A lot of people talk about how you can make your personal altar or devotional space nicer by including items you discover in nature, especially vegetation – fresh flowers, autumn leaves, pine cones, and so on. At the simplest, yes, this is a way of “bringing the outdoors in.” But it’s also so much more than that.
For example, Lipp, in The Way of Four, emphasizes the idea of offering, and includes fresh flowers on the altar as an appropriate offering to deity. That’s part of a larger discussion of the importance of offering and how contemporary Wicca often ignores its role in worship and devotion. That aside, it’s a recognition that the flowers are there for something more than to just make me feel happy when I spend time with my altar. (Making me happy at my altar is a decent goal, by the way, it’s just not the only thing that bringing the outside in is there for.) They’re there in recognition of something other than, in some sense larger than, myself – which is why it’s an altar and a space for devotion, and not just a nice decorating touch.
The idea of including seasonal items, especially vegetation, on the altar can be a way of bringing one’s relationship with the land and one’s daily practice at home closer together. Even if I can’t get out today, if I see the fall leaves that I picked up on my usual walk the other day, I am reminded of that, and am able to go back, in my mind and heart, to that time and place. It gives me a stronger mental and emotional anchor to the land that is part of my devotions, in a way similar to how sacred statuary can provide a solid anchor for devotion to deities.
This is also slightly different from including items on one’s altar that come from different locations or experiences. Yes, I love having a stone that I picked up from a sacred site and a seashell from the beach on my altar, but those are examples of – and links to – the elements, and the experiences I had that helped me develop my connections to those elements. There’s something unique about having an example of the living experience of your local land on your altar; it should change with the seasons, while one’s experience of the elements is more continuous; the representation that stitches together one’s daily practice and one’s relationship with the land is of necessity a thread of variable color and consistency.
Of course, if one is lucky enough to have a regular devotional practice that is in the land, this becomes unnecessary; but being an urban Witch myself, I know first-hand that’s not always possible. So we go on, living our practice every day, in the ways we can, and often being the unity in a fragmented world. It’s hard, but it’s the healer’s life.