Reflections on Our “Altar”native Religion

(Yep, it’s rerun time again. My writey-time must again be devoted to getting my Clergy Training Program done, lest I risk losing my clergy status. New stuff next week! Maybe I can even use some of my CTP as an article here, if I’m creative enough. -R)

Just before every High Day rite we do, I walk around the nemeton (or the room at the Ed Center or the Friends Meeting House) to look at the various altars. Partly I’m just making sure that everything is set up correctly, because I’m the Senior Druid and that’s part of my job. But I also consider it a part of my personal ritual preparation. Our altars have evolved over the course of the 15 years that we’ve been around, and being around them reminds me of the relationships our Grove has built with our Gods during that time, and the many people who have attended our many rituals.

Over on the Shining Ones altar, I see the statues we got for Lugh, Bríd, and Aren (well, it’s a statue of Dionysus, but he looks a lot like our vision of Aren) that we bought from Sacred Source several years ago. We ran a pledge drive to get donations to replace our old statues, which had gotten chipped throughout the years. (Terra cotta statues may be a lot lighter than marble ones, but they sure don’t last as long!) Our current statues are looking a little beaten up, but we can probably wait a year or two before needing to replace them. I also see the puffy stuffed sun that was designed to be attached to a child’s school backpack zipper, to make it easier to open. I saw it on my journey back from Muin Mound Madness in 1998, and since we didn’t have any kind of representation for Bel on our Shining Ones altar at the time, I thought it would be perfect.

On the Nature Spirits altar, of course, we have the Stag Head, which Fox carved for us back in the early days of our Spring Hunt. I remember when he, Kestrel, and I went out to the place where we would end up placing our permanent shrine to Mannanan, and did a group meditation to discover what symbol the Stag God wanted us to know him by. The one we came up with is currently painted on the Stag Head—take a look the next time you see it. If you look closely, you may notice that the ears aren’t quite finished! But I can’t complain too much, as my own woodcarving ability is limited to whittling small sticks out of slightly larger sticks.

For the last few years, our nemeton has had a herm set up as a space for people to make offerings to the Greek gods. We set it up at our Lughnasadh festival back in 2006, and we’ve used it in our High Day rites, as well as the Greek rites we’ve done at our Lughnasadhs. It’s a simple wooden post adorned with a wire caduceus (the wand of Hermes), with a flat wooden board at the base for offerings. I think we still need to come up with a portable version for our indoor winter rites, maybe that can be an An Bruane project this fall.

And with Samhain coming up, how can I not think about the Ancestors altar? The fake skull, that I always call “Mr. Skullhead” (10 cartoon geek points to those who can identify the source) sits prominently on top, and the plaque with the names of our Grove member’s own Ancestors stands beneath it. Spaced around it are the items that our members have brought in to remind them of their Ancestors, including the piggy—er, tiger-bank that my grandmother made for me when I was three years old, the tobacco favored by Candy Brockman’s father, and the bottle of whiskey that was donated to us before I even joined SLG. I honestly don’t know who donated it to us, but I guess the Gods know, and that’s what’s important. The glittery altar cloth—as well as the golden one on the Shining Ones altar—was donated by Gen Stoyak; she and I picked them out at a store in Salem, MA, whose pagan staff were happy to know their cloths would grace druid altars 800 miles away.

Over here is the well, which is—well, a hole in the ground. If not for the ring of stones around its edge, I imagine we’d have people falling in on a regular basis. (At our indoor rites we use a nice ceramic bowl Rodney Cox got for us on one of his own festival trips.) We put offerings of silver into the Well at each rite. And every four years or so, we dig through the accumulated dirt, sort out the silver, and rebury it at the bottom. I can only wonder what archaeologists would make of the 14 years’ worth of offerings if they excavated it!

On the opposite side of our circle is our fire pit, where we kindle the ritual flame and make offerings of oil, tobacco, grain, and pretty much anything that burns. If you’ve been to one of our Beltaine rites, you’ll certainly remember the May King or Queen, and a lot of other people, jumping over it.

And in between the two is our bilé, the pole that acts as the Tree during our rite to connect the worlds. For indoor rites, we have a portable one that’s about eight feet tall. In the nemeton, the pole we have now is around 15 feet tall; it used to be about 20 but time has taken its toll. Back in our first year we cut the bilé from an aspen tree, which has multiple trunks growing from the same root system, so one trunk can be cut without killing the whole tree. The bilé holds our Maypole ribbons at Beltaine, and our Stag dancers rub their horns against it at Fall Equinox, which either sounds a lot dirtier than it should, or sounds exactly as dirty as it should.

I could go on at length about every last item on all of our altars, but this newsletter only has so much space. I just wanted to remind everyone who reads this that they are welcome to bring their own altar items to our High Day rites, and place them on our Grove altars, for permanent use or just for the duration of the rite. With November approaching, I especially want to remind people to bring items that remind them of their own Ancestors to either or both of our Samhain rites. It’s a great way not only to help you remember your own Ancestors, but also to help the rest of us get to know them as well.

Yours in service to the Kindreds and the Grove,
Rev. Rob Henderson, Senior Druid

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One thought on “Reflections on Our “Altar”native Religion

  1. (Comments from the original post on our old site:)

    Posted by Dubhlainn:
    Are you on the list of lucky people who have to have the first circle CTP completed by Samhain?
    Sunday, October 5th 2008 @ 7:00 PM

    Posted by Rob Henderson:
    I fear that I am, and I have three of the eleven courses partially done. I have some work ahead of me this month. If only I could convince the org that Samhain is really November 8th. >8)
    Sunday, October 5th 2008 @ 7:17 PM

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