Earth items gathered, arranged, or erected can often be seen along paths, in the fields, on the beach and under groves of trees. Eucalyptus leaves, duck feathers, and redwood cones were perhaps placed together by a small swirling wind or the inquisitive fingers of a toddler. Grown-up humans sometimes make earth altars as a way of offering their thanksgivings or as shrines or memorials. Constructing them could also be a means to honor nature and/or the great Mother of us all.
Many of my images involve the â€œrearrangementâ€ of natureâ€™s altars. Wind and water, ice and fire, have often set the sacred table. Then I come along and make a tweak here and there.
When I was in sixth grade we did a little bit of world history. I remember seeing for the first time pictures of the huge stones jutting skyward at Stonehenge in the lush green of Wiltshire, England. I also remember very distinctly the teacher saying, as did the grammar school history book, that no one knew why or how these stones were arranged in this circle circa 3000-1,600 BCE.
I also clearly remember thinking something like “are you kidding, you don’t know how and why this circle came into being?” Even a small child could figure out that its makers were filled with scientific and spiritual information, knowledge and wisdom. It certainly was by design since every year on the summer solstice the sun would appear between two of the huge stones that formed an archway like the entrance of a great cathedral.
Stonehenge was definitely intentional. Less phenomenal but still filled with purpose are the many mounds and collections of earth items making altars. For some, the word â€œaltarâ€ carries a lot of baggage since patriarchal religions usually equate them with sacrificial rites that are necessary for atonement with the â€œHigh God,â€ but most people have altars in their homes. They may not identify them as such â€“ but they are collections of special items, family pictures, flowers and mementos.
An altar is often a sacred place we have created for reflection and meditation on deep issues or specific feelings. Community altars can also be created with a group of friends or family members. Often these altars are constructed with a certain theme in mind.
For me, rock altars adorned by pebbles capture both my sense of being connected to something much grander than myself as well as using the pebblesâ€™ simple colors and numeric arrangements to mark blessings that are a part of my personal life. Sometimes I like to place the pebbles in the various shapes that have been found at Newgrange, Ireland (circa 3100 BCE) as well as multiple other such sites: circles, spirals, arcs, serpentiniforms, dot-in-circles, and the rectilinear shapes.
If you would like to make and photograph beach-pebble altars, plan on joining me on Saturday, August 16. We will meet at the herchurch parking lot at 8:00 a.m. and head to one of my favorite beaches near Pescadero. Afterwards we will enjoy local artichoke bread and goat cheese for lunch. We will return around 3:00 p.m.