Someone, a dear colleague friend, called me “devout,” did I tell you? I’m still processing that. At first, I thought of some kind of overdone piety. Some part of me stepped back. And then I thought of the years of Catholic liturgy. The years of Wiccan and other Earth-centered worship. The years of Quaker meetings. The years of Unitarian Universalist services.
Years of community involvement in religion. I suppose, I thought, I suppose she could be onto something, even if it’s not a word I feel totally comfortable with.
And then I look up and see the family altar: the gifts of friends, a photo from our wedding receptions, pictures of beloved animals now past.
I think of the six-layer cake of an altar I mentioned in my last post, and which I intend to continue describing here.
I think of the ancestor altar I am reconstituting: Rosemary for remembrance, a footstool from China of my grandmother’s, photos and information about all kinds of relatives long past on both sides, a doll given to me, my father’s memorial program and perhaps a calligraph from him…And water and candles and gin. Freshness, lightness, ways to bring joy and illumination.
I think of, as I mentioned in the previous altar post, my passion for having an altar, a space, a physical space where I put things and move them around, to be a heart home for me, no matter how small my living spaces have been.
I have lots of space in my house. Lots of it. Way more than my wife and I need. And so I have lots of room to remind myself that space is sacred, that the now is sacred, that the ground on which I walk is sacred. (Scared: and may we well be!)
Even so, the little corner of a shelf has two statues on it and a candle. Something small, something that could almost be called inconspicuous. (One of the statues is called “The Source” and is of a tall, lithe, naked woman pouring water from an amphora over her shoulder. The other is a status of the Three Graces, a piece someone once thought was my expression of a ménage à trois.) There is a bulletin board in another corner with cards posted on it, quotations to remind me who I hope to be.
I am mad for altars, clearly. And I am mad for them because I need reminding. I am devout, if I am, because I need reminding. I need to walk through my house and see spaces, musical ones, word-covered ones, ones with statues and lists and Tarot, and priestess gear, to remind me constantly of who I am.
So for now, let us move onto the other layers of the cake, shall we?
When last we left our intrepid altar builder, she had shown the Yemaya shelf, which has the Pamela Alexander beaded piece hanging down over a white(ish?) cloth.
My divination tools are there. The Tarot, the rocks, the shells. Once I find the misplaced black mirror, it will go there too, along with my scrying chalice.
Why under Yemaya?
Well, for one thing I am not a follower of Ifa or of Santeria/la Regla de Ocha, two of the religions from which Yemaya comes. And Yemaya is not the giver of divination in those traditions, in any case. I don’t know their divination, and She doesn’t keep it, though through some way I pray always to tread carefully, She does hold my heart.
I do not know the ways of Ifa divination, by coconuts, cowries, kola nuts, or sacrifice. And I am not a servant or devotee of Orunmila/Orunla, the keeper of the Table of Ifa, the One who teaches divination and teaches the pataki, the stories that must be interpreted in order to give good counsel and help people develop their character in this life.
“Who’s that there, drawing on the ground? / Orunla’s got the answer if it’s there to be found.”
But I shroud my divinatory tools beneath her veil nonetheless, because my sense is that my divination comes either from the sea, where the drums of myself beat fast and slow, where I can relax into the trance of tidal waters…or from my connection to my ancestors.
I may move my cards, etc. to the ancestors’ altar. We’ll see.
A goddess of love, sexual power, and self-definition and -determination. No one you want to cross. Virgin in the sense that she is utterly unto herself. Queen in that she came across the ocean with the Phoenicians and being descended anthropologically probably from Inanna Queen of Heaven. Queen, too, of nereids and other water nymphs.
A gold-limned scallop shell, an oyster shell that holds incense, and two amazing gifts right in front.
Directly in front is a tiara, adorned with abalone shell and fresh-water pearls, put together by my best friend. Aphrodite claimed it for her devotion immediately. In my heart, I knew it was for Her.
And then the other, the ceramic ball, blue and white, is a wedding gift from my bestie’s beau. They’ve been together longer than we have, but have never been married. Yet he gave us this wonderful gift. He was mowing a meadow with one of those mowers that has the giant flails on it. Thwacking the ground, tearing at the strong stems. He had gone over one patch and saw something poking out of the earth. He dug up the rest of it, to find this ball, perfectly intact among the cut witch grass. It seemed to him an appropriate emblem, something precious, something beautiful, and something that endured. It’s been on altars ever since he gave it to us.
Precious, beautiful, enduring….these are qualities in marriage, and in the sexual aspects of marriage I really value, and so it lives with Aphrodite.
Beneath her, then is another veil, and secrets are there, deep within the sea.
As we get closer and closer to the bottom of the altar shelf, we are somehow reaching more and more into my teachings, places I have learned, taught, mentored, been mentored, and received more than I can ever repay.
This shelf holds a piece of a Stone from the Stone Circle at Four Quarters Interfaith. This particular piece came from the Stone called Aspiration, a long, tallish Stone that points toward the sky. This piece is from a larger chunk that sheared off the front of the Stone in front of a priest/ess who picked it up and made jewelry like the rectangular, copper-bound, leather-thonged pendant here.
In the center of the pendant are gathered my three necklaces, ones I wear in my work as priestess. They are green for my First Degree, black for my Second, and violet for my Third. They were given to me at the time of my Third Degree initiation and are among my most prized possessions because they mark relations, priestesshood, ritual, devotion, service, and the Cardinal Virtues of Stone Circle Wicca. They mark me by the demands of Authenticity, Integrity, Compassion, and Wisdom, bound together in loving service. They also match the cords surrounding them on the shelf. I wear the cords in community, and one or more of the necklaces at other times at need or at whim.
Finally, the black velvet shelf.
Here we find the fat yogi, Aughra the Ancient one from The Dark Crystal, a rosary, and a pomegranate, all surrounding my wand of labradorite, the tool of directing/direction, tending, reaching, and intent.
These are tools of my history and of the underworld. There is more I could say about them, but I think, having given so much interpretive content in this post, I’ll just leave this here. The Fat One, the Ancient One, the Underworld Fruit, the Formative Prayer, all around the tool of sovereignty.
With thanks and praise to my ancestors, and to the One and Many: Male, Female, Both, and Neither, al my work, all my life, all my heart, all my yes and my no.