alter ego: the joy of creating altars
Whether it be for a sweat lodge or my annual women’s gathering, I have invited people to share something on both pre-existing altars or ones created with the intention of honoring a specific moment, such as the equinox. One year, my whimmin friends and I ate and drank obliviously, almost burning down my house, while all our sweet wishes were smoldering through the planter in my living room. Of course, a man came to save the day. My husband came home, smelled smoke, quietly walked into the living room, picked up the altar, and carried it outside all without saying a word. He then quickly said his good nights and headed upstairs to bed. I have blessed myself from an altar in my church, meditated towards an altar, watched all my friends and loved ones pour their good intentions as they spread rose petals on my husband and I’s wedding rings on an altar. While I don’t like altercations, I cherish altars of all faiths as they celebrate the light, or the Divine, or a portal for prayer (okay, definitely not Satanic altars, that is just plain CREEPY).…..one of my favorite crafts was actually creating miniature altars.
There is a place on Earth that one can find all of their essential needs..no, not Walmart, ETSY! One can buy hand carved wooden altars for less than $5 a pop on Etsy in the store TerraMaya.
While I was blessed to have my generous jewelry maker friend and hoarder of all things wonderful, whose altar you see at the top of this page, donate a small collection of odds and ends; you can also shop around for little pieces to glue onto your altar on Etsy. I also found that pieces from nature: feathers, butterfly wings, drift wood..added a lovely touch.
I celebrate Imbolc annually with a group of women friends, and many of the crafts I will share come from this night. This is my gift back to them for the generosity and crutch they all lend to my spirit. A perfect example of their awesomeness is the altar my friend MK made and brought for me as a thank you. I still use this altar on Dia de Los Muertos or to light candles for loved ones that have passed.
The theme of “the altar” for my 2013 Imbolc celebration was inspired by my friend’s husband. He was having major back surgery and we all wanted to put good energy into his healing. I also wanted to honor the masculine to balance in part all the outpouring of love I have for the feminine. The older I get the more I come to appreciate the strength of men. But I also feel that while women have come so far in their journey as a whole toward freedom, there is still great imbalance in the world towards equality. And what can I say, I simply ADORE Mother Earth.
For Jeff’s altar, I placed tokens of masculinity and the beauty therein. And my “sacred song” altar making friend contributed a vertebrate which I thought was super cool. It was balanced beautifully by Lani’s altar which I placed on top. She couldn’t come to the dinner so she sent her altar on loan in order that we could also pray and meditate on her sister’s health. A lovely gesture that I hope somehow did help alleviate her sister’s hardship at the time. While it was my intention for all of us to gather around the larger altar upstairs, and say a prayer for Jeff and Lani’s sister, only 3 of us managed to materialize there. Sacred Song and I decided it was a good idea to drink the mini bottle of tequila for the spirits. Isn’t that why they call alcohol “spirits”?
I pre-made my altar which represented transformation so that I could assist everyone else and make sure they didn’t forget to unplug the glue guns.
When it came time to create our mini altars, I placed all of the available pieces that they could glue in small containers on the table. I let them choose an altar shape and had a few glue guns available. I also asked them to bring small objects that they already had to incorporate into their altars.
Once you have all the materials laid out, the rest is left to the moment, the altar becoming a symbol then of that moment of creation which is as fleeting as butterfly wings.
While there were several other beautiful altars made that night, I am including the ones in which I have decent photos. My Imbolc table holds 13 spaces and I have cemented most of those relationships. Though I am often meeting incredible women I can include. Maybe someone reading this will be inspired to “altar” (I love using parenthesis and quotation marks) their lives as well. And in that way, my table that only holds 13 can expand.
Below, the email I wrote after the evening that kind of sums it all up:
“There is just one last thing I want to mention about Imbolc, altars, life. Both Allison and I found dead owls in the past two weeks, and I almost hit one with my car on the way to school this morning it swooped so near. This is a strong medicine for me, and I am only recently learning how to embrace it. I have a keen sense of seeing both the light and dark that resides in all of us. By choice, I like to highlight and nourish the love. But I know that due to this owl teacher, it is important to also look at my shadow side. There is also love there, it is simply more primal and hungry.
For those of you who WHO know me, you may have been victim of me trying to overcome my hurt as some kind of attack on either your character or action that you made. (probably in a loooong email). But all of that is also from love and a need to point out an area of potential growth. However, like fasting or cleansing, I have made a conscious effort to turn my hurts into a mirror, or rather a microscope and look at my complaints towards myself. I have tried to remain silent about my criticisms. (not the case THIS week that I am posting this blog,,no sir)
Last week, my mother did not talk to me for 4 days because of a comment that I made. I gave her space to be upset with me. When she came out of it, she made me kimchee chigae and as she looked at me, one of the first things she said was that I looked like an angel. In her way of complimenting, she continued to say that I often look grumpy, but in that moment, looked like I was full of love. And she was right! I was at the moment thinking how much I loved her.
And what I realized this morning with the owl, and as I was meditating tonight on Homey’s lovely altar, is that what that love translates to is forgiveness. There is the kind of forgiveness that makes us feel like assholes, probably because we were, and there is the self-righteous forgiveness that sees no fault within ourselves, and then there is that total forgiveness in which we realize we really are a part of a larger consciousness, and so it makes no sense to bear anger towards ourselves or one another.
And even though in and of themselves altars, stones, feathers are meaningless objects, simply taking up their beautiful space like the rest of us. They serve as reminders of our potential to forgive, to love and to therefore heal our emotional and physical bodies. They are more about the process of creating something beautiful, than a worshiping of a final product.
Believe it or not, but learning how to love myself, and to deeply forgive myself, was one of the most painful things I ever experienced. And as much as I don’t like it when people can’t see things through, especially myself, and that I am sorry to have not made everyone gather around the big altar in my bedroom, I must keep the thought and intention of love, and that everything was and is exactly as meant.
And so I share these words now, and I sing praises now, in the more sober and quiet moment for our lives and for our loved ones, and for each small step that we take towards our own healing which in the end effects the greater good. Thank God for keeping us warm, sheltering us, carrying us across and thank Goddess for nurturing us with her food, and giving us a place to stand.”
3 more altars made by D.K., A.D., and M.K.
While these altars from TerraMaya are such a great deal, you can use any beautiful object you have: flowers, candles, incense, crystals etc. Don’t be afraid to create something for the deceased, for the living, for God, for your self….once you start, you may find that altars help manifest your best intentions. Much Love and happiness for your 2015.