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Author Topic: Altars & Tools: Construction and Dedication  (Read 1938 times)

TheGreenWizard

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Altars & Tools: Construction and Dedication
« on: July 29, 2017, 10:14:31 pm »
I've done a lot of reading and researching on how to construct altars, but I'm at a loss: some authors, e.g., Cunningham and Buckland, state to just construct the altar according to a template they provide, while other practitioners that I've spoken with state they have their own ways of doing things, such as dedicating everything to their deities before using them in rituals. Even more, I've heard others say that all tools need to be blessed before you use them - all this information, leaves me very confused.

I want to construct an altar for my patron deities (whom I am still figuring out), and I have made candles specifically for the Goddess and God. Yet, I want to dedicate the candles to patrons before I use them. At the same time, I am still figuring out what would work on my altar (I've accrued a lot of stuff over the years, and now I'm trying to figure out if it's worth it to keep some stuff from my neophyte years like my crystals, or go minimalist and really be careful with the pickings).

I guess what I'm trying to ask is this: How do you go about constructing your altar and dedicating it? How do you know if something is "right" for your altar? Or how do you know that you need to change your altar?
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Re: Altars & Tools: Construction and Dedication
« Reply #1 on: July 30, 2017, 12:01:33 am »
I've done a lot of reading and researching on how to construct altars, but I'm at a loss: some authors, e.g., Cunningham and Buckland, state to just construct the altar according to a template they provide, while other practitioners that I've spoken with state they have their own ways of doing things, such as dedicating everything to their deities before using them in rituals. Even more, I've heard others say that all tools need to be blessed before you use them - all this information, leaves me very confused.

I want to construct an altar for my patron deities (whom I am still figuring out), and I have made candles specifically for the Goddess and God. Yet, I want to dedicate the candles to patrons before I use them. At the same time, I am still figuring out what would work on my altar (I've accrued a lot of stuff over the years, and now I'm trying to figure out if it's worth it to keep some stuff from my neophyte years like my crystals, or go minimalist and really be careful with the pickings).

I guess what I'm trying to ask is this: How do you go about constructing your altar and dedicating it? How do you know if something is "right" for your altar? Or how do you know that you need to change your altar?

There are a lot of ways to do this and it really depends on what tradition or system you're working with. But if you're not sure, I'd suggest for the altar construction to just strip everything off it, and start with, maybe, an altar cloth and your candles, and work with that for a month. Add pieces to it as you use them or feel they need to be there, and get a sense for how you want to set it up and lay it out. Some people seem to work really well with cluttered altars, while others (like me) go down more of a minimalist route. You won't know until you strip everything back and start from scratch.

If you want to ritualise it a little more, you could strip everything off, wash/cleanse everything, cleanse the altar with anointing oil or otherwise wash it down, then make offerings, cense with incense, and dedicate the space formally once you've built it. It doesn't need to be elaborate. You could simply say 'I now dedicate this space to $deities, as a place of worship and devotion', or other words as you feel called to make. Then light your new candles and offer them as a sign of your devotion. Make some offerings, meditate in the space, do what you need to do to make it feel dedicated and established.

The simplest way I know to consecrate tools is to asperge with salt water and incense (this covers the four elements) while reciting an impromtu prayer of dedication, but you can get really elaborate with them, too. But there are other ways, such as blessing them with anointing oil, leaving them out in the sun or moonlight, blessing with holy water, pouring your energy into them to own them and consecrate them as your own, etc. If you're not working in a particular tradition, apply whatever methods seem to resonate with you and go from there. You can keep it simple, or make a full ritual out of it. It's up to you, really, and how you want to work.

You don't necessarily need to consecrate your tools, either. When working within my Kemetic tradition, I don't consecrate my tools. They are consecrated through use. All I really did to consecrate them at the time was to waft incense over them and wash them with natron water/salt water, and dedicate them in the middle of a Sabbat/High Day ritual. So ymmv on how you want to approach consecrating tools. Try a few things and see what works.
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Re: Altars & Tools: Construction and Dedication
« Reply #2 on: July 30, 2017, 12:09:17 am »
I guess what I'm trying to ask is this: How do you go about constructing your altar and dedicating it? How do you know if something is "right" for your altar? Or how do you know that you need to change your altar?

