De Regnis: Altars and Sacred Spaces

Although most of my writing is visible and accessible through my blog and my ebooks, there are a bunch of writing projects that I don’t necessarily intend for public release.  When I was recently going through my old documents folder on my computer, I found a writing project I had intended to be a compendium of Hermetic and Neoplatonic knowledge, guidance, and advice that would serve to document my understandings and work as a textbook unto itself, both for my benefit and any who might come after me.  This project, De Regnis or “On Kingdoms”, got pretty far along before it got abandoned, though parts of it serve as seeds or are outright cannibalized for some of my other works.  Though I have no plans to continue writing this text, I want to share some of the sections I wrote that can act as a useful introduction to some of the practices of Hermetic magic in a modern context.  My views and practices and experiences have grown considerably since then, but perhaps it can help those who are just getting started or are curious about how to fortify their own practices and views.  If you have any views, comments, suggestions, or ideas on the topics shared in this post, please feel free to share in the comments!

Today’s selection will be on the topics of altars and sacred spaces.

On Altars

Altars are important in the work of any spiritual person, as they provide a focus for one’s work.Altars may be any sacred place where one addresses the gods or spirits, or where one performs rituals or sacrifices at. At its most general, an altar is a dedicated spot that is not one’s own but so that one may work with the larger cosmos. Altars can take many forms, but are most often raised platforms, from the size of large hills to small corner tables or portable boxes. Depending onthe purpose of the altar or its target of sacredness, however, the altar may also take the form of a pit, a cast iron cauldron, or some other focus of reverence and spiritual power. Although all altars express the same idea of a place where one interacts and works with the sacred and the spiritual,altars commonly fall into two main categories based on their primary use: devotional altars for divine sacrifice and operational altars for magical ritual.

Devotional Shrine. The devotional shrine is a place or surface, such as a table or a cairn, where one makes prayers, performs sacrifices, and exalts the Divine. Holy symbols or images, such as statuary or icons, are common at devotional altars, and such altars are commonly decorated or embellished in manners pleasing to the devotee and devotor. Devotional altars may be prepared for accepting sacrifices of liquid, blood, meat, fire, incense, or other offerings as deemed acceptable by both spirit and man alike, or may be simple surfaces where one presents plates or bowls of the offerings to them. Devotional altars may be a single surface with many spirits or gods represented on them, or one may have multiple such altars each dedicated to a particular divinity. Any spirit, force, or god to be communed with or revered should have at least some representation and offering at an altar.It is always recommended to have at least one candle burning at all times on a devotional altar, or at least while one is making devotions there.

Operational Altar. As opposed to the devotional altar which is intended for prayers and sacrifices, the operational altar is a construction specific for the magus to work magical ritual. While supplicating the Divine may be done at the devotional altar, the operational altar is intended for a magician to directly contact and work with the forces of the cosmos directly or through the conjuration and invocation of other spirits. Instead of offering sacrifices, the operational altar typically holds the tools of the Work, such as wands, chalices, candles, talismans, and other such magical goods in order to perform ritual. Operational altars may be used for consecrating, blessing, en-chanting, or otherwise empowering objects to be made into talismans or amulets; for conjuration of spirits and angels; or for other particular magical endeavors such as energy work and healing. The primary distinction between an operational altar and a devotional altar is that operational altars are for one to interact with the cosmos on one’s own, while a devotional altar is for one to interact with the divinities and spirits of it on their own

Altar Care. Whether an altar is intended for one’s devotions or one’s operations, it is necessary to keep altars in good condition. Unless one has the direct suggestion from a spirit, altars should be kept clean and free from debris, dust, and all filth. Old offerings and sacrifices should be removed from the altar when the offerings have been consumed, usually immediately after the ritual or a day or so afterwards, depending on the spirit. Ash, extra herbs and powders, and loose supplies should be disposed of appropriately. The altars should ideally be kept hidden from outsiders or anyone who does not work with them, preferably in a separate room free from pollution and miasma; however,when in public or in a space where guests may be present, covering the altar with a clean cloth used only for that purpose may suffice. Before approaching an altar, one should be clean and purified physically and spiritually. Just as with one’s tools, altars should be taken care of for as long as they are in use. When an altar is no longer required, all its tools and equipment should be respectfully removed, a prayer or working done to officially deconsecrate the space or furniture used for the altar, and the furniture respectfully removed or given away.

