Altars July 15, 2011

I love altars. I love iconography, statues, all the sacred arts. So of course I was excited about creating an altar for this quarter of my project.

This is my altar before I started:

Syncretic altar  You can see on the left I have a few Christian items: a glow-in-the-dark plastic statue of the Virgin Mary (because it’s fab), an icon of the Theotokos, and a little match box icon of Jesus.

Next, a hand decorated votive holder.A pretty wooden star I found when we settled in Wales. A beautiful earthenware goblet my mother got in Israel in 1970 (before I was born).

On the right side, a sort of ancestor altar: a black glass votive holder, a picture of my parents (still alive), a picture of my namesake – my maternal grandmother who died around 1954 (the little girl with her back to the camera is my mother).

It’s all on top of the electric fire place in the dining room, which is my main room. It’s my study, as well as where we eat. That fire place never gets used, so don’t worry that things are going to melt or catch on fire.

Now we have the current altar:

Hindu altarThis is the picture from the first night. On the left is Ganesh. I re-purposed my black votive holder for fire offerings. I have a collection of oils that have been dedicated to Shiva, Ganesh, Lakshmi and Kali. An image of the ten armed Kali. Two peacock feathers. A small lingam for Shiva. My goblet for water offerings. A red glass plate for solid offerings, like food or flowers. An incense holder for dhoop offerings. All on a red cloth. It’s really pretty lovely.

Here is what it looks like now:

Hindu altar, week 3  You can see that there are some coins in front of Ganesh. One morning my son, who is 3, was awake with me while I was doing devotions. He wanted to add something, so he gave coins (1, 2 and 5 pence coins) to Ganesh. He loves Ganesh. There is a small plastic tiger to represent Durga, from whose forehead Kali sprung. I also got a new incense holder, since the round one just made a huge mess.

I have plans to get items for Lakshmi and Saraswati, as well as Kartikeya. I’m also planning to create my own yantra. I have read that, like mantras, a yantra created without the express blessing of a guru carries no power. Still, I think I will gain something from drawing my own. I am not at all gifted in the visual arts so it will definitely take a lot of concentration for me. A fitting sacrifice and effort, I think!

What sort of altars do you have, if any? Perhaps you have a certain cup in your kitchen that is always in a certain place? What about a picture on a mantlepiece, next to where you might light a candles in the winter time? Altars don’t always have to be hyper-religious like mine. I’d love to hear -or see- what yours looks like.

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