As you may have remembered, I took the summer off from this column to head back to school in search of my MFA. It was the first of many amazing summer semesters, filled with new friends, stimulating experiences, and awesome opportunities, and I loved every minute I was away. However, being gone for the summer also afforded me the opportunity of returning home, an experience which I’d forgotten can be both transformative and powerful.
Although I was able to jaunt back and forth on the weekends, for all intents and purposes, I was living in Virginia for six weeks this summer, the longest stretch of time I’d been consistently away since I studied abroad in Italy ten years ago. Then, I packed light and didn’t really try to inhabit the space. This time, I knew I needed to try to make my dorm room feel more like home. I even packed some of my altar supplies (my favorite tarot deck in the hand-carved wooden box with a pentacle on the lid, one of my altar cloths, and some of my mala beads), thinking that spiritually inhabiting the space would help me to feel grounded and at home. I also packed my Egyptian veil, a beautiful blue headscarf I purchased at the temple of Isis at Philae, but at the last minute, I pulled it out and left it folded beside my altar in the corner of my bedroom.
I didn’t use any of the tools I brought with me, and although I inhabited the small space in other ways (with books and ideas strewn about every surface), I didn’t make my dorm into my spiritual home.
Instead of leaving me feeling bereft, the absence of my regular rituals actually strengthened my appreciation for returning home and renewed my desire to make conscious choices about my magical practice. Stepping away from the altar gave me a different perspective, and I realized how rote some of my actions had become. Every night when I’m home, I light a candle on my altar, veil with my scarf, and work my way through one hundred and eight recitations of one of my chosen gratitude mantras. I could do the whole process with my eyes closed, and I’ve realized that I often was simply going through the motions, forgetting the reasons behind my actions after so many years of long use.
When I finally moved home from my summer away, I found myself approaching my nightly ritual with an overwhelming sense of gratitude. I hadn’t realized just how much I’d missed working in my sacred space while I was away; it was easy to get bogged down with term papers and presentations and to ignore the disruption in my nightly routine. But now, instead of rote words and movements, my time at my altar each night is charged with gratitude and awareness. When I put my veil over my head, I take a moment to consciously connect with Isis, and as I recite my mantra, I allow the ancient words to resonate deep within me, filling me with power and joy.
Going away gave me the chance to return home, both physically and spiritually, and as the fall speeds up, I want to hang onto the lesson I learned. Will I become complacent in my spirituality again? Undoubtedly; familiarity breeds contempt, it’s been said, and as much as I cherish my nightly routine, it is a routine, and the danger of letting it become rote once more is ever-present. But because I was away, I’ve got fresh eyes, at least for the time being, and I am striving to approach my solitary practice with mindful joy and gratitude. It really is a blessing to be able to worship how and where I want, and despite the cliché, when it comes to my connection with the gods, there really is no place quite like home.