Welcome to my 3rd blog post about building outdoor sacred spaces. In my first post, I discussed stacking stones or stone cairn building. In my second post, I discussed building larger spaces, like stone circles and spirals. In this post, I am going to discuss a few other ways to create outdoor sacred spaces and will include some photos taken on the Fall Equinox, Alban Elfed (today) of our grove’s sacred spaces.
Materials for Shrines & Sacred Space building
When paying homage to the land and her spirits, its really important that you stick with natural materials that you can find readily and easily and used/re-purposed items. I think it defeats the whole purpose of building a natural shrine if you go buy a bunch of stuff for it brand new at a department store. Not to mention that every single time you buy something, you support a system that is very quickly stripping our earth of her resources (which I have blogged about). Go out–find sticks and stones, feathers and shells. See what the bounty of the earth provides.
You can build small natural shrines out of feathers, stones, shells, sticks, bark, leaves, dried flowers, seed pods, reeds, nuts, etc. Some shrines may only be meant to look nice for a few hours, while others are more permanent. In my designs, I sometimes incorporate “reclaimed” junk that has been there a long time–for example, taking the rusted barbed wire I pulled from an ancient tree and sticking daises in every twist.
I should also mention that timing and regular maintenance is an important part of this process. I like to build things when the earth’s energies are aligning with such a process–at Beltane we put up our maypole and build fairy shrines, at the equinoxes I build shrines and circles to bring balance and healing, etc. You should also plan on regularly maintaining and visiting your permanent shrines if they are to become part of your spiritual practice. There are exceptions to this–I’ve built shrines, mainly stone cairns, in places I know a river will sweep them away. But for the ones I’m showing in this post, they are more permanent creations.
There are many kinds of natural shrines you can build; your options are limited only by your imagination. Here is a simple earth altar that I maintain for the sprits of the land that is not far from our grove’s stone circle. This altar is made mostly of staked stones and a ceramic woman who has a stone belly that I created out of clay and fired in my kiln. I visit it often and leave nuts, leaves, cakes, seeds and so forth.
Nature Assemblages & Fairy Houses/Shrines
Fairy houses and other fey-inspired assemblages are another way that you can build using natural materials. A web search will reveal a wonderful amount of inspiration for fairy house designs. These small spirit houses are meant to attract, appease, or otherwise encourage the fey folk from the spirit world to take up residence and stay a while.
At Beltane this year, one of our grove members brought his three daughters and they spent the afternoon building fairy houses and shrines out of reclaimed materials (mostly found in the dump in the back of the property I have been cleaning up!) Here is one of their shrines:
Along with the fairy house, I found a wooden carved man’s face in one of the “spring cleanups” that take place in my hometown (consequently, digging through other people’s discarded but entirely useful things is how I got nearly all of my garden tools!) I thought he reminded me a bit of the green man, so he’s now inhabiting the tree where the fairy shrine sits. The spirit of the maple tree seems happy with his new face!
You can plant and grow small gardens–starting something like a permaculture-style herb spiral (which I showed in an earlier blog post) which will only take a weekend or so to create. I am working on several spiral gardens that are in various stages of completion. Since I like to grow my plants from seed and/or via plant exchanges, sometimes they are a little slower to bloom than store-bought plants. But patience pays off!
I see my whole garden–and property–as a natural shrine. I hung a sign from old barn wood that reminds me of this fact each time I enter.
Fairy Circles & Vine Webs
I’ve got a wonderful amount of wild grapevines on my property (as well as poison ivy vines, but I avoid those!) and the grape vines make lovely wreaths. I’ve made two such of these. The web of life, reminding us of our relationship to the rest of the world’s inhabitants hangs on a maple tree just outside our circle.
I recently felt lead to create a fairy circle with stones and hanging things. The spirits of the land gave me a vision of what it should look like while I was in meditation, and I created what I had seen in my vision. It is made with grape vines twisted around each other, and I hung several ceramic ornaments that I had made–with ogham, elemental symbols, and leaves and flowers pressed into them and then fired in my kiln.
One of the absolute simplest things you can do is just hang little things around; things that have meaning, that convey a message or help hold a sacred space. I have four elemental ornaments that I created and hung in a tree in each of the quarters of my property. These help remind me that the entire property is sacred land, and I am always mindful of how I interact with it. I also enjoy hanging other things for specific purposes. Here are a few photos.
Poles and Gateways
We also have built stone cairn gateways to signal the entrance to a sacred space. You can see our grove’s gateways in the first photo in this blog. The photo below shows a group of us at the OBOD East Coast Gathering building temporary stone cairn gateways that were taken down after the event. The objects on the altar were all found secondhand.
We also do a maypole each year–we leave the pole in as long as we can; it serves as another physical representation of our relationship to the living earth. Here’s a shot of our maypole four months after we put it up at Beltane. It sits about 50 feet from our circle (also visible in the 1st photo in this post in the left corner) outside of the circle.
I encourage you to be creative; to create simple yet profound sacred spaces that allow you to respect, revere, and commune with the natural world around you. They key is to create things that are of the natural world or that have no impact….these kinds of sacred building activities will deepen your connection to the land. A sacred space doesn’t have to be elaborate or showy–sometimes the more simple creation methods can yield powerful results.