Featured Altarist – Cerri Lee

Cerri Lee in her magical coastal home in the UK.

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

I have always collected and placed bits of nature, mementos and images of significance to me into symbolic groups that tell a kind of story. So, I think I have always made little altars of one kind or another since childhood, not that I would have called them that before becoming a Druid.

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

I think altar building alongside my Druidry generally has two branches, the intensely personal and the publicly shared. Some of my altars at home have such personal symbology that they might not be readable as an altar by many.

For me it’s like sculpting a landscape for the mind to wander through and meditate on. The public aspect is much more of a working thing and comes together with the collaboration of the community of the moment, such as when we ran camps, at our conferences, workshops and at the open celebrations for the eight festivals we hold.

At these times the altar is built for a communal purpose and anyone is welcome to add their own personal symbols as long as they accord with the particular themes of the festival, camp or workshop.

In this community altar, there is bread, fruit, incense and candles along with leaves.

What has been an unexpected delight in altar building?

The most amazing and magical thing I have experienced came from a communal camp altar, in fact it was at our last camp which was based around the Anglo Saxon Nine Herb Charm.

It was a truly powerful camp, we all made a beautiful altar and it had been presided over by a wicker guardian (which I had built specifically for the camp). I had also made a heart shaped box, to sit in the lap of the guardian, into this were placed prayers for healing, things to be released, wishes and blessings written by the whole camp community.

At the final ceremony the heart was reverently taken from the guardian and ritually burned in a giant cauldron (which had also been built for the camp by one of our fabulous friends).

After the fire from the giant cauldron had died down and most people were singing around a central fire, one of our company (Billie Wilson it’s her photo included here) was taking photos of the Cauldron fire’s last flames.

In one of the photos we were amazed to see a clear image of the Guardian walking through the dying flames. It was as if he was still watching over the prayers of the community. Our Guardian is still intact five years on and he resides in a friends woodland.

The ‘Guardian’ as Cerri tells the story above – seen here in the flames. Photo by Billie Wilson

How frequently do you build altars? 

I build altars fairly frequently. Our small general altar in the lounge is refreshed with the seasons using foliage, bringing appropriate images to the fore and such. I like to refresh and keep the energies vital, I find it helps me keep my connections fully conscious.

What beliefs or ideas influence your altar building?

Mainly I express my connection to and love of land, sea and sky on many levels. I bring my connection to the Gods, the ancestors and the cycles of life into any altar I create.

On a working morning in my studio I start the day by lighting three candles and do my ‘nine breaths’ meditation. It focuses on bringing together the physical, emotional and spiritual aspects of living, creating and connecting.

I am a confirmed animist so for me this wakes the Altar and it becomes an active participant in the day’s work, in the form of a beacon shining out my intentions and willingness to collaborate and connect with the creative energies I am currently focused on, whether that be making jewellery, writing or any other project.

One of Cerri’s altars in nature – a Bala Shrine.

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

For me my home is where I spend most of my time. Both Damh (Damh the Bard) and I mostly work from home.

My creativity is based in and worked out of my home studio, but truthfully it is since we rebuilt our small bungalow, completely changing the whole energetic, that things have become really interesting.

Before the work began and again after it was finished we made a ritual to speak to the house, explaining what, why and how things would be changing.

Then after all the building work was finished I spent a lot of time to make every aspect of the house feel like one great altar.  There are little vignettes that represent various ideas such as the cycles of life, death and rebirth, the sun, the moon, the gods of this that or the other dotted all around, which I add to or move around from time to time.

From this energetic transformation things have shifted in our lives hugely, we work as a team the house, Damh and myself, all supporting each others lives in different ways, the whole space has a creative harmony which was missing before.

What items tend to show up repeatedly when selecting what you will place on your altar? (A specific photo or animal guide?  A cross or goddess statue? Tarot card?)  Do you have a reason or guided approach for your selection process?                                                                             

Candles, cauldrons, incense and rocks/crystals are the essential basics on any altar I create.

