Showing posts with label shrines. Show all posts
Showing posts with label shrines. Show all posts

Sunday, March 20, 2022

Building A Safe and Effective Outdoor Shrine


No one's happier than a Pagan or Polytheist with yard space. I know I certainly was when I bought my first home. I was already marking out where I would place my temple's shrines and altars, in the rather vast space that had enough room for dozens if I chose. But once you begin a permanent structure of this importance on your property, you may find that it takes a little more work and preparation than initially thought. For this post, I will primarily use my outside shrine of Athena Pandemos as an example, which is pictured above. Feel free to scroll and refer back to it at your own will.

The first step is, of course, rather obvious; finding a suitable or preferred location. For me, my terrain is flat and, in most places, easy to lightly modify with gardening and digging tools. But generally speaking, you want to try and pick a spot that is as independent of outside influences as possible. For example, don't build next to the main road or near a sewer or trash container. The reason for this is because your shrine stands a conceivable chance of being involved in an accident or a desecration. Someone could go off the road and run over it, or contaminants that will create miasma may filter in. My Athena shrine is in my fenced in backyard, among the natural trees and foliage. The only religious structure I have ever built close to my main road is my Boundary Marker because of its function, and I am actually looking at moving it up to my door or steps. Luckily, nothing has happened to it.

Second, you must first place a structure for the shrine's statue to stand upon, and also choose the proper tools and elements by which to firmly install it. Storms will come and bring strong winds along with them. My Athena statue stands upon a Greek Ionic column. Now the other important thing to consider is the material that the column and statue are made out of. Do not use cheap alabaster columns that you can find at craft stores. They will quickly rot in the face of the elements. Even if you paint them, it doesn't matter. They are just not designed to stand up to weather. My column was purchased from a designer that specifically equipped it with weather resistant materials. It is a hard, very durable plastic, but not a cheap one. Its looks, weight and design makes it cost around $150.00. But consider the investment. You will never have to replace it. If you can't afford one, there are other options I will get to a bit later. Your statue, likewise, should also be able to resist the outside weather. There are Greek and Pagan suppliers who make them, and can be found easily online at affordable prices.

The column's base rests in the ground, inside a small hole dug specifically for it to fit in. For a hole this shallow, however, simply putting the dirt back on top will not be enough to hold it against strain unless it is placed within an enclosed area where wind will have a difficult time directly hitting it. For the completion of the base, fill the hole with quick drying cement, which can be purchased extremely cheaply at hardware stores. The kind I have used successfully is called Quikrete. Pack it down, wait for it to dry, and cover it up with the excess soil. As an extra anchor, I also placed a concrete block on the ground on either side of the column, so that if a strong force does begin to push against the base, it will have a harder time uprooting it to the point that it would harm the statue.

Third, place the statue on top of the column with a base sealant. I use E6000 to glue the top of the column and the bottom of the statue together. An abundant amount will greatly secure it against mishaps. You don't want to just stand the statue and leave it without an anchor. Especially if it's a large, expensive one like mine. You want to make sure it cannot be easily toppled, which brings me to the last section of this outline.

You'll notice the nice garden gate that encircles my Athena shrine. That's not just there for decoration. It serves two vital purposes. The first is to close and section off the shrine as sacred. The second is to protect it from overheard dangers, as there are trees directly above it. We don't normally think about it, but a falling branch or even a sturdy twig can destroy or damage the statue or column. But in the case of mine, the falling tree would impact with the iron gate and be unlikely to penetrate. The gate may need replacing depending on the strength of the object, but the shrine will be saved. A strong garden gate of this kind will run you at least $200.00. However, depending on the size of your statue and its location, you may not need it. If you look at the picture and take notice to the altar that is used for sacrifice to Athena, you'll see that it is simply made from straightly stacked concrete blocks. These blocks can also be used in like manner to build a pedestal for the statue, saving you cost on the column, and their immense weight will be enough to keep them in place by themselves. Although you should take note that I do not know if glues such as E6000 will bind to concrete. However, I am sure there are sealants that will. Ask the people at your hardware store. Once you have built the stone column and placed the statue on it, use much smaller blocks or stones, or some other very hardened material, to construct a small shelter around the statue. You must also make sure that said structure won't collapse or fall away. Of course, if you build the shrine away from any direct dangers, you don't need a cover at all. My Artemis shrine looks to the open sky and does not have an overhead for that reason. The protective barriers only need to be in place if there are exterior dangers possible.

