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Approaching the Altar
“Wherever an altar is found, there civilization exists.” ― Joseph de Maistre
A Brief Message From Your Author:
Good morning, afternoon, or evening (where ever you are located),
It has been a crazy busy week since the last newsletter.
It started on Saturday morning when I attended a dedication of new headstones at a local cemetery. After painstaking research and red tape, my Camp of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War hosted this event.
Some very hard-working and tenacious Camp members tracked down all the Civil War soldiers buried in the cemetery and noted that four had no headstones or markings whatsoever. It turned out that these unmarked graves were located in a Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) plot, along with other soldiers. In the GAR plot, they also found one Spanish American War veteran and one World War I veteran in unmarked graves.
The Camp started with beautifying the plot. Interpretive signs were installed, and a tree was planted. Then those tenacious members waded through a sea of red tape and successfully applied to the Veteran Administration for headstones for these six all-but-forgotten soldiers.
The headstones were installed leading to the special ceremony on Saturday. There was a bagpiper, a bugler, a parade of various people in Civil War uniforms and other period clothing, and local politicians. And as usual, there was a favorite of mine, the gun salute.
Here are a handful of photos of the event:
I am very proud of the work done by the Camp to honor and remember these veterans. Also, I am very thankful to the members who contributed significant time and effort to make this a reality.
Anyway, after starting the newsletter week on a high note, things just got busier.
There was just so much work and many appointments. I have not slept well all week, losing time each day to shake off the cobwebs. Of course, to top things off, yesterday, I aggravated my back condition. But as ever, I will survive.
Back to Our Regularly Scheduled Show:
What is the first thing you think of when you hear the word altar? For me, what pops into my head are images from movies and television shows. Druids, pagan priests, cult leaders, monsters, and the like making sacrifices (animal and human) while chanting some evil incantation.
I wonder how Hollywood got these ideas. Perhaps just creative folks perverting history and making up stuff. In fact, those visions that pop into my head are all untrue representations. Yes, animal and human sacrifices took place at/on altars, but they were not necessarily intended to be brutal acts. From my research so far, it seems that it was primarily done respectfully and solemnly. Although I have been unable to confirm it so far, I wouldn’t be surprised if people volunteered to be sacrificed.
Julius Caesar and his fellow Romans outlawed the practice of human sacrifice. They viewed it as barbaric and evil. The Romans vilified the Celt’s practice of human sacrifice in their quest to conquer them.
It is good to know that complete hypocrisy existed at least as far back as the Romans. I am not sure what the difference is between Celtic human sacrifice and Roman gladiator fights to the death and feeding people to lions. At least the Celts were doing it for what they deemed a legitimate purpose, while the Romans were doing it for entertainment (as far as I know).
The second thought that pops into my mind from the word altar is the altar in the Catholic church I attended long ago. I vividly remember the altar up in front, effectively guarded by the altar boys. They were typically the well-behaved kids in religion class, unlike me. Honestly, I think a bunch of the boys that volunteered/requested to be altar boys only did it for the trip to the Great Adventure amusement park.
I remember approaching the altar at my confirmation for my first holy communion. I was so curious and a bit excited while waiting in line. Once I received my communion wafer, I was sure that the priest accidentally gave me the wrong thing, maybe a piece of cardboard from the box. But I soon realized that it was the communion wafer that tasted so bad and was hard to swallow.
Approaching the altar every time, I hoped the priest would share the wine on the altar. I didn’t care about it being a wine or not; I just needed something to wash down the communion wafer. There is probably some reason why the communion wafer is the way it is. I am just ignorant as to it.
I am now learning that there is a lot more to altars. It seems to me that personal pagan altars can be used flexibly and for a purpose meaningful to the owner.
Some examples of items commonly found on pagan altars are candles, offering bowl(s), flowers, statues or drawings of gods and deities, photos of ancestors and family, precious trinkets and mementos, crystals, things that remind you of who you are and where you come from, etc.
Here is an example of a pagan altar.
So if I am going to truly understand and go all in with my research, it makes sense to put together my own altar. Creating an altar is a pagan way, and my purpose is to look at and test such practices as they may pertain to improving mental health. Please bear in mind that altars are not solely for religious purposes.
I am not the most creative nor the best at building things, so this task has just as much chance of being a complete failure as it has of being a success. I am both nervous and excited about building my altar.
My plan is to work on my altar for the next couple of weeks and then present it to you in a future newsletter.
Lastly, I will let you in on a little secret; I already have a theory about why the process of building and using an altar may be beneficial to mental health. I will test things out and see if I am correct.
Have a great weekend!
My name is Mike, and I am a skeptic and recovering accountant just starting to make my way through the world of the Druids, Celts, and Pagans.
Join me on my journey as I use an analytic eye to extract what I believe to be golden nuggets of truth from these fascinating topics. My goal is to find valuable ways, practices, and insights to make your life better today.
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“May the Road Rise to Meet You!”
With a skeptical mind and an analytical eye,
P.S. - I release a new newsletter every Friday. Please be sure to subscribe. The past newsletters can also be found at mikeguarneri.com.
P.P.S. - This week, I started work on a secret side project. Look for an announcement in the coming weeks.