I don’t really talk about my religion much, for a lot of reasons. Probably the biggest one is that I don’t want to fall into the trap of thinking I’m any kind of authority on my faith or that I have it all figured out. You know who thought she had her whole faith figured out? Dumbass Seventeen-Year-Old Me. And then life knocked her down several pegs and she deserved it, because she was a dumbass. So, I don’t want to be Dumbass Seventeen-Year-Old Me again.
That said, there’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, so it would probably be better to write a blog post instead of continually ranting to friends who have no reason to give a shit about it. So today we’re going to talk about “shrine envy.”
But first, a little background
I’m an independent Kemetic, so I do my religious practices in my home in a small space dedicated for that specific purpose, which (depending on the setup and whether it’s open or enclosed) people usually refer to as an “altar” or “shrine.” Unfortunately, for various reasons I can’t use my preferred, more recently constructed shrine cabinet setup and have had to revert to using the dresser-top altar that Dumbass Seventeen-Year-Old Me made almost ten years ago.
To put it bluntly, this altar is a mess. So much so that I’m too embarrassed to even post a photo of it. It’s like a visual representation of everything that was wrong with me and my practice at the time: it’s completely unplanned, it mixes things from various areas/traditions that have fuck-all to do with each other, and it puts way too much emphasis on stuff instead of the gods I was supposed to be worshiping.
Okay, so maybe I’m being a little too hard on Dumbass Seveteen-Year-Old Me. In her defense, she didn’t have access to nearly as many resources on Kemetism as I do now, so she was basically stumbling along in a New Age haze trying to figure out what the hell she should be doing, basing most of her answers on what people on Neopagan forums had to say. And the message she inferred was “BUY MORE SHIT OR THE GODS WON’T LOVE YOU.”
So what the hell is “shrine envy,” anyway?
“Shrine envy” is a term used by many of the pagan or Kemetic bloggers I read, which rather loosely translates to the feeling one gets when they look at pictures of another person’s shrine or altar and think “Oh damn, my shrine/altar is crap compared to this, I need to get more/better/shinier/more expensive stuff.” Now, there’s nothing wrong with wanting your shrine or altar to look nice, and there’s nothing wrong with wanting to get shiny or pricey stuff. But it can easily lead into the trap of buying stuff instead of doing stuff.
Dumbass Seventeen-Year-Old Me fell into that trap big time. I think part of it was an attempt to cover up the fact that I didn’t know what the hell I was doing, because I hadn’t done my research and had no clue where or how to even begin. So, like an insecure partner in a romantic relationship, I made myself believe that I would make the gods happy if I just bought them a bunch of nice stuff instead of, y’know, talking to them or something. (WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG?)
Needless to say, my relationship to the gods/my faith in general was on pretty shaky ground. So it’s probably unsurprising that it all sort of fell apart the moment I hit a major life obstacle and began questioning my faith, which had become all show and no substance. I lost my grip because I didn’t have anything to hold onto except a bunch of stuff sitting on my dresser. It took years just to get back to a point where I could start over.
Your point being…?
It’s hard, but if you have a shrine or altar space, try to resist “shrine envy.” Again, it’s perfectly fine to want nice things, but the gods probably aren’t going to care what your shrine looks like, as long as you’re using it. And I mean, would you really want to follow gods who are keeping an itemized list of everything you bought for them and how much you spent on it? I’d sure hope the gods cared more about my actions than the fact that I got my shrine cabinet and lotus offering bowls in a thrift store.
I can’t speak for other traditions but from what I understand, the point of Kemetism is to live a good life, to do your part to uphold ma’at in the universe. That’s what your life is measured against, not whether you had the best-looking statues and offering bowls.