My middle child had their 5 year old rituals last weekend. My ex-wife and I created these rituals 3 years ago to help transition our first child from babyhood into childhood in an explicitly magickal way, a way that traditional American rituals like first day of school simply cannot do. The ritual itself is composed of 3 challenges that the child must complete. The challenges are as unique as the children attempting them. The ritual’s impact upon completion is deep and powerful, and different for every child who goes through it.
Part of the reward for the successful completion of their rituals is their own Ganesh statue, an offering plate and incense matches; their very own altar starter kit. It is an entry into the world of spiritual awareness and the first explicit relationship with deity, their first chance to make religion their own.
The middle child’s rituals went well, and the next day they are thrilled when we go to get them their Ganesh statue. They pick out their statue, offering plate and incense matches with an excitement that threatens to cost me double in accidental damages. When we get home they put their new statue and offering plate on my altar in our spare bedroom where we keep our dressers and our altars.
My current altar isn’t much, little more than an ad hoc platform that represents my ambivalence toward ritual, the importance making magick with what’s at hand, and the uncertainty of my life right now. It’s composed of a stray piece of Ikea particle board laid across two plastic file boxes. Simple, elegant, and easy to move on the fly.
This weekend I needed to get at some of the files in one of the boxes for my divorce. Middle child at my side, I carefully lifted the particle board off of the boxes, but in doing so the new silver and gold Ganesh tumbled backward onto the floor. I was instantly frustrated and mortified. Frustrated at myself and mortified for my child. The statue has shitty balance (an ill portent to be examined later), and was the only one of the four altar pieces that moved at all. As it tumbled I flinched inside and waited for the child to wail at the destruction of her new deity.
But they didn’t cry. They just picked up the statue from where it had fallen, examined it and shrugged. Miraculously it appeared unharmed. I got the box I needed, we adjusted the table to sit on a single leg instead of two, they returned Ganesh to the altar crisis momentarily averted.
The exciting thing about the 5 year old rituatls has been my child’s newfound excitement about meditation. They to do puja every morning and every evening. It’s an excellent lever to get her to do the chores, since legitimately if she doesn’t listen in the mornings and evenings we won’t have time to spend with their new Ganesh, and she won’t get to blow the incense match out. But even more, it’s wonderful to sit in meditation for 5 minutes with my 5 year old and celebrate a being who is important to both of us, frankly, to introduce my child to Ganesh.Sitting with her this morning, I lit the incense match and tucked it snugly into one of the holes in the offering dish. I said my cobbled together Ganesh prayer at my cobbled together altar in my cobbled together life, and sat and breathed with my middle child as the toddler puttered, copying and interrupting us in turns, picking up trash off the floor to treasure it forever.
The middle child and I do three deep breaths and then breathe up in a modification of Feri alignment that I call the divine arrow: breathing up to call down the divine arrow, aligning the triple soul and pulling my energy into the earth, grounding me with an energetic root structure that pulls my spine straight and roots me in my practice. Then for as long as incesnse burns I just sit. It’s a surprisingly useful practice, even just 5 minutes of breathing with the incesnse match, my children fidgeting around me.
Today, as I sat, I noticed that Ganesh had not escaped his tumble unscathed. The hand on his bottom right arm had had some fingers chipped. I was immediately disappointed, and I was tired of Ganeshes breaking. This one, I thought when I bought it, this one will be the pristine one, but less than a week into its tenure it had already been injured. I took some small solace in the fact that this Ganesh had joined the club. No Ganesh statue I have ever owned has ever been unbroken. My first one fell behind my altar and its halo broke off. My second tipped backward and his rope and hatchet broke right off to be glued fastidiously back on weeks later. Now, the newest member of our tribe has had his fingers chipped.
And that’s when it hit me: of course our Ganeshes are broken and repaired, because the god himself was broken and repaired. Ganesh is the son of Parvatie, created by his mother to be her own loyal son, to guard the door to her bath and maintain her privacy. When Parvati’s husband Shiva came home to find a strange boy telling him he couldn’t enter into his own house he got upset! So angry, in fact, that he struck the boy’s head clean off, and poor Ganesh was killed instantly. Parvati’s anger, Brahma’s intervention and Shiva’s contrition combined to not only bring Ganesh back, but make him first among the gods. Shiva had an elephant’s head attached to the boy’s body, making them the god we know today.
And, so, like the god himself a Ganesh is not a Ganesh until it is broken…and repaired. Perhaps there is a lesson for finding my own divinity in that.