The shrine should now spend time being cultivated by you, the builder and devotee. There's more to a place of worship than just stone and iron. It's sacred to the God it represents. They can even spiritually visit it. It is a holy place for their holy presence, and a center for your supplication for their bliss, blessings and wisdom in your life. Therefore, make it welcoming and devoted to the God. My Artemis shrine will have a fresh pine tree in its precinct this year, dedicated to Her as the Goddess of forests and Her immortality, as pines do not lose their green. The more you love and grow the shrine, the more, I think, you'll be surprised at how the God shows their presence there. After I had built my Athena shrine, an owl took up residence somewhere in the nearby trees and sometimes hoots at night (an owl is Athena's sacred animal).

When you get down to the bottom line, a shrine is really a place where you show a God or Gods how much you love them. It is one of their homes, one of their sacred areas, and one of their universal places for you to welcome them.

In the Goodness of the Gods,
Chris Aldridge.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Building Your Ancient Greek Pillar Complex

Going all the way back to Mycenean and even Minoan times, the Tree Sanctuary, or as I call it, the Pillar Complex, is one of the easiest and most beautiful outside constructions for ancient Greek rites. The picture on the left is of my own, built for my temple's sanctuary to host public rites. Walter Burkert, in his book Greek Religion, page 28, describes the architecture of this precinct. 

"A large, imposing tree, almost always enclosed by a wall, and so set apart as sacred. The wall may be decorated with stucco or crowned with cult horns. A door, also embellished, leads into the interior, occasionally revealing a stone pillar. Various forms of altars are also shown, and in a number of cases a temple-like building stands opposite the tree. Open, stony ground is sometimes suggested."

My own Pillar Complex follows this basic pattern. It is built before a large tree, and the entire structure, including the tree, is encased by a brick wall (although in ancient times, the wall was probably much higher). The opening in the front leads into the interior where an altar and a stone pillar stands. The ground around it is also of small stones, but leaves in this picture are covering most of them up. The entire Complex is set apart from the rest of the surrounding area as its own sacred precinct. If you have your own property and are wanting to build religious structures, it's a far easier, more affordable alternative to a standing temple, which can take countless man hours, hard labor, and several thousands of dollars. 

Building it out of stone and brick, and having it dominated by a strong tree, is in itself an excellent way to keep the structure standing and protected for a long period of time, and it will give you the ability to hold any kind of festival, rite or sacrifice to any God, Spirit, Hero, Ancestor or Deified Mortal the occasion calls for. In my own, the central pillar acts as a shrine, upon which a statue is placed of the One who is being worshiped at that time. So for a rite of Artemis, I'd place Her statue there during the rites. Of course, the Complex can also be a place for any time one wants to do general prayer and sacrifice. It doesn't have to always be one Deity at a time. Opposite the pillar, as you can see, is the altar, also made of stone and identified by being raised from the ground above the general flooring of the Complex. Upon the altar is also an incense burner to keep incense separate from things on the stone that might extinguish it, like libations or foods.

The first step is to find ground that is suitable. You want it to be as level as possible, otherwise the bricks you lay are all going to be crooked and it will drive you insane. You can also make the ground more level yourself by moving or adding soil. Making the ground proper and ready is a very crucial part, because ones those heavy bricks and stones are laid down, it's going to be very hard, if not impossible, to do anything about it unless you tear up the entire Complex and start over. So it is dire that you make sure the ground is good.

