Featured Altarist – Aggie Davies

Londoner Aggie Davies is currently training as an Art Therapist in the UK.

When did you build your first altar?  Did you think of it as an ‘altar’ at that time?

I think I have been building altars for many years without realizing that’s what I was doing.

As a child I would collect all kinds of ornaments, beads, stones, feathers and shells from nature, and arrange my collections to make little scenes and displays.

In my younger years growing up, I was fascinated by witchcraft and spell casting and was surprised at how I could find many of the things I needed just laying round the house. I loved how everyday objects like an old penny, some salt, or herbs from the garden took on new magical meanings and I liked to keep my things in a special place, but at the time didn’t know that this might be thought of as an altar.

When I reached my teens, I neglected this side of my interests, but as I got older, through my art practice I was able to continue exploring themes of the occult, magic and folklore.

When I got to university, I had the time and freedom to really focus on these subjects and created mixed media and assemblage artworks which I would now think of as altars.

Now in my 20’s I consciously create altars all the time, as they allow me to express my creativity and spirituality at the same time! 

Aggie’s main altar shown here honouring Spring.

Do you share your practice with others or do this as a solitary practice?

Both! The altars in my house are quite personal and adorned with all kinds of trinkets and symbols that have gained meaning to me over the years. I usually make these alone, but sometimes a housemate and I will build them together which I love to do, as they always become very elaborate and beautiful.  

I have a special group of sxsters who whenever we are together, we seem to spontaneously create the most magical altars out of what we can find laying around or in our pockets. These installations always feel so full of love, and like a visual representation of the support we share for one another.

Altar building is also part of my practice when holding space in womxn’s circles. Constructing a sacred space together helps to build a sense of connection and can act as a container for hopes, dreams and memories. Viewing personal symbols and objects beside others on the altar space can be an inspiring and empowering experience!  

A group altar Aggie and friends created in the woods

What has been an unexpected delight in altar building?

Making altars in public spaces and returning to see that they have been added to by other people is my favorite!  Returning back to them and seeing little notes or objects that weren’t there before is so exciting.

How frequently do you build altars? 

I re-build the main altar in my house frequently, usually with the full or new moon, or more often if I feel like it. I will sometimes make altars in nature too as when I feel inspired to do so.

On a weekly basis I also make small amulets and jewelry which I consider to be mini altars, as they hold symbols and intentions and are an expression of spirituality.

One of Aggie’s delightful wearable altars.

What beliefs or ideas influence your altar building?

My art making practice and art influences my altar making a lot, and my Jungian art therapy training helps me to look at the images I create in a more in-depth way.

I will sometimes place an image I have made or a symbol from a dream on my altar and seeing it daily helps me to reflect on its message and integrate it into my life.

My altars also are inspired by nature, the elements and are sometimes dedicated to particular Goddesses or Deities.

Aggie created a temporary altar on the Tor in Glastonbury, England.

Can you share an outcome or two from using Altars in your life?

I often feel like I’m constantly rushing from place to place with lots of things on my mind, and my altar has provided many moments of calm and peace for me.

It helps me to focus on myself, my goals and my intuition. Because it contains so many personal objects, it also acts as a constant reminder of so many highlights of my life and happy memories.

Making altars has also allowed me to connect with others who share similar practices and has opened up many opportunities and friendships along the way.

What items tend to show up repeatedly when selecting what you will place on your altar?  Do you have a reason or guided approach for your selection process?

On my main altar there is always something symbolic of the elements, and other items such as stones, shells, crystals, oracle cards, drawings, letters, feathers.

My selection process is intuitive, and I don’t usually plan – however if I have drawn tarot or oracle cards, I sometimes find objects, fabrics or flowers in similar colors to match.

An altar for Winter Solstice

Do you listen to music to help prepare you when you plan out an altar or while you are building?  If so, can you share some favorites?

I don’t usually listen to any particular music whilst preparing my altar, but recently I have been incorporating mantras and humming into my meditation practice.

Doing this has been so helpful as it activates the vagus nerve and parasympathetic nervous system which helps to calm, relax and de-stress.

I’ve been singing along to Beautiful Chorus – Mantras in Love (listen on Spotify) they are so lovely and easy to sing along too even if you consider yourself a rubbish singer like me!  

Where was the most unlikely or unusual location that you have placed an altar?

Last year whilst at Artlake festival in Germany with Heal Her Project ( a community using expressive arts to support people healing from trauma), the group of friends I was with went into the lake on our last night together and emptied our pockets on the shore beforehand.

We all seemed to have the most magical trinkets and special amulets with us, which made the most gorgeous, unintentional altar!

I also love this altar we made at the bus stop before saying goodbye to each other.

Bus stop altar Aggie and her Heal Her project friends put together.

Do you follow the seasons or another system/set of holidays/moon cycles that impacts when and the type of altars you build?