Candles are my primary magical focus tool, I often inscribe them with Runes for specific magical intent. Cauldrons are my inspirational symbol they represent Ceridwen who has been with me throughout my Druidic life.

Rocks tend to be from places I have visited and are obviously a grounding symbol and these days are often ones from Llyn Tegid (Lake Bala in Wales).

The incense will be appropriate to the energies I am currently working with, but generally a combination of two dedicated to Ceridwen and Brighid for creative inspiration and manifestation.    

An altar in the home of Cerri Lee.

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?                                                                                       

Hmm funny, I had not thought about that really, but thinking on it now, no, I realise that I generally build my altars in silent contemplation.

What types of items do you use overall?

Nature, a couple of sculptures here and there or images, but mostly natural or gifted objects that have an emotional connection to a place, a person or meaning for me.

The Horned god sculpture creation by Cerri.

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

Land, Sea and Sky and the Wheel of the Year tend to be the general focus, but it really depends if I am working with others to create a sacred space for a particular purpose, in which case the more creative and personal the ideas the better I like it.

An altar for Samhain.

What is your favorite part of building or using altars in your life – personal/work both?

There is nothing better to see than a company coming together to express their personal connection to a season or spiritual concept in the moment. There is a special bond made as they work together to build a beautiful, diverse narrative that works for that moment alone. There is a powerful magic in that transient sculptural process that touches people deeply.

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

I am a mix of genetic cultures like so many of us, so my personal culture is influenced in many ways. This has made me fascinated by all world cultures, stories, myths and legends as well as ritual practises and how they came into being.

I have spent many years reading about a huge variety of spiritual philosophy and practise with a view to finding the commonalities rather than the differences.

This has helped me to pull away from a human centred aspect and find a more universal approach to ritual that feels more open and all encompassing to all the earth’s inhabitants. It has also made me more aware of how little human needs, emotionally speaking,  have actually changed over the millennia.

An altar in a clay workshop.

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? 

Yes, there is a definite shift in emotion, attitude and physicality when I put on ritual garb, whether that be the small necklace, made from a piece of Bala quartz, I use to help me speak with more confidence at workshops and conferences, or my robes for ceremony.

It is all part of the magical intent to remove myself from the mundane realm and clothe myself in a cloak of magic.

In ritual I am entirely in the moment, any physical issues fade for the duration of the ritual, as I have arthritis in most joints that is really helpful, I am able to move and speak freely without the usual impediments.

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

I think generally speaking it is a positive way to keep ideas, philosophies and thoughts working on many levels. By creating and working regularly with my altars I take time to meditate on my ever evolving life narratives.

As time has gone on I have discovered my personal sacred symbolic language, my altars might look like a pile of rocks and a dirty tissue (it was soaked in a sacred spring and dried out), but to me there is memory, magic and learning written in each assembly of items and how they relate to each other in space and time.

As an artist, writer and Druid, you spend a lot of time in a creative mindset. I’m curious Cerri how your work is unfolding and what our readers can learn from all you offer.

You embody all the arts – How do you see art healing others?  How has it healed you? Has one medium been easier to work with from this perspective?

Wow! That’s a huge set of questions and could take an age to answer.

Art is an emotional and magical expression. It is utterly subjective as no two people can ever see, hear or read the same piece in exactly the same way and rarely do they interpret it in the same way as the artist who originated it. However a good piece of art will strike everyone who sees it to their core in some way or another.

That for me is the same magical principle as Ceridwen’s Cauldron of Inspiration and the reason, it seems, that the Druids of old chose not to write down their rituals.

Each piece of art is like a ritual, it is drawn from a deep well, it takes honesty and courage to draw it up from the depths and share it with others. No one can ever draw the same piece of art and it have the same affect, the cauldron cracks after the Awen is drawn, all that will emanate is a shadow of the former magic.

For me, my first love has always been the humble pencil either for writing or for drawing. Most of my 2d artwork has been done in using pencil and watercolour. However the medium that changed me profoundly was clay.

