I was looking through old photos of altars that my grove created as part of our rituals. I was struck by their variety and beauty. It never fails that when we co-create our ritual space, the altars always hum with beauty. They are also perfectly appropriate and effective.
But what is the point? Are we crafting altars for beauty’s sake? No, it goes much deeper than just making something beautiful.
When crafting sacred space we begin with the altar. It is a tool that begins the process of stopping the external distraction and moving towards local engagement. It is the first step in taking the time to stop and remember what is sacred in our life. It is the beginning of re-establishing our connection to that which we hold as sacred.
So how do we craft these altars?
The first step is determining where the altar should be. In ritual space that we have used many times, it may be tradition for the altar to be a certain spot. But often my grove works in places we haven’t been before. We are out in Nature. Determining the location for the altar has everything to do with listening to the Spirits of Place. We begin with crafting relationship to the environment and the spirits there. And when I say spirits, I don’t mean anything “supernatural”. I mean everything we can perceive, the trees, rocks, wind, streams, rivers, animals, flowers, sedges, moss, Nature. And Nature does include the unseen – the spirit guardians of the land, the fey, nature spirits and the ancestors of the land. We start with listening. Listening tells us if we our presence is accepted by the land. Listening tells us what the boundaries are and gives us an idea of how we move in this place. And by move, I mean how we act, our motions and our attitude, our way of being.
Once we find our place within the place, we begin with the focal point of the altar. We use our collective hearts and minds to place items in a way that express our connection with that which is holy. It isn’t complicated, although some altars can be quite elaborate. We build in physical reality a place of sanctity.
Our altars are always appropriate for the place and the time of year. Since we are in Nature, the items on the altar will naturally reflect the essence of the season. For this time of year, the fallen leaves from the hurricane, wild blueberries and blackberries, abandoned bird nest, an apple, whatever is around that calls to us. We only use these items temporarily and we ask permission to use them at all. Many times I have reached for a stone or feather or mushroom, only to have my nemeton find an edge, and I listen to that soul, leaving them in place, I move on. I don’t impose my will. I don’t rip wild flowers from the ground, killing them for my own purpose.
We often bring items from our own human life that help us remember the sacred. Photos, obituaries, chalices, drawings, poems, censors, plates of prepared food, sickles and other tools, items that have meaning for us.
And why do we gather and bring these things? Why build the altar at all? The mere act of crafting an altar, alters our state of mind. We move for the mundane to the sacred is an instant. Building the altar tells us, this isn’t social time anymore. This is our time to do our spiritual work, to connect to the land, the people and the gods, to find our place in the flow of Nature so our actions aren’t counter to the currents and tides of Mother Earth. Altars remind us we are walking in the holy land, that we are always wrapped in the divine nature of deity. We aren’t outside that which is sacred. They remind us of our commitment to live ethically and to walk gently on the Earth. They remind us that our lives aren’t separate, but rather entwined. We aren’t alone. We are a tribe, a circle. And when we are a circle, it is an altar big enough for us to stand on. We are strong.
Blessings of sanctity,
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