New Incarnation of Altars

Thank you again for joining us for a brand new episode of “This Old Altar,” with your host, Bob Vila! Er wait, that’s not quite right…let’s try this again:

When I moved into my neighbor’s house last year, it was probably one of the best decisions I could have made during the divorce process. I loved living with B. and she gave me a safe place to begin healing. However, I was only renting a room, and that did not leave me much space for altars. I used an old nightstand as my spiritual focus area, and switched out statues depending on whom I was moved to honor in the moment.

Now that I’m in a place of my own, I have the luxury of being able to set up several smaller altar spaces. Each one serves a different function, and has different layers of public and private meaning. As I was writing this, it occurred to me that each alter combines a primary element with a secondary in order to give it a unified aesthetic.

The altar I use most frequently is the one next to my stove, what I call my hearth altar (auto-correct said “heart sculpture” and that’s an apt description, too). It’s predominantly rooted in the Earth element of the North, but with a strong overtone of Fire. The statues represent Gwydion and Aranrhod, though that is not what the artists originally intended. (Yes, these two are sharing space; no this has not caused issues.)  Gwydion is my wild magician, and often appears to me as having features of the boar, wolf and/or deer that he was changed into as punishment for Goewin’s rape. Aranrhod (“a fun ride”: WTF auto-correct?) is not only a celestial goddess, but the goddess of the waters. And since I’ve always had trouble giving Don a face (which according to Kristoffer Hughes is actually appropriate as this goddess was in fact faceless), I rededicated her statue in Aranrhod’s name.  The little fellow playing the flute is a wight from my father’s garden.  The sprig of lavender represents peace and beauty, and the turkey feather represents family; the spiral plate is carved Welsh slate that I brought back from the 2002 National Eisteddfod. This is where I perform morning prayers and my work with the Sun Mirror; it is also the altar that my son likes to help light to thank the Ancestors when we begin cooking a meal.

Right next to the back door in the South is my working altar, the one I use for daily divination or more involved magical workings. It serves to anchor my work in the cunning arts and with the Strategic Sorcery system, which is why Hekate presides over it. In addition there are representations for spirit allies that I work with on a regular basis. Both the sword and spear are ritual as well as martial tools, and at the moment I have wands of Poplar and Willow drying and waiting to be carved.  This altar is the polar opposite of the hearth altar, being a manifestation of the Fire of will, grounded in the Earth.

To the West I have an altar space dedicated to the Makers: Bridget, Cerridwen, and Wayland. This is an altar to creative inspiration, and where I give thanks for the gods’ aid in music, poetry, and assorted crafting endevors. Hufflespawn particularly likes the Wayland statue, and even made him a little helper at school which he insisted on placing right next to the Master Smith. Cerridwen is accompanied by tokens from pig and chicken, which refer back to her animal shapes in her pursuit of Gwion Bach. Bridget has bone weaving tools dedicated to her, and a harp tuner. In front of Wayland sits a chunk of iron slag that I found on the beach in Salem Massachusetts, a gift that seemed most appropriate.  Air is the ruling element here, with a secondary infusion of Water (and Fire, too, if I’m honest, even though it messes up my nice, neat classifications).

The next two altars are a bit more “work-in-progress.” First is a home for various local spirits and wights. Thus far Turkey, Crow, Datura, Boar and Snail are represented. I will also likely include guardians from my OBOD work here as well. On top of the shelf is a ceramic Dragon my soul’s sister made for me, which eerily matches a spirit guide of mine. Water rules here, not least because one of my allies from this land is a river wight, but also because this is an area which very much requires dreams and intuitions to access fully. Air is the breath which stirs the surface of the Water.

Finally we have this very much WIP altar, which seems to be shaping into a repository for images of Divine Queens. It may end up being more of a display for statuary that I like than an actual working altar, but I think there’s a place for both in one’s home. This sort of feminine strength and inspiration is something I’ve needed greatly over the past two years, and I’ll be interested to see whether this altar remains dedicated to that casue, or whether I will eventually repurpose it for something else.

So, after only having had a single altar space for year, I may have gone a little crazy with all these! Still, it feels good to be able to move from altar to altar, and to have specific foci for various parts of my life.  More likely than not things will get pared down after a little while, but for now, this suits my needs quite well.

Charm for an Anxious Child

15844867185_9693521703_zWhen I came home on Sunday, Hufflespawn’s room was an absolute mess. Not a surprise, I mean the kid’s four, it happens.  But when I told him it was time to clean up, he was adamant that we couldn’t because all the stuff on the floor was a booby trap for monsters, and if we cleaned then the monster could get in.

I now had some choices:

a) Tell him there’s no such thing as monsters and leave the room a mess.
b) Tell him there’s no such thing as monsters and force him to clean his room.
c) Provide another solution to the monster problem, which removed the barrier to cleaning the room.

I went with option c), and said, “Well, the problem is that while this is great for catching monsters, it’ll also catch mom and dad if we need to come in here and that wouldn’t be cool. So, I’ll tell you what. Let’s make something to keep the monsters out that we can hang on your door. Then you’ll know if one is trying to get in, but we can still keep the floor clean. Deal?”

15657509200_57f67b1203_z“We get to make a REAL booby trap? Okay!”

Now, I’m sure people will read this and say to themselves, “There’s no such thing as monsters.  Why encourage fantastical thinking when it’s something that he’s going to need to outgrow?” In my mind, it’s not a matter of real vs. imaginary.  It’s a matter of trust–I remember what it was like as a kid to have a fear of something monstrous and have an adult brush it off as imaginary.  Telling a kid not to worry because something isn’t “real” rarely works.  Their fear is very real to them–denying the validity of that fear just makes the child distrust you.  Now, this isn’t to say that you need to feed into the fear or exacerbate it, but you can respect your kid’s fear and work with them.  In this case, I hear my son telling me that he doesn’t feel safe, so my job as a parent is to empower him to feel secure in his surroundings.

This is where magick can be a wonderful tool.

I grabbed some bells and some red worsted cotton yarn and measured three lengths that were as long as Hufflespawn is tall.  We knotted them together and I had him hold the tail as I began to braid them together. We would braid for the length of his palm from wrist to middle finger, then thread a bell onto the center strand and continue braiding. At each bell, we said a little rhyme:

No monster likes this song!
Bells make monsters yell!
Monsters run from me!

When we finished, we tied it to his door. As promised, it makes a jangling noise when people go in or out, and Hufflespawn is quite proud of his monster trap.

Oh, yeah, and the floor is clear, too.