Altars Everywhere, Part 1 by Carol P. Christ


In a recent blog, Carolyn Boyd invited us to reflect on how our women’s spiritual power is activated through symbols that help us to remember and manifest the “deep well” of our inner knowing. According to historian of religion Mircea Eliade, the sacred and the profane were not separated in premodern cultures because all of life was considered to be sacred. Many in the Women’s Spirituality and Goddess communities have advocated this earlier more wholistic understanding. Although it is not always easy to overcome the dualism between sacred and profane, we attempt to do so.

One of the symptoms of my chemotherapy is neurasthenia or partial numbness in my right foot. When it first occurred, I fell three times in my apartment because I was not lifting my foot automatically. I became afraid to move without holding onto the walls or furniture. I resisted my friends’ advice to get a walker, but finally agreed that I needed some form of physical support. I arranged for my friend Eirini Kouraki to have a rubber tip added to the shepherd’s cane I sometimes use walking in the mountains. When she brought it too me, I decorated it with three ribbons I saved from rituals at the Holy Myrtle Tree at the Paliani monastery in Crete. The most recent were brown, the color of the earth, and red, the strong energy I will need to heal. I added a light green-blue ribbon, representing the calm and clear optimism I feel as I face a crisis of life and death. The ribbons remind me of the healing power of the Holy Tree that I have called upon many times, turning a symbol of my infirmity into a symbol of healing and hope.

In the past weeks as my cancer treatment continues, I have been feeling strong enough to finish unpacking (with the help of Vera, my cleaning lady) and organizing my new home in Crete. As I rediscover sacred objects, I create altars. Altars are physical reminders of our spiritual beliefs. Creating and tending them helps to create the embodied knowing that brings the spirit into our daily lives.

The living area of my new apartment has 3 glass shelving units. In one of them, I created a triple altar with images of the Goddess and female power from ancient Crete. Because the apartment is sleek and modern yet welcoming to my antique furniture, I kept the altar minimal.

On the top shelf I placed three pre-palatial “pitcher” Goddesses, two with breasts from which liquid pours and one that is holding a water jug from which liquid can also be poured. These images, dated before 2000 BCE, express the Old European insight that the Goddess represents the powers of birth, death, and regeneration in all of life. Though they have human qualities, they are more than human. The Goddess from Malia who sits in the center of this altar has a beaked face and wings and her triangular shape evokes the mountains from which water flows to villages and fields. These images remind me that the Goddess is the Source of Life, provider of gift of life that is our embodied being and the gifts of life—including food and water–that nourish us daily.

The second shelf holds one of the oldest images from ancient Crete, the Neolithic Goddess from Ierapetra. She is seated on massive buttocks, securely rooted in the earth. Her face is beaked, symbolizing her connection to the birds that fly in the air. Her body is decorated with lines identified by archaeologist Marija Gimbutas as the flowing water that nourishes all of life. Her body too is shaped like the mountain. She represents the never-ending powers of birth, death, and regeneration in all of nature.

In front of the Neolithic Goddess I placed a twig from Paliani with a dark blue ribbon reminding me that my friend Tina Nevans is sending the healing energy of the Blue Buddha to me in her daily meditations, as well as several handsewn triangles holding leaves from the Holy Myrtle tree, and a crystal extracted from the Trapeza Cave, found on the path outside of it. To Her right is a small image of the long-necked turtle Goddess from Myrtos who holds a pitcher recalling women’s daily visits to water sources, and a small copy of a Kamares ware pitcher used to pour libations in the Sacred Centers. To the left are a bronze copy of a labrys, originally the double sacred female triangle transformed into wings and also a happy little bull who reminds us that animals experience the joy of life.

On the lower shelf, copies of dancing women from post-Minoan Paliakastro symbolize the transmission of Old European values of community, lack of hierarchy, and most of all, celebration of the joy of life as Laura Shannon has written. The dancing women are surrounded by images of later Mycenaean Goddesses and of Aphrodite who was worshiped at the Minoan site of Kato Symi in classical times, and a small reproduction of the Neolithic Goddess from Catal Huyuk, who reminds us that Crete was settled c.7000 BCE by farmers from Anatolia.

