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  • Writer's picturekatrice horsley

To Alter or to Altar?

I remember once saying to somebody that my home comprised of a series of unintentional shrines; whether that comprised of a collection of family photos arranged a certain way or a small pile of stones and pebbles to be touched in memory of memories….. That still holds true except that now I feel it is more intentional, especially in the room where I work. Here I have carefully laid out objects and images to act as touchstones and reminders of who I am, where I came from and the values and intentions that are important to me.


The image below is of the place where I light my candle each morning before starting work. On the ‘altar’ I have placed a wasp nest that I found to remind me that I am part of the more-than-human-world and it is part of me. There is a needle and thread to remind me to stay stitched and connected to that which helps me grow and develop and a pair of scissors to remind me to cut away that which no longer needs to be carried. There are 3 wooden hair pins that have images of women on them and they remind me that I carry within me my youth, my motherhood and my ageing wisdom. The glass heart was blown here in my village where we have a glass museum and it reminds me of breath and love. The black, glass hare, (also made here,) is a symbol of the shadows that are sometimes heavy which need to be acknowledged and made companions of. Feathers are for hope and the heather comes from a woman I met in Birmingham and it brought me the three things I wished for at that time. The candles are to give me direction and the ‘Red Thread’ ( here in Sweden the phrase is used as a metaphor for the thing that connects everything,) hanging over the mirror is a representation of my identity, my narrative, my story.


Some might think this is very ‘individualistic’ and all about ‘me' and whilst that is true I feel I need an altar to remind me of myself, as most of my 60 years have been spent altering myself to fit in with the narratives of others. I lost my ‘Red Thread’ in the warp and weft of the claims and expectations of others. Now I trust the intuition of my belly to be my North Star and provide the tension in the Red Thread of my life, that will pull me in a good direction towards whatever it is that is at the end of it all.

I think there was a poem about an altar to oneself ..perhaps on PoetryUnbound, I cannot quite recall, however it prompted me to write this:

What Would Be on Your Altar …



A candle 
to light my way and provide hope in my dreams. 
A bone,
white tooth of death and connector to those no longer here.
A rattle or drum
for that echo which is within and reverberates without.
A breath
held, only to be released.
An ache
that connects with the bruised chamber of what can never be.
You, me,
that which we are part of and which is part of us.
A feather,
for transformation when the time comes.
A lemon,
for the cleansing, bitterness of truth.
Sugar,
to recognise deceit.
Salt,
for preserving that which needs to be held onto.

What would you place on your altar to to pause you altering yourself? I would love to hear.


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