I am free to make my own choices for my life. My life, no matter who gave it to me, is mine to live.

Returning from Reality

Sometimes life throws you curveballs. It happens a lot, really. It’s easy to get swept up in the mundane and begin to neglect things beyond it. I know I’m guilty of this. No number of explanations or excuses I can muster could really make up for that.

Although I offer to my ancestors every day, and Loki when he asks, and the Morrigan on one week out of the month which I have set aside…for some reason, it’s the gods I love the most that I have the most difficulty approaching when my life falls out of balance. I start finding any excuse to neglect my rites and rituals and offerings to the Egyptian gods.

Of course the Morrigan noticed before I did. As much as working with her and serving her pains me, I am not so foolish as to deny her wisdom and foresight. More directly, she pointed out that though I serve her in fear, I do still serve her, so perhaps I would do well to fear the Egyptians a little more. I don’t personally want to serve anyone out of fear, but I understood what she meant last month, and I failed to heed that thinly veiled warning.

I fell into the procrastination and apathy trap. I told myself I wanted to offer to the Egyptian gods I work with every Tuesday since it’s an assured day off from work, but I would make excuses to myself that I was too tired, needed more time to rest after work from Monday, and so on. Or I would say that I have nothing good enough to offer. Or I would simply get distracted in talking to my friends and partners. And then it was how much time I was spending clinging to my partner that made me realize how unbalanced I was getting. Putting all my eggs in one basket with my energy, metaphorically speaking. I apologized to my partner for being overbearing, but not before a good textual slap in the face from a good friend of mine who called me out on all my excuses and apathetic garbage. Something in that latter conversation stands out to me still:

As someone who sometimes has precognitive concepts, I feel that much of my life is set and fated. I often get bitter over this, despite the fact that the very notion has kept me from doing stupid things many times over. I described it as feeling like I live along a moving sidewalk path. If I try to run backwards on it, the movement of the sidewalk simply speeds up and I continue where it wants anyway. If I try to walk or run with it concurrent with its direction, then I get thrown into situations before I’m ready. If I try to stop and appreciate something nice along the way, those things slip from my grip so quickly I can barely process it. I feel at the mercy of it, as if I can only let fate drag me on its moving sidewalk like a dog on a chain. It’s infuriating. Just as I was ranting about that fury, my friend gave a text shrug and told me I just needed an attitude adjustment. I wound up crying for nearly an hour because I couldn’t quite wrap my head around why it was so wrong to just want to stop and appreciate how well my life was going for once before the other shoe dropped and I’d be thrust back into work.

Then I realized: it’s not wrong at all to want to appreciate the good things in life. My problem wasn’t that, so much as that I was clinging so desperately to any shred of happiness that I was choking it. It’s a pattern I’ve seen myself fall into many times before. The same situation almost led me to failing Honors Chemistry II in high school. I was too busy texting my girlfriend in class and spending time with her instead of doing my optional homework that I really should have done to grasp the concepts better.

To take it a step further and apply that back to my practice, I realized with full shame that I was in pretty much the same place. I’ve only been offering during my bad times, and then when times are good, I cling to the good in the mundane and have neglected not only my other mundane duties, but also my duty to the gods. This seems to be a common problem across people. The feeling of needing to find excuses even for the things we want to do is something I’ve seen many people struggle with.

So this post is both something of a confession and a notice. I know I need to set a schedule and actually keep it. Keeping the train going has always been difficult for me, but at this stage in my life, I don’t really have the time for that kind of dilly-dallying. But it’s okay. It happens. All we can do is return back to the offerings we owe and remember that sometimes that balancing the mundane requires a little help from the divine.

Everyday rituals

Hindus are big on rituals. They have a tradition for every occasion in life – and I mean it! From the day of a baby’s birth, he or she will have a naming ceremony, a ceremony at one year when they get their hair shaved off – same thing again when they are three so don’t get frightened when you see little girls going around with a bald head, hopefully it’s just her ‘mundan’ been done. Then, a ritual for when they got to school, for when they start writing, for when girls get their first period (yes, really!), for first job, first car, first house; in fact for anything valuable you buy or build there’s a ritual. Then there’s life’s big milestones; birth, marriage, death… and of course all the religious festivals have their own special traditions – and these change from state to state! 

But what about day to day life? Even in India, there are days when there aren’t any festivals or religious occasions going on! (I will have to fact-check this sentence though, I am not completely sure I’m telling the truth!)

In any case, here’s how to do a basic Hindu morning and evening ritual – what I do, anyway. There are people who do less, there are people who do more. These rituals – pooja – are highly customisable so don’t feel any pressure. 

