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Lesson 14

Lesson 14 Personal Shrines

Note to instructor:
In this lesson we explore personal shrines and how they express our individual spirituality and relationships. This is one of the most varied lessons in that there are many personal shrines out there. In this lesson we have to model a very accepting pluralistic approach for the children. As instructors we must be very accepting of what a child feels should go on their personal shrine or what they feel should not be there. You may even see a child that does not have or want a shrine and there may be some very valid reasons for this. We often find a wide range of opinions and practices between various children. If we are working with a group we have the perfect opportunity to help these children learn to accept the differences and to respect and celebrate the practices of each other. Remember that a practice in such an individualized area of spirituality is considered intrinsically valid due to effectiveness whether that practice was taught by parents based on research or just made up by the child.
*Remember that there are safety issues to be considered perhaps you want to help small children find symbols for fire rather than keeping a candle burning on their altar.
Personal shrine display.
Ask adults and some children in advance if they would bring in pictures of their altars. Then gather the children around and pass out the pictures and have them talk about what they see on various personal altars. You may also ask a few people to bring an item from their own altar to show to the children avoiding things which are easily broken, dangerous or which have sharp edges and points.

Guided group discussion:
Tonight we are going to talk about personal altars.
Some people have their own personal altars where they pray and make offering, does anyone here have his or her own personal altar? (If any children answer yes you may want to ask them if they want to tell us about it, but do not push or insist.)
What kind of things do you think people put on their altars? (Stones, feathers, shells, candles, bowls for offerings etc. try to elicit as many ideas from the children as possible.)
What kind of things do you think people symbolize on their altars? (Sacred center, fire, worlds, Gods, ancestors, spirits etc (Again trying to elicit as many creative responses as possible.)
Where can people have their personal altar? (Inside, outside, bedroom, office, in the forest etc. (Try to get the kids to expand their concept of where personal shrines can be found.)
If someone was building a personal shrine or altar what could they use to represent the sacred center? (Stone, plant, tree, stick, picture.)
How could someone represent sacred fire? (picture of fire, something red/orange/yellow/blue, piece of charcoal from ritual, candle, volcanic rock, in general we try to steer children away from keeping a living flame on their altars)
What about the gods, if someone is going to represent their personal patron god or goddess on their shrine how can they do that?
Can we name some of the gods who we may want to represent and what are some good ways to represent each one? (Crow feather for Mor Righain... Spear for Lugh... spoon or cauldron for Daghda... Corn dollies or straw crosses for Brighid.. small boat for Mannannan etc.)
What about sacred waters, can we represent those?
How could we represent the other-worlds?
What kind of things can we offer? (Cream, grain, bread, honey, flowers, stones, shells etc just about anything that the child holds as significant can be offered)
Does anyone have any special prayers or poems to use at the altar that he or she could share with the rest of us?

Art project:
Pass out paper, crayons, pencils, construction paper of different colors, paste, watercolors and other art supplies. You may want to try including some beads, small stones and pieces of charcoal. Ask the children to draw, paint or construct altar representations and assist them in this. Allow for a lot of exploration and variety with lots of positive feedback from the instructor or parent. Try to engage them in informal discussion about what they are including in their depictions. After they have finished give any children who are interested a chance to describe what they have depicted and what the things mean to them.

Altar building project.
Collect items which can be used to put together personal shrines and altars, stones, shells feathers, cloths, tiny wheels, tiny cornucopias etc. A visit to a craft store can provide lots of supplies especially a store that specializes in doll house making and furnishing. One attractive idea is to get small knick-knack shelves that are designed to hang on the wall or stand in a corner and allow the children who wish to paint and decorate these as their own personal altars. Let the children who wish make their own altar to take home with them, if they already have an altar at home allow them to choose items to add to their altars. These altars will be reflecting the spirituality of the child and so as teachers we should suggest things to symbolize if the child wishes but we should refrain from doing it for them or limiting their ability to express themselves. Also note that as people change and grow their spiritual relationships may also change and grow so they should not ever hesitate to change things on their altar to reflect those changes and developments.

Altar prayers and tending:
Give the children a period of time where they can design and memorize their own altar prayers. Try to avoid doing it for them or helping them along with specifics. Suggest generalities with questions such as. Who will you pray to? What would you like to say? When would you like to say your altar prayers? What other things could you do along with prayers? How about making offerings? When would you like to clean and tend to your altar? Would you clean it every day, once a week, once a month? Where would you like to put your altar?
It is better if a child builds a short prayer or poem that he or she can remember than if we help them come up with something that we feel is comprehensive but which they may not be able to remember.

Field trip.
This is especially nice for older kids and can be done in several ways and actually turned into a series of trips. Short walks in forests, on beaches and in fields and parks can allow the kids to gather items from the environment. Another interesting trip can be done on a weekend day when the weather is nice in a populated area and can include touring craft stores, whatnot and knickknack shops, antique shops, yard sales and garage sales. Each child has a small amount of money to spend and can look at things and choose items for their altars.