I follow the moon cycles and change my altar up as part of my full/new moon ritual. I also will make altars for the solstices and the different seasons will impact the colors and objects on my altar. I love to use corresponding herbs, plants and flowers for the months of the year.

As an Art Therapist in training – how do you see altar work playing a part with your clients or your business?

In my training after creating artworks, we often lay them out next to one another, and this for me feels like a kind of altar. Seeing the artworks in relation to one another helps me to think about how I view myself in group situations and how I relate to others.

The art objects created during art therapy sessions can be considered altars too, because they can be containers or messengers of personal beliefs, memories and dreams.  

The intuitive way in which they are brought to life can provide us with a depth of information and bring forth both personal and archetypal symbols from the unconscious, which can help aid the healing journey.

At the end of therapy, client’s will often choose to take artworks home. They sometimes explain how they have thought of a special place to keep or display it, where it will remind them of their journey, and what they have achieved, or of the special memory it may depict.

The artworks created in sessions can also act as a tangible reminder of a client’s capacity to heal themselves and maintain healthy relationships.

Workshop participant Christina holds up her pocket altar.

How or does your culture show up in your altar building?

I love to learn about symbols, stories and goddesses from all cultures. Living in England, on land that is rich with myth, legend and mysterious sacred places, there is always an item on my main altar to honor and respect this.

This includes things like water collected from the holy chalice well in Glastonbury, or leaves /berries/ nuts or fruits fallen from native trees.

What difference do you notice on your physical body when you treat it as an altar with sacred adornment?  Do you experience an emotional shift when you put on certain clothing for ceremony? 

Treating my physical body with kindness is something that I, perhaps like a lot of womxn, can find difficult. It can feel like a lot of pressure is placed on us to be in a constant state of ‘improving’ our bodies, rather than accepting and loving them.

Changing this mindset and unlearning negative self-talk is a work in progress, but when I wear special jewelry or amulets, I am reminded of how important it is to treat myself with more compassion and gentleness.

I make and collect amulets for all kinds of things, wearing them feels empowering and helps me to tap into the creative energy and intention I put into making them. 

What has been the biggest shift for you since building or using altars in your life?

Making altars has helped me to become more present and has also played a big role in my personal self-care practice, as taking time to do my altar is taking time for myself.

If I’m having a creative block, changing or building altars feels effortlessly artistic, and helps to shift energy and gain inspiration.

Another one of Aggie’s altars in her home.

Aggie I’d like to explore your healer offerings and the direction you are going as you continue to work to help others – womxn in particular.

The way you describe your collage project sounds deliciously like ‘art altars’ – what drew you to creating art that combines mythology, nature and the body?  How has this project clarified your role as a healer?

Art altars – I love that!  These are my favorite themes to explore – combining elements from these areas helps me to realize the many threads which connect them together which I find so interesting.

I find it reassuring to think that everything flows in continual cycles, from the age-old stories that have been told and retold time and time again, to the changing seasons, and our own bodies natural rhythms.

The natural world is a constant source of inspiration to me. I think that developing a positive relationship with nature can be very healing in itself, when I take time to reconnect with nature, I am also reconnecting with myself, and I like to reflect this notion with some of the works I create.

I have always been interested in fairytales, mythology and folklore, and am fascinated with how the same archetypal stories appear in different ways across time and place.

Working with images or symbols from these types of universally understood tales taps into layers of the collective unconscious, and helps me to feel a deeper sense of grounding and connection.

I like the idea that the images I choose for my collages feel familiar yet may also take on meanings for who views them, due to their own personal symbolic language and associations.

My creative process is fundamental to my role as a trainee art therapist- as whilst making, I am always experientially learning the healing powers of artmaking.

Reflecting on what images and symbols I am most drawn to helps me to foster a deeper relationship with my unconscious and become more self-aware.

I’ve been known (many of us do this) to create ‘bra/breast zone altars’ loading my bra up with gemstones with certain intention.  Aggie, you offer creative workshops where your participants can go home with a pocket altar – brilliant!  Tell us more about your love of using recycled materials and encouraging others to do the same.

Hahha I can relate to this, turning up at interviews with an uncomfortable amount of crystals or amulets in my bra! 

I have never been one for throwing things away, and I always had boxes and draws full of old bits and bobs, broken jewelry and material scraps that I’ve collected or saved from friends who would throw them away.

I love the mystery of thinking about the life the things I use may have had before I transform them, and who it belonged to before it found its way to me.

I feel the act of turning old objects into new treasures is a magical and alchemical act, and just makes me so happy to make use of  ‘junk’ that people laughed at me for holding onto!

I believe that anything can become magic when charged with intention, emotion and belief.

Aggie Davies

My aim with workshops is to share this notion with others and explore with others how simple, easy to find materials can become powerful tools that can act as reminders of our own power and strength.

Wearable Animal Altars Aggie creates.

