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!