Shrine-Building in Four Easy Steps

Shrines are funny. Sometimes they are carefully engineered, with an esoteric architecture that speaks to the builder’s private relationship with the divine– and sometimes, they crop up out of nowhere, clusters of devotional objects gathering with a curious gravitational pull to any flat surface that has open space. Today’s Roundtable post is about the former: the kinds of shrines we create with conscious effort, as a launching point for our conversations with the gods. As always, there is no One True Way to build a shrine, but having a framework to guide you can be helpful. So, here are some steps I take when I decide to put together a shrine.

Step One: Decide the purpose of your shrine.

Shrines have a variety of purposes. Many shrines are designed for performing a specific ritual, such as Senut, a priestly ritual, or another daily devotion. These shrine typically have the tools needed for the ritual, as well as focal points for the gods to whom the ritual will be dedicated and any permanent offerings They have received (e.g. semi-precious stones or jewelry). Some shrines serve as a meditative focus for the god, but do not host any ritual. These often contain a small plate or bowl for offerings and a myriad of objects devoted to the god. Some shrines are meant not for the gods, but for veneration of one’s ancestors, or akhu. These often contain plates, cups, or bowls for offerings, as well as objects meant to represent one’s ancestors. Often there are photographs or mementos of loved ones gone West. Some shrines exist for the purpose of magic(k) or heka workings. These can take various forms, containing tools, ingredients, records and more.

The purpose of your shrine will determine what you need. As an example, let’s imagine you want to create a shrine for your daily devotional rite, such as Senut. You first need to know what tools that rite requires. Most daily devotional rites include lighting of candles and incense and the making of offerings, so at very least you will need candles, an incense burner, and any offering vessels. If you make libations separate from your daily offerings, as in Senut, you will need a bowl and water vessel dedicated to those libations, and plates or bowls for any additional offerings you wish to make. You may want a cloth to lay underneath everything.

You may also want an image of the deity we are honoring in this rite, or an object that will represent Them. For this example, let’s say you are honoring Bast. You may seek a traditional image of Bast, or use an object that represents Her – or simply leave the shrine blank as you prefer.

How these objects are arranged depends on your comfort in performing the ritual. Try not to put candles and incense where you are likely to reach over them and set your arm on fire. Try not to put flammable things where they are likely to fall into fire. Use common sense and your own personal sense of aesthetics here.

Step Two: Decide the level of purity of your shrine.

Purity is important for some people, and less so for others. If you are creating a shrine for a ritual with a strict purity requirement, such as a priestly rite, consider using a cabinet or an enclosed surface for your shrine. If you are creating a simple meditative focus for a deity, any surface will do. The purity requirement often depends on the purpose the shrine will serve. For me, my personal shrine is a cabinet – but the actual surface I use is the uncovered top of the cabinet, while the inside stores various items I use in rituals, and objects that I have offered to the gods over the last several years. My State shrine, however, is a cabinet I had specially made, with compartments to house the ritually consecrated Icons, and a covering over the surface I use for the ritual. I use my personal shrine for Senut and any other personal prayers I make, and I do not touch my State shrine unless I have made certain ritual preparations.

My personal shrine, as of this post.
My personal shrine, as of this post.

Purity will also help you decide what you will and will not allow in your shrine. Even in my personal shrine, I do not allow plastic unless it is present in an offering a god has specifically requested (e.g. dice for Wepwawet). In my State shrine, I avoid plastics or other synthetics as carefully as possible. Some exceptions are required, but I divine for permission first and try to be as careful as possible.

For this example shrine, let’s say you are going to keep a moderate purity restriction – avoiding things that are outright impure, but not requiring special purification to pray at or perform rites at the shrine. For that, you will probably be fine with any flat surface that has enough room for your shrine, and you may or may not want a covering for it. Again, all of these things depend on your comfort, and your relationship with the gods.

Step Three: Get the shrine materials.