First, I differentiate between a shrine (place for items for a specific goal or honouring deities) and an altar (a working tool one of whose purposes is to hold other working tools.)

What goes on my altar, as a working tool, is determined by what work I'm doing, and if I'm doing it within my traditon's practice, that is mostly predetermined (in the sense of "You need an X, a Y, and a Z" but there are acceptable variances on what X and Y and Z look like and are made of and some aspects of positioning, though others are fixed.)

(You can see an example of the differences, using many of the same items, on my Seeking site: I took photos of my usual shrine setup at the time, and then an altar as set for my trad's practices, modified for the limitations of the space. If you scroll up, you can see variations in tools I've accumulated. Also, more about the distinctions on this page that might be helpful to you. )

In other words: the altar should hold the stuff you need to do the thing you're doing. Depending on what you're doing and how you're doing it, this may fit a set model (and there are some good reasons for the set models if you're doing things like the set models are designed for...) or it may not. But it's like mise en place for cooking: you want the stuff you need set out handy when you need it, not something you're fumbling for mid-ritual, and you want the right tools for the work you're doing.

For your other questions...

1) Dedicating items: Depends on the tool. The primary athame you see there (the one with the linked description) was custom made for me last year, and I didn't do any additional formal dedication for it, because it was entirely unnecessary, though I did spend a couple of days with it next to me or touching me any time I was home.

2) Knowing something's right:

- Is it made of materials appropriate to the tool (some of which are 'my trad has strong encouragement about some things, and requirements about a few, and some is just 'is this a tool that fits in the hand that is on the end of my personal arm? I have small hands, so some stuff is awkward or I will worry about dropping it, and worrying like that does not make for good ritual.)

- Does it please me? Please me a whole lot? I've made do with stuff that was almost there but not quite, and now that I have much more of a choice, I don't do that.

- Does it fit reasonably well aesthetically with other things it'll be on the altar or shrine with? This is not an absolutely deciding line for me, but it definitely helps.

I have also done a significant longdistance move (1500 miles) and a shorter distance (but still not wanting to move things I didn't have to) which has inclined me to become less accumulative of Random Pagan flotsam (even if very pretty) and mostly keep the stuff I actually use.
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Re: Altars & Tools: Construction and Dedication
« Reply #3 on: July 30, 2017, 12:52:46 am »
I guess what I'm trying to ask is this: How do you go about constructing your altar and dedicating it? How do you know if something is "right" for your altar? Or how do you know that you need to change your altar?

This sounds ridiculously foofy after the detailed answers others have given, and may not an option for everyone depending on your relationship with your particular deities, but you might try just asking your Gods directly.   Aset, at least, was amazingly specific, yet surprisingly frugal ( I wish I could find those kind of deals on antiques when I'm not dedicating it to a deity!) when I did this.

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Re: Altars & Tools: Construction and Dedication
« Reply #4 on: July 31, 2017, 09:42:49 am »
I've done a lot of reading and researching on how to construct altars,


I also differentiate between shrines and altars.  I have an ancestral shrine which has photos of those I've lost along with certain tradition specific objects. I also have a shrine to my patroness on which I burn candles and incense but otherwise do not work.

My working altars are put together as and when I need to use them. They contain only what I need for that particular working and are normally taken down completely within 24 hours of the work ending. This keeps them fresh and relevant.

I have never consecrated or dedicated my tools. Most have either been made by me or commissioned to my specifications so further bonding to me is not necessary. It is also part of my tradition to consecrate by use so that is what I do.

