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Author Topic: "Model Train" altars--how close is yours?  (Read 6178 times)

Starglade

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"Model Train" altars--how close is yours?
« on: July 14, 2011, 05:01:03 pm »
While poking around at the Buddhist forum I've joined recently, I came across a discussion of ritual items and altar setups. One of the longer-term posters commented that he'd once been told to be cautious, lest he fall prey to the "model train" trap: putting EVERYTHING he could possibly ever, ever need or want on the altar, always feeling like something's missing or not quite perfect, constantly looking for "just one more thing" to complete the setup.

With a Tibetan Buddhist altar this is a very dangerous slope, indeed. I find myself doing quite a bit of online window-shopping for various items--and I admit, I don't necessarily NEED anything more than what I have, but I would LIKE to have a set of water offering bowls, and a butter lamp, and another set of prayer flags, and . . .

So, is anyone else familiar with this scenario? Is there a "bare mininum" amount of items that's acceptable (either to you, or to your deities or practice)? Is less better than more? Or, is more More MORE required?

I'm curious. I never felt this way when I was Wiccish. Weird, that.
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Juni

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Re: "Model Train" altars--how close is yours?
« Reply #1 on: July 14, 2011, 05:05:09 pm »
Quote from: Starglade;4865
While poking around at the Buddhist forum I've joined recently, I came across a discussion of ritual items and altar setups. One of the longer-term posters commented that he'd once been told to be cautious, lest he fall prey to the "model train" trap: putting EVERYTHING he could possibly ever, ever need or want on the altar, always feeling like something's missing or not quite perfect, constantly looking for "just one more thing" to complete the setup.

With a Tibetan Buddhist altar this is a very dangerous slope, indeed. I find myself doing quite a bit of online window-shopping for various items--and I admit, I don't necessarily NEED anything more than what I have, but I would LIKE to have a set of water offering bowls, and a butter lamp, and another set of prayer flags, and . . .

 
I have a rule- I'm not allowed to actively shop for something for a shrine. There are certain things that I want- a lantern, for one- but unless I stumble upon the right one online or in a shop, I'm not allowed to go hunting. Otherwise I will fill my living space with "ooh, I *need* this for so-and-so..."

The only exception will be picture frames for photos of my Beloved Dead, when I have more space. But that's not so much something for a shrine, as something to display something for a shrine.
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Re: "Model Train" altars--how close is yours?
« Reply #2 on: July 14, 2011, 05:25:41 pm »
Quote from: Starglade;4865
One of the longer-term posters commented that he'd once been told to be cautious, lest he fall prey to the "model train" trap: putting EVERYTHING he could possibly ever, ever need or want on the altar, always feeling like something's missing or not quite perfect, constantly looking for "just one more thing" to complete the setup.


Heee! That's an awesome description. (My father was a model railroad buff, so I am familiar with the problem.)

Quote
So, is anyone else familiar with this scenario? Is there a "bare mininum" amount of items that's acceptable (either to you, or to your deities or practice)? Is less better than more? Or, is more More MORE required?


Definitely. This is what I sometimes shorthand in my tradition as "Leo priestess vs. Virgo priestess" (the HPS who trained me being a Leo, who likes the shiny, and me being about as far in the other direction.)

My basic thing is "What is this item doing? What purpose does it serve? And does it serve it often enough that it's worth keeping around in between times (or is important enough to have available for the times we do need it.)

My practical solution was to buy a (very lovely) woven basket that's about 1' wide by about 18" high by about 2' long. If a ritual item does not fit in there, I think long and hard about whether I need it. (There are a couple of eventual exceptions: besoms and coven swords will eventually be needed for specific rituals, but would never fit in that space. Neither would a group-sized cauldron.)

But in general, it works well. Space for one set of altar cloths, not four or five. One set of candleholders. One set of boxes to hold small items for quarter altars. A few simple devotional statues, not dozens. Prints framed in flat frames that don't take up tons of space and can stack together easily.

