This post is part of the Kemetic Round Table, which aims to answer some of the most common questions and provide a wealth of diverse options for the Kemetic novice to explore.
Before I begin, I would like to clarify that the information in this post is my personal opinion only; it reflects the influence of Kemetic Orthodoxy’s guidelines and requirements of a shrine, but is more than just those guidelines. Specifically, in terms of purity, Kemetic Orthodoxy does not recommend having any animal products in or on a shrine, including plastics; I do not follow that restriction.
That said, let’s explore what constitutes a Kemetic shrine! For sake of simplicity, I define a shrine as a place for religious worship and activity, including making offerings and prayers. It is not just a static place to showcase icons of Netjeru; it is a place to “work” by actively participating in ritual and dialogue at or with your gods. While statues, images, and other items depicting or symbolizing a particular god can be part of a “working” shrine, the shrine is more than just those sacred objects.
Whenever possible, I recommend having a dedicated shrine space in a relatively private and undisturbed place that doesn’t get extra dirty; a corner of a bedroom or a spacious shelf in a closet will both work, as will a mantleplace shelf or small table set up somewhere things won’t get easily knocked over. However, for many Kemetics—especially those just starting out—it’s not practical or even possible to have an ever-present shrine area. Some low-tech solutions include having a TV tray you can fold out to use as needed, or clearing off a nightstand, or purchasing a cost-effective wooden shelf (even an unpainted one from Michael’s or another craft store) to use for a shrine. It is especially helpful to have an altar cloth if you can’t leave your shrine set up all the time, as the cloth helps distinguish the mundane and the sacred uses of the surface in question and to keep your shrine items clean. White is traditionally a great color for the cloth, but other solid colors or patterns can still work just fine.
There are a few items I would always recommend a “working” shrine feature, and even the most sweetly simplified shrines can benefit from having them:
- an offering plate (for dry offerings, including food)
- an offering cup (for liquid offerings, including pure water)
- a candle (can be an electric candle if you can’t burn a real one)
- a source of scent (an incense burner or oil warmer or potpourri or whatever suits your personal tastes, respiratory needs, and living space constraints)
Beyond those four items, you can include as much or as little as you wish, provided it is sacred to you. I feel it’s important to keep mundane-use items out of the shrine; the distinction helps the ritual-prone human brain understand that shrine is a special place and also helps keep your shrine orderly. Many pagans will include natural and found objects, such as leaves, flowers, pinecones, rocks, crystals, small twigs, sand, or soil; some pagans also include animal products, such as skins or furs, feathers, bones, or teeth. As mentioned earlier, many Kemetics follow ancient Egyptian standards for ritual purity for their shrines and will not use any animal products in shrine, up to and including wool, resin, and plastic.
By all means, use or exclude whatever feels true to you, and if you’re uncertain, check with Netjer or a particular deity to see if They mind the presence of a certain object. I am of the opinion that, if you use ethically-sourced materials (animal products or otherwise) and your gods are okay with it, there’s no problem. If you’re hesitant, you could easily draw the line between animal products that do not harm the animal (shed feathers or hairs) and products that might have or did harm the animal from whence they come (teeth, hides, and bones). I personally use resin statues (and a plastic lighter) on my main working shrine, and on the small shelf that is specifically Sekhmet’s, I have a rawhide cord with a couple (legally- and ethically-obtained) lion bones. I do keep blatant animal products off my “working” area, but don’t mind featuring them on other shelves in my shrine space.
It’s worth mentioning that all shrine items, including an altar cloth if you use one, should be kept physically clean—and it’s not a bad idea to regularly purify them, either energetically or symbolically. Natron and water are the typical choice for purification of a person or an object, and salt will do in a pinch; depending on the object, you can either wash it in water with a little natron in it or sprinkle it with dry natron (or salt). A spoken purification adds heka and power to the cleansing and is recommended—use an existing purification or make your own. My go-to is a simple fourfold repetition of “I am pure” or “it is pure.”
To sum up: a Kemetic shrine can be complex or simple, large or small, permanent or out-as-needed. Kemetics frequently use their shrines to pray, to make offerings, to perform heka, and to perform rituals, so items present should include an offering plate and cup, as well as the good ole standbys of candle and incense (or reasonable facsimiles, depending on living constraints). The shrine area can also feature icons or symbols of Netjer or particular Netjeru and should be kept clean and free of mundane items.
If you enjoyed this post, please check out the other takes on setting up a shrine by my fellow Round Table bloggers!