GNL number 104

a report of doings at meeting #104, Sunday, March 20, 2016

including liturgical items, major themes, and other odds and ends


 An altar can simply reflect your spiritual truth back to you, and/or it can be a working altar which holds your intentions and prayers.

—–Marta Maria Marracini, spiritual teacher


Opening this conversation about ALTARS, Ann brought research on the words altar and shrine, and cultural background in history for sacrificing on altars, especially back when culture was religion. And she’d researched too the Native American use of the medicine wheel as a kind of altar, sacred space, meditation aid, for example, in the ceremonial sweat lodge. She also mentioned the NYC Trade Towers as altar for worship of the money god, in the eyes of some religious extremists (and bankers). And she brought quotes too. See AFTERWORDS for these and her research notes.

Sue, who had suggested this topic, also brought information on word origin and meaning. She brought as well photos showing altars key to some rituals in her life that she then described—for instance, for the opening and closing of the day, a hand washing ritual, and the ceremony she and Jay do for the Sabbath, with very moving, poetic scriptural lines. She also spoke of her and Jay’s each keeping a kind of sacred space room. And she brought some things precious in that way, like a small mother and child sculpture from her daughter, and a geode. See AW for her notes and quotes.

Louise first recalled the altars and altar boys of her Catholic childhood, but most powerfully now, her sense of Sky Hill where she and the chickens live, and the great sky world of nature, as altar. Then she spoke of events that had been “altering her altar”: a recent increase in chem-trails (followed by such a worsening of her hearing that she is concerned there’s a correlation and worries about the health of all living things in the area). She also brought a wonderfully light-hearted teapot made by her former husband, to represent the way her home is graced by such lovely creations, a hymn itself to beauty.

Vijaya first spoke of feeling grateful for her Hindu cultural base that, with its many gods, taught her acceptance of other peoples’ gods. She then told a story about the elephant god Ganesh, and spoke of how challenging it has been for her to learn/practice a detached life rather than the typical Western attaching. She had brought a number of items from the altars of her store and home, cherished gifts and things from nature like shells and plants, as well as photos of her beautiful blooming altar areas. We were also glad to hear before the meeting that she has continued to make a good recovery from her recent gall bladder surgery.

Cynthia said that she had been a collector forever, first of pigs (not real); that hobby had eventually given way to collecting angels (not real), and then they too were given away. So she’s come to the collecting most meaningful to her values—love of nature and outdoors—and now has about 20 very interesting birds’ nests (real), of which she brought two examples, small enough to fit warblers, we thought. Cyn said this new collecting also fit her and Ron’s recent insight they need to move to more open spaces. (And she said we weren’t the only ones to ask them please check NYS such spaces!)

Nancy interpreted altars broadly, as reminder-things that can bring one ‘back home’ to what counts. And so discovered she had many. Like the photos (she brought a favorite, of her 6 kids together 20+ years ago), and the string of them in her kitchen of the 10 grandkids, and fabulous grandkid art, like Eli’s SuperHero Hall of Fame covering the fridge door. And of course the bowls of fascinating rocks all over the house, recalling wondrous nature (some of which she brought too.) But also, the whole house, she saw, is an altar in a way—filled with so many things given by dear ones—furnishings, large and small, and almost everything on the walls, made by family; the place sings of this family. See AW for N&Q.

We were so pleased to welcome Louise’s friend, Nancy Niles from West Richmondville (and one of Virginia’s favorite former teachers). Nancy brought a tiny glass bluebird, the first of five on her kitchen window sill, there in honor of meeting her husband, who studied bluebirds. She described herself as not only a gardener (those muffins later at lunch with the homegrown blueberries, delicious!) but someone who enjoys preparing food and spends a lot of time in the kitchen. That kitchen window has a lovely view, and she insists that her bluebird altar there be kept clear! Amen, say we. And we hope she will come join us again.

Gail, our hostess along with Virginia at their beautiful farm, noticed we’d all discovered we had altars; she had too, like the corner in the living room where we were sitting, with its Native American things. And she said that her bedroom as well held a set of collections for different members of her family. And she noted some things she’s kept though not using now, like her dad’s loom, with which he learned to weave and helped her to learn; this she keeps as the loom is a reminder of that hunger and power to learn that her dad, and mom too, have inspired in her.

It was such a pleasure to have Virginia with us again, and of course, such a grown up young woman now. (Some were reminded of a few years ago when she was part of the group of us friends of the late Jack Daniels who made an altar in Vijaya’s back garden for Jack.) Virginia told us her altar in a way is her room, which she has made her special space with meaningful things and decorating. She spoke in particular of a painting hanging there that she and her friend Nora had enjoyed doing cooperatively. And she brought the painting downstairs—a beautiful sky-land scape in vibrant colors. We think they should do more!

We readily agreed to send today’s offering to the local Marathon for a Better Life program in honor of our friend Charlotte LaGuardia, who died this month.


“What you appreciate…..appreciates,” is a common wisdom teaching about the power of focus and attention and appreciation—we make altars all the time.

—–Leah Lamb, from essay on Building Altars for Personal Transformation, spirituality&


Sunday, April 10, 2016 (1030) at Vijaya’s apartment, Cobleskill. The topic we’ll focus on will be FOCUS.


 from Ann

Word Research:

Origin of altar: Middle English alter, from Old English altar, from Latin altare: probably akin to Latin adolere, to burn up.

Simple definition of altar: a raised place on which sacrifices and gifts are offered in some religions: a platform or table used as a center of worship in Christian ceremonies and services.

