You want a truly humbling experience? If you are a Pagan/Occultist and have a practice that is not indigenous to your ancestry, go to a shop where people who are indigenous to the practice shop.
I had thought I got pretty slick about doing that – being respectful and being able to conduct myself, only minorly getting the stink eye and generally still winning over the shop employees by the end of my purchase. I felt like I knew what I was doing when it came to Puja by now, I had been practicing for several years and taught by several people. So when my friend said he found a new Puja shop that did flowers too, I was like let’s do this!
I didn’t know that it was a video store too which threw me off a little (my “usual” Puja place was a kitchen supply/Puja supply store which for some reason went together better in my head) and the shop keepers were snipping and sewing flowers at the speed of life.
I stole a glance to their Puja wall, sure I could just grab a few things, buy them and then get out as soon as possible.
Shopkeeper’s Teenaged Son (STS) (Appears to think: Maybe she wants to rent Freaky Friday or she’s lost): Can I help you?
Me (Utter panic sets in when I realized that I recognized none of the Puja supplies as they were different than my usual): Um, I. I . . .need . . .a clay pot. For a ghee lamp.
STS (confused): A clay pot?
Shopkeeper (steps in to help her son) (briskly): Can I help you?
Me (a little desperate as I can see that my communication skills are going to be a problem here in addition to a terminology issues): Y-yes. I need a ghee lamp.
SK: Oh! Give her the ghee lamp!
STS (hands me something that doesn’t look like any ghee lamp I’ve ever used)
Me: Um, I’ve never used a lamp like that. How does it work?
(SK shows me how to use the wick with the lamp and appears to tell STS not to complicate things for me when he starts to say something about a five star wick)
(I realize I have become their not-too-bright puppy – adorable, I do cute amusing things, they want to help me because I clearly can’t help myself but obviously needs strong supervision)
Me: I also need an offering bowl?
STS (Hands me something completely unfamiliar)
Me: Um, for food?
SK: Oh that’s for camphor! STS! Give her a plate!
Me: I’m sorry, I’m just starting out (UGH! For like six years! How can it be that I still apparently know nothing!). I need a bell.
STS: (Gives me a bell)
SK (kindly): Who is this all for?
Me (oh Jesus – wait, wrong pantheon): For Parvati?
Me (desperately): Parvati?
Me: . . .yes? Um, the Holy Family – Shiva, Parvati, Ganesha, Kartikeya? (sort of points to the picture of them)
SK (pleased): Oh it’s good that you are getting to know God! Okay. You need this bowl for milk –
Me: Just for milk?
SK (sternly): Only for milk! The offering for camphor which is right after the ghee lamp. (despite some communication issues this part is v. clear) ONLY LIGHT A LITTLE. ONLY HALF A TABLET AT MOST OR YOU WILL LIGHT YOUR HOUSE ON FIRE! DO NOT DO THAT!
Me: Alrighty. Um, what flowers would be appropriate for them?
SK: How big is your idol?
Me (oh gods) (Makes a small gesture)
SK (giggles) (busily makes a tiny gorgeous jasmine flower garland and puts in big cheerful yellow mums to offer as well while she bustles to STS to the Puja wall and makes sure that all my offering bowls and such are an appropriately small size) (rings me up) Here’s my card. (writes down her phone number) Call me if you need anything!
I leave in a daze. I spent more than I wanted (but not more than I could afford. I highly doubt that was a coincidence) to but honestly? We work a lot with the Holy Family and they deserve a nice Puja set. But I was used to a super tiny set so I had to figure out how this would work. Despite having our altar set up for less than a year, we’re already bursting at the seams (there’s way more stuff on it now). I eventually came to the conclusion that I should store all the Puja stuff in a ziplock bag (I have become militant about that – whenever “like” magical supplies can be stored in a ziplock, I do so. It helps soooo much) and store it under the altar and when it’s Puja time, we can do that on the dining room table or kitchen counter.
After Jow stopped laughing at my story (and I was sure to point out that he owed me big time because I go through all the awkward stuff generally in the name of our magical projects and he gets to reap the rewards), he had a moment of “OMGs, we are doing this wrong! How will we Puja!” And then I got to laugh at him.
I’m not sure that our Puja format is perfect (I’m a’guessin’ it’s not) but I think it’s close enough at least. As far as I can tell from my previous Puja instruction (from various sources) and recent Puja instruction, the basic Puja layout for the Holy Family should go like this: (and if anyone knows better, please pipe up. I’m not proud)
Ohm for the Holy Family
Offering of Camphor
Offering of Incense
Offering of flowers
Offering of milk
Offering of food
Thank Ganesha, Agni and Holy Family
As much as this outing felt like sticking my face in a blender, it was really good for me because it reminds me that I really sort of know nothing, despite some diligent effort on my part. I've been reading more books and practicing more Puja (and this layout does work even if it's not 100% "by the book"). I have a big gorgeous Hindu temple near me that has an online site which includes directions on how to go to the temple so that’s my next step, along with doing Puja regularly again. I wish the temple did a Hindu 101 but they only do that for children. Maybe on a festival day? But I’m sure if there’s one to be found I will find it.
A humbling but valuable experience!