Here’s what you need on your altar:
1. A statue of the god of your choice – or anything to represent them. 
2. Candles – they can be simple tea lights or diyas. Diya is a kind of oil lamp, I make them for special occasions.
3. Incense sticks or cones
4. Some water
5. Some food offering. Make sure it’s vegetarian and hasn’t been tasted by anyone before you offer it. 
What to do:
After taking shower/bath and brushing teeth and hair in the morning you put on fresh clothes and you are ready to do pooja. It’s important to be as clean as possible, as a show of respect to the gods. It also helps you get tuned into the pooja. If you just come home from work and do it without anything beforehand, you are likely to rush it along so you can get on with other stuff. Do it when you have 10 minutes of peace for the gods. 
So now that you are ready, you go to your altar and light the candle. There are hundreds of mantras out there but I will share the two most popular ones: the Gayatri and the Maha Mrityunjaya mantra. When lighting the candle people often chant the Gayatri Mantra (see below). On the candle you light your incense stick, and  do three circles around your altar with it, consecrating it and offering the fragrance to the gods. 
Now, many people use little bells to get the gods’ attention. If you have one, you could ring it while doing your rounds with the incense. Any ordinary bell will do if you like the sound of it, but traditionally it should be made of brass. Brass has a special vibration that is said to clear the mind of any other thoughts and help us concentrate on the pooja. Don’t worry if you don’t have one though. I don’t use mine because it irritates the devotion out of me. 
After the incense, you go and change the water you have on your altar. I do this daily once, in the morning. If by chance you have chosen a Shiva lingam to worship, pour some water over it to keep its energies calm. Shivlings are said to multiply whatever emotions are present in the house, and too much is not good of anything so we try and keep the lingam nice and calm by offering it water daily. You could do this to any statue, just make sure it is waterproof and you have a dish under it to catch the water. 
This is optional, I do it only on special occasions but some people do it daily: now offer the food. It can be any fruit – peal it and/or cut it like you would for children. It could be something you cooked (but don’t taste it before offering!) or a bar of chocolate. Whatever you think the gods would appreciate. Now, there is a rule at certain states of India that this offering should be vegetarian and may not contain onions or garlic. This isn’t applicable everywhere but it is good to keep in mind, just in case. Try what suits your belief and do that. 
While offering the water and food you can chant the Maha Mrityunjaya mantra. If you like, you could just talk to the gods and ask them to accept your offerings, or tell them you love them and are happy to have them around… or pour your heart out to them. In my experience they love heartfelt interaction, so whatever you do, do it from the heart. 
Many people blow conch shells at the end of the pooja. It is great fun and its vibrations clear the energy in the house and blowing it is good for your organs – heart and lungs especially – so I do recommend getting one and learning how to blow it. 

When you are done with this, bow down and touch your forehead to the ground. Then put your hands together and say bye to them. You are free to go. 

A few notes more: 
Whatever you use on your altar, belongs to the altar. You don’t use the candles anywhere else, you don’t light those incenses just for the smell, and you don’t use the oil you’re making the oil lamps with for cooking. 
Food and drink offerings must be eaten or drank after the pooja. You can leave them on the altar for some time but throwing them out would be a big insult. These are called prashadam, sacred food/drink that have been blessed by the gods.
So to sum it all up, a basic pooja is:
1. Light candle (ring bell if you have one)
2. Gayatri Mantra
3. Light incense
4. Change water
5. Give food
6. Chant Maha Mrityunjaya mantra
(Blow conch if you have one)
7. Bow
Some people sing bhajans, some stay silent and meditate… there are many things you can add to your ritual. Whatever feels right, probably is. The most important thing is:

IT SHOULD COME FROM THE HEART!

Link to the Gayatri mantra.

Link to the Maha Mrityunjaya mantra.

Yours, Not Theirs

I have always been very interested in religion and spirituality. When I was just a kid I even had a little girl’s bible that I read cover to cover. As I grew up I started asking questions and exploring my beliefs. I don’t remember exactly when I discovered Wicca but I devoured everything I could find on it. I also began studying comparative religion. The rest is basically history.

I consider myself Wiccan though I take inspiration from many sources. These include but aren’t limited to New Orleans Style Voodoo, Rokkatru and some Christian beliefs. I also call myself a witch. My path puts an emphasis on the Faerie Realm.

I believe in one all powerful source Whom I call God. To me God has a masculine side (The Horned God) and a feminine side (The Triple Goddess), like two sides of one coin. I see all the gods and goddesses as being manifestations/aspects of Them while also being individuals at the same time. It’s like shining a light through a prism. It’s all one light but it shines through as a rainbow of different colors. I try to live each day being the best version of myself. Sometimes I succeed and sometimes I don’t. I like to do practical things to honor nature like putting up bird feeders, growing plants, etc.

I celebrate the phases of the moon as to me they represent the phases of The Triple Goddess and of the changing cycles of the earth. In a similar way I celebrate the Solstices as different points along the lifecycle of The Horned God. I’m very much a “Circle Of Life” type of person.

To me magick has to do with the flow of the universe. Some of this energy comes from within us, some from all around the universe and some from the gods. Magick is basically working with the rhythms of the universe to accomplish changes. It’s every bit as natural as as, the force of gravity.

This is my Wicca, but it may not be yours. Our beliefs and practices are heavily affected by our experiences and perceptions of the world around us. That’s the reason why there is no “One Size Fits All” situation here. Don’t through rules and traditions headlong out the window for no reason but don’t be afraid of your practice, your beliefs looking different from the person next to you. Yours isn’t their’s.