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27 December 2012 @ 08:02 am
YaaD Work: Book Report 4: Your Altar (Kynes)  
This is one of the book reports I wrote as part of my Year and a Day (YaaD) of study with Fieldhaven Coven. Local students are expected to read and report on one book per quarter. I was initially expected to read and report on one book per month; however, this was later bargained down to a total of eight books.

Assignment submitted July 27, 2012. This assignment passed.

Miles – YaaD – Book Report Q2-2 (second quarter, third book)

Kynes, Sandra. Your Altar: Creating a Sacred Space for Prayer and Meditation. Llewellyn Publications: Woodbury, MN. 2007.

I will start by saying that this book wasn't what I thought I was expecting – what tools to put on a "standard" NeoPagan altar, how to arrange it, how to dedicate the tools – and I don't have a good way of integrating what I read into what I'm already doing. What it is, however, is an excellent reference book with a variety of tables of correspondences for the numbers 1-9, as well as suggestions for many *different* ways to arrange an altar for, as the title says, meditation and prayer.

Kynes introduces the book with a very brief overview of how altars have been used historically, as well as a short summary of the nine types of layouts that will be discussed in detail in the body of the book. She ends with two appendices: Appendix A is a much more detailed history of altar types that have been found throughout the world, and Appendix B is a short set of instructions on how to prepare crystals and other gemstones for magickal or meditative use. Actually, I think that those steps (bathing or burying in salt, herbs, earth, or flowers) probably could be adapted to other altar tools.

The meat of the book, though, consists of a chapter on how to use an altar for meditation and how to meditate; a very brief introduction to the history of numerology / Gematria; and a short explanation of different meditative methods, followed by nine very detailed chapters describing different altar layouts (matrixes), each designed for a specific focus of meditation (or prayer).

"The Number One … represents the universe and everything interconnected into one entity," and so single-part altars can be used for meditations on creation, primal wisdom, power, energy cycles, and working with the solar plexus chakra.

"The Number Two … represents everything of a binary nature," and is appropriate for mediations on duality of divinity, of self, or in relationships, or on traveling from this plane to a higher one.

The Number Three appears frequently in Greek, Egyptian, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, and Pagan religious imagery, and three-part altars are suitable for balancing energies, making decisions, and traveling through the three realms (underworld / earth / heaven or the root / trunk / branches of the World Tree). A circular three-part altar can be used for meditating on anything that comes in cycles.

The Number Four is also found frequently in various Western secular contexts (compass points / winds, seasons, moon phases), as well as in Christian (e.g., archangels), Hindu (Shiva's four arms), Buddhist (the Four Noble Truths), and ancient Egyptian religions. Four-part altars are useful for meditations based on any of these, as well as meditations for personal growth and for integrating aspects of oneself or integrating the sacred with the day-to-day. A round four-part altar is suited for meditations based on the Native American medicine wheel or the Celtic solar wheel.

The Number Five is common to Greek, Ayurvedic, Christian, Islamic, Hindu, and ancient Aztec beliefs and systems. Five-part altars can be used to meditate on the senses, on the central point at which the cardinal directions come together, and in a Brigit's cross formation for Celtic or Celtic Christian meditations or prayers. A round five-part altar can also be used for cyclical meditations, the Passions of Christ, the major Jewish festivals (trivia note tying together Judaism and the senses: on Yom Kippur, at least in the Hillel group where I attended services, flowers were distributed to the congregation because the sense of smell is the only sense with which one cannot sin), naturally occurring fives (such as apple seeds), and Reiki.

The Number Six is the first "perfect number" (one whose divisors add up to the number itself), and six appears in Christianity as a number of perfection. Many crystals are hexagonal in structure, as are of course snowflakes and honeycombs. Chinese medicine has six excesses that can cause ill health. Six-part altars are suited to meditation on planes of movement (right / left, forward / back, up / down), the Christian rosa mystica, the Jewish Star of David, the Buddhist six states of existence, or the six Ayurvedic tastes.

The Number Seven is ". . . a combination of the mundane and the holy." There are seven days in a week and seven colors in a rainbow; to the ancient Egyptians seven represented eternal life; in Chinese medicine there are seven affects (emotional states), in Christianity there are seven deadly sins and seven virtues (and many other sets of seven, especially in Revelations), and Hindu and Buddhist traditions describe seven chakras. A seven-part altar is appropriate for meditating on any of these "sevens"; on the Celtic four gifts and three realms, or a heaven-and-earth meditation. A circular seven-part altar can be used to meditate on the astrological "seven wanderers", which Kynes describes as a "very personal one that helps you focus on self. Moving inward in truth helps us accept who we are". A related meditation would be a seven-part descent into the deepest parts of oneself.

The Number Eight appears in the Pagan Wheel of the Year, as well as in Norse, Buddhist, Hindu, and Christian traditions. An eight-part altar is appropriate for meditations on the Buddhist Eightfold Path, the Buddhist Eight Auspicious Symbols, the phases of the moon, or, of course, the Wheel of the Year.

"The Number Nine . . . represents divine power magnified – the holy of holies that symbolized balance, order, and perfection." There were nine Greek muses and nine-day rituals to celebrate the Eleusinian mysteries. Traditional Chinese beliefs divided the sky into nine planes and the earth into nine regions; the Maya had nine different underworlds, each with its own god. The Norse World Tree has nine roots and Odin spent nine days in the Tree where he learned nine sacred songs (and the runes). Christians describe nine levels of heaven and hell, with nine orders of angels and demons respectively; nine beatitudes and prayers repeated on nine days. Nine-part altars "deal with integrating the self," and may be used to meditate on the Celtic nine woods of the sacred flame (and their attributes), on magic squares and their attributes (which match up neatly with the 3x3 feng shui square), or on nine specific Norse runes.

Overall, I found the book fascinating, with all the different connections between numbers, mythoi, attributes, and meditative approaches. I will certainly keep it handy for the tables of correspondences, and would be willing to try at least some of the different meditations later, when I'm done with the initial period of study and have the free time to set them up, do them, and write about them. I would not recommend the book to someone who has no experience at all with meditation, because I think the introductory material is a bit too brief; however, I would have no qualms about recommending it to anyone who is familiar with meditation and is looking for new outlooks.