Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Of altars and shrines

Something I've been doing for quite a while now, albeit on a small scale, is building altars. OK, yes, I'm a Christian priest, working in churches at the 'higher' end of things, so altars are, quite literally, part of my everyday life. But I'm thinking about something a little different here...

I have recently found myself drawn to collecting together significant items, pictures and 'found objects' and assembling them to create an altar or 'shrine'. Some of these are kept more or less in the same state, and in one place, whilst others are built a little more spontaneously, and rearranged or re-located after a while.

For example, here is the permanent altar which is in my study:

I use this altar as a focus for my prayers, or as a place to begin and end my yoga practice. Sometimes I will find and place a feather or flower here, as a little offering to the Divine or as a symbol of thankfulness. Sometimes I will sit quietly here, or spent time tidying and rearranging the items on the altar as a small act of devotion. Writers from many different spiritual traditions suggest that a house needs a 'main' or 'central' altar, alongside other, smaller ones. If so, then this is the main one. Perhaps it is the anchor point for each of the others?

This little collection of objects sits on our hearth.

It changes regularly, and we place there something from the garden or the wood which is part of that season: a leaf, seeds, a few stalks of harvested corn (as in the picture!). I guess this is really a little shrine to the changing seasons - there is also often a goddess picture here, too (Demeter is the goddess pictured here).

The final shrine is one I've begun to put together in the last few days, after reading this very interesting short article.

There is a picture of Brighid, and a little statue of Mother Mary. It's still a work in progress, but I'm getting the feeling that this is a little shrine to caring, nurture and parenthood. It is on a little window-sill halfway up the stairs so we see it, just briefly, several times a day. It acts as a small reminder to cherish the ones we love, and to remember that we, too, are loved.

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