By Marcee Murray King
My life is filled with little altars everywhere.
It is a way for me to stop and pause when I am there. Some of them are a simple reminder to pause and take a breath and many of these have certain reminders such as the impermanence of the things in this world, or an honoring of nature. Many are objects that bring back memories of people, and when I see them every day, I always hold them in my heart and send them love. Some altars get put together temporarily, such as when I am traveling; others are permanent and often keep getting more added to them.
All of them are call to my spirit.
I consider myself Eastern-Orthodox-Christian-Hindu-Buddhist-Pagan-ish….with a bit of the agnostic rolled into the picture. My life is filled with ritual and prayers and magic, and all of these pieces are reflected in my day to day living.
I have for many years had a desire to tell someone the story of why these are in my life, and so I have decided to share these through The Tattooed Buddha. It is my sincere hope that you will share pictures and stories of your altars as well, so we all can share in your everyday sacred.
I am starting with the largest—what I call my family altar.
It is by far the largest one I have, and has so many little stories. It is the altar I used to pray in front of every day. Nowadays, I do prayers in front it at times when there is great need, or as a place of centering when I am doing a house cleaning and blessing. Daily I pause, and send a little love toward it, allowing my sacred objects placed there send the love out into the world. While I have put most of these items here, some of them were placed by others—mostly family members—so I am really not sure of the significance of them, but because someone felt the calling to leave something here, here they remain.
In the center of the main picture at the top you see various Orthodox icons. These are all reproductions, but all ones I love for various reasons.
I used to write egg tempera icons for the Orthodox Church as a blessed iconographer, and so have a passion for them. The large reproduction of Mary and Jesus on the left is a copied from a poster that I brought back from an old Orthodox Church in Russia. It is the first church I stepped into in St. Petersburg when I was studying midwifery there for three months back in 1994.
This icon was the main one of the church, and it was the reason people went there. I walked in, heard the singing of the choir, saw this icon and burst into tears. Notable, down low and partially covered and hand-painted icons of Mary, Jesus and over on the left you can see John the Baptist. These were written by a monk I worked with in the iconography studio at the monastery, gifted to me by him, so hold a special place in my heart. A few above these, in a wider wooden frame is a beautiful watercolor of Mary and Jesus my friend, Colleen Koziara, gifted to me one Yule. She is a woman of many talents, and creates amazing pagan art.
Down low, between Mary and Jesus, is a piece of bark. Charmaine Shaffer, gifted it to me because it looked like a breast…and as a feminist, retired midwife, long-time breastfeeder and priestess, it is a fitting gift.
There’s a Mary in the corner, a gift from my husband. Behind her is a flute with Krishna on it and my athame, a righteously sharp kitchen knife in a soft leather cover I made many years ago. There is a delicate Mary made from glass from my sister, Kate Murray. An incense burner (far right on bottom) that opens on top, that can be carried around to bless a space, a gift from my son—Saraswati, Shiva (hard to see, in front of the wooden breast), and the Cursed Buddha.
“Ah, the Cursed Buddha?” you ask. Yes, the Cursed Buddha.
My mother had a friend, Adele (I was told she was my Jewish Grandmother, and hence her name Bubby), whose daughter-in-law received it as a gift, but had tons of bad luck after receiving it. She thought it just shouldn’t be with her, so gave it to Bubby. Bubby started having lots of bad luck, and thought it was because it was a Buddha and she was Jewish, so she gave it to my mother.
My mother, who was sometimes a secular/free spirit, and sometimes the worst type of fundamentalist, was given the Buddha because at the time she was free-spirited. She started having bad luck, and felt eventually that the Cursed Buddha should come to me.
It has brought me no bad luck, and I keep it on my altar, but still call it the Cursed Buddha, as it brings to mind the story of the man with the son and the horse, whose lesson is “Good luck, bad luck…who’s to say?”
In the corner on the right is a pile of pictures: My nephew, my friend’s children when they were in high school (she asked it be placed there so I could send them my prayers), my beloved friend Zola who I lost visitation rights to due to her crazy family, and my father’s high school graduation picture. In front of these is a knife with some sort of shell handle. I founded it embedded in a back door once in an apartment building I lived in, and thought it might be something best removed.
On the far right is also a sand dollar, my pentacle, and also one of my ritual items I sometimes use to symbolize west/water. Hanging along the right are some brass bells on right yarn. These are the famous China Doll Bells, and the ringing of these began wonderful stories told to me by my grandmother when I was young. Oh, what I wouldn’t give to remember even one of these stories!
At the bottom of the altar, in the back left corner is a small photo in a frame with a heart on it. It is Grandma Gummerman, a photo of the woman who was amazing, wonderful helpful spirit that haunted my home in Bloomington, Illinois. Behind her in the corner is a small broom my friend, Adrienne, made for me. I keep the bristles pointed up in honor of the old symbolize of this, meaning, “Witches welcome!”
Above Grandma Gummerman is a wooden heart “card” my husband carved for me, and next to it is a photo of the two of us on my 40th birthday (ah! 17 1/2 years ago!) At the left center is a sand head of a woman, given to me as a birthing gift from one of my friends who was also a birth attendant for my daughter. Inside is salt with crystals in it. Next to it is an upside down cup I use in rituals that can’t be set down once filled and must be passed. There is a dried lotus and the long stem wrapped around it.
Behind, not visible, is an amazing leather bound small antique prayer book my daughter brought back to me after studying for a semester in Italy. On the shelf up high is holy sand from the grave of a saint in Russia. There are other little treasures scattered about here…rocks, shells feathers.
And in the right corner, on the triangle oil lamp, hangs the ashes of our dear friend Arrow.
Such a powerful family altar.
Photos: Provided by author
Editor: Dana Gornall
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