In permaculture gardening, one of the key principles is to mimic patterns found in nature in designing garden and outdoor spaces. I believe this principle is critical to creating outdoor sacred spaces–look around you, and when you are designing a sacred space, think about what inspires you. Is it the circle of the sun or the moon? Is it the branching pattern on the veins in leaves or on the trees? The spiral pattern of a snail shell? The curve of a tulip or the flight path of a bird? Look at each of these patterns found in nature–they can be your inspiration and your guide.
I want to start with some general tips that I have found helpful when creating an outdoor sacred spaces:
1) Use only what you can find, make, recycle, or build. Every time you buy something, that purchase takes energy, burns fossil fuel, and otherwise can harm the land. If you are creating a sacred space, its really critical that you recognize this and substantially limit your purchasing (or better yet, keep it all free/found/reused, etc). For our circle, we received the trees for free from Arbor Day Foundation memberships, the wood altars were already on the land, as were all of the stones.
2) Allow the space to grow and evolve. Your outdoor sacred space doesn’t have to be “complete” at any one time–like our own druidic paths, the circle can grow and change. Recognize that some projects, especially those involving living things, work on their own time schedule and nothing can be done but let time pass while your trees grow, or your flowers take root.
3) Invite Others. A sacred space is all the more powerful if its created with friends. In both of the major projects I’ll detail below, while I was the primary initiator of the project, I have invited others to plan and build. These spaces become a group effort, and I think the energies of the places reflect that.
4) Work using all of your gifts. Creating sacred outdoor spaces is not just a physical or intellectual pursuit–you must also approach it intuitively and creatively. Figure out what you want to build, where you want to build it, and how you want to build it with both careful planning but also your spiritual senses and creative core. Listen to the land, to the wind in the trees, and you will know what you are to build and where.
The Stone Circle
Perhaps the most iconic druidic symbol, other than Awen or an Oak tree, is the stone circle. Ancient ancestors of the Celts built massive stone structures; we also see stone circles (often in the form of medicine wheels) in the Americas. While these stone circles had various meanings and purposes, nearly all of them were ritualistic or sacred in origin. When we think of a stone circle, massive circles of huge boulders often come to mind. But for most of us, the human power, heavy equipment, and stones to do such a task are really beyond our reach. So for the simple circle, set your sights on something a little less grandiose–and you’ll be surprised by how wonderful the results can be!
Small, portable circles. The most simple way to create a circle of stones, and a useful technique if you don’t have the space for a permanent outdoor circle is to have small pebbles–gathered from a nearby stream, ocean, lake, etc. Keep the stones in a bag, and when you need them, set them up indoors or outdoors where you have need of such a circle. This was my very first circle, and it was portable and highly effective. I went with 16 stones in this circle – eight for the quarters and cross quarters, and then eight to fill the spaces in between. I set them up for inner journeying, meditation, or other ritual work. The circle could be as large or as small as I needed it to be.
The Permanent Stone Circle. When I stopped renting and purchased my own home, I began creating an outdoor, permanent sacred space. For the last two years, my grove has been celebrating our gatherings at my home, in a circle that we have created on the edge of the forest and near our pond. This circle, with its very humble beginnings, began as an area that I mowed into a circle. We had a large, 10′ tall white pine tree stump that we cut down soon after we moved in, and that stump turned into four wooden, round altars for each of the quarters. After that, we added stones–first around each of the
quarter altars, and slowly, around the whole circle (which is still a work in progress). We add more stones before each holiday, and as our grove grows, so does our circle of stones. In the fall, we also rake the leaves out of the circle and into a ring around the space. I’ve planted some herbs, flowers, and other key plants down by the circle. Last fall, we added a central fire pit. At Beltane, we planted young seedling trees the whole way around the circle in the areas that are still fairly open. The circle, like us, grows and evolves as the years pass.
Another permanent series of projects that I’ve been working on is the stone spiral. I’ve so far built only simple stone spirals, but I have plans for a larger labyrinth (or more than one) on my property. I recently put in, with the help of one of my grove member’s family, a strawberry spiral. This consisted of three kinds of strawberries (so that harvest times are different for summer-long berries) and a simple stone spiral pathway.
Now you may say, “oh, this sounds more like a garden than a true sacred space.” I think that these are one in the same. Each time I go to pick the strawberries, I will walk a spiral, and be reminded of all that spirals represent. When I pick the strawberries I grow, I exert less demand on an already stressed global ecosystem–I am not contributing to the burning of fossil fuels to ship the strawberries to me, the exploitation of farm workers to pick the berries, the addition of chemical fertilizers and pesticides that can harm waterways and wildlife, the purchasing of products in non-recyclable packaging that is filling up our landfills, nor supporting a broken big agricultural system. If growing my own strawberries along a sacred spiral path has that much impact, how can it be anything but a serious spiritual act? And so, I place stone spirals and other natural forms in my garden spaces. These bring me closer to the land by connecting with its innate symbolism as well as living in a more sustainable and sincere manner.