Simplicity

I am sure I am not alone when I say it is nice to wish for, and dream, of the most fancy and ornate situations for worship. While many other pagan groups have their own hoards of odds and ends, I don’t think that this is any different really than with traditional polytheists. There just may be some differences in what one covets. And what a Hellenic may covet can be considerably on the pricey side. And I can dream big for my modest little home. This is all about what can be done within a house, I will limit myself to that and not go into such flights of fantasy that would involve gardens on property I don’t own, or marble public temples that would cost a fortune to raise. I will speak humbly of just in the house itself.

The first item of covet is space. Since a modern Hellenists is trying to cram what served as domestic and public cultis within four walls, space seems to be something that there is never enough of. And so we get creative. I have my bookcase which has been converted into the “shrinecase”, and I have arranged the furniture to fit an altar with something of a reasonable amount of space for ritual and ritual performance (such as limited dancing). However be it, I covet more space. I covet the ritual room that I can adorn with columns and ivies, which can literally contains all shrines along the walls and the altar within the center of the room (and it would have be something the size of a typical master bedroom to be able to pull this off). But reality says that my master bedroom is something I have to sleep in, and that I can’t afford a place with a spare room, and that if I could it probably would be multipurpose and not just a room of worship. Reality says that ritual cannot be seperated into its own little corner of the house, segregated from daily life. There may come a point where I can do an office/library/ritual room, but even that would be intricately a part of regular life in the household as research is carried out there, work is done, etc. And it is realistic that even if I could afford to have such space set aside that my shrines, or at least some of them, would “magically” wander out of there or would never make their way into there to begin with, which also, despite the romance and tranquility that surrounds the idea of having a mini indoor temple via a ritual room, would never in reality measure up to imagination. So simplicity says maximize what space you have and place shrines and places of ritual and ritual related work in places where it fits into your daily spiritual life and daily activities, which I touched on in my post about Where Hestia Dwells. It isn’t about aesthetics or romanticism but really about works best and more fluidly. For some folks they may need to have a place of respite away from the rest of the household, but even this I imagine would not make up the bulk of their regular worship activities.

The other coveting matter is statuary. And my my my do we polytheists love our statues generally! If having one statue of each god we honor is good, then more statues is better! I know that given unlimited funds and a very large space in which to accumilate said statuary, that I would probably buy a copy of every available Apollon statue regardless of whether I *need* or would ritually include said statue into my worship life. Same can be said of Artemis, Hera (who doesn’t have many statues and so that helps reign me in) and other gods. I would collect and hoard and hoard and collect to my hearts content if it weren’t for the fact that 1) I can’t afford it, and 2) (which I feel is the most important really) that it is just simply impractical. Sooner or later you run of space and you barely even look at statues you adored, and forget half of them are even there, as you a gather more and more. This is certainly a difficult temptation for me. As an artist I am a very aesthetic person. I love visual things, and it is even better when I can touch it and move it about into various angles. So I am also the person who blow up a shrine (blow up as in making it way too big). I discovered this tendency in my early twenties when my shrine to Artemis got so unweildy that it took an entire table to set it up and didn’t leave much space left over, which included several statues, and different bits of symbols and representations. The result? While I made regular prayers at the shrine to Artemis, it was just too much and I found myself less inclined to really want to mess with it. Instead a much simpler shrine to Apollon (since this was earlier during the developing period, and one of the most intense times for me, of my attraction towards him) received alot more instant care and impromptu worship with nothing more than a painted image of Apollon Lykeios (my first representation of Apollon…and one that I had painted…a sad loss to Hurricane Katrina) a small bowl I had painted in my childhood for libations and an incense burner. And while my shrine to Apollon and Artemis is perhaps the most impressive in the house, it maintains a small enough scale to fit on a shelf of the “shrinecase” with few statues (specifically two of Apollon–one being a small iron one gifted at Delphi, one of Artemis and a figure representing Leto) and that is limited in symbolic gifts adorning it. The point here is that less often is more. We may desire all the pretties we can get our hands on to incorporate into our shrines (and I can see myself getting some statues only to be brought out during certain festivities) there has to be a practical limit which is defined what is the simplest to maintain and to engage within in impromptu ritual. If you have to wade through a bunch of stuff you are going to be less inclined, or so experience has taught me.

So that leads me to the decorative element. Myself, I entirely forgo altar clothes. I have tried it several times and just find that they are more trouble than they are worth, and I find the bare wood table far more attractive, but this can be a weighty matter for some people among other decorative odds and ends. Usually the issue that I can say is perhaps the most common among the widest  collection of different traditions and beliefs comes right down to ritual tools and props. At first I figured it would be simple because Hellenismos at first glance doesn’t require much in the way of “gear”. But the fact that you can do rituals with relatively little doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty of traditional odds and ends that you won’t be lusting over. And the more you hear about, the longer that list gets. I am not going to say to make do with bare bones and nothing, though you can. There is absolutely nothing wrong with a simple small pitcher for pouring libations (which I recommend versus using a cup for a more pleasant libation experience). Currently what I use is nothing more than a glass container sold in any store with a housewares department that commonly is used to hold olive oil. Likewise plates and bowls for offerings to be recieved into can be as plain or ornate as you like. But you can include elements of traditional tools if it pleases you too. Things that are relatively inexpensive. Kylixes can be found at reasonable price for offerings, and reproduced pottery with classical images too. They key here is looking at what you will really use, and I mean *use*, not just have sitting out on display with the intent to someday use. What will you get the most out of in your rituals? For myself as I am big on sharing libations with the gods a kylix is a perfect choice, and I gather I would be less likely to invest in various plates and bowls, whch I find to be very beautiful but rather doubt I would use. The other is a traditional type of pitcher painted with scenes of the gods for pouring libations. Armed with these two ritual pretties I can say I would be circling somewhere near ritual bliss 🙂

In short, simplicity is a good thing. It makes us focus on what is important rather than becoming hoarders of icons and ritual stuffs, and thus devaluing that which we have. Placing importance and value in each individual peice says more of who we are as worshipers than having wall to wall iconography. We don’t need every corner of the household screaming *polytheist* like something we feel we need to advertise, those few meaningful things that we do have will speak quite loudly all on their own and perhaps with a far more dignified voice.

But this just may be the voice of a reformed hoarder *grin*

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2 thoughts on “Simplicity

  1. This is such a great post, especially since it’s so easy to want to do everything to, and put everything on, your altar. At this point I have a large candle and a bowl for receiving libations on our “family altar” in the living room. It really is all I need, though that will probably change since I suspect the loving husband may have gotten me statuary for Hanukkah.

    Walking around a craft store can, sometimes, be torture as I’ll see something I just know would LOOK divine even if I’d never actually use it. A spot on post as usual. It’s good to feel like one is not alone in the repressed desire to get more stuff.

    • It is really easy to get caught up with pretties to be sure. I have been wanting to get columns forever but have wrestled down the temptation because I didn’t need them. Now I need them so I can let my delighted little girl sqee with pleasure 😉 Sometimes resisting the pretties doesn’t mean that you will never get them, it just means that there is a time to get things…and that is when you know there is a particular use for them.
      Trust me I often have to clutch my pocket book in a tight squeeze to resist whenever I go into a craft shop! It is too easy to get carried away and end up purchasing hundreds of dollars worth of a decor that you may or may not get around to putting up lol.
      As for your altar, for a long time that was all my family altar was too (the statues I had are too big to set together on it) until I started getting some small 6 1/2 inch statues that fit rather well on my altar together without a clumsy overcrowding.

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