Monday, July 26, 2010

Sacred Spaces

I've been thinking a fair bit today about places that we consider "sacred", or holy. But what does that mean? I'm sure it means different things depending on who you are and what theological perspective you're coming from - as I've learned from the Unitarians, even athiests can have things they consider "sacred". I am a participant in the UU's Prison Ministry program - I have a prison penpal I write to when I can. Part of that program is, if one penpal chooses to take part in a correspondence course/class of some kind through the CLF, both get the lessons so they can participate in it together. One I am about to begin(and hopefully finish), is about our own understanding of the sacred. I'm sure it will give me some things to write about here. Anyways, for me, the "sacred" is that which takes me out of my dull, normal day-to-day life, and makes me more aware of things greater than myself. I've decided to list and describe my sacred spaces in this entry.

First, is nature. Preferably near some body of water - I'm definitely an aquatic-oriented person, a Sea Druid of sorts - the Druid equivalent of a "Sea Witch", or a Witch who focuses his/her witchcraft on water and its associations/materials(sand, seashells, plant life associated with some form of water, etc.). The mountains are great too, and I get a deeply spiritual experience from visiting mountain ranges and other wooded areas(never been to a desert area, so don't know there), but my home is the sea.

The second place is church. Primarily churches that are aesthetically pleasing to me and/or have a good bit of history to them. Old Catholic/Episcopal churches, the local Unitarian Church, and my current church membership are some examples. If I choose to attend a church service, compatible theological leanings also play a role, of course. My home church, pictured here and in some other posts, is quite beautiful in my opinion, inside and out. As the oldest Congregational Church in the South, it also has a lot of history - surviving the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, a major earthquake in 1886, a major fire in 1861, and many hurricanes. And as a Congregational Church which is a member of two denominations - the United Church of Christ and the Presbyterians -  it is also one of the most liberal.

And finally, there is my home altar. I got accustomed to the idea of having a home altar during my days as a Pagan. Home altars are a great personal place inside the home(or outside in the backyard) to devote to spirituality. On it could be anything you like - seasonal decorations, flowers, candles, statuary, etc. I'm considering getting a small table for a seasonal altar, with changing decorations for the holidays, times of year, etc. But I'm not sure where I would put it, though, so for now I just have my one "permanent" altar, made of a small table that would otherwise have been used for eating in front of the TV.

Ignore the remotes, flashlights, and iPod Touch in the frame, they are just there for convenience because of the altar being right next to my bed due to space. Therefore, other things end up next to my bed on the floor as well, unfortunately. The books on the left consist of a meditation book and the Book of Common Prayer used in the Anglican tradition. In the center is my current primary devotional book, Celtic Daily Prayer; my NRSV BIble; The Gospel of Gabriel, a book I bought at a local New Age/comic-book shop; and The Other Bible. To the right, the binder is my current Grimoire, and a book I've previously reviewed, and which I am in the process of copying down some of the prayers therein for use - I've found that written prayers are a good way to combat a problem I had as a Southern Baptist - feeling I should pray, but not having anything to say or knowing how to say it. Behind the books, barely visible, is my athame, or ritual knife/dagger. When I actually use it, it is used mainly for directing energy, as a focus point. I got this one at the previously mentioned New-Age store. There was actually a local fisherman that sold crafts he created from leftover items he caught, and one such creation was a sword made from a swordfish that he caught - he used the parts that could be sold and eaten, and the parts that would otherwise be trashed, me made the sword and other things. He was at the local open market a few months ago, and I made a mental note to buy it later once I had more money, but I haven't seen him since, and I can't remember his name.

This is a better view of the center of my altar. The two sticks are my wands. Yes, I have wands. Two of them. How stereotypical of me. Anyways, the bent one is one I bought at last year's Pagan Unity Day, kind of the local equivalent of Pagan Pride Day. The straighter one, I found in a creek behind the apartments building I lived in when I lived just outside of Chicago. I felt drawn to it, and kept it. Upon describing it to Pagan friends on forums I frequented at the time, it was decided that it was most likely a willow  branch. Upon looking up the religious symbolism of the willow, I found it interesting that the willow represents intuition, emotion, psychic ability/divination, and again, water.  Wands in general have basically the same usage as athames, only are more commonly used in spellwork and are more "feminine" to athame's "masculine". Mine, like the other tools, are decoration more than they are actually used.