With sculpture I found I could express ideas in a spiritual language, something that had eluded me in all my striving to communicate through my art.

It was the connection through the ages, back to the dawn of man’s artistic expression and how to use it – you needed a connection to all the elements.

I worked with clay for many years, creating altar statutes and ritual items. Sadly that is now on the back burner, perhaps for good, who knows. But I have taken all the love of sculptural expression into a new medium, which is metal clay.

Now I make jewelry that uses the same symbolic language as my earthy clay, in many ways it follows the same connections emotionally and spiritually.

I love hearing your read the story of The Crow which can be found on your site or direct on your SoundCloud account.  Your voice has a strength and wisdom to it – Will we be hearing more voice work or storytelling soon?  I am ready to start meditating with you – can you tell us more about that project too?

Thank you. I have to say The Crow was a transition piece for me. I have had a disconnect with my writing all my life, mostly due to mild dyslexia, it often takes me an absolute age to read or write anything. But that story came out of the blue in one fell swoop one day and took me by complete surprise. 

As my clay work has moved sideways the writing has come more to the fore and I do have a number of projects in process. They will finally emerge as possibly a book, but also recorded pieces that will include path-workings, meditations and audible rituals.

The recordings will be a combination of information sharing alongside meditations, path-workings, a ritualised meditational exploration of ancient themes such as The Cauldrons of Poesy, The Spoils of Annwn and many others.

The idea behind this is to allow access to folks who can’t get to workshops, lectures or camps where these themes might otherwise be explored. The first of these projects will be coming out soon in the next month or so.

As a Druid living in the UK, you are at the heart of this spiritual path – What type of ceremonies do you write?  Can you share a bit about your process and where you draw your inspiration?

I am fortunate to live in the U.K which has so many inspirational places. Mind you I write this in the midst of the Corona Virus Lockdown and I am unable to enjoy gathering with others to celebrate the turning of the wheel or any of my favoured sacred haunts.

Much of my ceremonial writing is done for the Anderida Gorsedd open ceremonies, which we have held for every seasonal festival since 2000 at the Long Man of Wilmington.

We gather on the hill at his feet to celebrate the season with ritual, laughter, song and poetry. Generally I write a ceremony as close to the day as possible in order to take in the weather, how the land feels, what has been happening in the six weeks since we had last gathered and so on.

I like to weave a narrative that includes local traditions and folklore about the season. My aim is to take us on a journey through multiple realms acknowledging the local Ancestors, Faye, Animals, Plants and Gods by standing with our feet firmly in the moment, yet connected to all forms of life and perspectives.

Altar for Ceridwen

We may have as many as sixty or seventy people attend and we try to have as many people take a part in the ceremonies as possible. We ask people to volunteer to call the quarters, bless the circle and so on.

I also write character speaking parts that people volunteer to do on the day. Perhaps at Winter solstice one part will be to speak from the view point of a Yew tree, at Samhain a Crow might have a few words to say, it’s all focused on the time and place. We don’t rehearse, it’s all done in the moment.

When people take a part my instruction is always the same, read my words then use your own to express the sentiment. This works really well as people are able to feel it is their ritual, they are an important part of it. It is not something done for them, but something they do.

For me the power in a ceremony comes from magic created from full immersion into the energy and having the freedom to express your own connection fully.

The ceremonies I write are often more to do with integrating our deeper psyche with nature, enhancing our relationship with our environment.

These days I rarely apply any gender bias to a role, even at Beltane and since finding new ways to express the energetics of creation, i.e. in less human terms of sexuality, the magic seems to have grown deeper.

In the pandemic I have been writing ceremonies designed for folks in lockdown and putting them up on our group page. We stay in our places of safety, then at the same time as we would have been on the Long Man hill, we all tune into each other and follow the ritual. After we share photos of our space and experiences.

So many creatives are finding themselves in a transition period in 2020, as your studio has adapted with the pandemic are you finding certain projects no longer as interesting?  Planning to do more Online workshops to stay connected?  What has been an unexpected inspiration?