And then the usual ritual items for tradition work (water bottle, salt jar, bowl, chalice, pentagram, four main altar candles, tea lights and holders for quarter altars, incense sticks and holder, athame and at least one wand.)
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AlisonLeighLilly

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Re: "Model Train" altars--how close is yours?
« Reply #3 on: July 14, 2011, 05:34:34 pm »
Quote from: Starglade;4865
While poking around at the Buddhist forum I've joined recently, I came across a discussion of ritual items and altar setups. One of the longer-term posters commented that he'd once been told to be cautious, lest he fall prey to the "model train" trap: putting EVERYTHING he could possibly ever, ever need or want on the altar, always feeling like something's missing or not quite perfect, constantly looking for "just one more thing" to complete the setup.

With a Tibetan Buddhist altar this is a very dangerous slope, indeed. I find myself doing quite a bit of online window-shopping for various items--and I admit, I don't necessarily NEED anything more than what I have, but I would LIKE to have a set of water offering bowls, and a butter lamp, and another set of prayer flags, and . . .

So, is anyone else familiar with this scenario? Is there a "bare mininum" amount of items that's acceptable (either to you, or to your deities or practice)? Is less better than more? Or, is more More MORE required?

I'm curious. I never felt this way when I was Wiccish. Weird, that.

 
In my tradition of Druidry, the bare minimum you need for creating sacred space (and it could be altar or an outdoor shrine or grove, etc.) are three things: fire, well and tree. Each of these can be interpreted literally, or represented figuratively (like, a bowl of water for the "well" and a plant, pole or even stone for the "tree," something to connect you to earth).

I tend to be what I like to call a "lazy ritualist" and a minimalist in general, so when I do ritual, I'll just grab a bowl to fill with water, a candle and an object to connect me with earth and represent the central "pillar" for the sacred space... and I'm good to go. Between cat and young children in the house, I don't have any area where I can have a permanent working altar set up - my shrines are all high up on shelves where small hands and paws can't reach them. When it's time for me to do ritual, I'll gather up what I need from various spots about the house and bring them all together on the coffee table. In addition to the bowl, candle and stone, I'll also usually use incense and some kind of platter or dish to pour libations and make offerings. If I'm doing outdoor work, it's a candle, a small jug of water and a bag of seed and herb mix that I'll scatter as offerings.

Still, I am always day-dreaming about altar objects and ritual tools... and kind of missing the days of living alone and being able to set up my altars elaborately however I wanted. :)

--Ali

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Re: "Model Train" altars--how close is yours?
« Reply #4 on: July 14, 2011, 05:57:02 pm »
Quote from: Starglade;4865

So, is anyone else familiar with this scenario? Is there a "bare mininum" amount of items that's acceptable (either to you, or to your deities or practice)? Is less better than more? Or, is more More MORE required?

 
Back in my Wiccish days I did feel the need to have a "model train" altar.  These days I have a more minimalist altar.  Not because my religion or gods demand it, but mostly because of my personal preferences.  The only things that are constantly on it are one or two candles, an incense burner and an offering bowl.  I have other stuff (like deity statues) that I only put on it when the occasion calls for it.


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Tana

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Re: "Model Train" altars--how close is yours?
« Reply #5 on: July 14, 2011, 06:02:00 pm »
Quote from: Starglade;4865


 
I like nice stuff.
And I have quite a bit of it.

But for shrine or altar I prefer a more minimalistic approach.
Or at least the "if it must be there, it better serves a purpose" school of thought.

But that won't keep me from buying something I see and I like. ;)
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Starglade

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Re: "Model Train" altars--how close is yours?
« Reply #6 on: July 14, 2011, 06:12:09 pm »
Quote from: Juni;4866


 
See--that's how I was with my Wiccish days. It wasn't a hard and fast rule, but I did make every effort to "find" things, rather than shop for them. I kept it to a minimum for a few reasons, I think: I was a solitary with cats, and didn't want a lot of stuff for them to trample; for a while, i practiced in a storage locker in the basement of our apt building, and the less I had to carry up and down the stairs, the better; it seemed "better" to me to let things make themselves available to me, at the time, instead of going out after them purposely.