On Sacred Spaces

Just as an altar provides a concentrated focus for one’s spiritual activities, larger spaces may also be used for devotion and ritual. While altars may be placed anywhere, they are commonly found in nested levels of sacred spaces, while some sacred spaces have no altars or only temporary ones erected for a specific purpose for a short time. Sacred spaces may be dedicated entirely to one particular spirit or type of working, or may be more generally consecrated for any number of rituals.

Circles. A circle is the simplest form of sacred space, consisting of a closed off area for protection or purity drawn about in a circle. The use of a circle is important, though features outside the circle such as braziers or stands may be in a square, pentagonal, or some other shape. The circle itself is sacred, due to its shape and property of consisting of a single unbroken line. A circle should be drawn clockwise and erased counterclockwise, as a symbolic means to create and remove the circle. Circles may be drawn by tracing a wand or blade on the ground, or may be drawn out in paint, powder, salt, or some other material. The defining feature of a circle is that it is inherently a temporary space, though a fixed circle drawn in something permanent may be reused in multiple rituals. Circles may also be drawn to be pushed out to the boundaries of whole rooms, such as by pointing the wand or blade up at the corner edges of a room in a circle instead of down on the ground.

Temples. Unlike the temporary circle, a temple is a dedicated space for spiritual work. A temple consists of some sort of structure, from a single small room to a sprawling construction complex,which is completely given over to spiritual work. Non-spiritual work should be limited or prohibited in the temple, which may house multiple altars for separate divinities or operations. Though the word “temple” is used, it may be applied to any similar structure, such as a church, synagogue, mandir, jinja, or masjid. Personal or small-scale temples may be set up in a house by dedicating a whole room or a corner of one to spiritual work, often with an altar and keeping it separate from the rest of the house and household activities. Other structures that may be related to spiritual work but not used for spiritual work itself, such as storerooms or galleries for religious art, maybe considered part of the temple if the actual temple space used for spiritual work encloses or is connected to the other structures or rooms. While a circle may be used to interact with the spirits,the temple is often seen to be the home or residence of a spirit. Small temples, such as those which occupy only a part of a room, may often be referred to as shrines, especially when they house some sort of cult image or relic. Oratoria, or prayer rooms, may be considered a type of single-room or part of a room dedicated to prayer and devotional work.

Precincts. Enclosing whole temples, large spaces known as precincts or temenoi are large areas of land and real estate given over to a temple, often including groves, parks, lakes, or other natural features of the land. These are most often reserved for large temples, but the precinct is sometimes the temple itself, especially if a spiritual tradition has an emphasis on open-air rituals such as in ancient Greek rituals. Sacred precincts serve to provide a retreat both in body and spirit to provide an immersive environment separate from worldly matters. These sacred lands may also be seen to provide an earthly paradise for man and god alike, as well as a place where man may be closer to divinity through nature or through meditation in a large area dedicated to a particular divinity.

Space Care. Similar to altars and tools, sacred spaces must be cared for and maintained, though the area covered by a particular sacred space may be difficult to maintain. Any sacred space must be kept clean and free from miasma; regular cleaning and cleansing of the area is good, as is ensuring that all who enter are pure and cleansed. Any who try to enter a sacred space with contrary or ill desires, or with an intent to harm, steal, or defile the sacred space, should be kept from entering at all costs. If the sacred space is not meant to be opened to the public, the space should be locked or somehow protected from trespassers. If a sacred space is created for a temporary purpose, the area should be thoroughly cleaned first in every way before consecrating the area. If the sacred space is dedicated to a particular god or divinity, the blessing and guidance of that spirit should be invoked both for the consecration of the space as well as for its maintenance. When a temporary sacred space is deconsecrated, all the spirits and work there should be honored and all tools, supplies,sacrifices, and work should be respectfully removed according to the wishes of the spirits and gods there; this done, the space itself should be thoroughly cleaned once more and all altars and furniture decommissioned and disassembled in a respectful manner, followed by the invocation of the spirits there to release the area back to the world to no longer be used for a holy purpose. If a sacred space was dedicated to a particular spirit or a particular type of working, workings or worship of spirits antithetical or opposed to that consecration should not be done in that area.

Temple Room Efficiency and Efficacy

Finally, I have a trash can in my temple room.  The joy and relief of this simple thing cannot be understated.

