Shrines in Unexpected Places
This weekend I was exploring the Oregon coast with one of my partners (he just recently moved here and I’ve been taking him on tours of my favorite places), and we went to Neptune State Park, where I always stop to leave offerings to Poseidon at the seashore. There’s a little wooded area off to the side of the parking lot that calls to me for some reason; it just feels magical. Along the path a ways, there is a small pillar made of mortared stones, leftover from who-knows-what, which I always visit because it feels like an altar in such a numinous place. This time, however, it had truly become an altar, for someone had (recently, given their condition) picked a ton of big, gorgeous mushrooms and arranged them on top of the pillar, along with smaller mushrooms spread out on a large leaf at its base.
Of course, I wondered, who did this? Why? What did it mean to them? It’s out of the way enough that no one else might ever have seen it before the mushrooms decomposed. Was it art? A sort of glamourbomb? An offering to the spirits of the woods?
I’ve actually come across several such apparent shrines in unexpected places in my life as a polytheist. Sometimes, I am sure they are spiritual in nature – like the candle stubs arranged on a stalagmite in the Korykian Cave above Delphi, Greece. But usually, they only give the impression of being a shrine in some way – the arrangement of items, the setting, etc. Are these examples of “regular” folks, not self-consciously animistic, simply responding in an animistic way to the numinous power of a place or object? Are they intended as temporary art, either to be viewed by other passerby or just made for the sake of making them? (And, if the latter, could you say that was an offering in its own way regardless, if the place inspired the creation of art for art’s sake?) Was there some intensely personal meaning behind it, or just a whim? Of course, we’ll never know, but it always lifts my spirits to come upon such things. Even if it’s not evidence of other overt polytheists or animists lurking about, it seems to hint at a fundamental human impulse that recognizes the sacred and responds to it.