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A Brief Note on Grounding Practice

As part of the ongoing quest for discernment in our work, (1) one of the first exercises that I give my students is a duo: centering and grounding. These exercises do a number of things and not only are they one of the first things I teach students, but they’re the focus of their practice (along, of course with prayer and shrine work) for at least the first two years of training. 

Usually, I start with two breathing exercises. They’re easy. They don’t require any particular sensitivity to one’s internal energies, nor do they require the ability to visualize. You breathe in the right patterns and you will automatically center and ground. Eventually I teach a more complicated, mindful way of doing things, and then over those first two years gradually expand on the practice until the student is fully confident in his or her abilities and has a solid level of skills. 

One of the things that came up recently with one of my current students (2) is that centering and grounding aren’t just exercises one does. The scaffolding that is brought to life through these practices is part of the soul-skin, the hame. Like a physical muscle, it has to be used to be strengthened but just like a physical muscle, the more you use it, the stronger it becomes. It’s not just breathing or sending internal energy or thought or whatever to a particular place, it’s feeding and nourishing part of the soul-skin, part of the energetic body that is already there. Just as we bring air into the lungs and they inflate, so we send energy down into the root-matrix of our ground to keep it strong and resilient.

It’s easy to neglect these essential exercises if one thinks of them AS exercises only. They’re so much more though and they infuse part of the soul-skin with life and vitality and that adds strength, discernment, and resiliency to our practice. I tell my students to center and ground (3) multiple times throughout the day. One literally cannot do it too much. I’ve even noticed that if my ground is occluded in any significant way, it may hurt to ground – then I know I really need to practice more! Also, sometimes if the ground becomes clogged, I will get headaches or back aches. When I ground, miraculously they disappear (4). Our bodies are conduits for the energies with which we work and even if one is laity, one has a soul skin and can benefit from these very basic practices. Just realize that it’s not just a thing one does, but part of one’s etheric body, part of one’s soul skin and what we are doing when we ground is energize that part, strengthen it, and bring it to life. 

Notes:

  1. These exercises do a number of things, discernment is only the most important. For a spirit-worker, they lay the groundwork (no pun intended) for every single bit of magic or energy work or journey work one will do in one’s working life. They aid in gift-development, and in learning to control one’s sensitivities. You want to function well: fucking ground. 
  2. These students are spiritual not academic – I’m only talking about students that come to me for religious or spiritwork training here.
  3. Or ground and center – the order doesn’t really matter. Cognitively, I find centering first to make more sense but I’ve had students for whom the opposite order works better. Either is fine. 
  4. I am NOT saying every headache or back ache is due to a clogged grounding channel. I get migraines fairly frequently from injuries sustained when I danced. Grounding doesn’t solve these. There is, however, a specific type of headache/back ache that can happen as a result of a blocked ground. This is a particular type of pain and it is cleared up by grounding properly. 

How to Set Up a Shrine

I recently had a question sent to me by a reader: how do I set up a shrine. I’ve written about this in at least two of my books, “Honoring the Ancestors,” and “Devotional Polytheism” but, it is significant enough as a devotional act that I will touch on it briefly here and now.

Firstly, it’s important to understand exactly what one is doing when one commits to setting up and maintaining (that’s the corollary, the oh so important corollary: it’s not enough to set one up and be done with it. A shrine must be regularly maintained.) a shrine. Understanding this will then dictate the how and what and where. Likewise, the nature of the God or Goddess being honored on the shrine will dictate its composition and the offerings made.

In setting up a shrine, we are giving our Gods a concrete place in our homes, hearts, and lives. It becomes Their space, a conduit for Them, and a place where we can go to make offerings, pray (though of course one can and should pray anywhere and everywhere), and contemplate Them. It is a visible reminder but also, more importantly, an invitation and welcome to the Holy Powers. It’s also a sign of a life ordered around devotion and piety. So there’s a lot going on when one sets up a shrine. Most importantly, it is space for the Gods we are honoring.