In recent weeks, I’ve been getting myself back up and working in the temple again.  It’s a slow build-up, but given the evidence of fancily over-done prettily-filtered photos of shrines and works I’ve put on social media lately, I’m building up for sure, getting reacquainted with the sacred and barbarous names of power I said in…god, what seems like another lifetime, pouring out libations of wine and oil, surrounding myself with clouds and tendrils of frankincense and myrrh and benzoin.  With each new act I perform in the temple, old doors I closed once a while back are opened up again, some slowly inch by inch and others flying wide open at the merest touch, giving me both reminders of things I once did and ideas for things that can yet be done.

And yet, I have to admit, the feel is different now.  Not just because of all the stuff that went on in the meanwhile between when I was templing it up every day, but also because the setting has changed.  I have a much larger, more proper space for temple work in a newer house than where I was living before, which is pleasant, but it hadn’t yet strongly sunk in how different the procedures have to change along with it.  I’m no longer across the hallway from the bathroom for quick water access and feet away from the kitchen, but in a basement room underneath the house.  I no longer have a window facing a field where I can just dump old offerings out from; in fact, I have no windows in the basement room at all.  Though I may have all the constituent parts of my temple supplies and shrines there, it necessitates a completely different system.

And one of the most important things I lacked—until very recently, at least—was a trashcan.  All I had was a simple bag on the floor by the door, which looked tacky and felt off to me, and wasn’t at all convenient for all the cleanup I was doing and constant maintenance of cleaning off surfaces, emptying old tealight tins, throwing away soaked cottonballs or paper towels, or the like.  I didn’t need a trashcan in my temple room for spiritual purposes in and of itself (although there are mysteries in the garbage, to be fair!), but I needed one so I could keep up my spiritual purposes throughout the rest of the temple room.  Being able to just walk a few steps over to dump incense ash or tealight tins or paper towels instead of looking around wondering where to put my debris without having to leave the temple space is a relief I have a hard time putting into words.

For similar reasons, I also bought myself a large pitchers.  It’s nothing fancy, just a simple 2L plastic pitcher like one might bring on a picnic, for the purpose of bringing water down.  From making khernips to washing out bowls to offering glasses of water to spirits, or having something to dump old amounts of water in for easy carrying upstairs to the sink, a pitcher was also something I wasn’t aware I needed so badly.  There were too many times I was caught off-guard and needed to head back upstairs to get to the faucet when everything else was ready to go, but a simple tool like this takes so much of a mental burden off my mind.

Having or running a temple, whether it’s a whole room or a single corner of a bookshelf, is more than just having a bunch of statues and cups established so nicely on shrines and altars, with candles lit and incense filling the airs.  There’s so much more to running a temple that necessitates constant labor and upkeep beyond spiritual obligations.  From organizing and reorganizing shrines, which involves making sure the surfaces and areas for them are physically and spiritually clean, to organizing and replenishing supplies in an orderly, clean, efficient way, there’s labor to maintaining a spiritual practice, both physical and mental.  The physical labor comes in in just keeping things clean, refreshed, and able to be used, and the mental comes in for knowing how to organize, structure, and arrange everything so that nothing, neither schedules nor shrine placement nor sacred substances, conflict with each other.

When you do have your own sacred space, whether it’s a part of a room, a whole room, or more than one room, it’s good to keep your supplies organized and have the right supplies and tools you need, and you have the access to the things you need as well.  Consider the following questions for your own temple space, and see if you can make any refinements based on a few requirements:

  • What is the most convenient way to get water?
  • What is the most convenient way to dispose of liquid waste?
  • What is the most convenient way to dispose of solid non-perishable waste (i.e. candle remains, paper towels, etc.)?
  • What is the most convenient way to dispose of solid perishable waste (i.e. food)?
  • Where will you store generic supplies (candles, incenses, washes, waters, cleaning supplies, etc.)?
  • Where will you store tools when not in use?
  • Where can you sit, kneel, lie down, stand, move around, or have other people do the same in the temple space?
  • Where can others sit or otherwise wait when they’re waiting on being called into the temple space?
  • Will parts of shrines be used as storage, at least for the things relevant for those shrines?
  • How will you clean the temple space as needed?

