Growth and Change in Altars and Shrines
Continuing the series of posts exploring altars, these are from 2012. After asking permission from the various Gods, Ancestors, and spirits that make up these shrines and altars, I took pictures and will be sharing them here. I will go through each altar and shrine explaining the layout and what is on them. My hope is that this will give people different ideas of how altars and shrines can be made, what can go on them, and help people see a different way of doing things.
The Gods’ Altar
The Gods’ Altar sits in the North of the room. Each time we set the altars and shrines up, we do them as a family. When the seasons change, or when we clean off the altars and shrines to clean the cloths and items on each of these they end up different each time we set them back up. In this case, this altar layout took place before the start of Winter. It seemed the Gods wanted to be split along gender lines (or near enough as we could figure), excepting Anpu. Some of the items on the altar, such as the drinking horn on the left and the blue offering vial to Frigga in between all of Her keys are no longer on the altar. Sometimes this just happens as a matter of course; some things no longer fit the altar or shrine, the Gods, Ancestors, and/or spirits want different offering vessels. My relationship with all of my Gods have changed in the years since I began worshiping Them. Just looking back here the dynamics at play in our family life were that we were coming into our own as a whole family together in the upstairs. There was boundary-setting going on, not just with our son and each of us, but also with one another. This was a time of figuring out our roles and what things we would, and would not do. Rather than a great upheaval this was more of a settling, both into roles, and into routine. These altars and shrines were and still are a good part of how we come together as a family every night.
Gifts have been a big part of my spiritual practice, and some of them are in the picture below. The drinking horn on the right was a gift from a friend I count as one of my Brothers, and the drinking horn on the left was gifted to him this Summer in kind. The chalice was a gift from someone I consider my Sister; it is a chalice that was gifted to her, and she, in turn, gifted it to us when we found ourselves wanting to transition out of using brass offering bowls. They produce funky colors and such when libations are made in them, and we have been trying to find good vessels for replacing them. It turns out thrift stores tend to have awesome ceramic things available for that, and several brass bowls have been retired for the moment. The altar itself here was a gift from my parents, as is the granite tile the incense burner and some of the Gods and Goddesses sit upon. Let it never be said that those of other faiths cannot help us celebrate our own. My folks certainly have, both in providing the space, the altar, and their understanding. It speaks to the strength of their beliefs and their love that though our ways are not the same, and they do not agree with me, they have, nonetheless, supported me in following my path. They respect our sacred spaces, and allow us equal, respected time at each meal we share to pray to our Gods, Ancestors, and spirits.
The Ancestors’ Altar/Shrine
When I moved upstairs, the Ancestors shrine changed yet again. While the basic structure of the shrine remained the same, Water came to the forefront. At this time a lot of things were, in retrospect, cleansing and cleaning out. While this photo was taken far after we had this altar/shrine set up, it reflects the relationships we are in with our Ancestors, from the Elemental Ancestors to my Catholic ones (whose rosary and New Testament/Proverbs is in the back), as well as my House’s Ancestors, which I have a ceramic skull in front for. This beautiful little skull was purchased from The Wandering Owl in Jackson, MI. The two tree candle holders were purchased from a garage sale, and symbolized Ask and Embla, the first Ancestors. My Great-Grandfather’s harmonica is in the back, next to the Air Element Ancestors.
The Earthvaettir Shrine
The Earthvaettir Shrine is an exercise in creativity every time we set it up. The stones get arranged in different ways, and the cairn always changes form. Some things do remain the same, like the landvaettir, Gebo, and Earthvaettir stones being placed together in the center, and the small slate shavings stacked three high. Though this photo was taken some time after, the Earthvaettir and Moneyvaettir shrines were separated when they moved upstairs. In the back is Ramses II, placed here because while I did not have a place to put Him otherwise, I felt at this point that it was good for Him to be surrounded by the Earthvaettir. He seemed pleased with the arrangement at the time; He is lying on a shaft of dried wheat, the only gold I could afford for Him at this point in time.
The Housevaettir and Moneyvaettir Shrines
As I mentioned earlier, when I moved upstairs to live with my family, I had room to make more shrines. The Housevaettir shrine is really simple: the offering bowl was part of a set of bowls (since retired) that we got from a thrift store, and the natturhaus (spirit home) we got for the Housevaettir was a bird feeder we got from JoAnn Fabrics. I thought about cutting off the bird perch but the head Housevaettr would have none of that, so we have left it as-is. It also did not want us to paint it or stain it, so we respected Its wishes, and here it is.
The Moneyvaettir shrine we set up with my money box that my folks gave to me as a child in the back, full of foreign and memento coins and a single white rock. In front of the box is the in-circulation money we cycle out every now and again as needed, to keep the shrine and Moneyvaettir fresh and mingling. To the left is a plate where we leave incense offerings. The shells atop it are cowrie shells, and were a symbol of wealth and money in West Africa, and used in Ifa and Diasporic traditions for ornamentation, sacred crafts, and divination. These shells were gifted to me by my Elder and symbolize wealth for our family.
Warrior Dead Shrine
This was another shrine I was very happy to put up in full once I had the space for it. The set up for this shrine is simple, and the Warrior Dead seem to like it. The vase in the back was added because I thought that it looked pretty and at one point was going to put candles in it. However, it was too unwieldy in terms of decoration or getting a candle into it, much less lighting it, and has since come off of the shrine. The three mushrooms around the pot filled with Warrior Dead graveyard dirt, gifted to me by Them, are there as a symbol of life after death. Looking at it now, it is also a way to digest the harm done by and to these Warriors. The flask in the back is filled with an offering of hard liquor; I do not remember if it was full of Jack Daniels Whiskey or Ezra Brooks at the time of this photo. There is a simple white ceramic offering cup (I think this would have been used for crème brûlée) on the right. In front of it is a lapel pin from the Circle Sanctuary Warrior Ritual. On the far left is a pin from a US Armed Forces pin circa WWII and a mirror from the same era purchased from an antique shop in Jackson, MI.
Animal Spirits Shrine
All of the items from the Animal Spirits shrine in the basement made it onto the one I set up here. This shrine then expanded, and included a lot more wolf imagery, and a new offering bowl from the local thrift store. It is a large offering bowl, and the only thing we place into it is water. We have never been called to, and are actively discouraged when we ask, to offer anything else. The new items on the shrine here are gifts, such as the woodburnt wolf in the mushroom, and the painted pot.
The Runevaettir Altar
This altar sits in Sylverleaf’s room, as I started running out of room for shrines and altars in my room. It sits in front of the window with a glazed offering bowl which is usually full of offered water. I do not usually keep my Runes on it; They travel with me in a satchel I keep either on or near me, or in my car.
The next post will go into how these shrines changed over the course of the next year or so, and how those transitions were marked in the layout and placement of the altars and shrines we pray at, offer at, and tend.