Step two is placing the flooring, which in mine is made of flat brick. The flooring is important because it's going to give the interior balance and stability. You notice that, for example, if you walk outside and just put a pillar on the bare ground, it's going to lean or fall over. Strong flooring helps against this. The brick used for the flooring also forms the altar on the far end toward the entrance by simply stacking themselves a few feet off the ground. The tree in the picture is encased by a wall of very simple red bricks, which are simply laid down and pressed into the soil where possible, all the way around the tree, pillar and altar, leaving a front entrance. Finally, gravel or stones fill the entire interior where the ground would still be visible. All together, the project took me an afternoon, and a cost of only about $60, since the only thing I had to buy was a stone pillar which I purchased at a local craft store, and the decorative flowers which were bought at a department store. Here's the best part, everything else was found around my home. By simply doing some scavenging, I found all the bricks and stones I needed. If you own your own house and land, there are probably more things lying around the yard and basement than you think, especially if you have just purchased the property.

On an ending note, when building an outside shrine, sanctuary or temple, if you can do so near a natural spring or natural water source, that would be the icing on the cake. Many temples and sanctuaries in ancient times followed the same custom, as the natural water can be used for purification of the sanctuary and the people entering it, and even as offerings to the Gods. If you've ever been to Circle Sanctuary in Wisconsin and looked at the springs of Brighid, those are natural springs.

In the Goodness of the Gods,
Chris Aldridge.

Monday, November 19, 2018

How To Build Private Prayer Space For All Purposes

Polytheists and Pagans like being private people. The number of solitary practitioners is one of the highest denominations, if you will, in the community. In some Pagan Paths, like Wicca, it's even drawn controversy as to whether or not it's even legitimate for a Wiccan to be without a Coven. So those of us who enjoy our alone time with the Gods and our spirituality are massive. When I built my own entirely private altar just a few days ago, I wasn't even in the market for it when I stumbled upon the marvelous items for it at a local Goodwill store, but I'm always on the lookout for new stuff I can use and design for my pursuits in life. Originally, I went to Goodwill that day because I always try to buy a little something I like each time I get paid, so I was looking for nice decorations for my home.

As you can see from the first picture on the right, I assembled a private altar very nicely, facing the direction of the rising Sun each morning. Of course, the lower wooden stand is the altar for prayer, sacrifice and even festival celebrations for a particular God when necessary. In the center is the incense burner which is the common offering at this altar, on the left a relief of Eos (Goddess of the dawn) and on the right Hemera (Goddess of the day), over shadowed by a golden, metal reef of flowers. At the very top is a central wall niche to finish. The total price for all of it was about $16. That's the reason I always tell Pagans to search for religious items at thrift stores and antique shops. You can find absolutely wonderful things that cost virtually nothing.

Now the altar is for universal purpose. In other words, prayers, worship and rituals regarding any God(s), Spirit(s) or Hero(es) I want at any given time. But there may also be times to focus on one particular Divinity, such as for a festival or personal need, and that's what the wall niche at the top is for. As you can see from the picture on the left, if time comes for this direct focus, I just place a statue, picture or symbol of the God, Spirit or Hero on there. For example, Hephaistos in this picture, and for the purpose of, let's say, celebrating His festival on October 30th called Khalkeia. In this instance, my private prayer space can transform into a temporary altar or small temple or sanctuary of Hephaistos. When the celebrations are finished, I simply take the statue back to the original place I took it from, and the altar then returns to universal purpose. One of the best things about this space besides how cheap it was to make it, is that it does not take up much room at all. It's barely one yard across, and about two yards high.  The lower wooden section also has a lower shelf that can be used for things like prayer and ritual books, solid offerings, libation bowls, and/or to house relics of Gods or Heroes. With this small and very affordable establishment I have built in my own private living space, I can do all things religious that I need to in terms of worship and ritual. 

Don't be afraid to go out and try this for yourself if you need something like I have built, or perhaps more importantly, if you think something like this would be the most practical for you at this time. There is always more than one way to be Pagan.

In the Goodness of the Gods,
Chris Aldridge.

