Writing Magic: On Creating a Sacred Writing Space

I am honored to be this week’s guest writer-in–virtual-residence at Maia Toll’s seasonal Witch Camp, which explores the creativity and fertility of Spring through writing and ritual.


This week’s Witch Camp lesson is titled “The Sacred Life of Stuff,” and this week’s ritual is titled “The Altar of the Sacred Daily.”


Maia, an herbalist, life coach, and owner of herbiary, combines traditional wisdom with modern medicine. She teaches that an altar is a sacred space that honors creativity, and believes that an altar can be a portal to your deepest truth, “a designated spot for reflection.”


One of the benefits to creating an altar, Maia says, is to begin to see the stuff that surrounds us as sacred: “When we have designated something as ‘sacred’ we see theenergy that it holds. We understand that the photos hold a bit of the wisdom of the person photographed, that a stone remembers the earth, and a feather the bird.”


Recently, when I invited the women in my Excavate Your Truth/Free Your Voice class to post a picture of their writing space on our private Forum, a number of women referred to their writing space as sacred.


Perhaps this was the seed that compelled me to create an altar within my writing space this past weekend—to deem my writing space sacred—using Maia’s weekly lesson as a guide.


sacred writing space


First, I chose a mantel in my writing room as my designated altar. Then I cleared the clutter that had accumulated there. I also cleared my writing table and moved it from its previous corner to the space directly beneath the mantel. Then I washed the mantel and table with warm sudsy water. Next I “smudged” the mantel and my writing table with sage, a process that clears negative energy from a space.


In Maia’s words, the purpose of clearing and smudging the space that you designate for your altar “is to create a blank canvas to which you can now purposefully add things. The clearing off is also part of the consecration, if you will, the energetic act of turning something mundane, like a tabletop, into something sacred.”


You can learn more from Maia about the why and how of smudging here.


After I smudged my writing altar, my writing table, and the surrounding space with smoldering sage, I set about selecting objects to put on my altar.


What happened next seems, in hindsight, to have sprung from a source beyond my conscious awareness. It was as if I was “guided” to create my altar, adding to it items that together speak a sacred truth about my memoir in progress Searching for Salt: A Writer’s Quest to Recover Her Voice from Generations of Silence.


You can see the objects I chose in the photo of my writing altar above, but I will describe them here to give you an understanding of my process of declaring my space sacred.


The photo of the panther represents an aspect of my memoir that connects the present-time narrative—recovering my voice—with the young girl I was when I stopped speaking my truth.


The book opposite the panther is the “mock memoir” jacket that I created to help me envision my memoir as completed. The cover includes the image of a young girl with a panther emerging from her upper back—a simple pencil drawing I found on the Internet, a find that helped me to realize my story was larger than me; indeed, that it touches what Jung calls the collective unconscious or what some spiritual traditions refer to as animal guides.


At the base of my mock memoir is a river rock with the word completion engraved on it. Completion is my writing word of the year.


A clay fertility Goddess and a conch shell sit between the photo of the panther and the mock memoir. I acquired the clay Goddess when I was twenty-six years old (I am now forty-eight) and just setting out on my quest to recover my voice, which has proved to be a journey of becoming the writer I am, of healing, of a return to my own knowing.


My father gave me the conch shell when I was six or seven years old. And though this was the time in my life when I was learning to silence myself, I held that shell to my ear for hours, mesmerized by the sound of the ocean. It holds for me a larger truth: despite life’s wounds, I remained connected to something larger than me—the beguiling sound of surf despite the fact that I was miles from the ocean.


I adorned my altar with two more “objects”: a poster of Lucille Clifton’s poem “won’t you celebrate with me,” which ends with the lines “…come celebrate / with me that everyday / something has tried to kill me / and has failed.” (In my mind, I often replace the word silence for kill.) And a small print of my favorite Adrienne Rich quote: “Every poem breaks a silence that had to be overcome.”


I hung the Lucille Clifton poster with a length of brown velvet ribbon. Two years ago, when I was healing from breast cancer, which is also part of the present-time narrative of my memoir, my dear writing friend Bunny knitted me a pair of socks. She wrapped them in tissue paper and tied the bundle with this length of velvet ribbon. Years before that, when I was still attempting to write my truth as fiction, Bunny told me that it was as a writer of creative nonfiction that I shined. This ribbon, too, speaks a truth about who I am as a writer.


All of the objects on my altar had been in my writing space “willy-nilly” before I created an altar. It wasn’t until I declared them sacred that I began to see the story they hold—the story of my different selves connected by a deeper truth (from silence to voice) that speaks into being who I am as a result of who I have been.