I've not really thought about any of this until just a few days ago, honestly.
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Starglade

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Re: "Model Train" altars--how close is yours?
« Reply #7 on: July 14, 2011, 06:13:23 pm »
Quote from: Jenett;4877


 

I'm tickled you liked the image. :)

I think your solution is eminently logical and workable.
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Juni

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Re: "Model Train" altars--how close is yours?
« Reply #8 on: July 14, 2011, 06:20:08 pm »
Quote from: Starglade;4900
See--that's how I was with my Wiccish days. It wasn't a hard and fast rule, but I did make every effort to "find" things, rather than shop for them.

 
For me, it's not so much that it's better to let things find me, so to speak; I like to shop. And as I don't have altars but shrines, whose purpose is only mindfulness, it's okay if I have more than one thing that evokes a particular thought. (In fact I prefer it.) So I have a bunch of 'tools' that all have the same purpose, in a way.
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Starglade

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Re: "Model Train" altars--how close is yours?
« Reply #9 on: July 14, 2011, 06:21:02 pm »
Quote from: AlisonLeighLilly;4879




Minimalist worked for me very well, in my earlier days. Now, not quite so much-- but still, I hardly have what one could call a "complete" altar for my practice. Not even close, really; I have no offering bowls of any kind, let alone a set of seven; I have no butter lamp, no bell and dorje, no mandala . . .

I do, however, have a lovely Buddha statue that holds a tealight in its hands, from WalMart. :) There's also a brightly painted resin Avalokiteshvara statue, and a BIG (we're talking nearly 2' tall) resin wood-look Kwan Yin. Flanking these are a porcelain lotus tealight holder, and a large silk phaelenopsis orchid in a simple black vase. On the wall above these (they sit on the top of a rolltop desk) is a shelf unit my hubby made and I painted in traditional colors with traditional cloud and good luck motifs. The top shelf holds a gold-painted resin statue of Shakyamuni Buddha, and the bottom one a small wooden stupa (which remains empty; it is meant to be filled with dharma objects, but that's a practice I'm not ready to undertake yet). Over the whole thing I draped a white silk khata (prayer scarf). Then there's a fabric-framed photo of HHDL, to the left, and above that is a mini-prayer flag string spelling out Chenrezig's mantra.

Sounds like a lot--but there's SO MUCH missing, still. All in time, all in time . . .
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Starglade

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Re: "Model Train" altars--how close is yours?
« Reply #10 on: July 14, 2011, 06:22:38 pm »
Quote from: Melamphoros;4887


 
See, that makes sense to me, too. I feel that what I have right now is probably the least I can really "get away with" and still be able to have a meaningful practice.
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Starglade

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Re: "Model Train" altars--how close is yours?
« Reply #11 on: July 14, 2011, 06:24:09 pm »
Quote from: Tana;4891
I like nice stuff.
And I have quite a bit of it.

But for shrine or altar I prefer a more minimalistic approach.
Or at least the "if it must be there, it better serves a purpose" school of thought.

But that won't keep me from buying something I see and I like. ;)


Bolding mine. Yes. That's rather how i'm approaching things these days, within the framework of what one is supposed to have.
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Nyktipolos

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Re: "Model Train" altars--how close is yours?
« Reply #12 on: July 14, 2011, 06:26:30 pm »
Quote from: Starglade;4865
While poking around at the Buddhist forum I've joined recently, I came across a discussion of ritual items and altar setups. One of the longer-term posters commented that he'd once been told to be cautious, lest he fall prey to the "model train" trap: putting EVERYTHING he could possibly ever, ever need or want on the altar, always feeling like something's missing or not quite perfect, constantly looking for "just one more thing" to complete the setup.


Finally, a word(s) for how I feel about this sort of thing! :D Excuse me while I squee.

Quote
So, is anyone else familiar with this scenario? Is there a "bare mininum" amount of items that's acceptable (either to you, or to your deities or practice)? Is less better than more? Or, is more More MORE required?