Full definition of altar: 1: a usually raised structure or place on which sacrifices are offered or incense is burned in worship—often figuratively to describe a thing given great or undue precedence or value especially at the cost of something else—eg., sacrificed his family life on the altar of career advancement.

Simple definition of shrine: a place connected with a holy person or event where people go to worship: a place that people visit because it is connected with someone that is important to them.

Full definition of shrine: 1a: a case, box, or receptacle, especially, one in which sacred relics (as the bones of a saint) are deposited. 1b: a place in which devotion is paid to a saint or deity; a sanctuary. 2: a receptacle (as a tomb) for the dead. 3: a place or object hallowed by its associations.


I am a lover of truth, a worshipper of freedom, a celebrant at the altar of language and purity and tolerance. —–Stephen Fry

Leadership that exploits and sacrifices young people on the altar of its goals is nothing more than raw, demonic power. Genuine leadership is found in ceaseless efforts to foster young people, to pave the way forward for them. —–Daisaku Ikeda

The quickest way to alter an altar is not with a hammer, or even religious deconstruction, but with a typo. —–Jarod Kintz, This BookTitle is Invisible

Native American Medicine Wheel

What is the significance of the medicine wheel?

Native American traditions were not based on a fixed set of beliefs or on an interpretation of sacred writings, but on the knowledge of the rhythm of life which they received through the observation of Nature. And what they observed is that there are no straight lines in Nature. All of Nature expresses itself in circular patterns. This can be seen in something as small and simple as a bird’s nest as well as in things much greater such as the cycle of the seasons or the cycle of life (birth, death, rebirth). And therefore, to Native American peoples, the circle or wheel represents Wakan-Tanka (“the Great Everything” or Universe) and also one’s own personal space or personal universe.

What is Medicine?

Native American “Medicine” is not the same as the modern medicine that we think of today. It is not a pill or a procedure or anything else that can be used to improve one’s physical health. When Native Americans refer to “Medicine”, they are referring to the vital power or force that is inherent in Nature itself, and to the personal power within oneself which can enable one to become more whole or complete.

Medicine = energy = power = knowledge

What is a Medicine Wheel? What does it mean? And what can it be used for? :

In Native American belief, the cardinal directions are linked to great Powers, or intelligent forces, whose energy (or Medicine) can be harnessed. The directions can be charted on a circular map, the Medicine Wheel, which can enable one to come into alignment with these spiritual powers and absorb something of them.

The Medicine Wheel is many things on many various levels and has many different meanings and uses. It is a circle which represents natural and personal powers in complete balance, and which shows that everything is interconnected and part of one cosmic whole. It is the circle of awareness of the individual self, and a circle of knowledge that gives one power over one’s life. It is a shamanic map, or philosophical system, that can be used as a guide to help us find our way and ground us when we embark on inner journeys. We can use it to understand ourselves as well as life itself. It can be used for finding direction in life and for aligning physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual realities. One can use it to attune themselves to Earth influences and forces and to the natural energies that affect their lives.

A Medicine Wheel can be used:

as a sacred space

  • as an aid to meditation

  • as an altar

  • as a centering device for one’s consciousness

  • as a protector

  • as a framework in which to honor the forces of Nature and the levels of being.

Each direction on the Wheel constitutes a path of self-realization and self-initiation into the mysteries of life which can lead you to the very core of your being where you can make contact with your own High Self (your Spiritual Self or True Self). Each path can help you to acquire the knowledge to work changes that will put meaning and purpose into your life, bringing enlightenment and fulfillment.

from Sue 

altar ( noun

1. an elevated place or structure, as a mound or platform, at which religious rites are performed or on which sacrifices are offered to gods, ancestors, etc.

shrine (n.)

    Old English scrin “ark (of the covenant); chest, coffer; case for relics,” from Latin scrinium “case or box for keeping papers,” of unknown origin.

 ( noun

1. a building or other shelter, often of a stately or sumptuous character, enclosing the remains or relics of a saint or other holy person and forming an object of religious veneration and pilgrimage.

2. any place or object hallowed by its history or associations: a historic shrine.

3. any structure or place consecrated or devoted to some saint, holy person, or deity, as an altar, chapel, church, or temple.

4. a receptacle for sacred relics; a reliquary.


“Wherever an altar is found, there civilization exists.” ~Joseph de Maistre

“The earth is my altar, the sky is my dome, mind is my garden, the heart is my home and I’m always at home – yea, I’m always at Om.” ~Eden Ahbez

“What you keep in your altar is what you alter”  The Importance of having an Altar ~clauninelove

“An altar in life alters our life.” ~H.H. Swami Tejomayananda

from NancyS

Excerpted from an essay by artist Day Schildkret:

(Day Schildkret builds his ‘morning altars’ inside Wildcat Canyon, Richmond, CA, with over 100 altars documented.)

I started making morning altars as a part of the daily routine of walking my dog, Rudy. I leave my house every morning at 8 am and fill my basket with things I find along the trail. When I began, it was a prayer practice, I created to work through my grief, both personally and for the collective. Martin Prechtel says Beauty is what can metabolize grief, and for a while there, building these altars was saving my life; I was creating some beauty and praying with it.

….I make these altars as an offering, but they are also nourishment. The beauty gets metabolized, by the land, and sometimes by the animals that eat them! It’s a constant dialogue with place and has taught me how to be in a relationship with a world that is constantly changing, while teaching me about how to not be attached.


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