Household Gods

I have often thought that I would like to have a home altar, but two things work against it. One is that I have never been able to clarify what its purpose would be. The other is that I am a decorative minimalist. Things, even things I treasure, weigh on me. If you are possessed of a collector mentality, you will not understand this. Peggy does not understand this because even Peggy—who could not tell you if Barack Obama is a Democrat or a Republican, and who holds religion in the same low esteem that she holds politics—has a shrine in her room. She didn’t build it to be a shrine but, for reasons unknown even to her, she calls it her “Rabbit Shrine.”

I too have a rabbit, three in fact. Two are stuffed ones from childhood Easter baskets, and one of those still bears the stitches sewn by my mother after my dog made a determined effort to disembowel it. The third is in the form of a thirty-five cent candle that I saw in a junk shop while on a long drive through the countryside.

My attraction was instant and intense. I felt as if I had known Miss Bunny all my life but, as I said, I am not a collector. Because I am not a collector, I did not buy her that day, and so I had to drive over a hundred miles to buy her the next day. I mentioned that the store was a junk store, but I failed to say that it was, by country standards, a large and extremely junky junk store, and I misremembered what part of the store Miss Bunny was in. Luckily, I arrived six hours before closing.

It was some time before I could even theorize about why I felt that I had always known Miss Bunny. The bunny in the Little Golden Book that I got for my fifth birthday in 1954 is obviously a very different bunny, but you will also note the similarities.

Eugene has many stores that sell gods and goddesses (“idols made by hands” as I once called them) for home altars, but I feel no special affinity for any of them. I sometimes wish I did, but I don’t. People once thought they represented real entities—and some still do—but they are not real to me. They are often interesting, and sometimes beautiful, but they are not real; they do not demand my obeisance from across ten blocks much less a hundred miles. Even though Miss Bunny spends most of her life in the hall closet, she is still my chief goddess because she puts me in touch with the innocence and gentleness that lives within me, and that I have often tried to bury beneath a manly floor of concrete.

Here is another of my deities.

I wrote the following on the day I bought her:

January 25, 1987
Eugene, Oregon

I saw the print at the 5th Street Market a couple of months ago and fell in love with it but didn't want to pay $55. It was still there yesterday, so I got it for $25! Yippee! It reminds me of Peggy when she’s asleep, and of a storybook character from my childhood, and of a part of myself that few are allowed to see—the part that is vulnerable and innocent. I see many art objects that I like, but few that I love enough to bring home and look at everyday for years. I am absolutely ecstatic.

I can scarcely believe that 22 years have passed since I bought my squirrel. If I survive another 22 years, I will be 82. Peggy asked this morning if I ever think about how near death I am, even at best. Yes, all the time. The old tell the young that they too will someday realize how fleeting life is, but the young never quite believe them. It is not just my death that I grieve but the fate of all those things—like my bunnies—that I cherish and that no one else would be likely to appreciate. Then again, I own a jar of sand. The caption reads:

FRI. JULY 25, 1952

And this is what I wrote in my journal the day I bought it:

June 8, 1989
Richfield, Minnesota

We went to an estate sale where I found a molasses jar full of sand that someone had collected on a long ago vacation. I didn’t want it, but worried that no one else would either, and that it would end up in a landfill. I went back the last day of the sale hoping it wouldn’t be there, but it was, and I paid twelve cents for it. Someone had treasured it for decades, and I felt that I validated the good in them by preserving it.

Maybe someday I will have an altar. I will place upon it my storybook, my candle, my squirrel print, a vase of yellow daffodils, my molasses jar filled with sand, a picture of Peggy, and maybe one of me when I was a child. What else…I’ve always liked the painting of Jesus knocking at the door….

You see, it’s easier to start than to know when to stop. Even if I just limited myself to those symbols with which I resonate most powerfully, I could fill a room. But since I am a decorative minimalist, all those things would feel like a heavy weight on my chest, and I would eventually have to get rid of them. A prayer just entered my mind:

God save me.
“From what, my child?”
I don’t know.

God lead me.
“To where, my child?”
I have no idea.

God preserve me,
“Why, my child?”
Because despite my failures,
I am worthy.


Renee said...

I could have kept reading.

This is a lovely post. I especially love that your bought the sand to preserve the good in them.

I am not a pack-rat at all. But I could definitely make an altar.

I love the squirrel, beautiful.

Love Renee xoxo

Gaston Studio said...

OMG Snow, that is just beautiful! That you would drive all that way to buy that sweet candle bunny; that you would buy someone else's jar of sand so that it wouldn't be thrown away; that you saw the beauty in that squirrel print because it reminded you of Peggy... you are truly a beautiful and sensitive man. I applaud you.
(And hope that you're feeling better!)

P.S. I put a damn button on my post which I obviously FORGOT TO DO!