Goddesses as a foci or theme show up in your work a lot – which goddesses do you personally find the most transformative in your life?  Is there one goddess you find leading the way for you in 2020?

For me, Goddesses not only act as spiritual guides, but as archetypes than can help us to better understand ourselves.

I love using art to celebrate the goddess in all her many forms, but this year I have found myself being particularly visually drawn to Paleolithic Venus figurines and early representations of the Great Mother Goddess.

Many of these ancient statues were carved with symbols linked to the lunar cycles, this age-old relationship between womxn and the moon is something that I explore a lot within both my artwork and spiritual practice.

One way I see you work with Mama Earth is by incorporating natural pigments in some of your paintings – can you talk about your process – it seems like an accessible way for anyone to give it a try?  Tips?  Suggestions?

This process is something I’ve discovered during lockdown (Pandemic 2020), using pigments from the earth, stones and rocks from areas I have been walking in and appreciating a lot more than normal.

I have felt a lot closer to nature in this time and wanted to reflect this strengthened connection and gratitude in my artworks.

I love the process because anyone can do this, it is super easy and you barely need any materials, just a small amount of stone (the softer the better) and a pestle and mortar (or you could also use a bowl and the back of a spoon).

Grind up the stone until it is the finest powder you can make – then just add water and use as paint! The more water you add the paler the color – so from one piece of stone or earth you can get many shades.

You can also paint with herbs and spices or even teas and coffee you might have in your cupboards – my favorite is the bright yellow you get from turmeric – it’s so vibrant it’s hard to believe its completely natural!

Aggie using earth pigments in her painting

As part of a group of womxn who work to help other womxn heal – can you talk about the way sistership has empowered you?  The benefits of allowing womxn ‘in’ during circle or facilitated healing sessions in group format?

I am so lucky to be part of the Heal Her project, an organization founded by Annique Delphine and Lena Chen which provides creative and holistic methods of healing for addressing sexual trauma.(www.healherproject.com).

The project uses techniques inspired by expressive arts therapy and indigenous talking circles, opening up space for survivors to be seen and heard. It has been beautiful to see the power that listening and sharing stories has in creating a strong sense of community and support.

Being part of the heal her family is a constant source of inspiration for me, I feel honored to witness these womxn speaking and expressing their truths in such authentic ways. The sistership we have formed is so empowering, it has helped me to realize my own strengths and given me the confidence to celebrate them, as well as to use them to help others to the same.

You have your father’s family living in Australia whilst you’ve grown up in the UK – has being a ‘dual culture’ citizen impacted your world view in a way that has guided your spiritual path?  Do you find threads from both cultures weaving through you journey?

Although one side of my family live in Australia, I didn’t visit many times whilst growing up, or have many memories of the time I had spent there. Being so far away I felt quite disconnected from that side of the world, so I wouldn’t say it has had major impact on my spiritual path.

I think my British heritage and my grandmother Helen has probably had the biggest impact on my journey. Although she passed away when I was 10 years old, I feel very connected to her and the older I get the more similarities I see between our paths and the interests we share.

Helen was a holistic healer and an amazing nurse who worked mainly in palliative care, as well as having wealth of knowledge on plant medicine and alternative therapies.

Spirituality was at the core of her practice and she focused on the importance of bringing mind and body together to allow spirit to shine through!

I am so inspired by her approach and the way she challenged the medical model by introducing essential oils, herbal remedies and potions on her ward. She would sit with her patients, playing them healing music, guiding visualizations and encouraging them to speak about their dreams.

At the time, the doctors disapproved – but they saw how much it helped and allowed her to continue and teach others. Although she is no longer with us, I still feel Helen is a guiding force and I am very lucky to have so many of her precious books and writings that are a constant source of knowledge for me!

Grandmother Altar

Bonus question #1 if you dare:  Favorite curse word?

FUUUUUCK!! (must be shouted at top of voice – bonus points if neighbors can hear)

Bonus question #2 if it applies for you:
What is a favorite sacred tattoo you rock on your bodies altar or favorite piece of jewelry you wear to help create your feeling of sacredness?

I love tattoos but my fear of needles has got in the way of having any myself, however my favorite piece of jewelry is my lucky charm necklace combined with my grandmother Helen’s Saint Christopher charm, my lucky number 13, charm, a piece of rose quartz and a Virgo silver coin.

Bonus question if you dare: #3
What would you take your younger self by the shoulders and looking straight in the eyes say to her?

TRUST YOURSELF and always believe your first instincts even if others don’t!

Finally, how can women find you locally and online? 

I am mainly on Instagram – people can feel free to drop me a message on there – I love to collaborate and connect !

Aggie on Instagram

An interactive altar with materials created for one of Aggie’s
amulet workshops. (photo credit: Molly Baber)

All images within this interview are copyright of Aggie Davies.
Enjoy them, let them inspire you, please don’t share them without honoring who created them. Thank you.

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