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Re: Altars & Tools: Construction and Dedication
« Reply #5 on: July 31, 2017, 10:45:13 pm »
There are a lot of ways to do this and it really depends on what tradition or system you're working with. But if you're not sure, I'd suggest for the altar construction to just strip everything off it, and start with, maybe, an altar cloth and your candles, and work with that for a month. Add pieces to it as you use them or feel they need to be there, and get a sense for how you want to set it up and lay it out. Some people seem to work really well with cluttered altars, while others (like me) go down more of a minimalist route. You won't know until you strip everything back and start from scratch.

Honestly, I might end up doing a combo of what you suggested here Sobekemiti and what Jenett has stated: do a strip down and keep things to a minimum. While I am a person whose items are always cluttered (I'm struggling now with my desk in fact), I definitely think keeping things simple would help me. Especially with how busy I am as a teacher.

Quote
If you want to ritualise it a little more, you could strip everything off, wash/cleanse everything, cleanse the altar with anointing oil or otherwise wash it down, then make offerings, cense with incense, and dedicate the space formally once you've built it. It doesn't need to be elaborate. You could simply say 'I now dedicate this space to $deities, as a place of worship and devotion', or other words as you feel called to make. Then light your new candles and offer them as a sign of your devotion. Make some offerings, meditate in the space, do what you need to do to make it feel dedicated and established.

Again, I like the simplicity here - I'll definitely have to keep this in mind as I restructure my bedroom and shrine area (especially seeing as my AC is blocking said shrine/altar space...

Quote
The simplest way I know to consecrate tools is to asperge with salt water and incense (this covers the four elements) while reciting an impromtu prayer of dedication, but you can get really elaborate with them, too. But there are other ways, such as blessing them with anointing oil, leaving them out in the sun or moonlight, blessing with holy water, pouring your energy into them to own them and consecrate them as your own, etc. If you're not working in a particular tradition, apply whatever methods seem to resonate with you and go from there. You can keep it simple, or make a full ritual out of it. It's up to you, really, and how you want to work.

You don't necessarily need to consecrate your tools, either. When working within my Kemetic tradition, I don't consecrate my tools. They are consecrated through use. All I really did to consecrate them at the time was to waft incense over them and wash them with natron water/salt water, and dedicate them in the middle of a Sabbat/High Day ritual. So ymmv on how you want to approach consecrating tools. Try a few things and see what works.

That last sentence is what I like - I'm finding that I'm so used to being told what to believe in and what to do that it's off putting for me, however, at the same time, as a scientist, I need to experiment with different procedures and figure it out. I guess I just don't want to incur the wrath of the deities I'm working with.
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TheGreenWizard

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Re: Altars & Tools: Construction and Dedication
« Reply #6 on: July 31, 2017, 11:14:10 pm »
First, I differentiate between a shrine (place for items for a specific goal or honouring deities) and an altar (a working tool one of whose purposes is to hold other working tools.) ...

(You can see an example of the differences, using many of the same items, on my Seeking site: I took photos of my usual shrine setup at the time, and then an altar as set for my trad's practices, modified for the limitations of the space. If you scroll up, you can see variations in tools I've accumulated. Also, more about the distinctions on this page that might be helpful to you. )

In other words: the altar should hold the stuff you need to do the thing you're doing. Depending on what you're doing and how you're doing it, this may fit a set model (and there are some good reasons for the set models if you're doing things like the set models are designed for...) or it may not. But it's like mise en place for cooking: you want the stuff you need set out handy when you need it, not something you're fumbling for mid-ritual, and you want the right tools for the work you're doing.

Thank you for this reference!! Definitely going to read up on it tomorrow after I've cleaned my bedroom from floor to ceiling. And thank you for the distinction. I guess, in my current iteration, I would have to consider my altar really a shrine when I'm not using it as an altar. What I mean is I have my crystals, stones, candles, and such all placed on two shelves by my window, however, they usually just sit there and gather dust (I know - very bad). When I do have the time to do a mini ritual or do spellwork or a meditation with the candles, I clean it up and get started, but it doesn't feel quite right. I think this goes back to what I read recently on the forums about building faith (or rather, "faithing") and creating a routine every day that involves my faith as an eclectic witch.

