Sometimes when I look at the requirements/suggestions of ADF, I think, ďuh, oh; Iím in big trouble here.Ē I can be a little (or a lot) unorthodox in my practice. This is definitely the case when it comes to my shrines.
Itís not unorthodox to have more than one shrine. A lot of Pagans do. Whatís unorthodox is their makeup. I donít have the classic Hallows shrine Ė the three bowls and a stick. Iíll talk about that after I describe my shrines, though.
I have one small one next to my oven. This consists of an image of Brighid, an oil lamp, a bowl of water, and a bowl for offerings. There is also a reed Brighidís cross over the oven.
Brighid is my hearth goddess. She protects the home from fire, blesses our food, and presides over the other house guardians. This is on top of the usual Brighid duties, of course; I use the shrine when I pray for healing or inspiration, for instance. I put the bowl of water in the shrine because Brighid is fire, and fire is inherently pure, so I purify myself before praying to her. I also use this water when purifying myself for other reasons. As I wrote in my essay on piety, I often purify myself during the day, and this is the water I use.
The oil lamp is because I have an electric stove, so there isnít actually any fire on my hearth. I light it during prayers to Brighid, but also when cooking food for any ritual purposes. When I light it for cooking, I transfer fire to the lamp via a match held against the burner until it lights. I then leave the lamp burning until the food is done. I chose a lamp rather than a candle for the practical reason that it means I donít have to keep replacing candles, and for the religious one that continuing to use the same lamp, refueling it from time to time, is similar to having a continual fire, refueled from time to time.
Iím proud of the Brighid image, which I painted myself. If I were to create the shrine today, though, I wouldnít include it. I believe that fire is the body of the earth goddess herself, so an image is a little superfluous. I would probably also either use the PIE hearth goddess Westy≠a:, or simply a title such as ďQueen of the Hearth.Ē
My second shrine is the family one. Itís in a corner on the eastern wall of my kitchen. I put it in the kitchen because thatís the room which to me is most identified with family. The corner location not only lets it be roughly in the sacred east, but protects it from being knocked over.
This is the shrine closest to an typical ADF one, in that it contains symbols of the Three Kindreds. On the walls are two matching gold disks, one with a god symbol and one with a goddess one. I first constructed the shrine in my Wiccan days, so they were originally a God image and a Goddess one, but now I see them as representing the deities as a whole.
In front of these are two Godís eyes, one blue and yellow, and the other green and white. These represent the male and female Ancestors, respectively. My daughter chose these symbols. When I was originally setting up the shrine, I wanted to use either masks (after the Roman tradition), or Godís eyes (I donít remember why. It was probably because I wanted a fairly abstract symbol, and wanted one that was easy to make, so my daughter could be involved). I asked my daughter which one she wanted to use, and she chose the Godís eyes. Theyíre held up by quartz pebbles in small cups. I originally collected the pebbles with the idea of using them ritually in some way, but theyíre here also because theyíre pretty and do the job well.
In front of these are two small bronze masks that I bought in Venice. They stand for the Land Spirits. The masks arenít quite human, but arenít quite animals either. I thought this was nice, because the Land Spirits can appear in either way.
On the left of the shrine (as itís faced), are more ancestral symbols. One is of a genetic ancestor, an African mother holding her baby. I bought this in the gift shop at the Animal Kingdom Lodge at Disney World. It wanted to be bought. I placed it in my shrine because humanity probably evolved in Africa, making her a nice image of our birthplace. Next to her are two cultural ancestors, a bust of Thomas Jefferson (one of the main Founders), and a replica of the statue in the Lincoln Memorial (him being the most important of the Refounders). The other statue is if Chester A. Arthur, one of my heroes. It's worth reading about his presidency. There is a shell in front of the African woman that is from the rifle salute at my father's funeral.
On the right, are statues re presenting our family patrons. Thereís a brass Cernunnos, for me; a statue version of Boticelliís ďBirth of VenusĒ (bought in Rome), for my wife; a toy turtle, representing Mercurius (bought in Italy), for Michael, a baby who died before birth; and a stone horse, representing Rhiannon, for my daughter.
The bowl is for my morning offerings.
There is of course also a fire source, an oil lamp. When I light it, I first light the lamp of Brighid, and transfer fire from that, as if lighting an altar fire from a hearth.
I place meat in front of it for defrosting, offering to the Kindreds its spirit, and I glance at it often during the day. I also keep fruit that, also as an offering.
This shrine is a presence of the Kindreds, especially ones closely connected with my family, that keeps the sacred always clearly in my house.
I have a personal shrine on my dresser. Itís a continuation of one from my Wiccan days, and has a chalice in the middle. In the Wicca-time, the chalice had my athamť in it, as a continual Great Rite. Today, it holds small sacred objects that I donít use much anymore. Itís capped with a geode with a cut crystal inside, just because theyíre pretty.
The chalice is surrounded by two circles of stones. There are two because I ran out of space for just one. Although they do play off the idea of ancient stone circles, theyíre mostly there as a place to put stones which have sentimental or religious value Ė a crystal my daughter gave me, a stone I found on a shelf at the bookstore I worked at, pieces from some burial mounds in Wales, a chunk of clay from the Hill of the White Horse, etc. Inside the two, protected and separated from the outside, are three extremely sacred stones Ė chunks from the Berlin Wall. I visited it when I was a child, and it made such an effect on me that I still get choked up when I see pictures of people dancing on top of it. A Pagan friend sent me the pieces when she learned of this.
I guess it could be said that the chalice and its surrounding stones represent the sacred center.
To the right is a statue of Cernunnos. In front of him are some offerings Iíve made to him Ė some ammonites and some ancient Celtic artifacts. I pray to him in front of this statue each morning when I put on a pendant of him. Next to him is Manjushri, the boddhisattva who destroys illusion.