Besides that, there are a few things I’d recommend to have on-hand, preferably in some sort of storage in the temple space, for any occasion:

  • Paper or cloth towels
  • All-purpose cleaner (dilute vinegar or ammonia works perfectly)
  • Trash can and bags
  • Sink and faucet, or a pitcher for easy carrying of fluids to and from the temple
  • Pen and paper
  • Lighters or matches
  • Chair
  • Extra small tabletop or small surface

I could go on about also having things like a bottle of this or that alcohol, a bag of this or that incense, and so forth, but these are all really and incredibly tradition- and practice-specific.  On the other hand, the stuff listed above is all-purpose for anyone and everyone, regardless of how you’re working, so long as you are.  It’s hard to do any Work if you can’t actually work, and we call it “work” for a reason.  Some people treat their temples like studies, but you don’t have to go that far; so long as you’re ready for tackling any of the mundane stuff that might happen, including your own forgetfulness or an accidental spill, you’ll be ready for starting the Work as well as keeping the Work moving once you start.

Broke but not Cheap: Altars and Shrines

The last post I wrote on doing magic “broke but not cheap”, which is to say doing magic for as little a cost as possible, focused on magical goods and supplies, like oils and tools and the like.  This is what many people consider to be the most expensive part of doing magic, and in general it can be, but there are other topics on doing magic on a budget that I want to touch on as well.  For instance, say you have all your supplies and you’re an active magician.  Where do you put your things together?  If you take a devotional practice, how do you house your gods or spirits you work with?  Is it possible to build a temple on the cheap?

This next bit on doing magic for cheap is how to organize and put your stuff together, and this is where I find a good distinction that the Anomalous Thracian made a bit ago between an altar and a shrine.  Simply put, a shrine is where a deity or spirit lives, and an altar is a place where one does workings.  Consider how we say that some god is “enshrined” here, but never “enaltared”.  Some of us blur the lines between altars and shrines, and some of us keep them completely separate.  As an example, I have shrines to a few of the Greek gods, and I make offerings and the like of wine, incense, candles, and prayer at their shrines.  Then again, I’ll also occasionally do a working there and leave someone’s picture or a statue or something with one of the gods at their shrine.  However, I also have my ceremonial magic altar, or my Table of Manifestation as Fr. Rufus Opus calls it, which has no gods enshrined on it but has my magical tools and a space to do stuff like conjure spirits or focus a particular force into an object.  That said, this distinction is largely meant for the priests and vocational magicians among us; for most people, myself included, this distinction can be a little artificial and not always helpful.

And yes, it’s spelled “altar” (with an a).  Never “alter” (with an e).  Please, for the love of Hermes Logios, get your spelling right.

Now, this next part may get me into some hot water, but I claim that it is never necessary to build a permanent shrine or altar.  The gods and spirits we work with, being incorporeal, do not require a material home, since they usually already have one of their own in the heavens, hells, or in their own neck of the woods.  The powers we work with do not require a single fixed location in order to be summoned and manipulated.  Material places may be fixed, but spirits do not have to be.  Thus, if you cannot afford the time or space to build and maintain a shrine to a deity, or do enough magic to require the need for a permanently-built (and therefore continuously-active) altar, then you are under no obligation to do either.  That being said, it is extraordinarily helpful to do just those things.  No, they’re not necessary; yes, they are awesome to have.

Building a shrine or altar is not just a matter of money, but it’s also a matter of space, which is in many ways tied up with money.  Consider the magicians who employ the Lemegeton Goetia or the Clavicula Solomonis and do everything by the book.  The Circle of Art is required to be 9′ in radius, or 18′ in diameter, along with a bit more space on one side to house a 3′ equilateral Triangle of Art with a bit of space between the Circle and the Triangle.  This means that we’d need to have a minimum working space of 18′ × 22′, or a room that’s about 400 square feet.  This is a nontrivial size, and some of us are lucky to live in studios with that much space including the kitchen and bathroom.  When you add in the notion of having a smaller Tables of Manifestation and other shrines to deities and spirits, the total space required to maintain all this can be overwhelming.  Some of us are lucky to live in a large enough house on our own with a spacious basement or living room that we can use for magic without disturbances, but most of us aren’t.  We have to deal with smaller spaces or other people living with us, and that latter bit causes a whole slew of other problems.

