The Druid's Garden

Spiritual Journeys in Tending the Land, Permaculture, Wildcrafting, and Regenerative Living

Stones Rising: A Reflection on Raising a Standing Stone September 10, 2017

We gather to the outstretched rope lines, ready to move the 22 foot long stone weighing thousands of pounds by hand. Our goal is about a half a mile away, through hilly terrain. This stone destined for the a place in the ever expanding Stone Circle at Four Quarters Interfaith Sanctuary. All have gathered for one purpose: to move this massive stone using our hands and hearts, and to give it a home in the honored northern quarter of the circle.

Part of the stone circle that has been raised in previous years

Part of the stone circle that has been raised in previous years

So much preparation has gone into this moment; building this sacred space from the ground up, the years and years of work. Countless hours of developing expertise on how to move stones.  More recent preparations, from the “stone peoples intensive” volunteers arriving a week early to prepare the site, building and securing the moving equipment, developing the rituals, preparing the grounds.  And there are the stone movers– the huge group of people who have gathered from far and wide. The evening before, we held ritual around the flame stone and called in our ancestors to bless our sacred work.  The next day, we volunteered on one or more of the many paths of service necessary to help the event take shape.  Anticipation built, especially for those of us who had never done the work before.

Calling in our Ancestors

Calling in our Ancestors

And so, here we stood, on the day of the “long pull.” Our hearts, minds, bodies, and spirits ready for the work ahead. Everyone is quiet on the lines except those who are directing the activity. We stood in silent communion with the stone.  The order is given–pull slow and steady.  The stone people work closely with the stone, shouting orders, watching to see how it moves along the path, putting logs underneath so that it can roll along smoothly. The logs are particularly important for rises in elevation and flat areas (as the road we pull the stone down is full of many dips, hills, and turns). The leaders call out commands–we stop, we move left with our ropes, we pull.  We stop, shift again to the right, and pull.  We gather together to shorten the ropes and pull.  We move apart on the longer stretches and pull.  We breathe.  We pull.

A view from the back of the rope lines

A view from the back of the rope lines, the signal to stop.

We are many tribes within tribes gathered here to pull this stone.  And yet, on these ropes, there are no differences among us. Regardless of race, class, vocation, identity, skill, physical appearance, gender, sexuality, political orientation, or ability, we gather as a single tribe with our one purpose–to pull. We have three lines coming from the stone–I was in the middle line, with my small community of druids surrounding me. These druids are dear friends, people with whom I have long shared sacred space, with whom I’ve conducted the work of initiation, with whom I’ve spent many an evening at the bardic fire, sharing mead, stories, and songs. If I fall, I know they will catch me.  But I realize in that moment, looking to the broader tribe of people around me…so would any other person here today.  Whatever differences or divisions there were before this stone pull, they fade away, and with that, our small druid tribe flows seamlessly into the greater tribe, all working as one.


Doing the work of raising this stone requires an incredible amount of trust. It requires that we put aside our differences, our disagreements, our pain, whatever we carry with us, and simply trust the other people who are there beside us. You can’t have barriers between you for this work, because you can’t be anywhere but present in the moment. Anything else has no place. I can understand now, in ways that were unfathomable to me before, why the ancients built big things. They built things to build community. They built things to build bonds of friendship and trust that transcend any other boundaries. They built things to bring people together. You couldn’t hold a grudge against your friend or neighbor because the next day, that person you are angry at might be holding the wooden lever that is keeping 2000 pounds of stone from crushing down on you. The ancient monuments that still stand are symbols of that community and trust.

Moving the stone using rollers up a rise

Moving the stone using rollers up a rise

In fact, working in a community to accomplish so many tasks used to be a skill that every human had. Communities worked together to accomplish incredible feats, like building stone circles that stand for 10,000 years.  It is no wonder we need our ancestors here to support us–we reach deep within our own blood and reconnect with their wisdom to guide our hands, hearts, and spirits.  We are not a separate people, but one.  Pull, wait, move.  Breathe.  Pull. Pull, Pull!


As much as you depend upon your community during the moving of the stone, your community depends upon you. The stone is so heavy; every person is needed. You have to pull your own weight in the most literal way. At one point, we were pulling the stone up a really long hill, and it was really intense. If we stopped, we might not get going again, so we just kept pulling. Our muscles were burning, everyone was sweating, groaning, giving it our all. There’s a temptation at that point to ease up just a little, to not pull quite so hard, to catch your breath. But you don’t. You pull with all of your might because if you don’t, someone else in your community will have to do so, and that might be too much for them as they are already giving their all. This is another form of trust.