On the left of the chalice are some family mementos. Not technically part of the shrine, but still of great sentimental value. There are pictures of my wife and daughter, and a few things my daughter made for me in school and Brownies.
My final shrine is on a dresser in my cellar. Itís there because thatís where the dresser was, because it started with an image of Mithras, who was worshiped underground, and because locating it there is convenient. (I have moved since this, and now keep it in a room over my garage, where I can face east when praying in front of it).
This shrine is what I originally called my pantheon. The idea was to find images of every deity I could find, and put them in a shrine to the All-Gods. As I collected them, I discovered that it was hard to find ones that werenít either Indo-European, Egyptian, or Hindu. As I made an effort to find ones from other cultures, I realized that ďgodĒ wasnít an appropriate term for the divine beings of many cultures, so the concept became what could be a shrine for the ďAll-Kamis.Ē It now includes, for instance, some Kachinas, a Chinese dragon, an African fertility figure, and a bunch of other beings from a bunch of other cultures. There are about sixty now, and space is getting tight.
There are rare occasions when I use this shrine is a full-blown ritual sense, mostly standing in front of it in respect for a while after lighting the oil lamp on it. However, itís on the way to the room with my washer and dryer, so I pass it often. As I do that, I take a moment of thought for the presence of the many forms of the divine. When I told a friend what I was doing, she said that she had had a shrine like that for a while, but that its energy was too chaotic so she had limited it to one traditionís deities. My answer was that I rather liked the chaos; contemplating it allows me to try to hold all the many forms of divine in my head all at once.
There are other sacred spots scattered throughout the house, such as some important objects in front of books on various bookcases, including the most sacred thing I own, a rock given me by Cernunnos (but thatís another story). Our threshold is sacred to Janus, and I make offerings to Terminus at a surveyorís stone at one corner of our property.
My family shrine has stayed the same for some time, the only changes in the last decade or so being the addition of the Land Spirit masks, the statues of the Ancestors, and the turtle for Michael. I donít expect it to change in the foreseeable future, since it is currently well-balanced, both spiritually and artistically.
The hearth shrine is even less likely to change. It has the exact minimum number elements necessary Ė fire, water, an offering bowl, and the image of Brighid. (Although the image of Brighid is strictly speaking unnecessary, since the fire is the goddess herself, the tradition of its presence makes me think that its continued presence would be more pleasing to Brighid than its removal.) I can see the possibility of using a pilot light instead of the lamp if we were to move to a house with a stove which uses one, but itís unlikely that we would do so, and even if we did I might still want the more visible flame. I may from time to time put a small plate in the shrine for food offerings, but thatís unlikely to be a permanent addition. As it stands, the balance of the items is aesthetically pleasing, and beauty is a good thing in a shrine which is intended to bless a house Ė a beautiful house is a blessed one.
My personal shrine undergoes continual development. I acquire new rocks, which are then added to the circles, and I dedicate new gifts to Cernunnos. I might sometime offer these gifts in a more permanent way, by putting them into an offering shaft. There is a statue of Manjushri, the boddhisattva who cuts through illusion, between Cernunnos and the chalice. While I donít consider him to be technically part of my shrine, that status may change, and a prayer to him become part of my regular practice there. I can also see the addition of a bowl of water for purification and a fire for the presence of the divine, but thatís unlikely unless I remove parts of the current shrine. Otherwise Iíd lose the beauty of the arrangement. This isnít a shrine that should be cluttered, because it represents me so closely, and clutter is one thing I already have too much of in my life. I can see moving the pictures of my wife and daughter, and my daughterís artwork to another place. We are looking for a new house, and one of the things we want is space for an office for me. If we buy a house with that, I will probably move those things to a shelf there. This would allow me to move Manjushri to where they had been, and promote him to official shrine status. Making a permanent removal of the gifts to Cernunnos would clear up room for fire and water, though, and Iím certainly considering it.
Another change that I might make is replacing the Cernunnos image with the rock that he gave me once. That would be a wonderful sign of his presence. The image thatís there now could also be moved to my currently non-existent office. However, since the stone can just barely stand on its own, I would need to make some sort of stand so it wouldnít fall over each time I opened and closed the drawers of the dresser.
One final possibility for change, in both the family shrine and my own, is changes in patron. I canít see Cernunnos ever falling from his position, but recent events have made me aware of the importance of ManannŠn in my life (more specifically, his message that he already is important, and I should acknowledge that more), so he may find representation in one or both shrines.
The shrine of the All-Kami is destined to change as I acquire more and more kami images. Iím short on space, though. I may remove the two candles at each end; I put them on the shrine when it was just for Mithras, and have kept them there for the sake of continuity, aesthetics, lighting, and tradition. I rarely use the shrine with the lights off, though, and one other original function, as the presence of fire, can be served by the oil lamp that I now have there. This would free up a fair amount of space, allowing me to add anywhere from six to a dozen images to whatever ones I can currently find space for. Another possibility would be to add a shelf or two on the wall above, but I donít like that idea because I donít like the possible symbolism it might involve, of some kami being more important than others. Still, I could arrange the statues with celestial ones on the shelf and chthonic ones on the dresser itself, which would change necessity to good symbolism. For now, though, I have room without doing that, so Iíll cross that bridge when I come to it.
In general, though, after several decades of co-evolution, my shrines and I have fallen into a good relationship. I donít anticipate any drastic changes, unless there are drastic changes in my life.
I sometimes worry that Iím becoming a sacred packrat. Still, itís nice to have reminders of the sacred Ė and things that are sacred themselves Ė around me. I can see some of them almost anywhere in the house.