This is the fun part – shopping! For a first shrine, you do not need to empty your wallet or travel miles to find a metaphysical shop. There are plenty of ordinary places to find excellent materials for one’s shrine. Many of my tools have come from the supermarket, retail stores, or department stores. For my personal shrine, I often shop at Target, Pier 1, Michael’s and A.C. Moore – retail, a home goods store, and two craft stores. Each of these has bowls, candle holders, and candles – all the basics. I particularly like Pier 1 for buying shrine cloths. I find their decorative napkins or placemats to be the perfect size and quality for my personal shrine. I also recommend kitchen supply stores, as they often have tiny bowls and pitchers, which can serve wonderfully in a shrine for holding offerings or libations. Be creative and open-minded – you and your gods set the limits for what you can and cannot do.

Step Four: Profit — I mean, get your ritual on!

The final step for building a shrine is to build it, and then use it. What primarily makes a shrine is its use. You may assemble a shrine, but if no devotion takes place there, it is nothing more than a collection of neat stuff. That use may be as elaborate as an hour of high ritual, or as simple as a quick morning prayer before you dash out the door. What matters is that the shrine becomes a place for you to connect with the gods. Shrines are the small spaces at which we “plug in” to our divine connection. They are the telephone jacks that connect us to communicating with the gods.

What you need and what the rules are depends on your gods and your practices. If you are Kemetic Orthodox, there are specific tools and rules you will follow. If you practice any other path, those rules and needs are different. What you do at your shrine, however, is what makes it real and what makes it important.

The Mysteries Have Begun

Later today, I will be honoring Wesir’s Mysteries with several Shemsu and Remetj from the northeastern US, with dinner and ceremonies to celebrate Him. In the meantime, here are some thoughts from other people about Wesir and His mysteries:

  • Raheriwesir, a w’ab priest of Wesir in Kemetic Orthodoxy, has been writing about the Mysteries day by day. You can read his thoughts here: Day 1 and Day 2.
  • A few months back, Kemetic Reconnaissance posted a series of instructions for a Mysteries-appropriate project, beginning here, and continuing for eight separate posts.

I hope to have my own reflections to share after tonight’s ceremonies, and I hope you are all well, whether you are celebrating Wesir at this time or simply celebrating the secular holidays of the season.

DIY: Emergency Shrine Kit

After my little “evacu-cation”, I realized how valuable my little emergency shrine was. It was an idea I had a while ago, which was originally much more elaborate. I had put together a little box with a white bowl, white cloths, a big bottle of water, a tealight in a holder, some matches and incense, and anything else I thought I might need. When we evacuated, I grabbed the bare-bones necessities from that box, and was left with only what I grabbed out of my shrines beyond that.

Shrine-in-a-Bag

It boils down to this:

  • Two 1 dram bottles full of water
  • One 1 dram bottle with some natron
  • One 1 dram bottle of essential oil of your preference
  • 1 tea-light & book of matches OR
  • 1 electric tea-light
  • 1 pouch for storing

Since I am working with the Senut ritual, I based my tools on what I would need for Senut. The bottle of natron and one bottle of water are for purifications. I blessed the water and the natron and mixed them together, then wet my hands and rinsed my mouth with the natron water to purify.

The other vial of water is for the libations during the Senut rite. I had also brought a bowl from my State shrine and was able to use a bottle of water for this during Irene, but in a pinch you can use the cap of the vial as an offering dish, and offer a drop of water for each libation.

For incense, all I had was a bottle of myrrh oil. I dabbed a little oil on the top of the vial’s lid with my finger, then re-capped it and set it out as the incense. The smell was strong enough to spread over the shrine and lingered for quite some time. The fragrance is a personal choice. If you want to make your emergency shrine more personal for your gods, why not use one of the ritual oils from Of Ravens and Vultures?

For my emergency shrine I was using an electric tea-light, but you can use a real one if you wish. Personally I recommend using an electric light because you don’t know whether you’ll wind up in a place where open flames are permitted.

This may seem excessively austere, and maybe it is. My goal is to have a small, unobtrusive set of tools to tuck in a drawer and pull out in case of emergency: a hospital trip, evacuation, other unexpected travel – or even going off on a camping trip. I recommend everyone put together something like this – you never know when you will use it. ๐Ÿ™‚

DIY Wep Ronpet: New Year’s

Here is part two of my DIY Wep Ronpet series – New Year’s Day. There’s a few things I like to do on Wep Ronpet if I’m not at Retreat. Like with the Epagomenal day meditations, they aren’t complex, but they make the day special in small ways.