If there is one thing that can be said it is that anything worth doing takes time. And stones in particular, move slowly. To move a stone quickly would risk serious injury to either us or the stone. The stone forces us to slow down, to be in the moment, to simply be present, and listen, and attend to exactly what is happening right now. I had to be present in each moment to hear what was coming next. For four hours while we moved that stone, I was in an extended movement meditation where my entire existence was focused on listening for those instructions and doing it exactly as asked. We get into a rhythm. The pauses allow us to reflect on the moment, on the beauty of it. I look to my brothers and sisters of the tribe of the standing people, noting the hickories and white pines who send us their blessings as we slowly pass. As we wait, as we pull, as we move left on our rope lines, as we drink the water that other community members provide, we are simply in that moment.

Some of us on the lines--and there I am in blue, pulling on that rope!

Some of us on the lines–and there I am in blue, pulling on that rope!


Our bodies grow sore, but the journey has not yet ended.  For some of us, we spend most of our waking hours in our minds, disembodied, our minds focused on screens of information.  Our bodies come to life in the moment where we pull, our bodies are fully, and sometimes painfully present, to let us know that we are still alive.  Our sore muscles remind us that we are here now, and that we are making this living monument that will last for generations.


As our sled that the stone rested on broke, as our log rollers broke, as everything seemed to break and we moved the stone up the last rise by sheer determination, we continued to pull. Finally, we reach our destination. The stone is once again celebrated and we come together as a tribe. That evening, the warriors, the veterans among us and others who choose to join, hold vigil over the stone.  We let the stone know that the community is here, this day, and always.  That evening, we released our fears, doubts, pain, and sorrow and came together as a tribe for the great work, the rising of the stone, to begin.


Celebrating the end of the long pull

Celebrating the end of the long pull

The next morning, it is time for the stone to rise to its sacred place in the north. We gather in the morning. All night long, while the warriors held vigil, the corn mother tribe baked us bread. They offer it to us to break our fast. It is delicious, slathered with honey butter. This warm gift fills our bellies and hearts. We pull, pull, pull and the stone is in place. We watch as the stone people slowly use leverage to lift it up, inches at a time, building sturdy wooden foundations to hold it. We wait, we watch, we listen. Finally, it is time for the stone to rise.

Slowly raising the stone using levers and wood stands

Slowly raising the stone using levers and wood stands

Two ropes are laid out, and those of us who are at Stones Rising for the first time are given the place of honor at the front of the ropes so we can watch the stone rise into place. The drummers beat their steady rhythm, while the entire stone circle is decked out in beautiful colors; an outdoor sanctuary to the living earth.  We pull on the ropes, hand over hand, but this is easy work, as we are also using some block and tackle (ropes and pulleys).

The stone rising up!

The stone rising up!

Orren Whiddon, whose vision has created Four Quarters, is leading us in raising the stone.  He tells us that reason we are using block and tackle is because we don’t have the experience of working in a community together. We don’t have enough control.  We would get too excited, and we pull to fast, and so, the block and tackle slow us down. When we are 75% of the way, an additional tool is needed, and it takes time for someone to fetch it from the farmhouse. We hold the ropes. We wait. We breathe. It is not hard work with all of us here; we trust that the community will hold. Then, we are pulling again, hand over hand, as the stone raises up. With a final thump, the stone fits into its hole in the circle. We cheer and hug each other. The great work is done. Children are blessed, the community spends time in celebration, and later, feasting.


The main ritual that evening welcomes to the stone to the circle, it is powerful and moving and magic. I catch my breath and look around at my tribe, their faces shining in the dim firelight. I think about so many things there, as we stand in the firelight as a tribe honoring the new stone. Modern humans almost never have the opportunity to experience something like this. We have grown so dependent on fossil fuels and machines that do this kind of work that we have forgotten the most important lessons of trust, forgiveness, community, slow time, and craft. As Wendel Berry writes about in the Unsettling of America, the point isn’t to do something quickly.  It is to do it well. This is especially and poignantly true of building sacred spaces. Fossil fueled powered heavy machinery could never, ever compare to what we experienced here as a tribe. We might gain in efficiency in using fossil fuels, but efficiency comes at an extraordinarily high cost. In the case of building a stone circle or other sacred space, it may come at the cost of the heart and soul of a community. Fossil fuels have made life easier, quicker, but certainly not any more full.  Fossil fuels have stripped us of an extremely important gift–the ability to work together. Raising this stone has given us the briefest glimpse into the power of what that once looked like. And I want more.