Wildeve said...

Hi snow, thanks for stopping by and visiting my blog on SSS! I have to say the dragonfly pic was NOT from this year, it was a shot from my archive. Haven't seen any of the magical creatures here this early. And the yellow rose is "Golden Celebration."

I love Miss Bunny- and especially when you put her in front of the Golden Book with the Garth Williams illustration. I can see the connection. I have the same book and it is a favorite of mine. I would do the same thing- see it somewhere, decide I didn't need it, and then drive a long way back to get it because I couldn't get it out of my mind.

And the squirrel, how sweet. I love how its hair is mussed... a keeper.
The jar of sand reminds me of a trip to buy pumpkins with a friend from high school- she found the ugliest gourd in the place and bought it because she thought no one else would love it.
I really enjoyed this post.

Natalie said...

Like the others before me Snow, I could have just kept reading. I love the fact that you rescued the sand ~ and yet you still think, that we haven't realised that you are a softie.I realised this almost straight away, Sorry to blow your cover!The sand thing is something that I would have done as well. I have many very old, completely useless, things in my home that I am "keeping" in honour of those passed.

I wouldn't visit someone that didn't have an element of Miss Bunny in them.

Btw, she is gorgeousxx

Ces said...

OH MY GAWD! You are so funny. I have tears in my eyes. I like your sense of humor. I will definitely be back. You are a riot. I forgot what else to say...

Two Mile Creek Primitives said...

OMG! the SAND!!I have my little treasures all over the house.. I wonder what will happen to them when I am gone...I've started leaving note on some of the one that mean the most. I only have some very distant relatives left... I hope someone like you will come along and hold my treasures close the their hearts,, Close their eyes and dream of how loved the treasures were to someone years I have done with my Great Grandmothers and Grandmother and people I never known.....little things means so much sometimes....Sigh...

Lisa said...

Beautiful post- i would so love to have lunch with you one day- we could talk forever, im sure....

I do have an altar- i have one in my bedroom for morning and evening devotions and then we have a little goddess temple ( we call it Avalon)permanently set up at the Cottage.

The purpose of an altar ?
Varied i would imagine depending on who you speak to, but for me, it is kind of like a 'special place' within the world we live in.
Altars in Wicca are used for focus- they become a microism of the world/universe and therefore everything you need is right there in front of you- the oceans, the earth, the sky..........i could go on for hours about this stuff ( as you well know)

I love the sand in a bottle and the bunnies- always a healthy symbology speaking of the Mother Goddess, fertility, new life, new beginnings and robust attitutes....beautiful.

The important thing that i teach my students regarding deities, is always to remember that any one god/goddess is only one aspect of the divine source ( or the ALL as i call it)- if you choose to worship one aspect such as Jesus, Buddah, Gaia what ever, then you are connecting to PART of a greater source.

Just like I am Lisa the blogger, i am also mum, sister, wife, teacher, friend etc depending on who is looking at me- any one of these is a true aspect of me, but none of them is Me in completion - same with the Divine- as above, so below.

Blessed be my Bunny lovin' Sandman

Snowbrush said...

"This is a lovely post." Renee

Thank you, dear. Thank you so much.

"I have the same book." Wildeve

You do! I have two copies. The original was entitled "Animal Friends," and the more recent is "The Very Bet Home for Me." This is one time that the change was definitely for the better.

"... she found the ugliest gourd...and bought it because she thought no one else would love it." Wildeve

What a kick. I used to do that with my model horse collection. I would search the store for any that had broken legs. I don't remember if the storekeepers actually made me pay for them.

"You are so funny. I have tears in my eyes." Ces

Yes, I bring tears to my own eyes. People look at me really strangely when I do that unless I happen to be at a funeral, in which case they mistakenly think I'm overcome with grief.

" still think, that we haven't realised that you are a softie." Natalie

You'd best be saying that with a smile on your face, little lady, or one of these punks might take you seriously, and I'd have to knock their teeth out.

"I wouldn't visit someone that didn't have an element of Miss Bunny in them." Natalie

Do you mean I have to eat her?! She IS wax, you know....Well, a visit from you would be worth it, I guess, except for that fact that I couldn't keep my Bunny and eat her too.

Jane, thank you so much for your kind words, and I also thank you for the "damn button," so I can go help that poor, beautiful, desperate woman.

"i would so love to have lunch with you one day..." Lisa

Great idea! Why didn't I think of that? I could fly down, and it would save me the cost of mailing your rocks, OR you come fly up and pick out your own rocks.

"Altars in Wicca" Lisa

You're a Wiccan? I don't know why, but I had considered you to be, well, uh, you know, sort of doing your Lisa thing while the Wiccans and Presbyterians and so forth were doing their Wiccan and Presbyterian things. You seem pretty unique to me.

