Wednesday, June 24, 2020

How To Build an Outdoor Pagan Shrine

Here's a timely little post for all of you who are basically stuck on your own little plot of land. Which  should be all of us right now. So weep not for your lost freedom! Today I'm going to tell you how to build a backyard shrine!

The dictionary defines a shrine as "any structure or place consecrated or devoted to some saint, holy person, or deity." Any religion qualifies! Or none at all. I've seen shrines to Elvis in Baltimore. Shrines can be very comforting -- places to meditate, commune with the deities, Ancestors, and Nature Spirits. They need not be large. Here is mine:


You can see a conch shell on there that helps for sizing.

Looks so complicated, but trust me. I have no building skills. You can do this, fabulous you!

When I decided to build a shrine in my yard, I did what every sensible modern person would do: I Googled "backyard shrine" in the Images tab. Of course all the photos are of Catholic shrines, but hey. Go ahead and appropriate. The Catholics sure did.

So when I looked for an image, this lil puppy showed up:


My shrine is not this high or wide, but it's built on this principle.

First I put down a sheet of plastic, so that weeds wouldn't grow up through the shrine. This really works, and it doubles as a nursery for mosquitoes. Hey, bats gotta eat! If you don't like mosquitoes, skip this step.

Next I gathered up bricks I already had in my yard, including some of those nice pavers. I laid them in a semi-circle. Then I went to the landscape store and bought a flagstone and two bags of gravel. Put the flagstone in the semi-circle and poured the gravel around it. This is what it looked like at that step:


As you can see, it was Samhain when this photo was snapped. You could easily stop right after this step and have a tidy and wonderful shrine.

Me, I had some extra ambitions.

I grew up on Polish Mountain, as had seven generations of Johnsons. I miss that mountain like a lost lover. So I drove to Polish Mountain and loaded my trunk with rocks from the mountainside. I took one really nice flat stone from behind my great-grandfather's house to use as an Anchor Stone. I also dug out some little pieces of crumbly shale to put over top of the generic gravel. I placed these mountain stones over and around the bricks. No mortar. No cement.

Voila! Done.

Except this is just the beginning. This is where you really begin to personalize your shrine, so that it is pleasing to your Gods and your ancestors and the spirits of your place.

You can see that my shrine looks bright and shiny. That's because I went to the beach and collected white pebbles and sea glass to put on it. (There are sea shells too.) I put marbles on there, and crystals, semi-precious stones, trinkets, Mardi Gras beads from the Mummers Parade, silk flowers from the Fairy Festival, and souvenir rocks from hikes. Please note: If there are signs on your hike that say "Don't take the rocks," don't take the rocks! You don't want a sneaky shrine.

A shrine should be fluid. You put new things on it and take the worn-out things off. You re-arrange the rocks and add seasonal garnishes.

Once a year I gather up all the shiny stuff and give it a good bath. Last year when I was doing it, my phone fell into the bucket of water and was in there for awhile before I noticed it was gone. I pulled it out of the water, and it started right up. Not a single problem. When you seek to honor entities on a shrine, They will appreciate it.

When it's not too windy or too dry, I light a candle on my shrine at night. On the solstices (weather permitting) I let the candles burn overnight or for 24 hours. I use jar candles and hurricane globes that I buy at the thrift store. On Samhain I always put a jack-o-lantern on my shrine.

I tend this shrine gently almost every day and do my devotions there on full and dark moons, on holy days, and when I need to petition the Gods, Ancestors, and Nature Spirits.

You know what's the most brilliant thing about my shrine? It's portable. I can pick it up and move it anywhere. No mortar, no cement.

So ... you've got a little piece of ground and a lot of time on your hands, right? Building a shrine is the perfect way to spend a long afternoon outdoors! Go forth and give it a try! And share your results with me. I would love to see them.


Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Okay, I'm Prejudiced

One of the pleasures of summer vacation is my ability to sit out on my front porch with my breakfast and the paper edition of the New York Times. Usually I position my chair so that I can't see the monstrous rich-people houses across the street.

But over the weekend The Heir and The Fair both came for Father's Day, and we all sat out on the porch (it's big) at a social distance. So my favorite chair is still turned so it faces sideways, and I can see across the street.

This morning, as I was taking my tea, I saw the 3-year-old across the street shove down his pajama pants, whip out his junk, and piss on the flower bed. Now, I know, kids will be kids. But there were two adults on the porch, and they ignored the kid and just let his actions pass without any comment.

Yeah, kids will be kids. But there are fucking 5 bathrooms in that house. How far from the front door can one of them be?

When I notice at all, I am aware that a certain permissiveness pervades both new households across the street, but especially the one where the kid was watering the flowers.

Again -- little boys (never girls ... need I say more?) sometimes do such things. And adults can be indulgent. But they should have said something. I mean, gently?