This experience also has a tremendous amount of value to those of us here in the United States practicing nature-based spirituality. As any druid practicing here knows, we are in a bit of a pickle. We are practicing a nature-based spiritual tradition that originated with the Celts–their land isn’t our land. Some, but not all of us, can trace ancestry back to the British Isles in some form or another. That doesn’t really matter much when we don’t live on that soil. The truth is, here in the USA, we live on someone else’s sacred land. That unavoidable fact puts us in a serious bind–the most compassionate, respectful, and meaningful solution is to build our own sacred spaces. I’ve long advocated before the necessity of creating our own sacred spaces (and have offered some suggestions for how to do so), and this experience radically affirms and extends this idea. Building small spaces with a few friends, or very magnificent spaces, like the stone circle at Four Quarters, is part of our own flavor of what it means to be an American earth-centered spiritual person, an American Druid, an American anything else.

The "Flame Stone", the northern most stone of the circle

The “Flame Stone”, the northern most stone of the circle

The truth is, I’ve been attempting to capture in words an experience so sacred, words can never fully describe its power. But for those who do not have such an opportunity to raise a stone, I hope that my attempt to give the experience voice has given you pause for reflection.  To understand the work of the stones, you must do the work of the stones.  To understand a sacred place, at least the kind we are trying to create here in the USA, you have to take part in the creation of it.  Before I raised a stone, I really had no idea what the circle of stones there at Four Quarters meant, what their power was. I couldn’t hear the singing of the stones. But now, I understand that place. I am connected to it.  It is part of me, and I am forever part of it.


And, perhaps, I will pull stone with you next year, on Labor Day Weekend, for Stones Rising 2018! (And for those of you attending the OBOD’s East Coast Gathering this upcoming weekend, I hope to see you there!)


PS: I am indebted to Patricia Robin Woodruff, who took most of the photos in this blog post.  You can learn more about her and her amazing artwork here.


The Sacred Site in America: Understanding, Working With, and Developing Sacred Sites July 3, 2014

One of the challenges that North American druids face is understanding, visiting, and working with sacred sites.  In my druid training, one order in particular really emphasizes the sacred site–the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids (OBOD).  And I think if one is living on the British Isles, it makes perfect sense to do so as those sites are part of the heritage and tradition of druidry.  The real question becomes–what is a sacred site here in the USA? What, if anything, should we do with them?    I’d like to take some time today to explore “sacred sites” as they relate specifically to druidry in the USA.

Simple stack of stones

Simple stack of stones


Defining “Sacred”

The term “sacred” itself implies a connection to the divine, a concentrated or holy space, a space set aside for spiritual contemplation or religious observance in some way. When most think about what a classic definition of a “sacred site” is, especially in the context of modern Druidry, we often think about ancient sites.  These ancient sites might be natural wonders and places that were the site of ceremony and reverence for a long time. These ancient sites may also have been built or adapted by humans in ages past, and continue to be revered and visited today.  These sites, even today, fill us with wonder and awe, encouraging stillness and providing one with a spiritual or magical experience.  This isn’t the only kind of sacred site, but I think its the most prevalent definition. I should also mention that the sacred is not limited to sites; it can also refer to events and objects.  I recently had the pleasure of witnessing the most amazing dance of the mayflies on Lake Erie in June.  A sacred event, indeed!  But the subject of this post is investigating the idea of a sacred site in America.


Challenges with Sacred Sites in the USA

When we think about the “ancient site” approach to sacred sites in the USA, several challenges present themselves.


#1: Native American Sacred Sites, Desecration and Cultural Appropriation. Most ancient sacred sites in the Americas are Native American in origin.  Because most of us do not carry the blood of the native peoples, nor live within their communities, the issue of cultural appropriation is a serious one.  Even for those of us who carry a small amount of Native American blood, but have grown up divorced from native culture (like myself), the idea of appropriating sacred sites is uncomfortable at best.  Even worse, with the long history of abuse, eradication, and genocide between the mostly white US government and the native peoples, appropriating any other culture’s site for spiritual use is, in nearly all cases, unethical.

