In the past couple of weeks I’ve gradually been moving my focus of practice at home from a shrine atop a marble-topped chest of drawers, with a deep windowsill behind it, to a smaller shrine on my desk, with a shallower windowsill behind it. Part of this process has been relocating our home computer so that the big desk can be *mine* again. I can write in my journal, light candles and incense, and gaze out the window at the courtyard in front of our house, with its large Japanese maple tree, even larger magnolia, and small tiered fountain.
So far the shrine consists mainly of my staff, hung with a grapevine wreath that I decorated in orange and brown ribbon; a candelabra for seven votive candles in seven colors, straight out of the Pyramid Catalog; a cauldron full of ash and sand for incense and a tea light; a blue-glazed cup for water; and a pretty good reproduction of the Apollo Belvedere draped with a strand of amber beads in honor of my patron, Grannos, who was often syncretized with Apollo. A piece of art paper in sage green with brown leaves covers the white-painted windowsill. A cheap cloth runner in brown and black embroidered with a few green and orange leaves hangs over the desk. (I bought the runner and some other goodies at a Michael’s craft store.)
What is a sacred place? What is a holy place? What is the difference between sacred and not-sacred, holy and not-holy? I’m not sure I know. Many books on pagan paths, Wiccan, Druid, and other, recommend making an altar or shrine or some kind of sacred place in the home as a first step in practice. That was something I didn’t have to be told; I’ve had a home shrine on and off since I was a teenager and began saying the Episcopal Daily Office. I sat on the bed looking toward a statue of Maria Kannon and read the Psalms and prayers. My husband has a shrine at his own desk; there are deity statues and candles on all three of our bedroom windows, and the mantel over our gas fireplace hosts gilded Buddha statues, traditional icons of Mary and Jesus, and a plaque of the Lares and the family Genius.
What is a holy place outdoors, a sacred place in nature? Again, I’m not sure I know. The weekend before last, my husband and I went walking, or maybe I should say hiking, in a local park. After taking light rail to the park, we circled the lake on a track that eventually wound away to the northwest and came out from under the trees by the side of a busy road. We ate lunch seated on a fallen log covered with filmy fungus and reluctantly decided our best bet was to retrace our steps–about a two-hour walk, having come that far. By the time I was halfway back to the light rail stop, my feet were throbbing in my inadequate shoes. By the time I boarded the train, everything ached from my waist down. We stopped on the way home to buy frozen lasagna, ibuprofen, and epsom salts. But it was worth it to see the lake, the trees, the jolly dogs pulling at their leashes, the diversity of people exploring the trails. Did I have any great spiritual or mystical experience? No. But it was unquestionably part of my druid practice.
I learned religion in a small stone building defined by the smell of incense and the nature of its acoustics. A church doesn’t feel like a church to me unless it smells of beeswax, incense, Murphy’s oil soap, unless it houses the reserved Eucharist, unless the ministers of the altar wear special clothes. It is consecrated, sacred, set apart. Before we passed from the church hall into the sacred space, we crossed ourselves with holy water, a purification, a reminder of baptism. If my ancestors built temples, they were mostly of wood; if they worshipped in sacred groves, those groves are long since cut down.
John Michael Greer once had this bit of wisdom concerning the druid grove: “A grove is a druid’s field of action.” That is, where your druidry happens, that is your grove. Where your druid practice is centered, that is your grove. Where you live, think, feel, and act as a druid, there is your grove. Which means that your neighborhood, your workplace, your city streets or county acres, the whole planet, the galaxy, the universe, are all, at least potentially, part of your grove.
Everything is sacred. Everything is holy. Find a small part of it to pay attention to as your sacred, your holy, your altar, your grove–your reminder that everything deserves that kind of attention.