Some Thoughts on Shrines

You can kinda see Sporus the Skull mounted on the far left

People really like fancy shrines. And with good reason, because it’s good to create well-tended and aesthetically pleasing spaces for our gods to come hang out with us. It certainly makes the whole thing more enticing for them, and it gives us a central location that we’re naturally drawn to. Everyone in a spiritual relationship benefits.

The downside of this is altar porn, which accidentally reinforces an idea that all shrines (which are different from altars) must be pretty, instead of practical, and somehow emerge fully formed in wheatfields. Or lush forests. Or wherever it is people like taking #aesthetic altar photos. Shrines which are actually used take a very long time to develop, and will probably continue developing throughout your entire relationship with a deity. (And for some people, that’s forever!) They are entirely dependent on your means and your relationship with your deities.

My first shrine was on an old desk that was a garish shade of blue and falling apart, because that was the only clear flat surface I had. It took about a week to get it to a point where I felt “worthy” of photographing it, and that included a lot of careful angles to keep the collapsing keyboard shelf from showing. That was a week of long walks to collect pretty looking doodads, crocheting a doily to be Loki’s designated placemat, and so on. The sunlight filtering in behind the altar was a nice touch, but my first shrine was honestly just straight up hideous.

And that’s fine.

It wasn’t going to get me notes on Tumblr, but it was practical. It was a central location to put food and drink for Loki. And then Sigyn, and then Angrboda, and then Hel and Jormungand and Fenris Ulfr and Narvi and EVERYONE. Because polytheists and pagans tend to collect gods like Pokemon. Or the gods are collecting us like Pokemon. Like, a mutual Pokemon hunt, but the shinies and legendaries are the gods? Am I a Pikachu in this metaphor? Anyway.

The point is, my intentions were good, my work for the gods was happily accepted, and there was no rush to fit in and be fashionable. I did end up shuffling things around in the process of cleaning the shrine, and ended up moving the whole kit and caboodle when I needed my desk back, but they continued to be improvised rather than an experiment in interior design.

For a long time, my shrine was right by my bedside, because I wanted the gods nearby. This ended up being wildly impractical, since it ended with my lamp getting knocked over. (By me. Loki didn’t do it, I’m just a klutz.)

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That is one candle per deity. It’s cramped quarters.

That stack of bookshelf shrines at the beginning of the post took five years to build. In those five years, I had halved my possessions several times. There was no room before I got below 25ish% of my original clutter. Everyone got wedged into the same space unless I needed a special favor. I still need to clear out a bunch of junk (we’re talking 20 years of bad item management…) in order to come anywhere close to the clean and intentional-looking altars that show up on Tumblr or WeHeartIt.

And if it helps anyone feel better, Thor’s place didn’t look that fancy even with five years of shrine-building experience. It started out like this.

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Sparse, kinda goofy looking, and with one little gangly Julbock and a sheaf of wild wheat for Sif. But he liked it. It didn’t quite come together until the wall mask was finished, because I was very insistent that both of his goats be symbolically accounted for. But the sentiment was appreciated. I’d had that wooden stein for years, and I think we were both just glad there was finally a place for it. I still have to buy a hammer, but, baby steps.

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