Quote
For your other questions...

1) Dedicating items: Depends on the tool. The primary athame you see there (the one with the linked description) was custom made for me last year, and I didn't do any additional formal dedication for it, because it was entirely unnecessary, though I did spend a couple of days with it next to me or touching me any time I was home.

2) Knowing something's right:

- Is it made of materials appropriate to the tool (some of which are 'my trad has strong encouragement about some things, and requirements about a few, and some is just 'is this a tool that fits in the hand that is on the end of my personal arm? I have small hands, so some stuff is awkward or I will worry about dropping it, and worrying like that does not make for good ritual.)

- Does it please me? Please me a whole lot? I've made do with stuff that was almost there but not quite, and now that I have much more of a choice, I don't do that.

- Does it fit reasonably well aesthetically with other things it'll be on the altar or shrine with? This is not an absolutely deciding line for me, but it definitely helps.

I have also done a significant longdistance move (1500 miles) and a shorter distance (but still not wanting to move things I didn't have to) which has inclined me to become less accumulative of Random Pagan flotsam (even if very pretty) and mostly keep the stuff I actually use.

Again, thank you for these words of advice - I am a magnet for attracting said flotsam into my life and I, at times, have kept materials well past my initial interest phase and then regret buying them in the first place. Gotta work on that.

Now the question I have for you all is: what about removing said pieces of flotsam from your life? For example, how should I part ways with crystals, stones, and other tools/objects that I incorporated in my practice but no longer do?
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Re: Altars & Tools: Construction and Dedication
« Reply #7 on: July 31, 2017, 11:20:50 pm »
I also differentiate between shrines and altars.  I have an ancestral shrine which has photos of those I've lost along with certain tradition specific objects. I also have a shrine to my patroness on which I burn candles and incense but otherwise do not work.

My working altars are put together as and when I need to use them. They contain only what I need for that particular working and are normally taken down completely within 24 hours of the work ending. This keeps them fresh and relevant.

I have never consecrated or dedicated my tools. Most have either been made by me or commissioned to my specifications so further bonding to me is not necessary. It is also part of my tradition to consecrate by use so that is what I do.

Thanks for the insight, but now I'm curious: how do you store your tools then? Your candles and other sacred objects that you need when you have your altar out? I have read the use of black cloth and black cloth bags, and not to put such and so together, but what are your takes on this?

This sounds ridiculously foofy after the detailed answers others have given, and may not an option for everyone depending on your relationship with your particular deities, but you might try just asking your Gods directly.   Aset, at least, was amazingly specific, yet surprisingly frugal ( I wish I could find those kind of deals on antiques when I'm not dedicating it to a deity!) when I did this.

Not ridiculous at all - it actually makes me think back to Jenett's post as well as Sobekemiti's post: I need to keep it simple, however, to incorporate what you have said here, here's my rebuttal: I currently do not have any particular deities. From what my coworker told me, and from a recent dream, I think my deities are Artemis, Bacchus, and Lord Jupiter - but I am unsure on these three for various reasons, and need to do more meditations to really clear up these thoughts.
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Dynes Hysbys

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Re: Altars & Tools: Construction and Dedication
« Reply #8 on: August 01, 2017, 03:46:28 am »
Thanks for the insight, but now I'm curious: how do you store your tools then? Your candles and other sacred objects that you need when you have your altar out? I have read the use of black cloth and black cloth bags, and not to put such and so together, but what are your takes on this?


I don't need a great deal - the candles go back in a cupboard. The skull goes back in his box. The offering cup goes back in the glass fronted display cabinet and any plates back in the kitchen. Anything else I've used just goes back to where it lives. Quite often though the working altar just has a plain white household candle.

Above all I'm a practical witch. I don't believe the objects are sacred - they are just objects. Admittedly they pick up an energy from being used but I have no problem with them being seen or touched by anyone else. Interestingly people seem to avoid trying to touch the tools I've used for longest- no one tries to touch the skull although I have no problems if they do!

