Pray to the Moon when She is round,
Luck with you will then abound,
What you seek for shall be found
On the sea or solid ground.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Altars & Mushrooms & Other Revelations (Nomad Week I)

When I wrote the "In-Betweens" post (Sciento-Paganism, Entry 2: In Between), I made liberal use of other people's words to illustrate the experience of being a spiritual "In Between." One of the quotes I used was from the author Dianne Sylvan:
"Spirituality is an ever-evolving thing, and while some folk can do that within the structure of one religion... some of us always have a weather eye on the horizon.  We learn a bit here, and a bit there, and gather tools and souvenirs from every tradition we visit, but ultimately we prefer to keep on walking and do our own thing...  I found that, when I could no longer reasonably call myself Wiccan, I was sort of floating in the Sea of Muddled Eclecticism, and I had to tread water for quite a while." -- from Becoming a Spiritual Nomad
I took this quote from her "Becoming A Spiritual Nomad" E-Course summary. Having once called myself "Wiccan" (also later finding the term lacking), her statement strongly resonated with my own experiences & my spiritual progression out of "formal" (if one could ever call it that) tradition & into the open wilderness of spiritual meanderings.  After much consideration, deliberation & procrastination, I decided that taking her course would be an appropriate first step in following through with Goal # 4 of my spiritual "Will Do" list. 

The baby ate my homework.
The first week's exercises contain two parts, both of which have been very revealing in very different ways. One part involves taking an inventory of your personal history. I have not liked this exercise. I delayed beginning the project & when I finally carried it out, I did it in a sloppy, haphazard way. Then, I watched The Changeling eat it. When my aghast Hubby pointed out that the baby had mangled & disappeared part of the assignment, I said, "Yep." I think that says something.

The other part of this week's exercises involves altars. This assignment suggested that folks with altars disassemble them (those without altars were one step ahead) & in their place, establish a simple, streamlined altar. Finally, we were instructed to complete a regular meditation before the revamped altar-of-simplicity. 

Crow Bells with Freya's seeds.
Already, I was hung up on the altar. Some of the time we keep a family altar -- or perhaps more accurately, shrine  -- to mark the passing of the seasons together. On occasion, we have purpose-specific "altars," (like the Crow-Bell "altar" filled with bells for signaling crows when we toss bread & treats for them) or impromptu, spontaneous, "organic" shrines (say, in the yard, unintentionally on a shelf, or left on a wandering). Our family's seasonal altar/shrine involves collecting objects from outdoors, special occasions, etc. & arranging, rearranging & ultimately removing them. This altar is open to everyone in the family. It morphs with the seasons & passing of events, ever-changing, endlessly recycling. It is a place where sometimes workings are done, but it is not a place where I personally connect with divinity. 

I talked about this assignment with Hubby. He suggested I use the Crow-Bell altar. I felt that the kitchen was the last place I wanted to meditate on the divine, unless I was cooking. Cooking is a great time to meditate, but sitting on the floor in the kitchen facing a shelf is not. 

I considered the woodstove, recalling a really lovely post about the magick of fire written by a blogger friend. Our woodstove is our primary heat source & is in many ways, the heart of our home. Yet when I envisioned sitting or lying before the fire in an attempt to get deep with the universe, it conjured images of the rest of the family around the corner; ever-busy, ever-noisy, ever-interrupting & the cats... oh, the cats... sauntering in to disturb the peace with scritchy-scratch destruction. 

Besides, I was still hung up on the whole idea of sitting in front of an altar at all. So I asked myself why.

This was helpful & ultimately brought forth a memory which in retrospect, marked a significant turning point on my spiritual journey (although at the time I didn't recognize it as such). 

For starters, I have never been to church. Ever. Well, I think I went once with a friend after a sleepover, but that's it. The entire idea of getting high on "God" indoors is pretty foreign to me. However, put me on the edge of a cliff overlooking a ravine or the ocean, throw me into a thunderstorm or into the bowels of a cave & my head will swim with transcendental reverb.

As I considered this more deeply, I recalled an event which probably forever killed the indoor altar experience for me. It turns out this was also my first lesson from my mycological muses. (Who knew? I sure didn't.) 

Fiddlehead ferns, courtesy WikiCommons.
Way back in my "baby-Pagan" days, I went on a Psilocybe-guided adventure to the creek just beyond the potato field behind my townhouse. There, I sat by the water & discovered that I had (temporarily, alas) learned the language of plants. With great joy, I prattled on for hours with the fiddleheads whose jovial, light-hearted conversation I found preferable to that of the more stoic & reserved trees. I stayed there until the Sun began to sink below the horizon, forcing me indoors for warmth, light & safe harbor from the mosquitos. 

I had had such a wonderful, mystical experience outside in the shelter of the trees, listening to the plants, that I went to my altar in an effort to prolong the communion. What I found there was a bunch of stuff -- voiceless, spiritless stuff. I was profoundly disturbed & painfully disappointed. I gazed across a landscape of carefully selected, painstakingly organized "sacred" items & could see nothing but mute, impotent objects. It was terrible.

All those special, symbolic things -- the things I tended to so carefully, so lovingly arranged atop the hard-sided suitcase that my Grandmama once carried -- were suddenly just stuff. Worse still, when I woke the following morning, headache-stricken & miserable (but sober), it was all still just stuff. Weeks passed & my altar never reclaimed the sacred quality it once had. Without the heart to remove it, I let it collect dust. It was permanently, irrevocably, stuff.

I have never attempted spiritual communion before an altar since.

So, given the exercise, what could I do?

Snow-dusted cliffs of Breakfast Canyon.
I looked to my regular Solar & Lunar "devotionals" for the answer & realized that at least when we are in our desert home, the "altar" is unarguably to the East. It is our beloved "Breakfast Canyon" & no special ornamentation, embellishments or improvements are needed. It is the rockbed from which our Sun & Moon rise & its cliffs are the last faces they shine upon as they slip away from view. As a dedicant of Nature, I cannot imagine a better place of communion than outside, before this canyon.

I began my meditations on the night of the full Moon. My altar was perfect & the experience sublime. (I wrote about it in (Snow) Moonrise Over Mother & Child.) Each night has been different. Each one a lesson, a gift, although not always perfect or sublime. I hope to write more about these experiences & also some of the questions posed in the assignments, but now, I must sleep.

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