This is for Heather, who said, “I’ll show you mine, if you show me yours.”.


A glimpse from far away, of my private altar. It’s too personal for an up close shot. But I can show you tiny snippets.

West. Water. Ancestral. The laughing song of the Loon, carrying voices across thresholds.

East. Fragile dawn. Meadowlark feathers, singing in flight, in rebirth, from the land of Ishi. First birdsong I learnt by ear.

North. Earth. Striding. The owl’s burrow. A place of past and present, a place of rest and repose. Dreaming.

Which brings us to the seasonal…I put up our Dia de los Muertos altar yesterday. 13th year.


Oh hai, you didn’t know that we have a giant Venus of Willendorf in our hallway, did you?’


Just on the other side. Those who have crossed over.

My dear colleague, Tamara, recently gifted me with her artwork that I had been admiring. Thank you sweet friend.


While I reconcile the past with the present, the corporeal shadow is comforting. Meanwhile, the light of who he is now dances everywhere.

You are not
a troubled guest
on this earth,
you are not
an accident
amidst other accidents
you were invited
from another and greater
than the one
from which
you have just emerged.

~David Whyte

I set up the Day of the Dead altar early every year, to give it time to evolve, to leave room for requests from wandering souls. It is good, so good, to take time at least once a year to feed the gleeful dead. We will offer favorite foods, the fragrance of wine and flowers, but most importantly, we will offer our breath…that one simple, taken for granted activity, that we share with all things living…and that the ancestors remember with fond nostalgia.

This is the bright home
in which I live,
this is where
I ask
my friends
to come,
this is where I want
to love all the things
it has taken me so long
to learn to love.

~David Whyte


15 thoughts on “Altarations

  1. the way you have the photos set up backlit on the white fabric takes my breath away. might borrow that… we both have piles of sea urchins in our altars. 🙂 my altar needs a little lovin, i’m happy to have the inspiration to pay it more frequent visits. the tree branches are lovely, i like that idea for going more vertical with things. thank you for sharing such loveliness, it definitely is personal. 🙂

    1. my altar wasn’t getting much lovin until leo passed away…i realized i had been neglecting too many things, my alone time being one of them. it has been so nice to recharge that space. i hope you find time for yourself soon. xo

  2. beautiful beautiful. thanks again for reminding me in the midst of my days of sometimes useless busi-ness what is important. my mom began her dying on the eve Samhain in 2000 and died in the morning on the day of the dead.

      1. honey – it was and will always be heart-wrenching. with her lying there in her living room on hospice-supplied hospital bed with trick or treaters coming to the door, and her entering a coma – it was pretty weird. the import of the days got more meaning later on after her passing. it was numinous then, but would have had to have been holy on any day it happened. but it does make samhain more meaningful for me! 🙂

  3. how? HOW do you get your child to not rip all that down? please tell me your secret. my two year old would devastate that within two seconds. i miss so much having little altars everywhere. i have one little virgin mary area that i braved but i have to keep it super minimal or else…DUN DUN DUN…the baby will eat it.

    1. ha! to be honest, i expected that papel picado to last all of two seconds. but that area where the altar is, is my craft area, and fern already knows it’s a no-go zone. our whole house is impossible to baby proof, so poor fern has caught on quick about not touching things. except for the things she does touch…over and over and over and over despite our protestations.

  4. Mary, You are awesome. While in awe of your beautiful altars I started to beat myself up about the state of my own. (Somewhat neglected, dusty, and needing love.) Then I thought, be inspired by seeing this rather than using it as an opportunity to compare and kick myself. So, Mary, thanks for the inspiration! Went for a hike on Montara Mountain after and had beautiful connection to the land, the ocean and the beings all around. Collected some mugwort for my sleepless son and taught him to say mushroom and Red Shafted Flicker. So, thanks again for showing us your beauty.

    PS- Not sure if you’re still keyed into Tar Sands, but I will be at the action next Tuesday at Howard and 3rd, waiving at Pres O, with my baby in tow.

    1. i’m so inspired by your walk! i don’t think i’ve been on mt. montara, but not i want to. and you know what’s funny, while you were trying not to buy into compare and contrast, i was beating myself up for not getting creative with my dead altar this year and doing something new and inspiring to myself. so i love to hear that you like them…helps me put the bat down and remember that i love them too.

      thanks for the reminder about the tarsands. i heard about the meet-up, but we’re having a big bday celebration that day. i’ve been keeping up, but not as engaged, as my plate is full enough with personal events. i’d love to hear about your experience!!!

  5. Thank you Mar for sharing your life~! I love the alter you’ve created this year…can’t wait to see it in person!!! ❤ So grateful to share this life with you. xoxo

  6. talk about inspiring….i am working on mine still. i haven’t found the space yet. i may have just had an idea actually …or two, having written that. cool how that works. just write it down. i am all hung up on the space! where oh where does it go? i am so grateful to you for sharing your magical spaces. not only do they inspire me, but they make me feel closer to you! medicine cards…pathway cards, tarot i’m guessing too. a friend of ours just had his own tarot deck unveiling last night! i can’t wait to see his. we weren’t able to go. he’s done readings for us though, and i swear they played a role in saving our marriage. i really can’t wait to show you my altar. but i am having to be patient with the process. and i may be over thinking it. in fact i know i am. stop my mind! love you so much m. i am into showing it a bit from afar. nice touch. thank you for the push and the friendship, and for being up for my little dare. it made me so happy.

    1. ha. i meant to leave you a link to my flickr page. i have my temporary altar designated, but it’s so temporary, i can’t really call it an altar cuz there are random things on it with no real meaning to me right now, but there’s something that i like about that. the unknown. they might be there for a reason…. but this is just to show you, i am working on it! and i’m so happy to have the impetus to get really intentional with my altar. YOU rock. ok..

  7. Recently Sadie, or Lost Boys and Lovers, posted some pictures of her little altars and now here you are, with your magical collection. It has been a bit of a revelation to see these images, thinking all these years that “most people” did not do this, have collections of items grouped together like so many visual potions, ancestors and twigs and stones held together by some invisible force. Right now, I have three altars, one in the bedroom, a family altar in the living room and one in the kitchen area and looking at these images I feel it would be exciting to share them. Thank you for sharing yours.

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