Portable Devotion – handheld belief

In the year 2000 I visited Mexico, Guatemala and Belize. These are some magical places to visit and I picked up quite a few interesting items. One of them was a talisman, more specifically a Herradura Santa Muerte (read some more about it on the internet ).

I never actually used it (wouldn’t know how) so it’s still with all the other knick-knacks in my house. I love the seemingly random collection of pictures, wrapped horseshoe, creepy statue, bag of weird stuff and sequins in one handy package.

A few years later I picked up a similar package at an art show somewhere in the Netherlands:

Made by Dorine Sneep, it’s clearly inspired by the Herradura and similar amulets. This one was meant to be burned in a ritual but – as with the Herradura – it found a permanent place in my home.

I really like these packages of concentrated belief and superstition. So when I was looking for a new theme to make a fourth series of Pakje Kunst pieces (read more about the third series in a previous post) I went a similar way that Dorine went, but added my own twist.

Religion, spirituality and all its’ history, rituals and traditions have fascinated me for ever. Especially the myriad ways in which we perform divination. We seek meaning and purpose in the weather, the birds, cards, tea leaves, our hands, entrails … the list is endless. In a future blog post I will talk some more about a divinatory card set I’ve been working on (think Tarot, but different) but the underlying principle is a set of 21 archetypes.

These 21 archetypes are perfect to turn into 21 Pakje Kunst amulets – so that’s exactly what I did.

Making art for Pakje Kunst forces you to think in a specific way: the space is limited, it needs to be a series of 20 or more pieces and they need to be unique. Taking my inspiration from the Herradura and Dorine’s amulet I came up with a wishlist of “ingredients”. Each amulet needed:

  • A focus item, like the Santa Muerte statuette.
  • Something valuable (from a spiritual viewpoint) like a relic.
  • Something valuable (from a traditional viewpoint) like paper ancestor money (as used in Chinese ancestral worship).
  • Something to mark the moment (little candles).
  • A marker to designate the space (like a prayer mat).
  • Information about the archetype (what’s it about? what symbol and colours go with it?)

Focus Item
As the focus item feels like the central part of the amulet, I started with these. I made a plaster mould from a plasticene original and then from that mould I pulled 21 statuettes in polymer clay. Seven in white clay, seven in grey and seven in reddish brown. They were near identical but each one has identifying features – mostly in the face.
I then painted them in colours related to their archetype (blue and grey for air, red and yellow for fire, etc.) and distressed them to make them look a little less “brand new”.

No devotion without a relic – even if it’s tiny and insignificant. To house my relics I got glass sample tubes and filled them with relevant objects or materials (sand for death, feathers for air, etc.). The tubes were sealed with cork and wax and a small label attached. They actually came together much quicker than expected.

Place marker
A ritual needs a sacred space. That’s where the round place markers come in. At first I considered getting specific fabrics for each archetype but it quickly dawned on me that that would be a huge task. Additionally: a fabric place marker would need the edge to be hand stitched to keep it from fraying – even more work. An easier solution was to cut grey felt circles and gel-print a design on each of them in the appropriate colour. They also double as a protective wrapper for the focus statuettes.

Devotional pamphlet
A two page pamphlet comes with every amulet. It details the archetype, its’ credo, the key concepts it encompasses, its’ symbol and the two colours that I associate with it. And just for completionists’ sake, here’s the list of archetypes:

  • Spring
  • Nature
  • Truth
  • Healing
  • Home
  • Protection
  • Creation
  • Loss
  • Water
  • Dreams
  • Earth
  • Air
  • Fire
  • Chance
  • Death
  • Logic
  • Ego
  • Secret
  • Power
  • War
  • Time

Final assembly
With all elements prepared I packed each devotional set in a ziplock bag and labeled them. There’s a lot of easy pleasure in such a repetitive and careful task.

Final thoughts
I don’t know what people will make of these packages. Will they actually use them to make small offerings? Look upon them with bemusement? Toss them away? All of these options are fine! The purpose of these d.i.y. devotion kits is to just make you wonder. And hopefully delight you.
I intentionally didn’t mention any actual instructions – how to use these amulets is completely up to the individual. Figuring it out is part of the fun…
The purpose for me was to further investigate my 21 archetypes (as I already did in VSLM, 21 shrines and 21 dvoti).

Just don’t take these packages too serious – I don’t. It’s not religion, and even though I borrow ideas from all religions, I mean no disrespect to any of them…

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Misja van Laatum Art