Shrine as Repository of Past Rituals

Shrines can be used for many things. They can be a focal place for prayer. They can be a receptacle for offerings, both temporary (which are cleaned off periodically) and permanent. They can be artistic offerings in themselves. Sometimes, they can be a literal home for the god.

But let me mention one other approach that I’ve been using lately with my shrine to Dionysos – something that was gradually happening, but which I formalized a year ago. Instead of a dozen statues and trinkets and such, I’ve stripped it down to fairly basic elements: seven candles (for the seven turns in a classical labyrinth), a kylix for libations, a drinking horn, a few small important permanent offering items… but mostly, it has become a repository for mementos of rituals I have done for my god.

There is the giant buffalo skull that dominates the shrine, with a spiral made of red ochre and wine paste stained on its forehead. The staff and bells that accompanied our geros mumming ritual for several years. The necklace I made for the MGW ritual last August. Etc. These are reminders of very large, significant rituals I have done for Him, whether they were repeated or one time only, whether they are ongoing or not.

At first I wasn’t sure – should I leave up that staff when I had stopped doing the ritual it represented? But my gut told me to keep it, and later I could see why. It might seem that these are no different than any other kind of non-perishable offerings – statues, crystals, images, figurines, etc. – but in fact they mark an important shift in priorities. They are less about “stuff” and more about actions. Because it’s not enough, for me, to have a pretty shrine that occupies one corner of my living room and constantly reminds me of my god and is a place to pour libations. The fact is, most of my worship these days takes place outdoors anyway. And while I’m sure Dionysos appreciates my love of His many forms and images, I’m not sure how much He gets from me putting up pictures. Not to mention, on looking at numerous shrines to the same deity, you will often notice the same images, the same statues, over and over. I prefer something more personalized.

Instead, I choose to focus on the rituals I have done for Him, and the experiences I have had with Him as a result. That buffalo skull reminds me of drumming and chanting for Him in the woods that night, after dragging the skull into the clearing, when we threw the plaster images of our own faces into the fire and He reached inside me and prepared the way for some big life changes I didn’t know were on the way. The bells remind me of the moment I understood a bit of the Mystery of playing the goat for Him on the New Year, ringing out eerily through the still night as we passed by darkened houses on our way to the river. These are experiences unique to my own relationship with Him and understanding of Him and what He wants from me.

To further this approach, last year I started a new practice.* In addition to the aforementioned (relatively permanent) mementos from major festivals, I set up a large bowl on the shrine and began to fill it with smaller remnants of each ritual or even more casual experience I had with Him. A piece of purple yarn I found on a magical walk I took with Him. A twig from the tree at the top of the hill when I sang up the sun on Lenaia. Dried flowers from Anthesteria. Every cork from every bottle of wine I libated to Him. The items themselves were nothing special, not really “offerings” per se, but just records of the true offerings, all the work I did to honor Him. All year long, the bowl served as a snapshot of my time with Dionysos, all our individual moments. And on the last day of the year, I emptied it out (giving the biodegradable things to the river) and began again.

This isn’t necessarily an appropriate approach with every god or spirit – I haven’t changed my other shrines along these lines, for instance, as each one serves its own purpose depending on the relationship – but I’ve found it to be a powerful one in this case. I’d be interested to hear if anyone else does something similar.

*A big “thank you” to Sannion for suggesting this to me when I needed a new direction!

~ by Dver on January 19, 2016.

14 Responses to “Shrine as Repository of Past Rituals”

  1. The bowl is a fantastic idea, and I am totally doing it.

    • Awesome! I’d love to see this spread.

      • I keep many momentos of special findings – each time one of my pets go on to the Summerland one of the Spirits guiding them leaves me something to let me know they arrived safely at their destination. All of them are in Urns on shelves I have surrounded by feathers found while walking alone and wondering about the makings of Nature which men is trying to destroy – I have bones I have candles — I can no longer burn them which saddens me (I got Oxygen in the House) but I have notes and rituals I wrote myself.
        My favorite Goddess is Hecate – and I know she is watching over me – she tried for a while to make me follow her to ? I do not know where but I got so scared I could not go – I did not know if it was my time to go or she was just rying to teach me something. I believe in Animal Healing – and often talk to them – much to the curiosity of my conversations with little Anoles and Birds and Squirrels – they can not figure out who I am talking to because they do not even notice the smaller inhabitants of our Earth.
        I know much of the Darker Realm – and so far have been able to call on them when needed – and of course leave something as appreciation for their help.
        All this reminds me of a living Book of Shadows – it is not just writings on paper – it is what we actually do to honor our Gods.