If I am honest the pandemic has not really changed my working life at all. I am incredibly privileged to be able to work from home anyway and I am naturally reclusive for the most part.

I think it has given me a bit more urgency to face down my confidence demons and finally get on with stuff I have been chattering on about for years.

I have also been approached to do more online things over this year, which is both wonderful and a little scary for this confirmed introvert.

I think it has made us all appreciate the internet as a way of keeping in touch with folks we care about and we have instigated online moots and virtual rituals for the Gorsedd folks to keep sharing the wheel of the year celebrations and keep talking to each other – Zoom has been a great discovery for this. That has been lovely and the virtual moot might carry on post pandemic.

A grove altar honouring Imbolc

You’ve been part of a creative community for many years – The Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids (OBOD) – What have been 3 core benefits of participating in a group such as OBOD?

Crikey that is the biggest question of all for me. Where do I begin? Joining OBOD in1997 changed my life utterly, far beyond anything I could ever have imagined. In some ways it was the best and yet at the same time it was the most devastating transformation I have ever gone through.

In short as I worked through the Gwersu I began to find out who I really was. I also found people who accepted, encouraged and valued the real me for the first time in my life. In the process I lost some precious things and it took a long time for them to find me again, but they did.

I gained a deep love of ritual based on an immersive life, delving into all aspects of how nature, story, myth and magic are all totally intwined. I have learned to trust and open to people. And I have discovered a philosophy for life that sustains every part of me and which I am able to share with others, should they wish.

Being a busy artist and married to a busy folk musician, I like to imagine you living in a cottage with art supplies and music everywhere, fresh bread baking, perhaps a few Fae flitting about – What’s a typical day really like in a busy creative household?  How do you help each other restore and replenish so the love well stays full too?

Hahaha, I would love to live in the countryside, with a blousy cottage garden and Faye dancing with abandon in the midst of the flowers and veg patch. Sadly our little house is in quite a suburban area. Though it is on the coast, it’s right next to a busy port with a power station, who’s chimney dominates our skyline.

There is often bread in the bread maker, I have an allotment very close by and there is a lot of effort trying to make our life sustainable in cahoots with nature. Our tiny garden is also full of urban wild life, mostly mice at the moment who discovered the new bird-table.The dog is unimpressed with it all.

But, we do both have our own studios, mine is absolutely crammed full of stuff which makes Damh shudder, he likes to think of himself as a minimalist. However his studio is full of instruments and tech.

Day to day we are both quite happy in our own spaces and heads. Damh is a structured and methodical worker. He works for OBOD for part of the day and then works on podcasts, music and other stuff after that.

I, on the other hand, am probably the quintessential flaky artist. I’m easily diverted if I don’t have a deadline for a particular project. However, if the Awen descends, I will be utterly focused from morning until late in the evening, sometimes for days, until a project is finished.

Both our work focuses are quite diverse. Damh is in constant communicating with the outside world, whilst I am mostly cloistered in my own head with researching, writing, creating a piece of artwork or at the allotment, so we always have lots of stuff to chat about and share.

This keeps things fresh and fuels the creative Druidic stuff we share. We are both fiery, controlling characters so creative clashes can be a thing, but generally these days we are pretty happy to take each day as it comes and make the most of every opportunity that comes our way.

Summer Solstice altar in Cerri’s garden.

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

Buggery-bollocks is my go to curse.

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 only have one tattoo, it’s a Green Man image I drew based on an old stone carving. I had it tattooed on my shoulder around the time I entered into my OBOD Ovate studies.

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?

Oh so many things! But would she listen? If I could, I would tell her to be herself and stop trying to make herself into the perfect version of what society thinks is acceptable.

Finally, how can women find you locally and online? 

You can find Cerri on Facebook or her personal business site.

Cerri Lee on Facebook
Cerri Lee website

Cerri’s Beltane Dance sculpture.

All images within this interview are copyright of Cerri Lee, Damh the Bard or Billie Wilson.
Enjoy them, let them inspire you, please don’t share them without honoring who created them. Thank you.

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