When did you build your first altar? Did you think of it as an ‘altar’ at that time?
Oh my word, I have no idea any more! LOL As a kid I used to collect things while roaming around outside: dropped feathers, stones that looked cool or had what I called ‘signs’ on them, twigs and chunks of wood that looked like animals or other fantasy shapes (to me). I would arrange them in some way outside. I didn’t think of them as “altars” per se, I’m pretty sure. But in thinking back, that’s exactly what they were.
My first indoor/consciously made altar was probably in my early 20s when I started studying Paganism in earnest. But I don’t remember what it looked like or what I did.
Do you share your practice with others or do this as a solitary practice?
I do both. I’ve never been part of a true coven (and don’t follow the Wiccan path strictly anymore either) so most of my early altars were solitary efforts. Then my daughters came along and we make altars as a family activity now (and for the past 20 years or so).
I have belonged to several women’s circles and undertaken structured shamanic training and also have a degree in Expressive Arts Therapies and in all of those settings we constructed group altars, or individual ones that were part of an installation kind of thing.
I have a creative arts studio and I always have an altar in there (sometimes 2 or 3 even) which I mostly make, but sometimes the class/workshop participants will contribute or I open up the cupboards with all the materials in them and allow them to build altars themselves or as a group.
What has been an unexpected delight in altar building?
The sheer variety of designs and results and how they always look different, even if you use mostly the same things each time (seasonal altars, for example). And the stunning beauty and power they have to just calm the mind down and hone in on certain elements.
How frequently do you build altars?
Very frequently. At the minimum I make a completely new altar on the Solstices and Equinoxes (or thereabouts), and then add to and subtract from to keep it transforming as the seasons evolve/Wheel of the Year turns. If I find an item while out walking, or someone gives me a special gift it often ends up on the altar. Then I make altars every couple of weeks or for thematic workshops in my studio.
Besides that I take part in other community/small group rituals in various settings and either my own or a group altar gets made there. And finally, whenever I go on a writing retreat, I make my writing altar that starts on day one with just a cloth and a candle in the center and my latest journal, and each day that I am there (wherever it is) I take a walk or find things to put on the altar. Those are several times a year.
What beliefs or ideas influence your altar building?
My love of Nature would be one of the main things that inspires and guides me, in combination with the ideas of The Elements, and from my Jungian training.
I am especially fond of metaphors, symbols, myths and archetypes. So there are usually not only things from Nature on my altars, but also symbolic objects, photos and Tarot or oracle cards, things that could be thought of more as “art installation” materials than traditional altars perhaps.
Can you share an outcome or two from using Altars in your life?
The one that stands out the most is that I have passed on this habit of altar building to my two daughters, who have adapted it to suit their own needs and ideas. And they absolutely love doing it when the seasons change and have started collecting things that they find to make their own or to contribute to the family one.
My eldest daughter is also a fantasy photographer who usually photographs outside in a natural setting and I can see the influence of having grown up with a Pagan influence has had on her photography.
The other hallmark might be how I incorporate altars into all of my therapeutic work in some way or another, thus making it acceptable and unique to how I create and hold space for others. People who have never once thought of creating or admiring any kind of altar get excited about viewing or making one of their own when they see how easy it is and how powerful it can be.
What items tend to show up repeatedly when selecting what you will place on your altar?
Feathers, shells, pieces of bark and wood, moss, dragon figures, candles, unpolished stones/rocks, figurines of various animals like birds and rabbits, I have a huge collection of colorful cloths that go underneath everything, bowls/cups/containers, mirrors, dried flowers or a fresh plant/flowers, African or other indigenous tribal sculptures, sand/earth, driftwood and sea glass, photos or visual images and I’m a Tarot/card imagery freak so there’s usually at least one on any given altar.
Do you follow the seasons or another system/set of holidays/moon cycles that impacts when and the type of altars you build?
Season, yes for sure. Life events also. And I tend to take advantage of circumstances and random inspiration to make simple, small altars wherever I go. For example, if we go on vacation and stay in a rented vacation home I almost always make a little altar of stuff I find there.
