Once upon a time, public temples and sacred spaces to the Deities were the norm, as were private family shrines. No home was without some sort of sacred space where ancestors, spirits, and/or Deities could be venerated and propitiated.
That is no longer the case. Today, polytheists are — by and large — without access to temples. Private sacred space is almost as difficult to find. Many of us live with family, friends, or roommates who follow a different religious tradition, and few of us have ready-access to wild spaces where we may dispose of offerings.
Under these circumstances, a small, self-contained shrine may be a devotee’s best option. In the case of Hades, two suggestions follow: one for a portable shrine, and one for a household shrine.
A Portable Shrine
A portable shrine is very easy to make, and quite inexpensive. It only requires
— a small box (ideally wood, but other materials will work in a pinch)
— dried mint
— other decorative elements (paint, tissue paper, glitter, stickers, mod podge or a homemade equivalent, charms, images cut from magazines or books, et cetera)
— adhesive (in my experience, super glue works best, but it dries quickly)
— sandpaper (in the case of a wooden box)
— an icon (something that, for you, represents Hades)
— optional: a small black candle and matches
Check your local craft, hobby, and hardware stores for a good wooden box. It can be as large or as small as you need for your purposes; as big as a crate or as small as the palm of your hand. Many are hinged and have magnets to remain closed. Others have lids that lift off completely. Consider your options and your needs — does it need to be waterproof? will you taking it camping? does it need to get through airport security? does it need to fit in a small suitcase? does it need to be tucked away inside a bookcase, away from roommates and pets? — and purchase accordingly.
Give the box a good scrubbing with the sandpaper. Smooth the rough edges and flat surfaces, and then brush clean.
Next, the decorative elements. Use paint colors appropriate to Hades; traditionally black, grey, white, and even red, but pick colors that best evoke Him in your mind. The same goes for any glitter, charms, stickers, and so forth.
So, for example, paint the exterior solid black, and then attach an image of a pomegranate to the front (use mod podge to keep it in place). Or, instead of a pomegranate, you might create an outline of the Helm of Invisibility or a white poplar with silver glitter, or attach of charm of Cerberus.
Paint the interior soft grey. Inside the front lid, attach the icon of Hades; this might be a charm in the shape of an ancient Greek helmet, a picture of a stand of poplar trees, or a drawing of Hades from your favorite children’s book or tarot deck. Inside the back of the box, glue a small cairn of black stones along the bottom; this cairn will serve as a miniature, symbolic altar. Above the stones, attach the small bundle of dried mint. I recommend that you make the mint removable so that it can replaced as it wears out; you might do this by attaching a tiny hook to the box, to which you can tie a thread from the bundle of mint. Alternatively, seal the mint inside an airtight container such as a glass charm bottle, and attach that to the interior of the shrine.
Finally, if the shrine is large enough, tuck a small black candle and matches into a bag and stow them inside. Leave these loose so that they can be pulled out when the shrine is opened, and used as needed, and then tucked away again.
Whatever elements you use to create the portable shrine, keep two things in mind: it should be portable, and it should be a sacred space. This is about inviting the God into your life and honoring Him, building a relationship with Him.
A Household Shrine
Like a portable shrine, a household shrine is relatively quick and inexpensive to create; it does, however, require regular maintenance. As such, consider carefully whether fake plants might work better than live plants.
To create a household shrine, you will need
— an indoor planter
— mint plants (ideally live, but fabric or even plastic will work if the situation requires it)
— container garden soil
— a small offering pot or bowl (small enough that it will fit inside the planter)
— optional: decorative black stones
Consider the space where you will be placing the planter. Is it wide? Narrow? Long? Will it be on the floor? In a stand? On top of a shelf or bookcase? If a traditional planter won’t work, adapt with something like a (new) litter box or a cinder/concrete block. Just bear in mind that mint requires good drainage, indirect sunlight, and daytime temperatures of 65–70℉ / 18–21℃ and nighttime temperatures of 55–60℉ / 13–15℃.
Line the bottom of the planter with stones for drainage.
Place a small offering pot or bowl in the center of the planter, and fill in the soil around it. If the planter is a lot deeper than the small pot, fill it will soil first and then dig a hole for the pot. Level the soil so that it is even with the top of the offering pot, then fill the pot as well.
Arrange the mint plants. Give them plenty of room to grow, but keep them clear of the offering pot.
If you want to include decorative black stones, arrange them in and around the mint plants.
If you are using live plants, they will need to be watered regularly, and even misted. You might consider setting the planter in a tray of water and pebbles. Fertilize occasionally, and be sure to rotate the planter every few days so that the mint grows evenly.
If you cannot use live plants, plastic will work. But, if you are skilled in felting or knitting (or know someone who is), fabric mint plants will also work; and their creation can be a devotional act in and of itself. Additionally, if you use non-living plants, you can fill the planter with stones instead, and only place soil in the offering bowl.
As for the offering bowl: that is precisely its function. Offerings to chthonic Deities are traditionally buried or tossed into chasms or holes in the ground. But, if you do not have ready access to a safe outdoor space, or have to make an offering right now, this can work just as well. Bury or pour the offering in the bowl instead. When the time comes, remove the bowl from the indoor shrine, take it someplace safe, and respectfully dispose of the offering, soil and all. Return the bowl to the shrine and refill it with fresh soil.
Living in a largely secular/monotheist society requires adaptation on the part of modern polytheists. But adaptation also means being creative, taking that extra step in devotion and imagination. I cannot imagine that the Gods will be offended by this show of determination and faith. So, have fun creating your shrines and sacred spaces, and share your work with other devotees.
[Rebecca Buchanan is the editor of the Pagan literary ezine, Eternal Haunted Summer. A complete list of her publications — including poetry, short stories, and essays — can be found there. ]