Proper shrine maintenance is a beautiful thing. It can transform one’s devotional life. We are, as I’ve said before in numerous places, creatures of the sensorium. We experience our world, including our devotional world, through sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell. Platonic philosophers often wrote about beauty being a thing that had the power to elevate the soul, to bring one into a greater awareness of the Good and that is true. It also helps prepare the soil of our hearts and minds in a way that creates a fertile environment for devotion. Prepping a shrine is an act of love.  We bring those things that speak to us of beauty, that speak to us of the relationship we’re building with the Deity in question to the shrine and I’ve often found that one’s shrines will reflect the state of one’s devotional and spiritual life.

Of course, if one is starting out in devotion, then one may not have a sense of the relationship yet – like any relationship, those with our Gods require careful tending. They require time to grow and strengthen, to flower. They require our time, attention, and consistency. In the Havamal,we’re counseled to travel often to our friends’ homes and exchange gifts regularly because doing so strengthens and nourishes the friendship. (verses 41, 44). This is good advice in building a relationship with the Gods too. So if you are new to this, where does one begin?

Firstly, understand that this is a commitment. While I consider it one of the essentials of devotional life, (or close to it) it’s not something to do without consideration. Better not to begin a shrine than to have one and allow it to become dusty and ill-cared for. Once you’ve decided to take this step, however, the first thing you want to do is fine a good spot in your home. This can be a special table, a window sill, a box (I have one shrine that is in a box. It’s elaborately decorated inside and has little compartments and I open it when I honor those particular spirits – it’s part of my ancestor shrine, not a Deity shrine), a shelf. What is important is that it be consciously dedicated space that will not otherwise be disturbed. I will give one warning: shrines grow. Partly this is a natural outgrowth of the relationship with the Gods deepening over time and partly I find that when one honors the Gods, as that relationship develops, one might be “introduced” or pushed to begin honoring other members of that God’s divine family. So, looking at my own experience years and years ago, I began keeping shrine to Loki and a year or so later, was suddenly moved to begin honoring Sigyn. They now share a shrine. Common sense, and where that fails, divination can sort out whether or not a second or third shrine is required or whether the Deities in question may share.

Once you’ve figured out the where, then comes the process of figuring out the what and how. I usually suggest that one begin with an image of the Deity in question, a prayer card, a statue, an icon for instance. Some people prefer aniconic work though, and if this resonates more then it’s perfectly ok. Make the shrine beautiful. This space will change and evolve as your relationship with the Powers changes and grows. This is good, natural, and necessary. I always feel sad when I see shrines that are bare and sterile. This is space set aside for the Gods. We should make it lush, welcoming, and lovely and how one does that is completely dependent on one’s creativity. I usually try to have a selection of shrine cloths, candles, things that remind me of the Gods, images (I don’t particularly care for aniconic work for myself. I like my icons and statues and such. I feel they help me grow closer in my mind and heart to the Gods). When I make offerings (be it incense, flowers, or anything else), they usually go on the shrine (I may dispose of them later by burying, throwing into the river behind my home, or burning depending on divination and/or the Deity in question). Anything that reminds me of that Deity and brings Their presence to mind is good and useful. One is limited only by the breadth of one’s creative vision.

As an aside, a Catholic friend of mine told me recently about his own home shrine and said this raises eyebrows amongst many of his friends because it’s not the norm and I thought, ‘buddy, I have upwards of forty shrines in my home. It’s perfectly common for polytheists.” Lol.

The most important thing with building a shrine is to begin. There are a thousand and one reasons not to do a thing but in the end, we simply have to take ourselves in hand and do what is correct, not just in our devotional lives, but in life in general. It’s healthy to worry about not doing this right, but it is more important that one begin. Some things are best learned by doing.

Finally, there is always the question of offerings. The most common offerings are flowers, incense, water, alcohol, food, candles, and lots and lots of prayer. As with the structure of the shrine itself, one is limited here only by one’s imagination. Offerings don’t have to be financially lavish. It is possible to give according to one’s means and everyone can at least give water. What is most important is consistent attention. Go to the shrine often, pray, sit and meditate on the Gods. Build the relationship by investing oneself in it. Everything else is a corollary to that.

Hermes dec 31 2017