Takin' It All Home: Translating Our Ritual Structure to Personal Space

by Kami Landy

Copyright © 1996 Kami Landy
All Rights Reserved
May be reposted as long as the above attribution and copyright notice are retained

We come home from ritual energized, connected, inspired, determined to keep up this relationship with those who dwell in Otherworlds. Then we look around. No nemeton. No bonfire. No well. No knowledgeable ritualists to guide us through the process. No TIME. Oh well, there's a ritual about once every six weeks. WAIT A MINUTE! That's not all there is to life or even to our Pagan religion. You don't HAVE to have all the lovely trappings, you may not even always want them. So, what can we do at home, in those few minutes here and there that busy people can steal for themselves?

Well, first let's look at physical structures. We have a pretty elaborate ritual space setup. Do you need a whole nemeton at home? Well, it's nice if you plan to do that sort of formal ritual, and can make a lovely meditation spot, but you don't actually *need*it. So, what do you need? How can you approximate the various shrines and altars in your own home? Well, first off, I'm going to describe something that will work best for a person who is in their own home. Later we will talk about adaptations for a dorm or room in a non-pagan house.

So- the basic definers of sacred space; a "center", then fire and water. The center is the central axis, the roof tree. If you don't have a central chimney, there is probably a staircase or a supporting wall somewhere near the middle of the house. This is your "bilé", the roof tree which holds the whole house together and enables you to go up and down freely as our "world tree" enables us to pass between worlds freely. As such, you might want to decorate that wall with a Celtic knotwork tree-of-life picture or carving or a quilt of that name. You can put an incense (or better, sweet oil) burner on a shelf or side table near it. When you come down in the morning, go up to bed at night, or return from a trip, be aware of the constant movement between natural, human and spiritual worlds. Let the simple act of walking up and down stairs, or of touching the side of your chimney, become a meditative reconnection with all the levels at which we exist. No, you probably can't do it every time you go up and down stairs; there are kids to yell at and missing tie-tacks to find while running madly about. But that once or twice a day will help you to remember who you are.

What of the fire? We can't very well keep a sacred fire burning in the house, or can we? What is the pilot light on the hot water heater or furnace or cook stove if not an eternal flame? Now, it lacks something of atmosphere to go down to the basement for worship, although there is historic precedent for it, so what is the "hearth and heart" of your home? If you have a fireplace, well, you're home free- there's a veritable hearth. Look at the Scottish tradition of "smooring" the fire at bedtime; it's a lovely, quiet, meditative moment to focus on the sanctity and security and permanence of home. If you don't have a fireplace, then look to the "fire" you use most for domestic tasks, the stove. Doesn't everyone seem to gravitate to the kitchen anyway? Since it's probably prohibitive to light a whole bonfire in the kitchen, how about a nice little cast iron brazier, especially if it's cauldron shaped, which can live next to the stove? Light it as you begin to cook a meal, briefly giving thanks for the use of this powerful force for our daily needs. Do you or the kids do homework at the kitchen table? It can also be a fire of inspiration. You might hang a Brigit's cross or corn dolly above it, or a sun face. The Brigit's cross drawn upon the mantle or door frame has been used as a talisman against fire in ancient and recent times.

Where better to think of sacred water, flowing water, than the bathroom. I think that indoor plumbing is well worth our reverence! Seriously, it's not hard to create a little fountain or sculpture of river rocks and shells to place beside the sink or in a corner of the tub. Again, when you are in there for your own daily ablutions, pour a cup of water over this small shrine so it cascades down into it's own "pool", perhaps a china or even plastic bowl, and ask for the continuing presence and goodwill of that goddess or spirit who guards the water in your house or in the land under it. If you feel moved to offer a gift of silver or nuts or a charm in the form of something you need, you can place it there until you are able to put it in a nearby natural water source. Try not to offer your best ring down the drain unless you're REALLY in need... Once again, as the connection with fire reminds us of our ability to harness that wild power, so this moment of contemplating water reminds us to be still and deep, to listen to the flowing forces within the earth.

In our rituals, after we have opened these three portals between worlds, we invite three kindreds; the gods, the beloved dead, and the spirits of nature. How shall we attend to them at home? First, not everyone has a personal patron deity. If you do, you will determine the proper place for a shrine based on who he or she is. A shrine to Brid belongs in the kitchen or by the fireplace or near your desk for inspiration. A shrine to Manannan might be part of your water focus, or might be at the front door since he is a guide between worlds and is found at boundaries. A shrine to Cernunnos or Flidais might look awfully like a hunting trophy on the wall, or be a small circle of trees in the yard. Lugh might like to be remembered at your work or in the "seat of authority" to which you retire after a long day. The Dagda can be found in the bedroom or the kitchen or your comfy chair. And so on. If you want a general work-altar for honoring all the gods as you need to, then you will want to set aside a corner as your "temple space". Mine lives between the computer and my desk and is put away most of the time, the icons or tools being used for "decorations" atop a shelf or tucked safely into a drawer, since the space is needed by the kids or the person at the computer most of the time. Take your time finding out what works for you, the gods are patient. And they sometimes give hints. Oh- and don't forget the shrine in your car. Where else do you have so much time for contemplation, privacy to speak aloud, and need of protection?