The longstanding destruction of native sacred sites is also a noted concern. For example, in the Great Lakes region, I’ve visited Native American “sacred sites” that have suffered substantial abuses–White Rock, located about 30 miles north of Port Huron on the coast of Lake Huron, and Inscription Rock, located on Kellys Island in Lake Erie. White Rock in particular is worth noting, because it was a sacred rock to the native peoples of these lands, and it was  desecrated repeatedly through the centuries.  The most recent desecration was that it was used as a bombing target by the US government during WWII.  Inscription rock, which once featured various pictures inscribed into limestone, was “reinscribed” by tourists for over a century and a half.  In both cases, what was once a sacred site of the native peoples of this land has been degraded by those who came after.

The energies of these sites are not conducive to spiritual work–what I’ve done at both of these sites, when visiting, is to offer apology and ask if there is any work to be done.  At White Rock, there was and continues to be substantial work to be done (and those who are interested about that can read more in the AODA’s recent release of Trilithon: The Journal of the Ancient Order of Druids in America).

For these kinds of sites, I think that apologizing, picking up garbage, and asking if there is any work to be done is about the only thing most of us should be doing at these sites.


#2 – Sacred Sites and Tourist Attractions. This brings me to the next issue with the ancient sacred sites and sacred sites of natural wonder and beauty in the USA–tourists.  If a sacred site remains intact, especially if it is a site of wonder and natural beauty, more often than not, it is a tourist attraction. I’ll note the difference here between secular tourism to that of a pilgrimage or sacred journey, such as the one discussed in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, where pilgrims are traveling and visiting for a spiritual purpose.  Tourist energy is not conducive to the sacred and little to no meaningful spiritual work can usually be done in such places.  Tourists are there to see, to photograph, to experience a canned and predigested experience on the most superficial level. Combining tourism with the issue of cultural appropriation leaves most sites largely inaccessible for any kind of spiritual or magical work.  Not to mention one can’t do any serious work with a droves of tourists milling about.


#3: Land and Site “Management” practices. The other issue at most well known sacred sites is the land management practices that govern them are not conducive to spiritual work of any kind, nor can one or one’s group gain privacy at any site.  I remember reading a story a few years ago about a group of Native Americans who had lit a sacred fire on a sacred mountain for as long as their history went back.  The chief of this group was arrested because they refused to follow US Park service law, which had a recent ruling disallowing fires in that spot.  The park service had no sympathy or religious tolerance for the Native Americans; this intolerance and inflexibility largely extends to other groups as well.  This kind of thing happens all the time, most of it less public than that story.  Because earth-based religions of all kinds are not given equal treatment and respect here, and most of us are still in the closet, so to speak, it becomes even more difficult to have access to a public sacred site for the purposes of a private ritual.

This leaves those of us in the US interested in working with sacred sites in a bit of a conundrum–how do we meaningfully and respectfully work with sacred sites, if at all?  For this, I have two ideas in mind: seeking unmarked sacred sites, and creating new sacred sites over time.


Seeking Sacred Sites

Are there sacred sites that don’t involve human interaction, human tending that we can work? These secret places of wonder and magic worked by other beings?  Would they welcome us there even if we were able to find them?  Sometimes yes, and sometimes no.

Stone Circle

Stone Circle

A small group of friends (all druids) and I went into a state park that had been largely closed down.  The pathways were covered in branches and trees, the roads were washed out even to get to where we were going.  And it was one of the most sacred places I had visited in Michigan.  Towards the end of our 5 hour hike, we came across a stone circle right in our path, with larger stones for the north and south, and covered with moss.  We felt welcome, having been lead by the forest and the winding paths to this place. Entering the circle in reverence and respect, we sat there for some time, feeling the sacred energies of that place.  Nobody had been by for a long time, and it was only because we entered in respect, and we asked to enter, that we were able to experience this sacred place and honor it.  More recently, my visit to an old growth hemlock grove certainly qualify as a sacred site and experience!

When I was visiting Kellys Island in Lake Erie for a family vacation a few weeks ago, an opposite kind of thing occurred.  I have never seen so much poison ivy in such a small area–all of the forests were protected by the beautiful poison ivy vine, covering the trees, matting the ground, going right up to the edge of any path. I could sense the tranquility and sacredness of those forests behind the ivy line; the old growth cottonwoods and maples, the mayflies darting about. The poison ivy sent a VERY clear message to anyone able to read the language of the plants–these forests are to be left alone. They spoke loudly, “Do not enter, do not pass, and do not seek sacred experiences within.”  Knowing a bit about the history of that island helps understand the protectiveness of the ivy and spirits there. This beautiful island had a long history of industrialization and abuse, where glacial grooves were destroyed by quarries and pristine forests destroyed through logging…and now, the ritzy houses and expensive yachts have mostly moved in (we did find a nice state campground and hiking trails!) No wonder what remains of this unique ecosystem is off limits to human hands.

