In Praise of Altars   Leave a comment

Brenda Ash

photo courtesy Brenda Ash

OBOD Chosen Chief Phillip Carr-Gomm at this weekend’s Gulf Coast Gathering in Louisiana. The Alban Eilir/Equinox altar features Spanish moss and whelk shells. I didn’t attend, but through a magic as palpable and marvelous as any, an image consisting of light particles carries this moment from the event to all of us. Surely we can number images among our altars — beloved photographs of dear ones, of family and friends gathering, of the large moments and smaller ones of our lives.

And in the image below, Mystic River Grove’s Equinox celebration, which I was able to attend, processes through the March snow toward their ritual site in a Massachusetts park.

Alban Eiler _anna_oakflower

photo courtesy Anna Oakflower

Here are many altars: the altar of the event, held in imagination and expectation. The altar of the location, a park, a dedicated space of a different kind: the will existed to preserve a natural space from development and for the public, an acknowledgement of common wealth, re publica, for which the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is named in aspiration. The altar of each body present, beaver (broad tails slapping the water when we edged too near), birch, stone, water, human (about 25 of us gathered in eastern Mass.), avian (crows, and an owl hooting during an Ovate initiation preceding the main rite), canine (coyotes yipping just at the close of the ritual and as darkness settled in).

“I make of my intentions an altar”: something I can practice doing at any moment, if and when I remember. And how often the moment makes its own altar, if I pay attention: sunlight and silence on an afternoon walk, or a caucus of crows startled into flight and talk. A found stone that perfectly fits your hand. The first drops of needed rain finally beginning to fall. The greeting of a passing jogger or hiker out like you for word from the sun and the air and the world around us.

These are the democratic altars of existence, moments and openings of life and energy accessible to all. In them lie the origins of Druidry and so many other practices, a “momentary stay”, as Frost says, “against confusion”. Even the effort to “stay”, or simply to celebrate as it all passes by, is an altar, a focus.

We gather after the ritual at a long-time member’s home, another kind of ritual. Two soups go onto the stove, chicken and potato-leek. A salad comes together, and — warmed by a generous assortment of alcoholic contributions, an altar of bottles on the kitchen counter — several of us nibble at irresistible dessert cookies while the main course warms. We glow a little brighter in each other’s company, another altar we make by choice and effort. We could have stayed home for any reason, but we didn’t. An important altar. Others — a parent’s death last autumn, remembered; an upcoming surgery and a request for prayers; a first home and all the discoveries of ownership.

The “secular” is the “world” — Druidry recovers the world in all its sacredness, a human forgetting changed into human recollection.

Trees, humans too, we stand against the sky, a grove of profiles, outlines against the sky. Feeling our ways along, delighting — given half a chance, making one for ourselves — in all the altars of our worlds.

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