But this is symbolic of what this little white boy with 5 bathrooms is going to grow up to be. He won't have to challenge authority, because he will be the authority. What he wants to do, he'll do. He's yet another Future Kavanaugh of America.

And yes, I am deeply prejudiced against his family. I hear the parents work hard. If they do, it's not in a meat-packing plant.

Oh yeah, it was the kid's 3rd birthday last week, and the parents paid to have their whole front porch swathed in balloons, some of which came loose and wound up in my yard. No big deal, right? Except shouldn't they pick up after themselves? Do you let your trash blow across your neighbor's yards?

Eat. The. Rich.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Summer Solstice 2020

The longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere means that now the wheel will turn, and we begin our descent into the darkness.

And this time, we need to rage against the dying of the light, because there is important work to do. Work that requires energy.

There's a great evil afoot in the land. It's bigger than Trump. It's the Earth herself crying out against the destruction wrought by thinking apes.

It's time to ward our houses and tend our gardens. As you work on your land, say the following petition:

"I'm doing this for Gaia. I'm doing this to counter the evil afoot in the land."

So now you're saying, "But Anne. I don't have a garden!"

A house plant in a pot counts as a garden. Anything that grows from dirt counts as a garden. Even a sky plant is a garden!

We've got to tend the Land. It's practical and symbolic. The more growing things we cultivate, the more oxygen goes into the sky. Every dandelion counts. Grass counts too -- just ask Walt Whitman.

Go to ground. Go to Gaia.

Solstice energy.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

So Done with "Benefit of the Doubt"

I have always wanted to believe the best about people. Give them the benefit of the doubt, so to speak.

So when Donald Trump was elected president, shortly after I emerged from the Well of Despair, I said to myself, "Maybe he'll rise to the occasion and be a dignified chief executive."

BAMP! Wrong.

And then I thought to myself, "Well, maybe he'll stop holding those loathsome, hateful rallies."

BAMP! Wrong.

And then I thought, "Well, he's such an embarrassment, the rest of the Republican Party will not support him."

BAMP! Wrong.

Then the coronavirus began to spread, and I said to myself, "Well, this would be a challenge for any president. You can't blame him for floundering a little."

BAMP! Wrong.

So after he was caught off guard (having disbanded a pandemic task force he inherited from the previous administration), he has not only never caught up, he is now actively promoting further infection.

If I die of this virus, let it always be said of Anne: She was murdered in cold blood by Donald Trump.

My faith in human nature has been torched. Not giving the benefit of the doubt any more.

Friday, June 12, 2020

Mosquito Massacre

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored!" You've tried swatting them, you've tried screening them out, you've cursed and reviled them. I'm talking about the state bird of so many states -- the mosquito.

Who hasn't had a lovely summer evening ruined by these pesky pests?

I went hiking in a salt marsh once and got swarmed. But I was prepared with long sleeves, one of those screen hats, and long pants stuffed into boots. Still it was unnerving.

And now these little winged brutes carry Zika virus. It's really dangerous for pregnant women.

The other day I heard a motorized din. I looked across the street and saw a pest control service spraying the shrubs and lawn of one of those despicable McMansions. The sign on the truck said MOSQUITO/TICK PROTECTION.

This morning at 9:00 the same din sounded again, this time next door: MOSQUITO/TICK PROTECTION. I looked out the window, and there was a guy with no face mask, just showering the shrubs and house with pesticide.

I might have expected this from the pampered one percenters across the street, but I was pretty shocked to see my next-door neighbors, who have always shared my laissez-faire attitude about plant life, doing the same.

Readers, there is such a dearth of insect life in my yard now that I am beyond alarmed. My lawn is all-over speckled with clover flowers. Not a single bee. I have native wildflowers in full bloom in my micro-meadow. Not a single pollinator. No grasshoppers. No beetles. No June bugs and moths beating against the porch light when I sit outside. No little white butterflies.

No mosquitoes.

Are there any benefits to mosquitoes and ticks? Only if you care about the food chain.

Putting aside their gastronomic choices, bats eat mosquitoes. The fewer mosquitoes, the fewer bats. Possums eat ticks. I know, I know, we could all do without possums. Or could we?

Many serious media outlets have written stern warnings about the catastrophic decline in the number of insects on our planet. This is a huge problem, my friends.

In my childhood long, long ago, the world teemed with bugs. I'm not just talking about the wilds of the mountains. I'm talking about ordinary suburban blocks like the one I live on. I can remember a time, even here in Haterfield, when a lawn full of clover had a pleasant number of bees on it.

Want to bet on the End Times? Encourage all your neighbors to get professional pest control companies to come and spray for mosquitoes. The shrubs in my neighbor's yard are now "protected" from mosquitoes, but they are also "protected" from every other kind of winged thing. I wouldn't trust the wild birds around that stuff. I wouldn't want Gamma Cat rubbing against it. And even though the guy spraying it wasn't masked, I don't want to sit outside with that poison so close to me.