Monday, April 3, 2017

The Ease of Constructing a Basic Greek Altar

One thing I love to teach people as a Hellenic priest and writer is how to construct places of worship and carry out rites. One of the reasons I enjoy teaching this is because it's not as hard or costly as some people might think or portray, especially if you're creating what I call "natural altars." It is not a complicated trade whatsoever. Lots of practitioners have really beautiful and elaborate shrines and altars with numerous statues and the like, but these things are not needed to carry out Hellenic worship. All you really need is a basic altar where you can pray, make offerings and sacrifices, and carry out ritual work. The fancy things are nice, and can indeed help with focus, but it's important to remember that the niceties are not what you're worshiping. The Gods, Spirits and Heroes are not statues, temples, or elaborate tapestries and pottery. To connect with the Gods simply because they are the Gods, is the greatest achievement.

As you can see in the picture above, the main altar of my own shrine is a simple stack of stones, which is a traditional structure of the Greek altar. It's a very simple design. These earthly pebbles were purchased for less than $1, but you can also find natural stones probably out in your yard or driveway. You only need to properly wash and cleanse them before making into an altar. Upon this stack of simple natural stones, once dedicated to your worship and the Gods, you can carry out any kind of religious practice that needs or involves an altar or a worship space. Incense can be burned upon it, libations poured, and general offerings placed. It's also very appropriate to recite prayers, hymns and practice worship here. 

So if you want to make a genuine Hellenic altar right now, find yourself a proper and safe surface, go get some natural stones, and cleanse and stack them there. This simple, virtually cost-free method is all you need to begin practicing Greek Polytheism. Everything else can come later in good time as you are able, should you choose. 

To dedicate and officially "open" your natural altar, you might recite a prayer along these lines and light a cone of incense as your first offering to The Dodekatheon at this structure,

Upon this sacred structure,
I request the blessings and recognition of the Gods of Olympus,
that it may now be a holy altar in their honor and glory.

In the Goodness of the Gods,
Chris.

Friday, May 22, 2015

How Do I Begin Practicing Hellenism? Beginner's Course

In the past, I have written about practices for beginners of Hellenism, as some people who are new to the religion have absolutely no idea how to even begin the practice because of the lack of information. When it comes to a mainstream religion, information on it is extremely abundant. With a mere click of a mouse or a quick trip to the library or bookstore, one can uncover centuries of detailed information. But as for a minority religion, there is little to none, especially when you consider the religion of ancient Greece because so much of the history has been lost, misrepresented or remains hidden. So, in the post, I will lead the beginner through basic steps to begin their journey into Hellenism.

One good thing about Hellenism is that it does not require a special rite or passage, unless of course you are part of a specific organization or temple who might have their own methods of initiation. But generally speaking, there is no such thing. You merely have to decide that you want to worship the Greek Gods in accordance with Hellenism, which I assume you already have if you are reading and considering this entry.

Shrine and Altar
The first step in Hellenic worship is to establish a place for such activity. To begin this section, one should take into account the difference between a shrine and an altar. To put it simply, a shrine is a place for divine representations. In other words, statues, pictures, and sacred objects. Consider the shrine to be the house of the image or images of the Gods. The altar, usually being part of the shrine in some way, is where offerings are given and other ritual work carried out. For example, my altar exists to receive offerings for the Gods and to hold the flame of the entire shrine and altar structure itself.

A shrine can be constructed to all the Gods, or to a specific one, which is more of a Henotheistic approach to Hellenism if a singular representation of one God is all that exists in a Hellenist's worship, whereas most of us worship numerous Gods. Some Hellenists may have a specific shrine to Hestia in their home, but another shrine for general Hellenic worship. In constructing a shrine or shrines, it can be easy for a Hellenist to be carried away with the projects. Hellenists are called hard polytheists, and not without good cause, because we are extremely polytheistic people. We believe in numerous Gods, Spirits and Heroes, too many to reasonably list here. Therefore, one could find themselves wanting to build numerous shrines around their home. My wife use to joke that I turned every available space into a shrine, and it was true, I was always looking for ways to build things for the Gods. While this is perfectly fine if that's what you want to do, I found it exhausting to go from one to another, so I made one large structure to hold all of my statues and the altar beneath it, as you can see in the picture above. The central shrine compartment holds a statue of every Olympian, while the top is for Gods without a throne on Olympos, Hestia's statue being in the center of the entire structure because She is first and last in general worship.

