We know that in Heathen Europe there were various kinds of altar, stall, etc utilised. My favourites personally are the thousands of votive matron stones that German warriors, enlisted in the Roman army, left all over Europe. And of course, people have been building altar-like structures in Europe since the stone ages – real arch-Heathenism there!
I’m not sure what other Heathens put on their altars but I thought it might be a little interesting to describe some of the elements of my own. As you can see from the photo, it is very cluttered; like some species of bird I compulsively decorate and redecorate my spiritual nest.
Inside the black box are various crystals, stones, letters, a leather collar, and so forth. There is also a pocket watch my Opa left me, a potent existential reminder. And inside the red box with the moon is a sea shell into which I periodically earth excess megin. Other than those things everything on my stall is completely visible in the photograph.
I’ll just pick through the objects, some of them have some wild stories! Some of them have stories I won’t tell; some of them I don’t understand the meaning of, but my unconscious says they should be there so they are. Incidentally, that painting to the left of the stall was painted by my Oma, who’s talents just keep developing. She almost gives Monet a scare these days!
Conspicuous in their absence are any representations of the divine. No large bust of Woden; no smirking image of Loki. There is a card (which is not visible) with a painting of a crow that reminds me of Odin but that is about as close as I get. Oh yes, and those two brass chess pawns, which I regard as symbolic of my ancestors watching over me.
The cards have various stories; the one on top has a picture of a glacier in New Zealand. It was sent to me by my friend Lorien, who now lives in the US (funny, a lot of my friends have done that…) Lorien and I had a number of wild magical and spiritual experiences together.
I’ve floated on the surface of cosmic oceans with him; our old all-night conversations used to completely dismantle and rebuild the very fabric of reality. So although I haven’t seen him in years, I have kept this symbol of our friendship on my altar because I know the love will never actually die, even if it doesn’t get as much energy these days.
That leads me to the little porcelain Dutch clogs on the corner of the table top. They’re actually ash trays – thankfully I don’t smoke anymore – and my mother gave them to me as a memento (however kitsch) of my Dutch heritage. Little windmills are painted on them, as well as decorative flowers.
To me these funny little shoes are a door into thousands of years of history to which I am personally rooted. To someone else they might be tasteless bric a brac. The wonders of spiritual expression!
The rusted iron bar across the front is of course my iron spirit antenna, the getting of which is documented in this very journal. Next to to it lies a piece of wood sculpted into smooth shapes by the ocean, a reminder of the sea’s creative power. And next to that an antique screwdriver I use to carve runes – a symbol of humanity’s creative power.
The creative theme continues – on the right front corner is a portrait my Opa drew of me when I was a child. Its slightly to harsh and angular to represent me, but it captures something, a rough-hewn movement that a more finished image would likely lose. On top of it is a picture of my twin nephews; so again the ancestral theme is dominant on my stall.
Above that is my business card, the business of which I intend to revamp as a part of the project of Fearless Honesty. And above that a badge for The Greens. I detest the notion of political parties, but here in Australia at least The Greens seem to be the only party, left or right, to be free of hypocrisy and double-dealing.
They’re also the only party that take conservation seriously, an issue that I personally think all Heathens should be concerned about – again regardless of their political leanings. If we do not preserve the planet that preserves us then the luxury of debating politics will quickly be lost, along with everything else!
Up the back you can see a flyer for Hex Magazine. Yes, everyone knows that I’m fanatically in love with Hex, it being generations ahead of any other Heathen publication. Simultaneously conservative and progressive, it draws together a huge spectrum of the international Heathen community, which is so important given the endless stupid debates we Heathens get into to.
More importantly free of the brittle posturing that ruins the writing of most Heathens (even ones who in person are very genuine people). Hex restored my faith in Heathenism as a social phenomenon; I had come to hold most Heathens in such low esteem and avoided all but a few.
Yet the existence of Hex has somewhat refuted my cynicism and I’m very proud to be able to contribute to it (incidentally, I write a regular runic column for their e-newsletter, you can subscribe here).
In many respects ancestry refers to much more than just cultural or familial heritage. For example, I regard my musical, magical and philosophical influences as ancestors, for they have all nourished and shaped me. Even though Hex and I are contemporary entities, I nevertheless accord this marvellous magazine with the status of a revered ancestor.
Hex is the very first manifestation of strong, vulnerable, open and honest Heathenism with heart. I’m sure it will inspire many more such worthy manifestations.
Wedged between the thunder stone and the black box is a folded up Sufi cap, a gift to me from the Jerrahi order when I was initiated. People don’t realise it, but the secret heart of Sufism is very similar to some of the fundamental elements of Heathenry. That said, I do not practice Sufi ritual or the like any more as Woden tends to get summoned all to easily and that can leave me at risk of committing all kinds of inter-faith faux pas!
Nevertheless, the Sufis have taught me a great deal. Incidentally, the Sufi circle to which I am connected is the first spiritual or religious group I’ve ever encountered where every single person involved is of unimpeachably high calibre. Those Sufis leave us Heathens for dead on that front, I’m sad to say. Lift your game, sons and daughters of Rig!
I have to keep some mysteries to myself, but the blue ceramic Japanese cup with the flowers in the middle of the stall was a gift to me from John AKA Volksfreund. When I do practical rune magic I put the sigils in there to slowly brew and seep into the well of wyrd for me. It seems to work quite well, though as you can see at the moment I don’t have any spells active.
Oh yes, and the CD case on the right with the Berkano-Eihwaz-Berkano emblem is a copy of :Fire:Water:Ash:, my band Ironwood’s debut album, which has just come out (and which all readers of this journal should buy, just click the above link ;-) ;-)
:Fire:Water:Ash: represents victory after many, many years of struggle and I still cannot quite believe it exists. It’s an achievement I am very proud of, and as the most recent addition to my stall, and a marker of bright future possibilities, I will leave you there.