It’s my way of making the house “mine” or more homey, and reminding me of how special and sacred it is to be able to go on vacation/travel/be in other spaces than where I live.
What is your favorite part of building or using altars in your life – personal/work both?
All of it!
How or does your culture show up in your altar building?
Well I’m primarily white northern European descent with a hefty dose of Celtic and a smidge of Native American and it does all show up somehow or other. But I borrow liberally from whatever inspires me.
What difference do you notice on your physical body when you treat it as an altar with sacred adornment?
I don’t really think about this so much. As a dancer I am used to being in tune with my body and using it in sacred and deliberate ways often, but of course when I wear something colorful and special or put on jewelry that really has meaning for me and do my make up I feel a little bit extra special or aware. And going to Pagan festivals and going all out with dressing up and being theatrical is really fun and does increase the awareness of the body as a performative thing or around the role of theater/fantasy in our lives.
What has been the biggest shift for you since building or using altars in your life?
I can’t say, I’ve been doing it for so long that I can’t remember how it was when I didn’t.
What is a favorite sacred tattoo you rock on your body’s altar or favorite piece of jewelry you wear to help create your feeling of sacredness?
Doesn’t really apply (no tattoos) but I do wear my engagement and wedding rings every day and that functions as a reminder of the choice I made 25 years ago and symbolizes the ongoing work and commitment needed to keep the circle of this family as it is now intact.
Let’s talk about your offerings as owner of Pandora’s Playspace and an Expressive Arts Consultant
How has being an Expressive Arts Therapist brought you closer to your friends and family?
It’s brought me closer to some of my friends through the shared experiences of how sacred artmaking is and how we all respond to and communicate with symbols, metaphors, archetypes, etc.
Plus it has taught me a lot about compassion, empathy, boundaries, and helping people to channel their creativity in life-affirming and helpful ways. It has oddly enough not helped at all with my family unless it’s as an example to my husband and daughters of what it’s like to be in tune with and channeling creativity all the time, but they tend to roll their eyes a lot and tease me about being “the crazy mama” or the weird one in the family (though secretly they kind of like it).
With my extended family: they have no idea what I do and tend to reject any efforts of help using the arts, though occasionally they will admire my writing or a piece of advice or story I might share. Sadly I cannot use much of my calling/training to help my family, and some of my friends who are not so open to the idea of creativity as therapy.
What is one of your current projects that is really getting you juiced up?
The Heal Her Safe Space Storytelling Circles for Survivors of (Gender-Based/Sexual) Violence project!!
It’s an initiative from Chinese American writer and activist Lena Chenand Annique Delphine, a Berlin-based artist, started in the autumn of 2017 to help extend the impact of the #metoo movement and provide the space where those who had experienced and survived violence could safely share and be seen and heard. There is a website and FB page and we’re applying for all kinds of funding to realize our goals of providing HH Storytelling Circles Facilitator’s training to those who would like to facilitate circles in outlying or under-served places but lack the foundation to do so safely.
I’m in charge of writing the manual which is being expanded into an available book (and as a resource for those we train), developing training protocols for various situations, and giving trainings/supervising our training team of arts therapists.
I’m also busy revising my Master’s thesis on the use of Tarot in Expressive Arts sessions into a book and have thrown myself back into the world of Tarot and visual imagery lately; getting ready to offer one on one and group sessions using Tarot and similar imagery as the basis, but in a very different way to the traditional Querent/Reader one.
Tell us more about Pandora’s Playspace Creative Arts Studio and how it serves the local community:
Well it is mainly serving me at the moment, due to Covid I had to stop my in person sessions. But before that I offered a weekly Body-Mind Holistic/Organic kind of dance class that combines the best of all worlds: stretching, tuning in to your own body’s way of moving, core-building but in the most fun ways imaginable, neuroplasticity work, and dance meditation or ecstatic dance like practices. We do some creative writing, card imagery, humming/singing, breathwork in there too. I’m currently doing it online.