As a whole, especially in the United States where I live, people have never before lived in bigger houses than what we live in nowadays.  What we consider to be studio apartments and small houses were, by and large, the standard for most people for decades and centuries leading up to our own, leading me to believe yet again that the style of magic described in many Renaissance and medieval grimoires really was intended for the wealthy and magistral among us.  Being able to afford such a mansion (and yes, McMansions qualify) is simply not in the financial reach of most people, whether in the US or abroad, and so we have to make do with substantially smaller places.  Happily, it’s not hard to do powerful work with powerful spirits in a small space, and one needs a large space much less than one needs a full set of ebony and 24k gold tools for their altar.

Let’s first consider someone who has neither space nor money to make a permanent shrine to a spirit or deity or saint, but still wants to work with them.  There are several ways they might go about doing this, as I reckon it:

  • Find a clear and quiet space to sit or stand.  Pray.  Reach out to them, let them come, and simply talk with them.  You don’t need a shrine at all to just make contact.
  • Build a temporary shrine on a table or shelf or against the wall on the floor.  Clean the area first, then place an image of the spirit (a statue if you can build one or afford to buy one, or a drawn-out or printed-out picture of them) along with votive gifts (if available).  Things like a cloth to cover a shrine with, tiny baubles or statuettes of animals associated with the spirit, and the like can all be placed to help give the spirit a “throne” to sit on, if you will, and these can all be stored safely and respectfully when not in use.  A small glass can be used to pour offerings into, and a candle and incense can be burned as a sacrifice.  Pray in the presence of the shrine and invite them to take their seat there, talk with them, and so forth.  When you’re done, invite them to stay if they will or go if they will, being the spirit that they are.  When the candle and incense have burnt out, respectfully dispose of anything perishable and pack the shrine away respectfully in a shoebox or something to hold everything in.
  • Build a portable shrine.  You can find guides to this for a dime a dozen on building miniature shrines out of Altoids tins or other small boxes or containers, which can often be better than building a temporary shrine that you repeatedly put up and take down again.

When making a shrine, you don’t need to go all out.  Household shrines have, historically, been minimalist and tiny, with often little more than a statue and a candle burning in front of it, but even these have palpable power radiating off them when worked and venerated appropriately.  Elaborately decorated and embellished shrines full of baubles and artifacts and rarities are pretty much for those who can afford them, and are sometimes more for the person who maintains them rather than the spirit who’s enshrined there.  Intricate statues and works of art to represent the spirits are nice, but you often don’t need to go that far.  A simple printout of a historical statue or mural of the spirit or deity, perhaps suspended from thread or put into a picture frame, is more than sufficient; unusual pieces of wood or stone that have a particular feel on them can also work well as focal points of veneration for the spirit.  Likewise, any of the votive offerings, gifts, and decorations you want to give them would be better made or harvested yourself rather than bought, much as with any tool or talisman you’d make from before.  The difference here is, instead of creating something for the sake of kinetic meditation or contemplative exercise, you’re giving and dedicating something to the spirit that you yourself are making or supplying, which some find to be a more personal, intimate, and powerful type of offering.  Just be aware that what you offer is no longer yours but belongs to the spirit; if you want it back, you should ask and make sure that you have their blessing to do so.  If you dedicate to a spirit something like a tool, use it only with their permission and blessing.

Add to it, you only need to build a shrine to those spirits whom you really want to live with you and with whom you really want to work with pretty much constantly.  If you’re just calling a spirit a few times a year, you don’t need to build a shrine to them.  If you’re working with a spirit on a weekly or daily basis, you should probably consider building a shrine to them.  When you build a shrine, you’re making a commitment to that spirit to maintain it and maintain them.  It’s generally better to not build a shrine than to build one if you don’t have the time to give them the upkeep and veneration they deserve.  When in doubt, don’t build a shrine.  If you want to build a shrine, or if a spirit demands it, see what space you have available.  You don’t need some elaborate shadowbox when a corner of a bookshelf can suffice; I’ve seen some of my colleagues have shrines lining the floors of their hallways or have a dozen spirits on a single desk shelf, and their shit works all the same.