"little things means so much sometimes" Two MIle

Don't they though. I don't think anything I greatly cherish is worth more than a few dollars if that. No one would steal my treasures even if they broke in, and that's a really great advantage.

Pouty Lips said...

This is one of the favorite posts I've ever read. It's packed with wisdom on all kinds of levels.

Two Mile Creek Primitives said...

LOL Snowbrush, You are so sweet and kind. You again saw what no one else sees. You saw IN my labels.. Way too cool! Thank-you for taking the time to really SEE the labels ..Thank-you for comming to my blog too. You are welcome ALL the time. Hugs Rene

All Consuming said...

I love this post, it's a wonderful piece and made me smile.I think my altar is made of my rocks/minerals/fossils/shells.

Dave King said...

I used to be a collector, but then I fell out of love with things per se - so I guess I can see both sides.

Samuel John Klein Portlandiensis said...

I really responded to the idea of having a home altar-I don't think I ever will, because my personal relationship with altars has always been a bit dicey, but the idea of a home avatar or a place to have devotion at the hearth is a poetic concept.

In as much as we have several cats, I defer to Jean Cocteau, who said famously "I love cats because I love my home, and after a while they become its visible soul."

Actually, I don't think we need a home altar. We got nine furry ones wand'ring about!

Ces said...

Snowbrush, thank you for your commment. So far you have managed to make me smile or laugh out loud with your knockoput sense of humor.

Small Footprints said...

Have you ever watched a leaf float gently to the earth and thought ... I am the only one in the world who is acknowledging this leaf?

I'm sure that I will never again walk through a garage sale or flea market with the same eyes ... thanks to this post. It was lovely!

Small Footprints

Reasons to be Cheerful 1,2,3 said...

I'm like you Snowbrush, not prone to collect, yet drawn to certain objects that bring memory and attachment to mind. I also have a bunny given to me by a Grandmother I do not remember meeting. My mum told me recently that when we hold something old it can cunjure the memory and feeling we once had when younger. I think this is true and valuable. x

Chrisy said...

Oh Snow when I read your writings and musings about the past, and things that you treasure, I think you already have the perfect shrine...the one inside you...

Domestically Disabled Girl said...

My mom once bought me a collection of winnie the pooh character heads that had been done with those plastic hole things and yarn (don't know what they are called)
She bought them because nobody was buying them at the man's booth at a craft fair and she didn't want him to be sad.
I do the same thing... must be a woman thing.

Pantheist Mom said...

Your story of the collection of sand really touched me. It makes so much more sense to me to hold on to something like this than to spend thousands of dollars on a piece of art that may or may not appeal to you.

Matawheeze said...

You DO have an altar though it is kept inside your head in memories of those special things. Mine is in the hallway where each time I pass it reminds me of who and what I want to be. My goddess is a polished piece of stone, vaguely female in shape. She keeps company with a carving of a small brown bird.

We cherish the items close to out heart and when we are gone they may disperse with us. I find that poignant and fitting. Blessed Be.

Snowbrush said...

"This is one of the favorite posts I've ever read." Pouty Lips

Why thank you so much.

"You saw IN my labels.." Two Mile Creek

I guess sassafras just kinda leaped out at me. It was a recurring part of my life for my first 37 years. Old people drank it every Spring for a tonic. I drank it just because I liked it. I've missed it for a long time now. No tree has prettier leaves, and no roots have a better fragrance.

"I think my altar is made of my rocks/minerals/fossils/shells." All Consuming

Are you referring to something specific or to the natural world in general? If the former, maybe you could post a picture.

"I fell out of love with things per se - so I guess I can see both sides." Dave

Me too. I am by nature and philosophy (thanks largely to Thoreau) a minimalist, but I also love THINGS, and I tend to anthropomorphize them.

"We got nine furry ones [altars] wand'ring about." Samuel John Klein

If you should ever decide to have a candlelighting ceremony on your altars, particularly if you light candles on every altar at the same time, I hope you'll post it on youtube.

" have managed to make me smile or laugh out loud with your knockoput sense of humor." Ces

Thank you very much, Ces.

"Have you ever watched a leaf float gently to the earth and thought ... I am the only one in the world who is acknowledging this leaf?" Small Footprints

This raises some interesting questions. For example, even if others were present, in what sense could they be said to be watching the same leaf, human experience being so terribly subjective? We often assume that we share various thoughts and emotions with others without being able to really verify that that which is going on in our heads is really what is going on in other people's heads. Even if our words about an experience match other people's words about an experience, how do we know that we are talking about the same feeling? Take the word sad, for example. It doesn't mean the same thing even to me all the time, so how do I know my experience of sadness ever matches someone else's experience of sadness.

