Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Autumn Altar

Autumn Altar, slant view

For the time being I've ceased my formal, structured study with Druidry, in order to allow myself to grow a bit more organically along the path for a little while and discover where that leads. (This is one reason I haven't been blogging nearly as much recently.) My bedroom altar has taken on this organic aspect, too, and I find myself often picking up "found objects" on my weekly walks and incorporating them.

Autumn Altar, close upI love this process, because it keeps me in touch with the cycles of nature without having to flip through annoying reference books in search of seasonal correspondences decided upon by other people, correspondences that might not even relate to my own immediate landscape or climate anyway. By ignoring such reference sources and relying instead on the things nature offers to me directly, I find myself slowly learning about my own place in the land. If the leaves are already beginning to change in my local area, then gosh darn it, colorful leaves it is. If the chestnuts are falling but the gardens I walk past on my way to work still have roses in bloom, then I can celebrate both. This process reminds me that the change of the seasons isn't broken up into distinct time periods--it's messy and overlapping and intertwined.

Autumn Altar, close upWith that in mind, my altar has become a bit more "cluttered" and idiosyncratic, rather than sparse and functional the way it used to be. I no longer use it primarily as a functional altar, but perhaps more as a "shrine" to the external physical landscape of the natural world, and the internal landscape of my own psyche and spiritual needs. Decorating with bits of nature brings that earthy scent into my home, but it also keeps me in tune with the natural turn of the seasons. As the flower blossoms dry out, or the leaves slowly brown and wither, or the gourds grow dusty and the shells of nuts begin to splinter, I can tell it's time to give these things back to the natural world to let them decay--and begin looking for new signs of the season to come. This serves as a subtle reminder to allow my own cycles to ebb and flow according to their natural energies, instead of trying to force order and conformity where they will not suit my own changing needs.

Autumn Altar, close upWorking with my altar this way keeps me grounded in nature, but it also allows me to indulge my natural urge to "gather" beautiful objects that seem to resonate or capture my attention when I'm out walking. I often feel as though these gifts are offerings that the earth places in my path, and it's an important aspect of my spiritual life to feel willing and able to accept them--without getting home, saying, "O, now what am I going to do with all this?" and feeling like I have to just chuck them out before they being to rot and gather dust. A while ago, it occurred to me that the idea of making "offerings" to the gods and to the earth can be a little silly if taken too seriously--after all, what do we have that we have not first been given? I decided that what we have to offer is our intention, our attention, and our love--and incorporating "found objects" into my altar as offerings is my way of acknowledging the many gifts I receive, and transforming them through my intention and imagination into something new that I can give back to the world. Thus, one of the central aspects of my altar is the small blue offering dish. Right now, it holds a few wild local chestnuts I gathered during a walk in the park, a cardinal feather I found in the woods, a few daisy blossoms from a bouquet I bought at the local flower shop, and a striking (and a little out of place) rose petal I found just this afternoon on my way back from lunch, while I was wondering about the persistence and delicacy of love.

Autumn Altar, front view


  1. This makes sense! After all, Druidry is the "nature religion" par excellence, and if it doesn't make you more aware of actual nature then... well, what's the point? :)

    One of my favorite nature "moments" in my whole life so far (and I even have a picture of it!) is going out into a freak early ice storm a few years ago and watching the ice build up on the roses in my back yard. Nature is what it is.

  2. "Nature is what it is."

    Yes, precisely. :) I'm approaching my altar now as a kind of learning place, somewhere I can bring aspects of the natural world into focus and contemplate them... instead of the structured ritual altar I used to have, where I felt pressured to know "the symbolic meaning" of everything included, where it should go, whether it was masculine or feminine... That approach to altar design never felt quite right to me, it was too... imposing. This way feels more aesthetic and exploratory, which I like a lot more. :)

    And yes, I too have a photo (crappy cell phone photo, sadly) of ice crystals built up on a dried half-bloomed rose from a late warm spell followed by a frost late last autumn. I do love those moments of overlap. :)

  3. This is part of the 'making of maps'... where you imbue your world with personal meaning. Our personal relationship with the world is essential to being Druid and this is a beautiful way of exploring that relationship and allowing it to develop.