Also, when you’re building and maintaining a shrine, you need to keep in mind that you need to work with the spirit to maintain it.  It’s silly if the spirit you’re building the shrine for ignores it or doesn’t even respond when you go to it, and it’s as silly if you keep giving them things they don’t want or, conversely, ignore their requests for certain things and designs that they keep making.  If the spirit demands flowers, and flowers are in your ability and budget to obtain, don’t deny them that!  If they demand something that you can’t afford or procure, tell them that they’re requesting something you can’t get and they either need to help with getting it, provide for it themselves, or retract their request.  Building a shrine is building a relationship, and a relationship is a two-way street of compromise and cooperation.  Work with the spirit you have enshrined, but make sure they work with you, as well.  If you find that things simply aren’t working, respectfully tell them that you want to break this relationship and disassemble their shrine; they can determine what becomes of the stuff that has accumulated in their shrine, but beyond that, disassemble their shrine and go back to a more basic way of working with them.  This doesn’t mean you failed, it just means it wasn’t working, and that’s okay.

Anyway, I digress; so much for shrines and houses for spirits.  What about altars, though?  Well, an altar is one type of “working area” that isn’t necessarily connected to a particular spirit, and I’ll use the more generalized concept here because it can apply to more than one tradition.  In that sense, then, use whatever available surface you can so long as it won’t be disturbed by another person.  If you’re doing a one-off working for a particular end, use the kitchen floor or a coffee table.  If you’re doing repeated workings for a particular end, or have gotten used to doing a set of related workings on a frequent basis, consider setting aside a corner of a room or a particular surface to keep the required tools and patterns and supplies present; the top of an armoire or a desk or a side table will work well for this.  If you can’t afford the space or money for the furniture, keep all the tools and required things stored together when not in use, and when you’re ready to use them, ritually clean off a particular surface available to you and set everything out in a planned, regular manner.

Likewise, just as one doesn’t need elaborate and embellished altars, it’s quite possible to downsize some of the larger works described in grimoires and spellbooks of old while still getting good results.  I have never once found a need for a full 18′ diameter circle when my 6′ diameter circle is more than sufficient, and even then I use it only rarely; my own temple room is hardly sufficient for even that, and I do well enough by confining my conjuration work to a 4′ × 4′ space, big enough for me to sit in with a Table of Practice and a few candles.

Just like before when I mentioned that you can get the vast majority of your supplies and tools from going outside, I’d be remiss if I didn’t touch on the topic of going outside for shrines and working areas.  Thus, if there’s anything you can do by going outside, do it outside.  Gods of the wild, of the forest, of the untouched and untamed places are always better encountered in their own turf rather than setting up some neat and clean shrine inside, and you’d be better of contacting spirits of forests, lakes, rivers, and mountains by going up to their homes rather than taking some of them back with you and contacting them from the convenience of your own chair.  Going out to a crossroads and talking with the spirits of the crossroads is basically going to a naturally-made shrine for them, and one that’s more powerful and much cheaper than simply building one in your own home.  Of course, there’s the bit about privacy and convenience that you’d be gaining from having them in your own home, but giving these things up as a sacrifice is a sacrifice all the same.

Likewise, if you can find a clearing or field outside that is generally desolate and unsupervised, you’d do well to do some larger workings out there (with the approval of spirits who reside there, of course) rather than trying to cram things you can’t downsize into your own home.  If any friends own a backyard, especially with a privacy fence, see if you can do something there that they won’t turn you down for.  The only issue here is privacy, which you might not always get, and which can sometimes get you in trouble for trespassing (and worse, if you live in a rather conservative place fearful of witches and non-Christian religions).  Then again, what’s a little magic without a bit of risk?  If your need is great enough, this kind of thing will seem trivial.

Again, I speak from a position of privilege here; I’ve never been so poor as to live in such a tiny place where I couldn’t do my magic, and I’ve been good to my spirits and building them shrines (oftentimes on the more elaborate end than not) because I’ve had the time, space, and resources to do so.  Some of my friends have lived in much tinier places, sometimes in a mobile home or sometimes homeless while still maintaining contact with their gods and spirits.  Like last time, I would greatly appreciate it if others who have lived through some of these things and who have built or maintained shrines on a budget or done workings in a particular space when money and space are sparse could comment below and offer their thoughts and fill in any holes I’ve left.

On the Temple as a Convenience

It’s weird sitting here in this living room, full of clutter and boxes and antiques and the occasional errant Christmas decoration that was never put away two years ago.  We keep saying we’ll get it tidied up, but between me living 200 miles away and my sister busy with being a Tarot-reading poledancing camgirl, we haven’t.  Between a variety of memories, a vague sense of comfortable unease, and several mountains of candy and chocolates that’re amassed in one of the unused rooms, I don’t know whether I prefer or disprefer being here.