I wake up to see the sunrise, and do Senut at dawn. During Senut, I read prayers to Ra, and to any gods Who have claimed the year; I also read prayers for blessings on the new year. There are prayers that are sent to the members of the House of Netjer, so if you’re a member you can use those; I also supplement with prayers from the Ancient Egyptian Prayerbook.

I make sure to open the curtains in my shrine room so that the sunlight falls on my shrine, and I expose the images of my gods to the light. I don’t do this with any particular ceremony – I just make sure light shines on each shrine at some point.

I take a small poundcake and use colored icing to draw a snake on the top. It’s not fancy. It usually looks more like a green squiggle with a red forked tongue. As long as I know that it’s meant to represent the Uncreated and all the awful evil things in the world, that’s good enough. Then, after I draw the snake on, I cut up the cake into slices and eat it. I like to share this part with my family, especially since I can’t eat a whole cake by myself.

I also try to clean before Wep Ronpet morning, and use natron water to purify my living space. This is a tradition I’ve kind of imported from my family’s beliefs about the secular new year. It is better for your environment to be clean and tidy when the new year starts, because that first day of the year will have an influence over all the other days. I’d rather not spend an entire year in a cluttered space. Right now I’m scrambling to pack AND clean, so that my room can be clean for new year’s morning even if I’m not there.

I hope you all have a blessed New Year! On this last day of year 18, I wish you all safety in the days upon the year and all peace, joy, life, health, prosperity and stability in year 19.

I will be blogging a bit from Retreat itself – so expect to see updates here and there from me during these days as well!

DIY Wep Ronpet: Epagomenal Days

Em hotep! In preparation for the end of the year (which is barreling towards us faster than a speeding train I might add), I thought I’d post some tips for those who will be celebrating the arrival of Wep Ronpet at home. I thought I’d break this post up in two, for the last two days of the year – convenient, eh?

First up are the Epagomenal Days – or for those of us not fond of tongue-twisters, the Days Upon The Year. For those of you playing along at home, these are the days that take place after the year has ended but before the new year has begun. Mythologically this comes from the story of the birth of the children of Nut, which was not to take place during any day of the year. Djehuty worked his sly magic, won some light from the moon, and poof – five extra days for Her children.

I like to take these days to honor each of Her children, and to reflect on what of each gods domain I need to improve or eliminate from my life. I start the day by lighting a candle to whichever deity is in festival that day, and stay mindful of what message They might have to bring to me.

The first day belongs to Wesir (Osiris). For Him, I light a green candle. I ask His blessing on my relationship with the Akhu. I will reflect on my own relationship with my ancestors, and how I can improve or better it. I will meditate on stability – where it needs to be built and where it needs to be taken away.

The second day belongs to Heru-wer (Horus the Elder). For Him, I light an orange candle. I ask Him to bring me strength and good judgment. I will reflect on where I am in control of my life, and where I am not. I will meditate on strength – where I need to carry more of it, and where I have exercised too much.

The third day belongs to Set. For Him, I light a red candle. I ask Him to keep chaos and disorder out of my life. I will reflect on what has been stagnant in my life, and what has been out of order. I will meditate on change – where I need to make more of it, and what I need to allow to settle.

The fourth day belongs to Aset (Isis). For Her, I light a blue candle. I ask Her to watch over the heka and magic I do. I will reflect on my successes and failures as a magic worker. I will mediate on wisdom – where I have used right judgment, and where I have erred in my decisions.

The fifth day belongs to Nebthet (Nephthys). For Her, I light a purple candle. I thank Her for the blessing of life for another year. I will ask Her to watch over those I love in the West, and to help me be mindful of how blessed I am to be alive. I will meditate on time – how precious it is, and how I can make the most of it.

Each day, I light a candle for each of the days upon the year that has passed. I light one on Wesir’s day, two on Heru-wer’s day – and so on. If you’re interested in celebrating at home, feel free to use my “template” and add to it as you like. ๐Ÿ™‚ Tomorrow, I’ll post about Wep Ronpet itself. Enjoy!