Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Aphrodite Shrine at Our Haven -- a history (and update)

Friends and long-time followers of this blog know that I am one of the Temple Keepers for the Aphrodite Shrine at Our Haven Nature Sanctuary in southern Indiana. I've posted plans and pictures, hopes and even heartbreaks regarding this beautiful little piece of paradise for years now.

Each year, as I, my family, and now even a loving and dedicated core of friends, come out to tend and beautify the shrine, I am awed and amazed at what a breathtakingly beautiful place it is. The entire Sanctuary is stunning, mind you. It is 175 acres of rolling woodlands in the hills of the southern part of Indiana. There are a couple of large fields that had been cleared years ago for farming by the previous owners, and they now serve as the primary camping and event fields.

Sometime between my first arrival at Our Haven in 2006 and my re-appearance in 2008 (at which point I made it my spiritual home), two women set the stones that form the altar of the shrine. These two women are incredibly dear to me -- one of them being one of my life partners, and the other being one of our closest friends -- although I hadn't met either of them on the Solstice evening when they set the shrine. They aligned Her altar to Venus (the Evening Star) as she set on the tree-line that Summer Solstice night.

Aphrodite's Shrine is within a larger circle called the Great Rite Spiral, which was established near the same time. A large stone Great Rite altar dominates the center of the circle, and spiral path made of Chinese hedgerows winds into it from the outside. The only problem is that after the hedges were planted, everyone thought they died. They got moved over, due to that belief, and then the entire area was allowed to be overgrown in weeds and tall grass. It's naturally a very wet space -- which the hedges like, but so did the marsh gasses. That was how it looked when I first saw it in 2008. Tall weeds around a massive rock. I had heard there was Aphrodite shrine in there, but I'd never seen it.

The first work weekend in March of 2010 saw about six of us pulling dried grass and dead weeds out of that space. My other life partner, Joe, wanted to start again on the hedges. But would you believe it? More than half of the originals were actually fighting for life under the nest of weeds. Their original orange flags were still marking their resolute stands, and they were determined to live. This was the day I got involved, and I've been a rather persistent advocate for that spot ever since.

April 2010 -- Before donations, and before foliage had come in.
Cleared of weed cover, the hedges grew two feet that year. I'm not exaggerating. They grow fast! I also uncovered some of the original altar decorations that the temple founders had placed there. They had gotten pounded into the ground. Seriously. But I cleaned them up and put them back on the altar. I brought out some of my own, too, including a small icon, because I had promised Aphrodite that she would have an image on the land. It wasn't made for outdoor use, and it got pretty weather-worn, but I think it added character.

Babalon Rising 2010, photo taken by Nick Vitori of Envy Graphix

Also by 2010, people had read my writing about Aphrodite, and I was in conversation with a couple of people who wanted to donate some money to the upkeep of Her shrine! Wow!! We bought a beautiful outdoor icon (Venus of Medici), a trellis arbor, and two climbing roses with donations alone. Our family contributed mulch and energy. We got everything put in by June, and it was lovely. Obviously new and young, but lovely.

Weeds literally covered the entire shrine. *sigh*

The wind knocked the trellis down, though, and we got so much rain between June and August that Indiana felt like a rain-forest. Aphrodite of the Gardens became Aphrodite of the Jungle. Our lovely shrine was overwhelmed in an ocean of weeds. I came out on retreat and battled them single-handedly for 2 and 1/2 days -- literally singing and dancing with the bees in the weeds. Pricking my fingers on datura occasionally was the worst part. Natalie was on retreat, too, and sometimes she would come sit on the Great Rite rock and drum or take pictures of the progress. By Sunday, it was all beautiful again, and I poured libations at the shrine (wearing what has become my semi-official "Aphrodite Shrine Work Dress"). I had even reset the trellis.

In the spring of 2011, we had terrible storms. The trellis came down and took out both the icon and the stone shrine. I had set it well, and it came down HARD. Trellis and icon were a shambles. We reset the stones and tidied up. Only needed to do a little weeding. We put in some more mulch. The shrine was getting easier to tend. The hedges, were getting enormous. They seem to grow a foot each time we saw them. In September, I found a replacement icon (Venus di Milo) and a marble base. We placed her at the Women's Goddess Retreat.

It's 2012, and we have worked on the shrine twice already. One was a weeding and mulching day. My partners and two friends who are Our Haven members worked on that at the first work weekend. It was a beautiful day, and a beautiful moment. We laughed and loved each other, and my heart was so full of gratitude for the many hearts and hands who have poured their love upon my Lady and upon the Land where She stands.

Last weekend, on Mother's Day, a good friend and her family planted two rosebushes at the shrine. They will be gorgeous when they grow and bloom.

Yesterday, my family and one of the same friends -- she's actually a coven sister -- filled in the entire center of the Shrine/Spiral with mulch and paved the spiralling pathway with pea gravel. The project was funded by the sweet friend, my Sister in Aphrodite, who founded the shrine with my beloved Natalie. It was another beautiful day, and the results are so startling, so stunning, so beautiful that I feel the touch of my Goddess in the work.

I am Temple Keeper, not because I have any claim or ownership, any special right or privilege over this Shrine. Indeed, I don't have those things at all. It's a public shrine within Our Haven Nature Sanctuary. I am a Temple Keeper because my heart is in that beautiful little piece of land, and I help to keep up the temple.

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