I’m staying at my mother’s.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my mom, and she’s basically the only one I ever actually call and talk to on the phone (and for someone who hates phonecalls, this is notable).  And, add to it, I hardly ever visit the place where I grew up, about 150 miles away as the bird flies.  While growing up with her could oft be a pain, our relationship markedly improved once I moved out for college.  I don’t see her that often anymore, but when I do it’s usually a combination of fun and stressful; she’s still my mother, after all.

This visit I’m paying to her is to help her out after a recent surgery she had, a hip replacement.  This is her second this year; the first one was on one hip, and this is on the other.  She needs someone to chill with and run a few errands during the day while she’s staying at her rehab center, and during the night I’m out wandering playing Ingress or just internetting idly at her place.  It’s not unbearable, though it is odd that it coincides with my birthday week and the Full Moon, and right after Crucible Convention 2014, and that my boyfriend isn’t with me.  I do get to hang with my sister aplenty, too, when she’s able, and I have plans with a few friends from high school and college.  Not too shabby a birthday week, I reckon.

Still, it’s weird.  I’m not one for travel generally, despite my Hermaic nature and despite that I’ve rarely not enjoyed a trip.  What’s probably most weird is that I’m currently away from my home, and with it my temple.  I have a small bedroom at my house set up to act as my temple, shrine, and altar room; the boyfriend and our housemate are okay with this, since they get the even-larger outside shed for their work.  I’m used to spending at least a little time each day in my temple for meditation, contemplation, prayer, jamming with the spirits, making offerings to the gods and saints, and the like.  And this week, I’m cut off by a lengthy distance from all that, and it’s somewhat jarring.  It’s kinda funny how much I’ve gotten used to having a whole temple all to myself within only a few months of living in my (still relatively new) place, and now that I’m without it temporarily how much my spiritual practice has changed and can still yet change.

To be fair, nothing I do strictly requires a temple.  For that matter, nothing I do strictly requires being in any one place; I carry my gods with me in my heart and in my mind, and occasionally in the jewelry that I wear.  All of my tools are relatively compact and can fit in a duffel bag with enough space leftover for a bottle of wine, and if I don’t have my tools with me, I have my own force and prayers to wield as wands and swords.  The statues and shrines I have set up for my gods and spirits are nice to have, but not strictly necessary if I have somewhere outside to pour out wine and water and oil.  I memorize my prayers, formulae, and rituals, and what I haven’t memorized I keep written down in a small journal that can fit in a cargo pants pocket.  If I have a lighter, a box of generic incense, a pack of tealights, a bottle of wine, a bottle of oil, and a bottle of water, I have more than what I need to make my offerings and prayers, and even then most of that isn’t necessary if I have time and a quiet space to pray.

Having a statue to dedicate to a spirit is nice.  Having a shrine to interface with a spirit is nicer.  Having an altar to do Work with spirits is even nicer than that.   Having a room to store shrines, altars, tools, and supplies is pretty damn nice.  Having your head on your shoulders is all you need, though, because without your presence, mindfulness, and mental effort, nothing else matters.  If all you have is a quiet room, or even a public room with a few minutes of quiet and maybe a little bit of privacy, you have all you need to be any level of spiritual, religious, occult, magical, or whatever.

All this is rather clear right now to me.  I used to have a little “shrine” on a bookcase with a few baubles, a mini-sand garden, and plants when I was in middle school and high school, but I never considered it anything special, nor was I doing Work back then (just reading about it with all the fascination of a middle-schooler).  That room has long since been taken over with extra Christmas presents, surplus clothes bought on discount, and giant bags of yarn, and I’m basically living in the living room while my mom’s at rehab.  As far as my spiritual needs are concerned, I have everything I need: a space to sit, time to myself, and all the privacy I could want.  As a bonus, I have a countertop to make offerings on, so even if I can’t pour wine out at my shrines, I can at least do it here.  And yes, I did bring along my carcanets and chaplets as my major tools plus a bottle of Florida water; the heavy work that requires full circles can wait, after all, but even if an emergency happened, I could still manage here just fine.