Whilst tools are nice to have I'll use whatever is around me if I need to.  Or nothing. I've been out in the wilds and wanting to light candles and incense and then realised I've left the matches in the car. OK then I do without. The work still gets done.

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Re: Altars & Tools: Construction and Dedication
« Reply #9 on: August 01, 2017, 03:48:55 am »
I have read the use of black cloth and black cloth bags, and not to put such and so together, but what are your takes on this?



Forgot this bit - when I put things away I don't wrap them with the sole exception of the skull. He's wrapped in one of my old scarves but only to protect him from damage. No metaphysical reason at all.

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Re: Altars & Tools: Construction and Dedication
« Reply #10 on: August 01, 2017, 11:01:30 am »
Now the question I have for you all is: what about removing said pieces of flotsam from your life? For example, how should I part ways with crystals, stones, and other tools/objects that I incorporated in my practice but no longer do?

Not acquiring it in the first place is much easier!

For things you used to use - sometimes Pagan groups will do a swap or silent auction for this kind of stuff (especially, y'know, the stuff that's easy to clean, a pain to store, but the right person would really like.) Gifts, if you know someone who could use the thing. It all depends.
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Re: Altars & Tools: Construction and Dedication
« Reply #11 on: August 01, 2017, 12:24:34 pm »
I've done a lot of reading and researching on how to construct altars, but I'm at a loss: some authors, e.g., Cunningham and Buckland, state to just construct the altar according to a template they provide, while other practitioners that I've spoken with state they have their own ways of doing things, such as dedicating everything to their deities before using them in rituals. Even more, I've heard others say that all tools need to be blessed before you use them - all this information, leaves me very confused.

I want to construct an altar for my patron deities (whom I am still figuring out), and I have made candles specifically for the Goddess and God. Yet, I want to dedicate the candles to patrons before I use them. At the same time, I am still figuring out what would work on my altar (I've accrued a lot of stuff over the years, and now I'm trying to figure out if it's worth it to keep some stuff from my neophyte years like my crystals, or go minimalist and really be careful with the pickings).

I guess what I'm trying to ask is this: How do you go about constructing your altar and dedicating it? How do you know if something is "right" for your altar? Or how do you know that you need to change your altar?

Your altar is your place of worship and work, so how you make it is up to you.  I'm probably on the weird side here, but my altar is strictly for meditation with my deities and for divination purposes.  I always feel a stronger connection to whatever divination I'm doing while in my altar space.  For me personally, I always do spell work, herbs, etc in the kitchen or in the study.  The study is where I have all my books, with a hand carved book stand.  Kitchen of course for herbal recipes and such. 

On my altar I always have my athame, a bowel of fresh salt water (changed daily), incense burner (I usually use dragon's blood), a wooden chalice for the communal drink (changed daily), a small dragon figurine, a statue of Ma'at and one of Anubis, one large black pillar candle, and lastly one large purple pillar candle.  I meditate daily at my altar in order to cleanse myself of the day's work and renew my relationship with the deities and the protection that is offered for another day's work. 

So I don't ever do spell work or herbal work or any such thing at my altar, because that's not my particular style.  It really depends on the subset you follow.  As far as what is actually on my altar, like most things, I listen to my divination and what feels right. 

And for the stuff you no longer want, I'd recommend a simple ceremony to free the item.  Then you could gift it to a friend who would enjoy it.

An example of this ceremony:
Light a black candle to represent the new moon.  Hold the object (or put your hands on it if you can't hold it), thank it for it's service, and tell it that it is released from it's service.  Once you've done this to everything you want to get rid of, blow out the candle.  Get rid of what you want to get rid of.
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Re: Altars & Tools: Construction and Dedication
« Reply #12 on: August 02, 2017, 06:14:05 pm »


Your altar is your place of worship and work, so how you make it is up to you.  I'm probably on the weird side here, but my altar is strictly for meditation with my deities and for divination purposes.  I always feel a stronger connection to whatever divination I'm doing while in my altar space.  For me personally, I always do spell work, herbs, etc in the kitchen or in the study.  The study is where I have all my books, with a hand carved book stand.  Kitchen of course for herbal recipes and such. 

