I’ve been working my way through my apartment, trying to separate some of my general-altar objects and make mini, specialized altars in many places. On a practical level, this helps reduce clutter on my bedroom altar, but, more importantly, it spreads some of my spiritual belief and practice into the rest of my home.
So why spread my religion around my home?
1. To make sacred the “mundane” things that I do. From cooking, to crafting jewelry, to sewing, to doing laundry, I spend a lot of time doing, well, stuff. I put a lot of myself into crafting and cooking, and I like the idea of invoking, say, Brighid to watch over those tasks.
2. To honor Beings who are important to me, including my ancestors, the deities, and the fairies. I’ve set up, so far, an ancestor altar and a fairy altar. My Brighid’s Cross is hanging in the kitchen, and I’d like to do a little more for Her. I don’t have anything for Manannan yet, but if I feel called, I’ll make Him a mini-altar, too.
3. To make my spiritual life a part of my day-to-day activities. I like the little reminder when I’m cooking (especially in my cast iron!) that I’m doing the same thing that women have done for far more than 1000 years. I like to give my cooking that extra bit of significance. I like to see the fairies as I walk past my bookshelf, and I like to think of my ancestors as I walk to my work-table.
This all sounds good, right, fairly well-intentioned and pious? But the other day, a fellow druid (the same friend who bought me my cast iron) and I were talking about her new kitchen hour, and she told me about a conversation she and her husband had several years ago when she first brought up the notion of mini-altars around the house: her husband (who is agnostic/atheist) said, “What if I, overnight, had a religious conversion and became a devout, conservative Catholic? How would you like it if I wanted to hang crucifixes around the house and put a Virgin Mary statue in the bedroom?”
My friend readily admitted that she wouldn’t like it. Years have passed since that conversation, and she now has a kitchen altar and a garden altar, and there hasn’t been any friction, even though they are not raising their children as pagans and her husband still maintains a staunchly agnostic worldview.
So how do we justify our double-standard? Why are we okay with multiple pagan altars in a mixed-philosophy household, but we don’t like the idea of Christian symbolism in the same situation?
There are several possible answers. The first, and (to me), most obvious, is that Christianity is an evangelical religion, and many Christians are not okay with the notion of paganism generally. It’s one thing to have altars that perpetuate no judgement and require no conversion, and another to have imagery around the house that suggests anyone who doesn’t appreciate it is going to hell. The second, and most practical, is that pagan altars are more discreet: three bowls, a candle, and a stick don’t necessarily say “church.” The third answer, and the one I like least, is that my friend and I are just hopelessly inconsistent.
I’m lucky: my soon-to-be husband doesn’t mind altars around the house. Likewise, I don’t mind that he has no interest in attending my grove’s rituals. We’ve adopted a “live and let live” marriage policy.
But how can other mixed-tradition couples find a happy balance?
I don’t pretend to be an expert, but I have a few suggestions.
1. Don’t do anything the other person isn’t comfortable with, or at least neutral about. I wouldn’t go putting my imagery of the deities around the house, nor would I suggest we make a joint prayer and offering at the beginning of a meal. My other half does not share my beliefs, and I do not try to make joint pagan suggestions. (Just to brag, though: Altus will, unprompted, light my Brighid candle sometimes when cooking.)
2. Keep your imagery neutral. An altar can be as simple as a candle. While I would never suggest secrecy or lying, you can make a devotion with a simple flame and mental speech. Yes, we encourage the spoken word, and our gods are not omniscient, but I believe that a loud thought directed Their way will reach its target.
3. Follow the “golden rule.” If you want your spouse to respect your choices, you must also respect theirs. While I don’t like the idea of a crucifix in my living room, if I am cohabitating with a Christian, I must accept his choice to have Christian imagery. And that other person should be respectful of my discomfort, and, like me, select more neutral (or private) imagery.
So that’s my bit. What do you, readers and fellow pagans, think? What’s the best way to balance religious imagery and practice in a mixed-tradition household?