Special Feature: Altars of Writers & Artists: Kailey Tedesco

IR: How did you begin the practice of creating an altar or spiritual space in your home? What does the process of tending to the space entail for you?

KT: When I was about five or six, I had a favorite oak tree in my backyard. I would often put polaroids and moon rocks from the crystal store at the mall beneath it. This, I think, was my first altar without me even knowing it. I grew up Catholic, so even before honing in on a more secular spiritual practice through mysticism and witchcraft, altars were a typical feature in the homes of my family members. My grandmother kept rosary beads and holy water and those little glass animals that used to come with tea on her fireplace mantle. 

Now, not Catholic, I continue to keep an altar in the center of my home. It evolves with the seasons and features objects that I perceive to be meaningful—polaroids, prayer cards (a nod to my burgeoning ideas of altars), antique toys and dolls, acorns, a revolving pile of crystals, and photographs, a print of the Jersey Devil created by the artist Dylan Garrett Smith. When I was fourteen, I lost my best friend. People from our school came to leave flowers and teddy bears and prayer and tiaras on the side of the road where she passed. These shrines have always been so beautiful to me. They’re an act of trying to recreate a moment or a loved one from the objects that make us think of them. Obviously impossible, it feels like I’m rebuilding what is lost so that it doesn’t go away forever.

I try to curate a specific mood that I hope to infuse throughout the entirety of my home and being. While pregnant, I kept my baby’s ultrasounds on my altar, surrounded by objects of protection. Now that he’s here, his toys make it to the altar when he’s not playing with them—little reminders of the magic he has brought into our home. My late dog’s remains sit next to a wooden box of his fur. This is a space of reverence and peace, but also curiosity and celebration of the love that is and has been a part of me. 

IR: How does this altar or spiritual space interact with your creativity? How do you see it relating to your writing or art?

KT: I just truly love junk, and I mean junk with all the love in the world. When I was younger, I had a VHS tape based on “The Ugly Duckling” and in one scene there were various objects lined along the walls of a dusty attic. This cataloging of trinkets, I-spy style, is so inspiring to me. When I feel creatively stifled, I often visit antique stores and bring home pieces to place upon my altar. Then I stare until I can sense the tone and shape of a poem I’m writing. I also often create pieces for my altar myself. One of my favorite pieces is the head of a porcelain clown that I affixed to the body of a spider. This is, in many ways, the same energy that I put into my poems — lists, collages of images, glass glued to plastic. 

I also often practice psychometry to feel the energy or “story” of an object, and this practice, along with my collection of altar pieces, always inspires poetry as well. Everything on my altar carries its own entire narrative, and when I write, I’m trying to read that narrative and translate through my own lens. 

IR: What is at least one valuable thing you have learned from your practice of creating a sacred space? This lesson doesn’t necessarily have to be about art or writing or creativity; it can just be something about life.

KT: My altar has taught me that I don’t need to adhere to any one religious or spiritual practice in order to create a sacred space within my home. While the aesthetic and certain intentions of Catholicism continue to inspire me in some ways, I have opened my spirituality to include influences from folklore, the occult, and witchcraft— all of which inform my identity and creativity to this day. Also, as someone who struggles with mental illness (specifically OCD), my altar has been a needed practice in control and safety. While my mind tends to want to create unhealthy and redundant rituals to ward off feelings of uncertainty, I use my altar to achieve the opposite. I create intentional rituals and ascribe deliberate meaning to the objects based on thoughtful exercises that don’t come from a place of anxiety. It’s a challenging practice, but over the years this has been a needed meditative act that allows respite from some of my more upsetting “thought loops”. 

Kailey Tedesco is the author of She Used to be on a Milk Carton (April Gloaming Publishing), Lizzie, Speak (winner of White Stag’s 2018 MS Contest), and FOREVERHAUS (White Stag Publishing). She is a senior editor for Luna Luna Magazine and an active member of the Horror Writers Association. She also teaches an ongoing course on the witch in literature at Moravian University in Bethlehem, PA. You can find her work featured in Electric Literature, Fairy Tale Review, Gigantic Sequins, The Journal, and more. For further information, please visit kaileytedesco.com

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