A world without bugs is unsustainable. Our whole ecosystem will crash. Yes, the crawly blood-suckers are annoying and dangerous to the health ... but killing them off will be worse.

Please let me know if you still have an abundance of insects where you live. I am so very alarmed by the lack of them in my world. It's mid-June and I haven't even seen a firefly.

Gods ... I'm going to leave standing water on my property. Bats gotta eat.

Tuesday, June 09, 2020

Black Lives Matter Here at The Gods Are Bored

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored," tracking a worsening Disturbance in the Force for quite awhile.

Have you felt it? Like, even before the coronavirus, there's been some deep evil afoot in America. I don't even put it at the feet of Donald Trump. I think he's a symptom. If you were to ask me what's at the root, I would say our cavalier attitude towards climate change is the precipitating factor.

At any rate, I continue to mourn the loss of the champion Black Oak (see below). It has indeed been sawed up and mostly carted away. Friends, I miscalculated its size. It was 6 feet or more in diameter. Standing next to its sawed-off self, it was at least a foot wider than I am tall.

I brought home a box full of sawdust for ritual purposes and a Talking Stick for the Heir, if she wants it. Some of Haterfield's wealthier actually pinned their names to big chunks, "property of" or "save for." Must be nice.

While I've been crying over a tree, my fellow citizens have been marching and protesting about the treatment of African Americans in this country. This is a deep and long-lasting problem, and the advent of cell phones is shining a light on it. Thank the Gods. It's time for a reckoning.

So when the protests began, my daughter The Fair was staying here in Haterfield with me. (The Heir participated in an early march and narrowly missed being tear-gassed.) The Fair feels that white people should financially support the protesters and the Black Lives Matter movement. I don't disagree, but I just see financial support as having a broader scope.

Last summer I asked my readership to help me buy books and school supplies for my classroom. Many of you responded either with money and/or the supplies. I got all the books I needed for the year, paper, and a lavish supply of pencils.

Make no mistake: If you participated in my little fund-raiser, you were saying "Black Lives Matter." You helped young people of color that you never met. This is a holy thing, recognized by the bored Gods and Goddesses of pantheons of color, known and unknown. You are held in the Light by the Orishas. And I am grateful to you for your gesture.

There are many ways, large and small, that we can support our communities of color. Buying books may seem like a small way, but improved literacy -- to my mind at least -- is one way to empower people. Not the only way, but definitely a way.

So again thank you for demonstrating that Black Lives Matter even before any feet hit the street.

Blessed be.

Friday, June 05, 2020

Requiem for My Ancient Black Oak

Please do not think I am a vain, self-centered Karen. I hope y'all know me better than that. Because I know what's going on in the news, and I care. But I've taken an existential shock of a different kind.

On Wednesday, June 3 I went in a bus with three other teachers to deliver gift bags and "Class of 2020" signs to 30 members of the Vo-Tech graduating class. Our bus route was entirely in Camden, and I knew about 20 of the 30 kids we feted. Two of them -- the first and the last -- were my favorite students from that year.

I'll have more to say about this experience at a later date.

While we were in Camden, I noticed an ominous black cloud to the west. It moved faster than any storm I have ever seen. And when it hit, it was like a hurricane. All celestial Hell broke loose.

Let's just say I was glad to be on something as sturdy as a school bus, parked by a field with no trees.

The storm passed as quickly as it came, and we actually went ahead and finished delivering our gifts.

While I was in Camden, the storm ripped through Haterfield. And it toppled the Black Oak where I have done my rituals. The tree was 350 years old. It was six feet in circumference. It demolished the house across the street, but miraculously the family living there had just come outside because a little girl was crying and scared of the storm.

How did I find out about this? Glad you asked. The shitty way. Thursday night I saw an off-hand message on a Facebook thread. It wasn't even directed at me. It said, "Did you see the big tree on Lake Street came down?"

It was dark when I read this, but that didn't matter. I leapt out of my chair and ran to Lake Street. And there, to my sorrow, lay my ritual Black Oak. I'm not ashamed to say I cried out loud.

EXHIBIT A: ANOTHER CASUALTY OF 2020


Well, as you can see, this tree was not as healthy as the borough inspectors claimed. But it's so massive that the borough will need to get a crane to lift it. It can't be sawed up.

I never walked past that tree that I didn't give it a little prayer. Part of that prayer was "may the wind and rain be with thee." Oops.

This morning, early, I went up to the site and did a requiem ritual for the tree. I mean, a whole ritual, not just a prayer.

The Haterfield Shade Tree Commission claimed that this tree was the second oldest Black Oak in New Jersey. It was standing on this spot when William Penn arrived in America. But it can't have been terribly healthy, that hollowed out with no root ball.

The people whose house it hit escaped with their lives. They will get a new house. But there will never be another ritual tree like this one for me. We go way back together. Family.


Oh, tree. Blessed be.