Worshiping with Limited Space and Money

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has this problem, you want to worship the theoi but have limited space due to roommate situations, what’s a boy to do? For some, it may seem impossible or like an insurmountable obstacle, but really it is quite easy to overcome with a bit of ingenuity. For all of this I’m going to assume that you don’t have a backyard, don’t have a ton of money, and have to deal with low smoke tolerances, I thankfully only have to contend with one of this situations at the moment.

First lets talk about the home altar. Typically one would set-up the home altar in the living room right? But what if your roommates aren’t cool with that, or you simply don’t have the space? I would suggest getting a folding table and setting it up as the situation calls for it.  If buying a collapsible table is outside of your budget a small square nightstand would do just as well which you could set-up and move around as the situation called for it. While this is not traditional or ideal (it is better for the altar to be stationary) it will work in a pinch. However, moving it around and exposing it as such does make purification all the more essential.

For the altar you will need a bowl for libations (could be just a dollar bowl from the Dollar General or Wal-Mart), a vessel to pour libations, a vessel for khernips, and a candle holder. Also, if you can get an incense burner or oil warmer that’d be even more ideal (I will discuss these further in a moment.)

Now for shrines. You will probably not be able to set-up the typical house-hold shrines with your roommate situation (or if you live in an apartment without fear of desecration in the case of some) you could however set up alternate shrines in your bedroom in lieu of being able to set up the traditional ones. This again comes to the space issue, but fear not, the solution? Book cases and wall shelves! A book case and a wall shelf can EASILY be made into a shrine space in a pinch (in fact, 3 of my 5 shrines reside on a bookcase) and the only thing you need to be very careful about is allowing enough space to not heat the shelves of the book case and cause them to catch aflame (I recommend about 2 feet of distance from the top of the next shelf for the small tea lights). For reference purposes here is a photo of my shrine set-up


Note the spacing, also note that I have used the top shelf for books still (as this whole bookshelf was originally intended to carry books, but other things happened.) Note the distances between the shrines on the same shelves, and also note that at each shrine I have a vessel for khernips, a libation bowl, an offering bowl, a candle holder, and a thing with which to burn incense. You may note that on my shrines to Athena and Apollo the candle holder is also an oil warmer, i will get to this momentarily.

The shrines themselves should be fairly easy and cheap to set-up, while many of the things at my shrine are not what I would call cheap (and I would like to note I bought these things during times of financial wellness and not financial hardship). Shrines however, can consist of merely the libation bowls, the candle holder, a vessel for khernips, and something to give off a little bit of light smoke. These can all be bought or made easily. Candle holders for tea lights are about a buck, a tea light candle costs on average a nickel a piece, Vessels for lustral water could easily be a kitchen bowl or an old bottle which you repurpose for the use. An icon can easily be a coin, a small animal figurine, or just a particularly beautiful stone. A holder for stick incense is about a buck and you can get some stick incense very cheaply. The only complaint I have heard about them is that some of them use cow dung as a binder though *to my knowledge* there is no prohibition to burning it in this state. Those that do use cow dung as a binder have to pass basic sanitation methods for export and as such do not pose a threat to your health. Whether or not an incense actually does use dung as a binder can be extremely difficult to figure out for some brands. Whether or not you plan on using this is between you and your gods (though some religions do have VERY specific prohibitions against dung binders, yet I have not been able to find a source for its prohibition in Hellenismos). I have found them to be acceptable offerings.

Now for the other alternative, burning essential oils. Essentials oils can be a tad expensive depending on where you buy them from, but emit very small amounts of smoke and can really fill the room with absolutely fabulous fragrances. These were not (as far as I can tell) traditionally employ but moderns do have them at our disposal and thus if you feel they are appropriate I say use them. A lot of people might be inclined to buy a fancy essential oil warmer, yet those can cost a pretty penny. What should you do then? Why, you can make your own of course, and here is a link to a handy little guide. Essential oils will give off a very light smoke which is good because A) It evidences the presence of Hestia even further and B) It allows it to be handled by folks who are sensitive to smoke and won’t set off the smoke alarm.

Festivals are a whole different matter, and I cannot exactly give a method that is even remotely appropriate for even wide swaths of people. I would recommend find creative ways to still execute the festival and give honor to the gods while maintaining the usual worship format, for example, you could pour a libation then take a friend or two out to dinner or celebrate some other way.

So there you have it, cheap and practical ways to worship when you have a limited amount of space. Of course, you may have to make certain sacrifices and compromises to worship (I, for example, would like to establish a joint-shrine to Zeus, Hera, Hephaestus, and Ares, and a joint-shrine to Poseidon, Artemis, and Demeter, but I do not have the space for that at this time in my life.) but you should be able to establish some basic methods and means of worship. You should be able to build a shrine for around 20 or 30 dollars if you follow my suggestions. While it may not be ideal it will be better than nothing.

If you are looking to build a shrine that requires a bit more space and is a bit prettier than the ones I have recommend and suggested for starting out, may I recommend Pete Helm’s link on building a shrine to Ares ? The format and layout he gives is what I refer to as an ‘ideal shrine’, or rather a shrine that is functional, beautiful, and standing alone (as in, not sharing a book shelf with another shrine *grins*). The main difference between my two ‘ideal shrines’ and his are that his do not contain vessels for lustral water on the shrine itself. My reasoning for doing this is that it is a temple emulation, there would often be  vessels to purify one’s self at the temple entrance before you went in to worship. My goal for my shrines is for them to behave as ‘temples in miniature’ to honor the gods and pile physical gifts (such as coins, medals, rocks, and figurines) at their shrine as we no longer have temples to dedicate these goods to.

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6 thoughts on “Worshiping with Limited Space and Money

  1. FYI, the ancient Greeks could not have used essential oils, as the earliest technology for perfume distillation was developed by medieval Muslims.

      1. Yep. I was explaining why they weren’t traditionally used. I intended to imply that they would have used them if they had them. :)

          1. Disclaimer: I am not now, nor have I ever been, a reconstructionist.

            Having said that, the one thing that seemed odd to me when I first read it and when I just reread it was the mention of having the lustral water in the shrine itself. Personally, I prefer to purify elsewhere, before approaching the shrine, so as not to leave any miasma I’m carrying around in the shrine area. Also, I prefer any lustral vessel to be large enough that I can dip at least a significant portion of my hand in, so I can wash the whole hand (hand-washing is the root meaning of the word khernips, after all).

            Also, having worked for an aromatherapist, I squick a bit when people talk about “burning essential oils”. The oils should never get warm enough to burn. There should be enough water in the upper level of the oil warmer to avoid that. As the water warms, the essential oil evaporates into the air cleanly, keeping the scent pure. If the water evaporates off, the heat damages the chemical structures of the oil’s constituents, creating an unpleasant undertone to the scent, and leaving a nasty mess in the warmer.

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