Even then, say I had nowhere to stay this week.  Say my mother’s house was either metaphorically or literally wrecked to the point where I didn’t even have the couch to sleep on or enough floor space to sit, and I had to live out of my car.  I’d be able to manage just fine, then, too; there’s this little thing called the astral temple, after all.  We all have access to it, and we all have our own astral temple, if not our own astral “country”, our own little space and neighborhood that exists all to ourselves.  Whether you access it in your dreams or through projection of one sort or another, you can get to it all the same.   The rules are a little different on the astral than they are here; there’s no limit to the things you can do, really, so long as you can think and command it so.  Any tool or drink you want, craft it from thought alone; call on any spirit, and they’ll appear before you in any form you ask (if they’re willing); any ambiance or setting you need, snap and the set changes immediately.  The more you work in the astral, the more you can do and the easier it gets to work there.  If all you have is a bed in a shared room to spend time in at night with someone else asleep, if you can slip into your astral temple, you really have pretty much all of magic at your disposal (give or take a few physical actions to ground out the purely-spiritual work).

You don’t often find me talking about astral temples or astral work generally because, generally speaking, I don’t do it.  I have my own temple in the physical world that I (almost always) have access to; what more could I need?  Well, I don’t strictly need a physical temple if I have an astral one, and even then, I don’t strictly need an astral temple, either, if I can pray and work anywhere.  Magicians have gotten by without astral temples far longer than the notion of them has existed.  Even priests and the faithful used to worship anywhere they could, regardless of the regalia or temples or community they might’ve been accustomed to; the real purpose of it all was the things you did as Work.  Even the ancient and huge temples of the Hellenes weren’t the focus of worship, but the tiny, almost insignificant altar just outside to the east.  Temples, devotional art, shrines, processions, tools, and the like all exist to support and facilitate the Work, but they themselves are not the Work.  They’re convenient.  That’s all.  They’re nice to have, but the Work does not require them.

Of course, I am taking this time to get my astral skills back up and running and dust out my astral temple.  I’ve been neglecting my astral presence and environment, after all, and I could do with a good banishing and touching up of the place.  Even if I don’t strictly need a temple space to do my Work and offerings, I am used to it, and even if all I have is a place in my head I can overlay with the place my body’s at, I’m good to go.  I’m used to the convenience of having a temple; it’s nice to be reminded that I don’t need one, and if all my wordy gaudy blinged-out shit isn’t needed, then none of you need it to do the Work, either.  They’re nice, but they’re not needed.

So, if you’re not Working yet, what’s your excuse?

On Minimalist Temples for Myself

First, a tip of the hat to The Unlikely Mage who, besides being awesome in general, is also writing a forthcoming book on lifestyle minimalism and management.  We chat a lot, sometimes with actual subject matter that can be read by polite society (shocking, I know), and once upon a time we were figuring out how many shared interests we had together.  One of them was Tumbleweed Houses, a company that specializes in low square-footage homes (sometimes as low and compact as 90sq ft.).  I’m a fan of them, since some of them are portable, encourage you to live a bare-bones lifestyle taking only that which you need, and can be used as supplemental buildings or apartments for a larger land space.  Some are pre-made, and some are just the plans to build by oneself.  High schoolers build these things as projects, so they’re not particularly hard with some basic carpentry skills.

One of these days, once I finish my college loans and build up a small fund for myself, I’ll get some land to cultivate and a decent home.  I’d like a dedicated temple space, if for nothing else to perform my rituals and keep a library in, but keeping it in my main house would require to use that much more space that could be used in other ways, especially if I ever have a family.  I think a Tumbleweed house might be perfect for use as a temple building, and one that I could happily use to separate out different parts of my life and focus strictly on study and Work inside.

Well, I think I found a competitor to Tumbleweeds.  Pacific Yurts makes, well, yurts, Turkic/Mongol/Central Asian kind of large round tent used by the nomads and shepherds in that part of the world for thousands of years.  They all have the same basic style and are more-or-less easy to assemble, and this company makes modern yurts for temporary or permanent settlement.  I think they’re pretty nice, surprisingly, and, being one large room for most of them, can encourage more minimalism in a lifestyle or for a temple.  Plus, the round shape would lend itself naturally to a permanent magic circle in the center of the center.  Assembly takes a few hours for the smaller ones and a few days for the larger ones, and the price for them (a decked-out 24′ yurt I drew up would be about $13k) makes them a definite choice for a future temple building.

But that’s in the future.  In the meantime, I’ve got to deal with an apartment with elephants above and infernal TVs below, hooray!