Besides that I run other kinds of workshops/offerings regularly but sporadically such as;
Expressive Arts Play sessions where I combine movement, painting/drawing/collaging, and creative writing to help people get in touch with a deeper form of creativity than they normally do.
Couples Play which is a workshop to increase intimacy between couples through principles of play and contact/improvisation.
Mourning Rituals for Fathers Dead and Alive which is a workshop/ritual designed to help grieve our fathers, whether it’s those who passed on and there’s still stuff needing to be said/grief to be worked through, or they are still alive but the relationship is damaged and it’s creating blockages or deep unresolved grief inside of us.
I give Improvisation classes irregularly. Improvisation is a skill and way of moving through life that should be taught early on in life and engaged in consciously and actively throughout the lifespan – it’s so helpful in problem solving, awareness-building, listening skills, etc.
And finally, there are plans for the Netherlands Refugee Research and Training (NeRRT) Project to happen there, plus it’s where the Netherlands Expressive Arts Association (NEXAA) is based, and where eventually other community arts initiatives will be born and nurtured, like the ArtHives where people can come and make art for free.
How do you keep yourself grounded and connected as a Healer? And is there something you’d like to be doing to help yourself here but haven’t tried it yet?
Reading/writing poetry, reading other healer’s work I admire, engaging through the arts in some way or another every single day, breathwork, doing some kind of dance/movement, listening to inspiring music and singing along if possible, taking our dog for a walk/being around animals, being in Nature, having meaningful and heartfelt dialogues with heart friends, taking baths, getting enough sleep, eating well, using my mind in constructive and engaging ways, yelling/doing an exercise called “pulling Hare” where you bring fresh energy into the creative center while ejecting old used up stuff out, laughing/finding humor in tragedy and challenging situations, allowing myself to cry/feel sad/feel whatever I feel, learning new things, journaling, being sensual, being touched by Beauty.
What is your ‘Go To’ way to start your day? I ask because as an Expressive Arts consultant and teacher I imagine you have a great routine!
OK, huge laughing face here because I have serious ADHD and can’t do a routine to save my life. I might stretch in bed and then do a mindful “putting feet on the floor” and then “personal T’ai Chi” dance flow to the most gorgeous spacious music followed by green tea with orange blossom and a bit of journal writing, for a few days or even (rarely) a week in a row, but I can never keep it going.
I wake up in the morning with my mind already racing, or groggy from a broken night of sleep so the one thing I practice is Improvising/Flexibility and Acceptance of being wherever I’m at. I get better and better at tuning in to what I need at the moment or what would feel right and that I can actually do/give myself under the circumstances.
I make my own schedule and am not a regular/regulated type of gal so it’s impossible to plan much ahead or do the same thing every day for me.
The other thing I do is to engage in some form of artistic appreciation/practice every day, usually at the beginning of the day. Oh, and my day doesn’t really start until I’ve had my morning cup of (usually) Heath and Heather green tea with orange blossom, and given our dog Ollie a thorough belly rub/cuddles and marveled at how beautiful and simply himself he is and how much joy he brings us.
Finally, how can women find you locally and online?
Suzan E. Lemont, M.A.
Expressive Arts Consulting, Education & Therapy
Netherlands Expressive Arts Association – NEXAA
Heal Her Storytelling Circle
for Survivors of Violence/ Director Facilitator Training
Utrecht, The Netherlands
Bonus if you dare question #1
Favorite curse word?
Almost too many to choose a favorite but a couple of them are: goddamnsonofabitch and fuck!fuck!fuck!
Bonus if you dare question #2
What would you take your younger self by the shoulders and looking straight in the eyes say to her?
“Shame is not your friend; it’s a Tiger that will eat you up from the inside out, drape itself over your shoulders and drain your confidence and energy so figure out a way to tame that Beast and dance your own dance with joy and power! The patriarchy has reasons for wanting women to feel shame; don’t’ believe it – you know who you are deep inside. Let it show.”