On my altar I always have my athame, a bowel of fresh salt water (changed daily), incense burner (I usually use dragon's blood), a wooden chalice for the communal drink (changed daily), a small dragon figurine, a statue of Ma'at and one of Anubis, one large black pillar candle, and lastly one large purple pillar candle.  I meditate daily at my altar in order to cleanse myself of the day's work and renew my relationship with the deities and the protection that is offered for another day's work. 

So I don't ever do spell work or herbal work or any such thing at my altar, because that's not my particular style.  It really depends on the subset you follow.  As far as what is actually on my altar, like most things, I listen to my divination and what feels right. 

And for the stuff you no longer want, I'd recommend a simple ceremony to free the item.  Then you could gift it to a friend who would enjoy it.

An example of this ceremony:
Light a black candle to represent the new moon.  Hold the object (or put your hands on it if you can't hold it), thank it for it's service, and tell it that it is released from it's service.  Once you've done this to everything you want to get rid of, blow out the candle.  Get rid of what you want to get rid of.

So small update: decided to do what Morbid suggested - though sans candle. I didn't realize I was out, yet, odd enough, it felt right to do it this way. Here's my new shrine to the elements that be:



Certain objects did cause me to pause and so I kept them - for example, the rock that is divided in three forced me to pause Everytime I was about to say thank you. Decided to leave it at thank you and move on.

That said, the shrine will be for all elements (along with the green dragons you see - the Buddha statues are going elsewhere). I have:
Earth - rocks/Amethyst & eventually the cauldron will be filled with sand;
Water - the dish with the blue crystals in it filled with water;
Fire - the Candle itself
Air - no effing idea.... But I'm thinking a feather from a bird - maybe Red Tailed Hawk, Kestrel, or a Corvid species... Hmm...

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“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You're on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who'll decide where to go...”
― Dr. Seuss, Oh, the Places You'll Go

Morbid

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Re: Altars & Tools: Construction and Dedication
« Reply #13 on: August 02, 2017, 06:48:48 pm »

So small update: decided to do what Morbid suggested - though sans candle. I didn't realize I was out, yet, odd enough, it felt right to do it this way. Here's my new shrine to the elements that be:



Certain objects did cause me to pause and so I kept them - for example, the rock that is divided in three forced me to pause Everytime I was about to say thank you. Decided to leave it at thank you and move on.

That said, the shrine will be for all elements (along with the green dragons you see - the Buddha statues are going elsewhere). I have:
Earth - rocks/Amethyst & eventually the cauldron will be filled with sand;
Water - the dish with the blue crystals in it filled with water;
Fire - the Candle itself
Air - no effing idea.... But I'm thinking a feather from a bird - maybe Red Tailed Hawk, Kestrel, or a Corvid species... Hmm...

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The lit candle can represent both fire and air - the flame itself and the smoke.  But, per everything else, it just depends on what you want.  I have the salt water for earth/water, and the incense burner for fire/air. 
For he who has truly lived never truly dies.

TheGreenWizard

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Re: Altars & Tools: Construction and Dedication
« Reply #14 on: August 02, 2017, 08:55:24 pm »
The lit candle can represent both fire and air - the flame itself and the smoke.  But, per everything else, it just depends on what you want.  I have the salt water for earth/water, and the incense burner for fire/air.

I hadn't thought of it that way... Thanks!

In other news: now that I know the subtle difference between a shrine and an altar, I've done some research, and decided to build a traveling altar box for my tools using the plans I've found here: http://www.popularwoodworking.com/projects/aw-extra-22113-keepsake-box

However, I'm having difficulty finding what type of woods to use. I'm contemplating the creation of a separate thread to chronicle this so that others can see it later on - which reminds me: is that an option here? Where would one put such a thread?
“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You're on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who'll decide where to go...”
― Dr. Seuss, Oh, the Places You'll Go

 

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