Shrines: Beginning Thoughts

Okay, I’ve been pounding my head against more food theology all week and I’m not done yet, so I’m going to take a jaunt into a totally different subject. Shrine spaces and similar matters.

I’m expecting that I’ll be doing bits on and off about this over time, but since I’m not up for dragging a camera around (and honestly half my stuff isn’t set up because we’re still slowly moving in to this house anyway), I want to poke a bit at some principles.

One of the sets of working definitions that I’ve seen people use a great deal is that an altar is a ritual working space, while a shrine is a set location for devotional stuff. One can combine them, separate them, both, neither. (It is traditional in a lot of Craft lines to only set up altars when they are in use, but many people in those lines also keep shrines.)

My first shrine space was the top shelf of a bookcase. I put my icons there and draped a white scarf over the top so that the cloth hung down in front of them. I knew a little about the kar-shrine tradition from ancient Egypt at the time – enough to know that the statues of the Powers did appreciate their privacy, at least some of the time.

At the moment, I have a number of shrines set up (or partially set up):

Djehwty has the center shelf in a tiny shelving unit on the wall, under my current research books and over a shelf that contains, among other things, my current fiction reading and the notebook with my ritual texts in it. The concatenations of writings there were not intentional, but I realised that it was pretty clever of me after I did it. I don’t have an icon there yet; I know precisely what it needs, so it’s on my list of things to make when I have my studio set up. Currently it has a tea set, my pocketwatch, and a string of Mardi Gras beads from the Thoth wagon in New Orleans, given to me by friends.

Set has half the bedside table, separated from the other half by a knife (ritually related to Himself) in a red case. His icon sits on a piece of red velvet. It has amused me greatly that basically He sits on top of the sex supplies stash for quite some time, and I do get the impression that He finds it entertaining too. My pagan husband has suggested that I get one of the wooden boxes for really high-end whisky to use as a kar-shrine for Set. Unfortunately, none of us drinks whisky, let alone expensive whisky, so this hilarious and awesome idea will have to wait.

I don’t have a space for Wepwawet, so His icon and the sand-timer that will go in the shrine are tucked safely into a cubby.

I just got a flat surface to set up my Hetharu shrine, which means I need to unpack things until I find Her icon and the other shrine kipple that went there at the old house. (Been living here five months and finally I have a dresser. My underwear rejoices in finally having a place to live again.) Currently the stuff that’s in that space is my hookah, a small pile of scarves and floppy velvet hats, and the original art for the cover to the Traveller’s Guide. I know my Hetharu shrine needs some restructuring, and I have the space for doing that now, so I’m going to let my intuition guide me a bit on that front and take it as it comes. (I have a carafe that is associated with Her, but it lives on my desk to remind me to drink more water when I’m working, so it won’t likely become a shrine piece.) (ETA: I found and set up the commissioned art piece of Hetharu that I got from Ursula Vernon. So that’s a little more something.)

I do not have a shrine for Khnum. When I have a studio, my first project will be making Him an icon, which will live in my studio. I’m sure that will accrete more shrine objects once I have a focal point.

My office desk has two shrines: a little one to Ganesha, Who I don’t have a particular relationship with but want to honor, and my ancestor shrine. Ganesha basically sits with some books in one of the cubbies over the desk and guards my emergency chocolate. The ancestor shrine is based around an antique double-doored cabinet and currently has an assortment of ancestor-related minor artifacts in its vicinity. I need to hang a few things up on the wall at some point to make it less cluttered. (It is in the closest thing the room has to a western corner.)

I also have what I refer to as a working shrine – not dedicated to any particular Power or function (though it does include some feng shui eggs in a bowl of water), but as a place to put ritual items that need time to complete. For example, part of my formal training includes sometimes doing rituals in which I need to leave a candle until it burns out, or incense, or something similar; if the active ritual concludes before this happens, I put them on the working shrine. This used to be the base for the household shrine, which is no longer large enough to accomodate its contents, so now it’s Ritual Stuff Storage and that workspace, bridging space between ‘shrine’ and ‘altar’.

I also have the pieces of the old house shrine, basically dedicated to Powers who looked over my household and family and seeking their blessings and protection. It began as a shrine for Bast and Brighid; when I got pregnant, it acquired a blue hippo for Taweret, and eventually a Bes mask. When it gets set up at the new place, in addition to all of these, it will have a short Jewish prayer in a beautiful art piece we picked up in a visit to a really awesome Judaica store, which will mean that all the primary household devotions will be represented. These pieces are, alas, in a box, but the fact that they’re all in a box means that all of my current shrines exist in my combination bedroom/office space….

I don’t have altar space right now. Frankly I have been so completely pants at doing formal ritual since I got pregnant I don’t feel the loss, though I do at least intend to remedy this someday.

More later. With images, probably, and discussions of why. Why matters.