This is the current top of my altar. The unsightly candlelighter is there just because of nowhere else to put it at the moment where I won't forget where it is. Barely visible are a rosary(mainly for decoration, but when I do use it, there is a Gnostic version of the rosary I pray), and a pendulum, which is another divination tool. The tall chalice candleholder is currently empty. Soon I may put in there a "Joys and Concerns" candle, which is a Unitarian-Universalist tradition of lighting a candle to acknowledge daily joys and daily concerns. The red candle to the left is from a spell I performed a while back, and have just not removed it in case I choose to repeat it or perform something similar - I for one am okay with "recycling" candles and using them for more than one spell; some other Witches and Druids hold the belief that a candle should only be used for one particular spell and used up, or only re-used for that same spell. As with any such spiritual practice, what the practitioner believes is right for them is what is best followed. The rest of my candles are representative of my chosen patrons, and are, in no particular order:

- Pleroma = represented by the large pillar candle in the center. This symbolizes that Pleroma is at the heart and center of everything.

- the elements = one each for Earth,  Fire, Air, and Water. Spirit, the "fifth element" in some traditions, is synonymous to me with Pleroma, and therefore, there is no further representation.

- ancestors, both spiritual and physical = being adopted, I do not know anything about most of my physical ancestors, but I don't feel like that hinders their presence much. Spiritual ancestors are those who came before me in the Gnostic, Christian, and Druidic traditions and lay the groundwork for all.

- St. Patrick = the saint who represents Ireland(and by extension Celtic spirituality), luck, and driving away negativity. In my Pagan days, this patronage was filled by Fortuna, Greco-Roman goddess of fortune. However, I didn't quite connect with her like I feel like I have St. Patrick. The lore around St. Patrick is that he drove away the snakes from Ireland, the snakes representing the pagans. Consequently, he has a bit of a bad rep in the Pagan faiths. But to me, this is representative of driving away anything negative that hinders you or holds you back. As such, I have no problem relating to him.

- Gabriel = the archangel, representative of premonitions, clairvoyance, and truth, also associated with water in some traditions.

- Sophia = Aeon of Wisdom. Often considered a "goddess" of sorts, and the equivalent of the Holy Spirit. Depending on your school of thought(i.e. whether you are Gnostic in the classical sense, or the more "New Age" sense), she may be called by other Goddess names, most notably Isis and Quan Yin, similar to how Christ is often equated with Krishna, Mithras, Horus, etc.

- St. Brigid = matron saint of wisdom, creativity, the fires, smithing, and intellect. When I was Pagan, I was immediately drawn to her goddess equivalent. Since she was eventually canonized as a Christian saint, with virtually the same representations, it carried over. To me, Sophia seems to be more related to spiritual wisdom, the "bigger things in life", where as Brigid has a more "earthly" feel to me, representing the more day-to-day, right-from-wrong, mundane decisions that more directly affect the physical world around me.

And finally, an honorable mention, is Abraxas, the Aeon of balance and unity, which I will place a candle for once I make enough room.

So there we have it. My sacred spaces in a nutshell. We all need them, in some form or another.


Angel said...

Beautiful post, Chad!! Thanks for the pics. Looks like my old alter. Except mine was on top of my dresser. And my underwear drawer held all my stuff. *cringe* Underwear on one side and candles/books/incense on the other. I know it's not kosher but I didn't really have any other choice. I had a closet for a bedroom.

I wrote a paper in a college philosophy class on Sacred Places. Of all the places I felt were sacred my alter was the closest to my heart, as well. It seems to be where we spend the most time reflecting and communing.

Your contrast/comparison of Sophia and Brigid makes perfect sense. However, I'm still trying to wrap my mind around the concept of Sophia and her place in the gnostic universe. I can fully identify with the aeons, archons, demiurge, and pleroma but sophia has me stumped.

I so fully rejected the Catholic view of Mother Mary that this is probably the reason why. Although I can say "Pleroma is male and female and neuter" with confidence and have no issues with it-- the Sophia persona confuses me still. I know her place in the gnostic universe. I just don't connect with her. *shrug*

Spiritual evolution is a beautiful thing.

Chadly said...

I don't have any space on my dresser, or in it either,unfortunately. Though I may have found a spot for a small altar table, should I want to buy one.

When I first started, I struggled with how the deities of Paganism fit within the Gnostic cosmology. I still haven't "completely" sorted that one out, aside from the realization that, to me, Brigid and Sophia seem to be two sides of the same coin, so to speak. I will admit that I feel closer to Brigid than Sophia, perhaps because she's the first one that seemed to call to me in the early days.