My Oldest Altar Tool: My Chalice

I was tending to my altar today–giving everything a dusting, sifting through the censer sand for errant incense sticks and flammables, scraping wax dribbles off the protective glass–when I realized that of all my tools, the only piece on my altar that has remained constant throughout my practice is my chalice.  That thought made me a little sad, because I love the piece a lot, but I’ve been considering replacing it, and doing so would end my last thread of altar continuity.  So I thought I’d share a bit about how I came to acquire my chalice, what it means to me, and why I’m thinking about replacing it.

Back in the spring 2001, I was a junior in high school, and I’d been studying and practicing Wicca for at least a couple of years by that point–I remember coming out of the Broom Closet to my friends Staci and Lara as we jogged laps around the upper tier of our school gym after classes, and we only did that our freshman year.  That spring, I had the opportunity to travel to England and Scotland with some other students and teachers from my school over Spring Break.  This was a landmark moment in my adolescence.  I was getting to go on a trip that I helped to pay for (a good chunk of my summer paycheck went to at least half the cost of the trip, I believe), I was doing something no one in my family had ever done, and I was doing it without my family or any of my close friends.  This trip was my first taste of autonomy, and I liked it.

Of course, I knew I wanted some physical reminder of that trip, but I’m not one for pointless souvenirs.  I decided before I even got on the plane that I wanted only two things:  a woolen blanket (which, incidentally, also I still have and use regularly in my freezing office!) and something esoteric.  I had gotten to a place in my Wicca studies that I knew it was a religion I’d be pursuing for life, and I knew it was time to start building my altar rather than continuing to rely on my little collection of ‘substitutes’.  I decided that if I came across anything that looked promising, I would get it.  It would mark a step in growing up.

I remember finding an esoteric shop down a tiny street in London, just a short walk from the theater concentration.  It had a small silver chalice in the front window that looked perfect to me…but by the time we had a ‘free break’ in the tour to accommodate our personal interests, the shop had closed for the weekend and we were leaving London soon thereafter.  It wasn’t until we had reached York that I ran into another esoteric shop and had unscheduled time.

Of course, there wasn’t anything there that really interested me as far as altar tools went (though, as I recall, the shop itself was really interesting and I’m still kicking myself for not picking up one of their gorgeous embroidered pendulum mats–I’ve not seen their equal since), but just around the corner from a fish and chips place my friend Elizabeth and I lunched at, there was this gift shop that sold rather exotic foreign knick-knacks…and that’s where I found my chalice.

My onyx chalice and a standard sized wine glass for scale

It is this small stone brandy snifter number.  I learned much later that it’s an Indian or Pakistani green onyx stone.  I liked it because it was different than anything I’d considered, but felt so right.  I liked how its material–stone–was straight up earth, which brought in the other feminine element, but that the stone had visual ripples in it, which called up water.  The size was good for me–it’s a tiny little cup, which meant I wouldn’t be tempted to use it mundanely–and its lower stem meant I’d be less likely to over turn it (a greater concern as a clumsier teenager than it is now, I must admit).  Best of all, it didn’t scream “ESOTERIC TOOL” the way a random great silver goblet might, and it just felt homier and warmer than anything I’d come across.  I gladly paid the £14 pounds for the piece…which was total highway robbery, seeing as we came across a store the next day in a different town that also sold small onyx pieces for considerably less.  In fact, I bought a matching shallow bowl at that store for about £8 that I used as my pentacle until my sophomore year of college.  I used that non-ritually to contain my growing gemstone collection until I accidentally nudged it off my altar corner of my desk senior year and broke it.

And so this chalice has been a constant fixture in my personal and sacred space for the past ten years.  And I still love it.  So why am I considering replacing it?

Well, I finally got a taste for wine and I realized that this chalice greatly changes the taste of wine.  A few seconds after pouring it, the wine acquires a strong mineral edge.  The longer the wine remains in the glass, the more pronounced the taste becomes until the entire glass is incredibly unpalatable.  I’ve found the color changes, too:  red wine ‘blues’, much as it would if you added a little soap to it.  Basically the stone is chemically reacting to something in the wine that I never noticed when I used more sugary juices or teas or didn’t have as much exposure to wine as I do now.

I still am using my chalice, obviously, but I’ve given up trying to use it for ritual wines I’m meant to drink.  I’m also looking around in different craft shows and online to see if there is another sort of chalice out there that speaks to me.


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