  2. I really like that! While I do keep a few momentos on my shrines (and my shrines are comprised largely of momentos…although Artemis and Apollon each also have a special box for even more personal and special momentos..such as a lock of my baby Amber’s hair during her naming ritual in Artemis’ box and in Apollon’s a ceremonial cord is perhaps the most important which I believe I have mentioned before haha), I really don’t do it to the lengths you do and I am intrigued. I have a secondary shrine to Apollon besides his main one at the doorway and may consider making that area more a collective area like that. I wasn’t sure what to do with it, but was pressed to set up a secondary area after I resculpted his primary statue. I may move the boxes to such separate shrines for the primary gods of the household too. I will have to consider it where these boxes will be better be placed. But it is definitely a direction that I am already going in. I like the idea of having a yearly bowl certainly that contains certain special things that can be sacrificed at the end of the year. I probably wouldn’t do such for any deity other those that I have the most significant and weighty relationships with. It may be useful for Aphrodite for me certainly since she likes to interject more and more in subtle ways so having something that can recognize the magnitude of the force of the goddess in my life may be quite spiritually rewarding. Really a great idea!

    • Yes, this post was partly sparked by our discussion of this on your own blog where you were talking about the boxes, which are also a good idea. I have one of those for one of my spirits, where I keep very private tokens of our relationship over time, ones I want to keep permanently.

      • Ha I knew I had talked with you about it before somewhere..I just couldn’t remember where. I think that what you are doing now is an excellent compliment to that, because there are always things that are best to have as permanent things and then others which would be quite excellent in what you are doing (flowers from a special festival for instance). Totally getting into this idea now that it has been fermenting in my brain since I read your post🙂

  3. I find my shrines serve different purposes for each god, for example my shrine to Hephaestus is very bare, just a statue on a dedicated top shelf of my tool / paint / material storage area. It’s messy but it’s a working mess and totally appropriate to the god. My Hermes shrine is a simple space by my front door, with a statue surrounded in coins that I collect and donate.
    My Dionysos shrine is the most complex but still comparably bare to other shrines I’ve seen online, it has a massive spiral carved cow skull, a statue I made of the god, surrounded in both plastic and living ivy. The other items, some temporary, some permanent are usually objects given to me or offerings. The objects given are mementoes like a pinecone that was given to me by a child as a donation for my street art. A now empty oil bottle that contained the oil made by Aridela, used in the MGW ritual performance, also her letter and note. I have various other objects which serve the purpose that you are talking about.
    My shrine work has faded a little nowadays, I make regular offerings but I’m not as dedicated to the shrine itself as I used to be. I strongly suspect that this a good thing, a different kind of direction. What I do love about it is it’s in my kitchen, often while I’m cooking or cleaning I look up at it and feel captivated. Also it’s where I host guests and without doubt they comment on the beauty of it. That always pleases me.

    • Yes, mine are like that as well, each suited to different purposes.

      As I mentioned, my shrine work has faded as well, as I’ve moved most of what I do outdoors in some fashion (not just in the deep woods or anything – more like doing regular prayers while walking the city streets, using alleys as liminal spaces, leaving offerings in hidden areas of parks, etc.). There’s nothing wrong with shrine work per se, but I think, for me, it was limiting my experiences of the gods and spirits.

  4. That’s my Dionysos shrine it’s changed somewhat since I took that photo last year.

    • Love that carved skull! Giant skull + flame + wine receptacle = not a lot different than my own for Him. I have really liked having the skull as the centerpiece as opposed to an anthropomorphic statue, which is what I used to have (and most people have). Conveys the sense of raw Power that I associate with Him much more!

      • Honestly, it was difficult for me to move the statue aside. All the statues I use on my shrines are made by me, so there is a real intimacy behind them. But the bull is how I deal with Dionysos, especially his chthonic side, so it plays a very important part of my devotion.

        I’ll respond to your previous comment here to about moving away from the shrine, I totally agree with that. I find most my devotional work is dedicated to art in the name of Dionysos, including bringing Dionysos out into the public in the form of street art. I shine more doing outside work than staying indoors reciting hymns to my shrine.

        • Oh, I wish I could make my own statues! Closest I came was a very simple herm for Hermes out of polymer clay. Not enough sculpting talent for anything more. Though each of my major shrines has a mask I made for the deity in question. So much more personal and special than mass-produced iconography. When I used to have statues everywhere, I tended to paint them just to distinguish them a little and make it a more personal offering.

          Yes, you can’t bring the gods to the public while you’re stuck in your living room! I do a lot of glamourbombing and that sort of thing for Hermes and my spirits, and it requires going out in the city a lot. And that’s in addition to the more private ways I experience the gods out in the world – just not quite the same, just sitting in front of the shrine.

  5. great food for thought here! thanks!

  6. This is a very excellent matter to point out, and one that has been a part of many of my Shrines over the years, including the one I’ve got now. Some things, e.g. a rock with V.S.L.M. on it, are a part of my main Antinous Shrine, and that gets replaced yearly on Foundation Day, as the “foundation stone” of all of my devotions for that year. While I’ve lived in other places, the rock usually gets deposited somewhere (in the water most often), but now that I have a dedicated, semi-permanent Shrine, what is to be done with the rock isn’t clear yet, and won’t be until divination on the 29th of this month lets me know how to handle it. At present, it’s in the bowl of water representing the Nile that has been in front of my Shrine since October 30th. This is one example among many of how the relics of past rituals continue to be a part of things, whether permanently or for some time longer than the usual offerings.

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