"...when we hold something old it can cunjure the memory and feeling we once had when younger." Reasons to be Cheerful

I like to think so, but let's say I have an experience when I'm five years old, and I remember that experience a thousand times before I am 60 years old. I would have remembered it so much that I think it likely that my memories of the feeling would have to some extent replaced the feeling itself, if for no other reason than that my vantage point (and therefore my interpretation) would have changed.

"I think you already have the perfect shrine...the one inside you." Chrisy

Thank you, Chrisy. I suppose that all shrines are ultimately interior shrines since it is only within ourselves that we give meaning to that which is external. I suppose the importance of exterior shrines is that they can serve as a doorway back to that holy place within.

"I do the same thing... must be a woman thing."

Domestically Disabled

That raises a really interesting question, namely are women kinder than men in general or are women, perhaps, kinder in certain ways than men. I know that women are much more likely to care for their elderly parents than are men, yet my sister didn't help me at all in caring for our father. So, it's like a lot of things, I guess, in that even if you can generalize, particular cases might vary enormously. I've noticed that Peggy and I are very different in the ways we are kind to our dogs, for example, which means that I sometimes think she's not treating them as well as she should, and sometimes she thinks I'm not treating them as well as I should.

"It makes so much more sense to me to hold on to something like this than to spend thousands of dollars on a piece of art..." Pantheist Mom

For me it does. Although I respect the abilities of great artists, I had just as soon their work in an art museum. One thing I don't like about where I live now is that there are no great art museums.

"Mine is in the hallway where each time I pass it reminds me of who and what I want to be." Matawheeze

This evokes a couple of questions. For example, did you create your altar to be an altar, or did you first create it and later realize that it was an altar? Also, do its contents ever change, for example with the seasons or as new objects come into your life?

A Brit in Tennessee said...

I think your altar would be a reminder of the little things that make you smile, usually but not always linked with a pleasant memory ...
I love your thoughts on the sand jar, even at an early age, it seems you cared about nature, and preservation.
Lovely post, I could have read more:)

tlawwife said...

I would love to have an alter but haven't gotten it figured out yet. The church I used to go to was open all of the time and kept a candle burning up front. I used to love to go in and sit in the dark and gaze at the candle. Somehow that helps me block out the world.

I used to have a kneeling bench from a catholic church we bought at an auction. I did't realize I liked it so much until we moved and left it behind. I want another one.

Thanks for visiting my blog.

A Brit in Tennessee said...

Not sure why the comments keep getting returned, your the only one ....hmmmm

Snowbrush said...

Brit, I wonder if the post you thought didn't get published showed up after all. Take a look.

"I think your altar would be a reminder of the little things that make you smile" Brit

True, but maybe more than that, they make me feel loving and grateful.

"The church I used to go to was open all of the time..."

A lot of churches used to be, and I sure do miss that as it was great just to sit in in a quiet, cool, and relatively dark place for a while. I'm wondering what kind of church you go to. Most Catholic churches keep candles burning all the time. I know that part of the reason is that people light prayer candles, but maybe it also has to do with the presence of the host. Do you know?

Lisa said...

how's it going dear friend ? xx

Anonymous said...

Snowbrush, thank you so much - your kind words have brought tears to my eyes! I am sorry that I haven't been commenting lately - I seem to be stuck in a bit of a "wallowing" stage of my wellness - I HAVE been visiting, just sometimes I am challenged to find words. Forgiveness????

Snowbrush said...

"how's it going dear friend?" Lisa

I see the doc tomorrow for my first post-op. I fell in the garage a few days ago, but luckily on my "good" side. Then two nights ago, I instinctively raised my right arm to catch a large can of coffee that i was about to drop. The pain quickly stopped me, but I'm greatly worried that I might have done some damage as I am in more pain now than I was a week ago. In fact, I'm taking the maximum dose of Percocet in order to sleep.

"...your kind words have brought tears to my eyes!" Audrey

And your words have made my day, so I guess we're turning into one mushy pair of people, eh? Much more of this, and our fellow bloggers will be looking in in amazement. What a thrill to see your parachute again. Thank you.

Renee said...

Hey Mr. I have been wondering how you are feeling?

Did you do any serious damage after your fall?

Love Renee xoxo

Snowbrush said...

Hi, Renee, I have more damage from forgetting myself and reaching out to catch a falling can two nights ago. The pain has been unabating since then. I see the doc tomorrow.

julie mitchell said...

Ditto to everything that has already been written...well I really haven't read every comment but I agree that your post is wonderful. You sent me on a journey around my my own home where I have many alters...little reminders to spark memories, hopes, gratitude,, well being...Thanks for sharing...

Snowbrush said...

Hey, Julie, I'lll ask you what I asked Matawheezel, who answered it on her blog. The word altar would just be plural in your case.

"...did you create your altar to be an altar, or did you first create it and later realize that it was an altar? Also, do its contents ever change, for example with the seasons or as new objects come into your life?"