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Autumn Altar


Do you keep an altar? I do. Scattered around my home and garden are the special places where I pause and tune in, where I engage creatively with the world of spirit, where I bring my focus to what’s most important and let the rest fall away. One place in particular is where I come to pray and meditate each morning, lighting a candle and giving thanks for the blessings of my life. Any place that calls to you can become your sacred space. Your altars may be as simple or as festive as you like. Mine change according to what inspires me or what is currently happening in my life. Things are added or taken away or moved around at any time, but periodically I like to renew my altar by removing everything and beginning again with a fresh altar cloth at the base.

All summer, my altar was spare and simple, with a pale pink cloth and just a few significant objects. Its new incarnation is looking very full and rich in comparison. Here’s how it came together.

Starting here, a bookshelf in my study is a good location for me. It’s a nice height– fully accessible, yet it usually remains undisturbed by my cats. With photos of my beloved ancestors above and my beloved books below, this is a good spot for my altar.


I always begin with an altar cloth first. It may be an heirloom linen, or a scarf, or something I picked up at a flea market, or a simple length of white fabric…I just choose according to my mood. This time, I know just what I want to use: it’s a length of cloth I made years ago, dyed red and screen printed with an image of tree branches. I don’t usually cut the fabric for this purpose, just fold or drape it behind the shelf.


I like to include the four elements:




and Air.

After this, I scout around my home for objects that symbolize the season, or have special meaning for me at this time. Here is Changing Woman, a beautiful doll bearing fall leaves. I brought her home with me from California many years ago.


This is a little, tiny 1 x 1.5 inch embroidery I made, also years ago, inspired by a Kandinsky painting. I like the colors, and also the reminder that even small creative acts have value.


This enthusiastic philodendron just came home from “summer camp” out in the yard. I wondered where in the house it might fit. “Aha!” I thought, right there!


Earlier this month, during a ritual with my friends at school, I drew this card from the Celtic Animals Tarot deck. A symbol of the Great Mother, the Cow represents calm, grounded patience and generosity. For me, the Cow also symbolizes my own mother, who was born under the sign of Taurus; and my own Taurus Moon on the midheaven, the highest point in my chart, speaks of the importance of my relationship to the crafts – being physically involved in the creative process, carrying on traditions and stories, working them as they work through me.


I hear a clatter in the bedroom. Investigating, I find on the floor the sterling silver change purse I inherited from my grandmother. I give my cat a stern look: “Sparky, that didn’t happen by itself.” But picking it up, I consider this object and my relationship with it. I haven’t noticed it for quite a while. Well-loved and well-used by both my grandmother and me, it’s a pretty thing from another time. It represents both tradition and change.


I splurge on a pretty bouquet of local flowers wearing fall colors.


What else? Dr. Bronner’s soap? Hmmm…There’s room for humor here as well. Since I started grad school, I’ve become aware of a certain wild-eyed proselytizing that creeps into my papers, a style I recognize as “Dr. Bronner’s soap label.” It makes me laugh every time, reminding me to tone down my writing; yet, I have to say, I always remember Dr. Bronner’s words, and I really believe them, too: “All One! All One!” Thanks, Dr. Bronner!


From a yummy bottle of wine–I think we will make it our house red. You can’t have too many friendly Scots spirits around, I say.


And this, my friends? This is thyme in a bottle.


A few more little things find their way in; I light the candle and say a prayer. Voila! I love my Autumn Altar.

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