In the hallway I placed a copy of a drawing of the Holy Myrtle Tree of the monastery of Paliani created by one of the nuns. According to the story told, the area where the monastery was later built was burned in a fire but a small myrtle bush survived. It was watered by girls who saw the image of the Panagia (Mary the Mother of Jesus) in its charred branches. So, the monastery which was known as ancient in 668 CE was built. The monastery is a sacred place for the surrounding villages. The sacred tree and the icon of the Panagia in the church are said to have performed many miracles. Below the drawing of the Sacred Myrle Tree is a small image of a face in a twig from tree given to me by German artist Carla Randel.

On a small table under the drawing, I placed an image of Aphrodite who was earlier associated with myrtle trees, along with a candle, a star, a blue glass paperweight, and a triton shell, symbolizing Aphrodite as the morning and evening star, and her relation to the sea.

When I light candles in translucent glass holders on the altar with the pitcher Goddesses as the day dawns and in the evening as day turns to night, and when I gaze at my other altars, I remember that I am always surrounded by the nurturing love of the Goddess. This love takes root in my body, and I am inspired to share it with others.

To be continued.



Categories: Earth-based spirituality, Embodiment, Feminism and Religion, General, Goddess, Goddess Spirituality, Healing

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

22 replies

  1. This is lovely Carol, and it makes me smile. The altars are beautiful and the medicine they do deliver to you.

    I understand coming to terms with physical instability. I have some numbness in both feet due to nerves being squeezed in lower back. This makes me very careful (after falls in recent years), and sometimes if tired, my confidence is blown and I panic about walking across a room if I am out. Stairs without rails are impossible. I have thought about a cane a bit like yours, and will consider further.

    I have wondered how you are, and am pleased to hear of your methods of care and surrounding yourself with reminders of Her love, and your absorbing of it in your body.
    Her blissings to you

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you very much for this post Carol, and for all the links that you included. I have read and enjoyed it all so much and also the photos. It reminded me that I have a replica of an old silver coin (from the Beniaki museum) with a hole through it, to wear round the neck. It depicts Panagia and maybe I should start wearing it!

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  3. These altars are beautiful and so meaningful. Thank you for sharing them and also for the explanations of them – you have surrounded yourself with so much healing energy and wisdom! Lately I have been learning more about ancient stone structures both in the Americas and Europe and so I plan to build an outdoor altar (when it stops raining and hopefully before it snows!) in my backyard garden consisting of a small cairn of larger stones from my yard. The stones will be laid so as to create places to put objects that remind me of the sacredness of the land – small stones in special shapes, juniper twigs from my garden, feathers dropped from birds, etc.

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  4. Oh Carol, such a beautiful post… I am so happy to hear that you are finding such creative and hopeful ways to live with cancer and that the Tree of Life appears again and again – in your staff and through images. I just have a feeling that all shall be well again with you. But meanwhile, please do be careful. I do not want to have you fall for any reason. You are an inspiration for us all – Thank you for sharing your beautiful altars…. I don’t know how folks manage without having holy places in one’s home to remind us that we are all part of the Great Round of Life…I love the story of the Myrtle Tree with the Panagia in her branches… My altars are more nature based and change with the seasons – except for an Italian triptych of Mary and an icon of her these two stay up all year long – this is the time of year I honor all evergreens and to that end I have created my winter altar that is lit at dusk. The Tree of Life with real lichen hanging in her branches to remind me that this life form learned more than four hundred million years ago how to live symbiotically – two or more very different organisms merging into one….and living in cooperation. An ancient example for us all. May many blessings flow your way as you heal….

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  5. By the way, I send you loving thought each and every day.

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  6. Thank you Carol for continuing to share at this critical time.

