The Desk As Sacred Space
I’ve been watching many “altar tours” on Youtube recently, and I’ve become fascinated by the ways in which people organise their sacred spaces. I don’t identify with any religion or spiritual practice, although as a teenager I was particularly obsessed with all things Celtic – paganism, Arthurian legend, this album by Excalibur, Turlough O’Carolan, Ireland, fairies, the dolls-house in FairyTale & Dancing at Lughnasad – which is perhaps what drew me to these witchy channels in the first place. That, and Joseph Campbell…
“A ritual is an opportunity to participate in a myth.”
About 2 days’ worth of Campbell’s lectures are available on Spotify, in case you didn’t know.
An altar is a space, usually a raised platform, that is used to aid in performing rituals. There are a few themes that run through the altar creation processes that I’ve watched:
- The literal and figurative cleansing of the space.
- A ritual of imbuing (often symbolic) objects with meaning.
- The placement of meaningful objects in a meaningful and/or aesthetically pleasing arrangement.
- Regular interaction with the space in the form of rituals.
I think considered in this way, the parallels with any work space become more apparent. If you are working consciously to make your desk a more pleasing and productive environment, you may:
- Literally clean and tidy it on a regular basis, but also “clear the air” around it, by coming to it with a fresh and rested mind.
- Place something like a mascot, motivational quote, or candle on your desk to remind you of the meaning and importance of your work.
- Arrange the objects on your desk so that they are more convenient, inspiring to look at, and energising.
- Come to work at your desk at a particular time each day, and follow a certain ritual to help you get in flow (such as reading yesterday’s words, sharpening your pencils, or daydreaming).
Of course, a spiritual altar has different requirements (of tools, materials, etc.) to a workspace, but I think it’s important (and fun!) to explore the boundaries we draw between the sacred and the profane. Sanctifying our entire home probably requires too much mental and physical effort, and there might be an argument that by definition everything can’t be sacred, and that an altar is about focusing thought.
However, many of the altar-makers I watched mentioned that they kept a free “working space” on their altar, for writing and journalling as well as for (other) magical rituals. As someone who already spends a lot of time at their desk, I like the idea of inverting this relationship, letting the principles of altar-work subsume the mess of daily objects and maybe even bringing to bear the sacred geometry of flatlays and knolling.
Many of us feel that we have a sacred calling to do the work we do, and a sacred duty to reach our readers…
If you treated your desk as a sacred space, how would that affect your writing practice?
Things I’ve Been Reading
A few books on narrative I’ve been studying for How to be the Heroine of Your Own Story…
- Language, Ideology and Point of View by Paul Simpson
- Cognitive Poetics: an introduction by Peter Stockwell (some of which is covered in the course, How to Read a Mind)
- Style in Fiction by Geoffrey N. Leech & Michael H. Short
And a few books on memory. If you’re enrolled in Heroine, you can see the synthesis of this reading in the chapter, How to Make Characters Memorable.
- The Art of Memory by Francis Yates – I love this book! Not only for its insights into mnemotechnics, but also for giving a broader understanding of medieval culture. I feel like I’m finally beginning to get a feel for those strange morality plays…
- The Book of Memory by Mary Carruthers – not as readable as Yates, but still very interesting.
- You Can Have an Amazing Memory by Dominic O’Brien – a good book to skim through for the basics.
Things I’ve Been Loving
THE NEW ARCTIC MONKEYS ALBUM!
The sound reminds me a lot of Roger Waters & Bowie, and I love the lunar culture that Turner’s created. A few of my favourite lines:
“It took the light forever to get to your eyes.”
“I lost the money, lost the keys
But I’m still handcuffed to the briefcase”
“Lunar surface on a Saturday night”
“I want to stay with you, my love
The way some science fiction does.”
“The exotic sound of data storage
Nothing like it, first thing in the morning”
“It’s the big night in Tinsel City
Life became a spectator sport
I launch my fragrance called ‘Integrity’
I sell the fact that I can’t be bought”
I feel like I’ve been taking the A-series for granted all these years. This Numberphile video explains why it’s so special, but I think it was learning about US sizes that made me appreciate it more. As it turns out, an irrational ratio is the most rational choice.
I’ve learnt that the strange hat worn by the Page of Pentacles is called a chaperon. It’s common in medieval paintings, and you may have seen Chaucer sporting one. This piece of headgear began as a simple hood and short cape worn by peasants around the 13th century. A century later it underwent a magnificent sartorial paradigm shift, and began to be worn upside down by the fashionable wealthy. As I understand, the long scarf slung over the Page’s shoulder is the liripipe (or cornette) in a later (15th century?) form, while the cockscomb on the right-hand side of his head is actually the trim of the dagged cape (or patte). The round ring is called a bourrelet, and I assume it was used to secure the floppy cape. This portrait by Botticelli shows an identical style.
Looking through the Rider-Waite deck, you can see the right-side-up “peasant” style in the Six of Cups & Three of Pentacles, and the upside-down “intellectual” style in the Page of Cups & Six of Pentacles.
According to Wikipedia, the word for the hat, probably through metonymy, came to be the word, “chaperone”.
What a wonderful time to be alive! Here are some free online courses that are starting soon, that you might be interested in:
- Jane Austen: Myth, Reality, and Global Celebrity
- Literature in the Digital Age: from close reading to distant reading
- The Art of Washi Paper in Japanese Rare Books
- Inside Opera
- A History of Royal Fashion
- The Ancient Greek Hero
- Poetry in America: Whitman
Masterclass keeps adding amazing offerings. I have the masterpass and I can’t wait to work through all of the new writing courses:
- R.L. Stine Teaches Writing for Young Audiences (affiliate link)
- Malcolm Gladwell Teaches Writing (affiliate link)
- Judy Blume Teaches Writing (affiliate link)
The One Page Novel & How to Be the Heroine of Your Own Story are also re-opening this week!
I could listen to this until the cows come home. :)
I’ve been enjoying our write-alongs so much. A few obstacles have sprung up: lack of sunlight, lack of hard drive space, and lack of bandwidth. Once I overcome these problems I’m eager to start filming again. :)