Maia says, “Smudging gives you a clean slate, a way to start again.”


Was it the smudging, then, that brought such a heightened sense of awareness to my altar? That worked a kind of magic on my ability to see anew my own writing truth?


I can only say that when I stood back from the altar I’d created after deeming the objects on it sacred I was flooded with a knowing that I was nearing completion and that this knowing, which I’d once, so long ago, dismissed, would yield its own kind of magic.


Do you consider your writing space sacred? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

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  • Chris Fraser May 13, 2015   Reply →

    Marilyn, first I want to say that your posts are some of the very few that I always read as they’re deposited in my inbox. Thank you for your insightful words.

    This post is particularly timely for me. I am in the process of dismantling my sacred writing space. You see, we are selling the house and have bought an RV and will be embarking soon on a life of travel. My space was highly personal and I have put away, with an ache in my heart, those things that are meaningful to me in my writing journey. I didn’t realize how this sanitizing of the personal and meaningful would feel until I did it. Not comfortable!

    However, the process of clearing and cleaning has been beneficial to me as well. And now I look forward to the next phase in life. And yes, I am devising ways that I can take a portable sacred space, a few meaningful things, along with my on my travels. And perhaps pick up the odd thing along the way. It will involve resetting things each time I sit down to write, but maybe that will also be a way of resetting intention each time.

    So, to answer your question, I do consider my writing space, wherever that may be, sacred. I’ve written in parks and coffee shops as well and I expect that I’ll be doing more of that in the near future. I do have a “designated spot for reflection” and have also have tried to hone the ability to see the sacred in any space I sit down to write.

    Thank you again for your wonderful posts. They touch a spot deep within.

    • Marilyn Bousquin May 13, 2015   Reply →

      Thank you, Chris, for this heartfelt and reflective comment. It speaks so beautifully to the deeper meaning–the sacred–that our “things” hold for us and how they reflect back to us our deeper truth. I imagine that the experience of “dismantling” and packing up your writing space has brought you to new levels of insight that would make for a very meaningful essay should you choose to write it. Also, it means so much to me that you read my posts. Really, thank YOU. Sending you much joy and peace and sacred, reflective moments as you journey into your new life and space. Warm hug, Marilyn

  • Marilyn Bousquin May 14, 2015   Reply →


  • Katherine Stevenson May 14, 2015   Reply →

    “I am with you Chris, in terms of always reading your posts Marilyn. I delight in them and when I see you have a new one, I get a coffee, and sit in a comfortable place to read. I often read them more than once. It is like you are a friend coming to visit. I love seeing the photo of your physical sacred space and really valued your descriptions of each piece. I do not have a dedicated writing space, instead write on my computer on my lap wherever I find my self. I have been increasingly thinking of creating a sacred space for my writing and also want to hand write more. My today project is to create a sacred space for my writing. Thank you Marilyn.”

    • Marilyn Bousquin May 14, 2015   Reply →

      Katherine, thank you so much for your moving comment and for your time and patience as we fixed the comment feature on this site! I am so delighted that you are entering into a sacred writing space with your writing, and I cannot wait to hear the magic that it brings to you. And I double can’t wait to read the words you write there. Much love, M

      P.S. Here’s to many more mornings of us having coffee together! 🙂

  • Bunny May 14, 2015   Reply →

    Ah, socks! I think socks are spiritual. Truly. We put them on as protection from the way’s roughness. We put them on for comfort. They are the catalyst for the day’s first choice: What color? What kind? A pair or a mix? Maybe there is value in making my sock drawer my mantlepiece?! 🙂 Then I would rarely begin my day without a moment of reflection. I’m glad you saved the ribbon. It was waiting for Clifton.

    • Marilyn Bousquin May 19, 2015   Reply →

      Sock reflections! No surprise that you, dear friend, would find meaning even in a sock drawer. And, yes, the ribbon was indeed waiting for Clifton :).

  • Marsha Ross May 19, 2015   Reply →

    Ah, yes, I have cleared the clutter, added a few plants, some family photos but after reading your post, I realize that something is missing. Perhaps one of my rocks, a leaf, a pine cone, a candle, a fresh rose. I thought of my father’s Purple Heart – his wounding and his healing. If he could, I can…

    • Marilyn Bousquin May 19, 2015   Reply →

      Hi, Marsha. Thank you for this beautiful comment–your father’s wounding and healing as a metaphor for possibilities in your own life. Yes, indeed: You Can.

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