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  7. What a beautiful post, Carol. Am seeing more and more (as I age) how important a meaningful, physical environment is to one’s well-being in the world. Beauty is essential! Please be careful. After my back surgery (15 months ago), I developed neuropathy in both legs and my right foot “drags.” I use my “lion stick” for balance when I go walking the trails near me in Las Cruces. It’s a sturdy, but thin, stick I used in Zimbabwe 15 years ago when I went to walk lions. The stick keeps the big kitties from getting to close. Like Sara, I send you loving thoughts every day.

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    • Thank you so much for the loving thoughts. I do feel that my healing depends on prayers and energies and I open myself to them everyday.

      I find that the cane keeps my foot from dragging: lifting the stick reminds me to lift the foot. I fell 3x 6 weeks ago but not since (fingers crossed).

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Wonderful! I think having all those altars around you means you’re actually living in an altar, and that’s good for your physical and mental health. I also have altars all over my apartment, though all of mine are lots messier (cluttered, dusty) than any of yours, which a clean and lovely and meaningful. Brightest blessings to your continued healing!

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  9. For decades you have drawn women to the Holy Myrtle Tree in the monastery of Paliani and encouraged us to collect any fallen twigs seen below her branches. My twig is wrapped in the pale blue ribbon from that day in October, 2017 when we gathered with you under her spreading limbs. You shared the ancient story. She became the tree of life for us.

    Since then that twig spiraled in blue ribbon has lived by my bed among a careful jumble of other objects that please me: shells, stones, pottery shards, crystals, a small fallen antler, dried flowers, an amethyst necklace and several crescent shaped seed pods. Each part of the web of life.

    Every woman who followed you to that tree is connected to you—to you who helped connect us to our ancient mothers. Our energies are intermingled. I’ve been living with cancer since that year—in fact, that diagnosis propelled me to Crete! Living with the mementos (especially the many stones from the island) and the memories of being in Crete help sustain me. You re-introduced me to Marija Gimbutus!

    I understand the power of surrounding ourselves with beloved and sacred objects overflowing with references to our comprehension of the simplicity and the complexity of the cycle of birth, death and regeneration. The light, energy, colors, textures, sounds, and the fresh air, privacy, order and beauty all contribute to the web of energy which vibrated around each of us.

    We, your loyal sisters, each send our thought-waves and our blessings to vibrate the web of energy which surrounds you in an effort to add to all you have created for yourself. Thank you for sharing your challenge of living with cancer. Thank you for letting us see what you have created to nurture and to heal yourself. Blessed Be, Paula

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  10. So beautiful, Carol. Thank you for sharing the beauty that surrounds you. Your home expresses your beauty and the Goddess’s beauty. May you walk in beauty with your beautiful cane and may you heal in beauty.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Oh Carol, I had no idea that you are suffering from cancer. My thoughts and prayers are with you. Your altars are so incredible lovely. I’ve been through cancer twice, myself, and am still happily alive. Always wanted to take part in your goddess quest in Crete, but couldn’t manage in terms of health and money. May the Goddess bless you and heal you sister, as she did with me.

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  12. Carol, despite your physical sufferings, I feel that you have surrounded yourself with much holy and women power , which will help you to lift up your wonderful spirit. Your spirit is much admirable, how you carry yourself through this challenging times of your cancer. Sending you much well wishes and may the Goddess strength be with you all the time.” Minds together” from Cornelia

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  13. Dear Carol,
    Prayers and healing thoughts to you. I’ve followed your work since the late 70’s when you came to speak at Wichita State (Judith Plaskow was on faculty then; Womanspirit rising, almost a devotional text for me). You are an inspiration. Like Donate, health and finances have prevented me from taking part in a Goddess pilgrimage but I often return to your writings (and to photos from Goddess pilgrimages past that I stumble across online) — especially when I need to center myself, enter a calming presence, or discern the best way forward from the situation I find myself in at the time. Thank you for sharing your sacred space. I eagerly look forward to part 2.

    Liked by 2 people

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