I believe that ancestor worship belongs in the home. Powerfully. Constantly. Simply. Make a collection of photos, mementos, favorite items from previous generations of your families. Put it where the household gathers, in the dining room or living room for example. You might make a pretty dish or incense burner a part of the display, so that you can offer food from your feasting when you have a traditional or old favorite dish, or so you can burn a special scent of incense . Did Grandma always wear rosewater? Did Great-grandpa smoke a pipe? Did Great-uncle Harry travel to China and bring back a sandalwood box? Smell carries memory more than any other sense. At special occasions be sure to include those family members who no longer have bodies. Tell stories about them. Remind the children which days were a favorite holiday or a birthday or anniversary. Keep it simple but reverent, and they will surely be there to help you when you need perspective, patience, wisdom, or solutions to thorny problems.

And what of the Sidhe? Ask the kids. Is there a fairy mound or fairy wood nearby? Go out walking when the moon is full and bright and bring them gifts of feathers, bright colored things, milk and honey, or a tot of whiskey if they prefer. There are those who point out to us that the land spirits here are those whom the Native Americans knew, and they prefer corn meal or tobacco, berries, shiny things, but NEVER alcohol. The nature spirits are the spirits of plants and animals, as well as the spirits of place and the sidhe-folk. Your bird feeder can become a place of offering to them, especially if you can put a deer-lick or the like nearby. If there is an interesting rock in your yard make an altar of it and leave pretty things or food offerings there for the critters. Some of your food leftovers can become offerings for the nature spirits, who will accept them in their form as ravens or crows or starlings, squirrels and cats and raccoons. Why not? Do we not share meat with the gods, offering them the parts of a meal they can "eat" but consuming the flesh on their behalf?

Do not forget the Earth Mother. Without her we are not. Where should her altar go? EVERYWHERE. Your worship of the Earth can be in recycling, turning off lights, cleaning up the neighborhood, asking permission before planting or harvesting a garden, and so on. This is easy worship to teach our children, who will remind us again and again. But how and where can we focus our devotion? Well, you could put a table by the recycling bins, with gifts the earth has given you which you give back to her; first fruits, goddess-shaped rocks or holed stones, and so on. There might be a special rock or tree in the back yard through which you connect most powerfully with the earth. Water it lovingly. Or by the kitchen sink, or by your bed, or wherever you feel most connected with the land and its cycles.

And, how will you reduce, contain and make manageable the chaos toward which the universe tends? Why not show the outsiders a place, as we do in ritual, with a gargoyle at your front gate or at the bottom of your drive. You could even impress the neighbors with a pair of protective stone lions or dogs. But the doorway itself provides a barrier as well as a passageway. Folklore is full of protective charms; a horseshoe, a rowan tree or yarrow plant, a knot of string or a drawing decorating the entry way to confuse those who would cause harm, etc. For myself, I've never felt a need for such protection, trusting those to whom I give honor to protect the space I have made theirs; the advantage to saying to the many beings of our pantheon; "My house is your house", is that they will help to protect its peace and security, and generally will remember not to fight or track mud inside.

Thus, your entire house and the land around it become your nemeton, your sacred grove. If you live in an apartment you might have to be a bit creative, but reasonable substitutes aren't hard to find; a picture of a gargoyle on your mailbox if that is your outer boundary, or else on your apartment door, replaces the stone one on the walk. There is surely a tree or bush nearby, or a window box garden you can create and a bird feeder you can hang to honor the spirits of nature. And where is the center for you? Probably not the elevator shaft, even if it's the center of the building, but perhaps the point of demarcation between public space (the living room) and private space (the bedrooms). You can place your remembrance of the vertical axis at that doorway. Again, dorms are a bit harder; often no fire is allowed, you haven't your own source of running water, the roommate might not share your religious beliefs. These concerns make it all the more important to surround yourself with simple reminders that you are not alone in the universe. A bonsai tree with a dish of water at its roots and an incense burner or little electric night light nearby make a lovely altar containing the central axis or world tree, the sacred fire and the well of wisdom. Pictures that remind you of the three kindreds surround your bed, and you can still find places outside to offer a dish of milk to the animals who convey your caring to the spirits of nature. Place a rock which feels particularly solid and old on your desk or under the head of your bed, and on the door, a picture which seems protective to ward off unwelcome chaos. You can still take the time, morning and evening, to touch and meditate on these items, to change the water and the incense (or scented oil rubbed on the light bulb). Offerings to your gods and ancestors might come in the form of things you can thumbtack below their pictures; pictures of the things you identify with them, colored ribbons, etc., rather than things which need to be burnt or dropped in a well or which get messy.

So, with a general sense of sacred space set up around you, worship and magic become ever more a part of daily life. You needn't go away from home to find the gods and spirits, but rather come from well-worn patterns of devotion to join with your community in celebration on the high days. At another time, I will talk about specific rituals for particular purposes, and ways in which our relationship with the gods and spirits can help us.

Bibliography

Bell, Catherine, _Ritual Theory Ritual Practice_ (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992)

Glassie, Henry, _Irish Folk History_ (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1982)

Glassie, Henry, _Folklife in New England_

Ross, Anne, _The Pagan Celts_ (Totowa NJ: Barnes & Noble, 1986)

Webb, Mary, _Precious Bane_ (NY: Penguin, 1985) (fiction with stong reference to folklife in East Anglia, first published in 1924.)


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