I also have a small shrine/altar to my patron Hero, Theseus, set up as a small sanctuary to Him that you can see on the right as well, which brings me to my final point about shrines and altars. Although they are two separate structures, if one is pressed for space and has to use one surface or structure for both, that's fine, just make sure the areas are specifically designated and not crossed over with each other.

For YOUR shrine set up, assuming that you don't have the money or materials to construct something hugely elaborate yet, start with a simple construction. Of course, it can grow overtime at your own pace, but to begin, I would say start by having a statue or image of an Olympian God or Goddess of your choice. You could also start with an Olympian, along with the Agathos Daimon (the Good Spirit), and a Greek Hero, as this moves to encompass the three levels of worship and prayer; God, Spirit and Hero. Of course, as time goes on, you will likely find yourself adding more things and decorations to your shrine and general worship area. Lastly, keep your shrine clean and protected. It's not a place that should be allowed to gather extreme amounts of dust or dirt, and it's not a place for keys and clothes or for house pets to walk. Keep it sacred.

The use of the altar is for offerings and ritual work. The altar itself will usually consist of a central flame. If you use a flame, make sure it's done safely. Simply put, a flame is the central fire of the ritual. It is a symbol of the Gods, and a place to consume offerings given. Often times, I use a nicely-sized candle that burns tall and hot. Usually, the offerings I throw in are small pieces of barely. One must be careful, however, to reasonably toss the offerings into the flame so you don't get too close and burn your hand. While an altar flame is a nice addition, keep in mind that fire is nothing to play with, so practice safety on every level. Also add an incense burner and a small bowl for libations. For solid offerings, you may want to also include a basic plate.

Once you have completed your shrine and altar construction, you are ready to start practicing Hellenism. However, do not mistake the shrine and altar for being the only window to the Gods. It is but a house or a structure in honor of them. The Gods are everywhere in nature, all around us, and they can be contacted whether you are at your shrine or not. Lastly, before beginning any Hellenic ritual or religious activity, make sure you are properly cleansed. This can be done through a shower or a ritual bath, and put on clean clothes, all white if possible. Now I would be dishonest if I said that I always put on all whites every time I do a prayer or give an offering, because sometimes I don't, but I do wear whites often, as well as at every religious observance, festival and offering on the Hellenic calendar, aka the Calendar of Attica.

First Offering and Libation
Generally speaking, common offerings to the Gods consist of an offering and a libation. The offering itself can be things like incense, food, or valuables, while the libation is a liquid offering, usually being something like juice or wine (if you're 21), or any other libation of good taste. Begin by giving your libation to Hestia, Goddess of the Hearth, while asking Her to be present in your home and help bring you into the presence of the Gods. Now burn your incense or place your offering to the Dodekatheon (Twelve Gods aka the Olympians), with the most going to Zeus the King.

First Prayer
Your first spoken prayer at your first ritual does not have to be an elaborate one that rivals the hymns of Orpheus. You can simply dedicate yourself to the Gods, as in a dedication ceremony of your own. Upon bringing your ritual to a close, thank the Gods for hearing your prayers and accepting your offerings, and pray once more to Hestia, for She is first and last, accompanied by a small offering of some kind. I usually use barely for this. 

Suggested Readings for Beginners
In my view, Hellenic religion exists in three forms, those being spiritual, physical and mental, or theology, practice and philosophy. Hellenic culture has given to us some of the most influential philosophy in the history of humanity, and many of those works are available today. I generally focus more on history and philosophy than mythology, because myth does not stand as literal fact or necessarily history. However, I will recommend a good mixture of some philosophical and mythological works here, all of which are easy to obtain. Start off with these readings:
  • Euthyphro and Apology by Plato (Philosophy).
  • The Iliad and The Odyssey (Mythology).
I hope you have found this helpful, and if you have any questions, simply post them in the comment section of this entry and I will respond.

In the Goodness of the Gods,
Chris

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