 
I'd same I'm vary familiar with it. I follow a number of livejournals and tumblrs that are kind of a "show us your altar/shrines" sort of thing, which often gives me a lot of inspiration. However, I also see a number of altars that quite literally seem to have every pagan-ish object they own on it, which throws off the energy of what the altar or shrine is there for.

Actually... I think that particular point IS my issue. I've seen shrines to Santa Muerte, Papa Ghede, Lady of Guadalupe, and many others (usually falling in with ATR/ADR, Afro-Caribbean, or South American faiths, or at least have that flavour) where there are A LOT of items on the shrine. And yet... the energy isn't dissipated or misdirected. It's all based on a common theme (usually the god, loa, saint, etc) and it all fits together, despite it's "busy" nature.

For me, my shrines and altars tend to be pretty simplistic. This is also because I have limited space, and I don't have room to put all I want up on a shrine/altar. My last shrine to Aphrodite just had flowers, a candle, and incense (although I'm hoping to purchase a statue of Her when I have the room). I didn't need every stone I owned that was possibly linked to Aphrodite on there, or every lovey-dovey object I owned. Or all my tools. It just would've distracted from what the point of the shrine was at the time.
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Marilyn/Absentminded

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Re: "Model Train" altars--how close is yours?
« Reply #13 on: July 14, 2011, 07:50:27 pm »
Quote from: Starglade;4865


So, is anyone else familiar with this scenario? Is there a "bare mininum" amount of items that's acceptable (either to you, or to your deities or practice)? Is less better than more? Or, is more More MORE required?



It's not necessarily more More MORE actually ON the altar, but I have two short drawers, a long one, and two long shelves under my altar.  The cabinet itself is 21" by 48" and 39" high.  Only the top is my actual altar - the rest is storage so I can change the top whenever I need to.

I may have mentioned that my most frequently used spell style is a diorama.  I  make in small what I want in large - this can involve something very like a model train set, actually.  When my man is laid off or wants to change jobs I make a miniature of the scene he wants for work.  This could be a gravel pit, a highway under maintenance, homes under construction or parks maintenance plowing, etc.  I keep gravel, toy loaders and dozers and hoes, flour (for snow) and leggo highway sections.  I have gumby and cowboy dolls to represent whether he wants to work with people or on his own, etc.

It's the same when I want something for myself.  I can set up a full surgical unit, casino, or tourist town out of my drawers and shelves.  Even when not making a diorama my spells often involve maps, greenhouses, rivers and lakes made with rocks and ribbons - I need a lot of room.

When not in use for magic or religion (which I also use it for, with different toys and statues, candle's, etc.)  I use it to display my shinies.  I love boxes, cauldrons, lava lamps, and dragons.  Sometimes my altar looks like the kitsch shelf of a second hand store, sometimes it is the epitome of serenity.

I don't have everything on it at once - I couldn't stand the clutter.  But I change it frequently and usually with meaning, so I have STUFF in great quantity.  Model train garage, maybe, rather than model train altar itself.

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Starglade

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Re: "Model Train" altars--how close is yours?
« Reply #14 on: July 14, 2011, 07:56:51 pm »
Quote from: Nyktipolos;4911


Actually... I think that particular point IS my issue. I've seen shrines to Santa Muerte, Papa Ghede, Lady of Guadalupe, and many others (usually falling in with ATR/ADR, Afro-Caribbean, or South American faiths, or at least have that flavour) where there are A LOT of items on the shrine. And yet... the energy isn't dissipated or misdirected. It's all based on a common theme (usually the god, loa, saint, etc) and it all fits together, despite it's "busy" nature.

It just would've distracted from what the point of the shrine was at the time.

 

Squee on, friend. :)

I understand what you're saying entirely, about commonality and theme and energy. That's where I am with mine currently; while I have a few things that may seem "extra," they work as a group. And the things I don't yet have wouldn't fight with any of that--they'd magnify.

Changing what's there to suit what's needed makes nothing but sense, to me.
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