When you come across a naturally occurring sacred site, one that isn’t on the maps, I’ve found its best to let your intuition lead the way, and to read the messages of the plant, animal, and stone kingdoms to know if you are welcome.  It might be that you have to establish a relationship over time with a site before the spirits of that site will give you access–listen and be mindful of what you hear.


Setting up Sacred Sites for Our Tradition

Beyond seeking sacred sites in places not on the map, there is a lot more we can do. I think one of the challenges that we face is that we assume a sacred site should already be there, setup by others or simply in the forest, and ready for our use. Revival druidry is a few centuries old, and while the British druids have done an amazing job in reclaiming sites connected with the ancient sites like Tara, Glastonbury, and Stonehenge, we have no such sites or connection to sites in the US. This brings me to the last key point–that we need to be establishing our OWN sacred sites.

Why is a site sacred to begin with? To go back to my earlier definition, its sacred because someone or a group of someones recognize its significance energetically, naturally, and so on, and made it a point to visit it, tend it, and work various kinds of ceremony there. Over a period of time, we can establish these same sacred spaces.

I also think its important to set up sacred spaces honoring the land to counter much of the environmental desecration we are seeing more and more. The disruption of the telluric pathways from oil pipelines and fracking, the harm to the planet from GMOs and pesticide use, the list goes on and on.  The more of us acting in a sacred manner, living our lives in a sacred manner, and honoring the land with dedicated spaces and work, the more we can demonstrate that not all humans are on that same destructive path and help rebuild a sacred relationship with the land.

Imbolc Sacred Circle

Imbolc Sacred Circle

I know we can work to establish sacred spaces of our own because I’ve done this myself through the work on my land.  When I arrived here five years ago, the land was energetically drained, the spirits were angry from the mistreatment of the previous owners, from pollution and garbage, from careless cutting of trees and eradication of plant life, and it took me a long time to shift those energies (you can read more about some of those initial efforts here).  A group of us set up a stone circle and began doing regular ceremonies in this space.  Over the period of five years, the energies of this land dramatically shifted in a positive direction–I’ve now had multiple people come and tell me that they don’t even feel they are still in Michigan when they come up my driveway or go out by the pond to the circle.  I think, if anything, the site is in the process of shifting into the sacred, and that shift will take much more time to complete.  Regular tending, mindfulness, and ritual all help maintain the space.

I’ve posted previously on some things you can do physically to help establish sacred sites here, here, and here. To my physical suggestions, I’ll add a few things on the spiritual side.


1) Listen before you act.  If you want to establish a stone circle or other place of meditation/worship/magic, you should ask the spirits of the land and heed their responses.  Combine this listening with your own observation and interaction (principle 1 in permaculture design).  This listening and observation process can take quite a bit of time, so be patient and understand that this groundwork is an important part of the process.  You’ll be glad you’ve done this work–the spirits of the land will guide you to where the site should be and often will give you vision about how to go about creating it.  This listening then, can help you create a space for use beyond just the human realm.


2) Use Small, slow actions.  To borrow a second principle from permaculture, you can’t establish a sacred space overnight.  You need to recognize that sacred spaces and shifting energies take a lot of time.  I have found that daily work, such as the AODA’s Sphere of Protection ritual, helps maintain and build energies slowly over time.


3) Do regular rituals honoring the land.  I like to combine my daily SOP work with regular group rituals and solo rituals during druid holidays and regular honoring of the land work to establish the space.  Honoring the spirits of the land and recognizing the sacredness of the place over time will help shift it.


4) Watch it evolve. The other thing that I’ve found is that once you’ve set your intentions and establish the initial space and begin doing the daily work, the space will evolve.  You might see new plants growing, trees appear that weren’t there before, or other kinds of helpful and spirits from the inner planes might make the land their home.   After we established this land as a sacred space, I found several hawthorn trees years after I moved in, I found a spiral willow on the island on the pond, and most recently at the Summer solstice, a friend and fellow grove member found foxglove growing behind the sacred circle.  Keep a record of what is happening–you will be amazed by the changes over time.


5) Recognize sacred activity and set rules for the space.  Protect the sacredness of the space–if you have visitors and guests over, make sure they understand the rules for the space (e.g. no consumption of alcohol in the space for non-ritual purposes, remaining quiet in the space, leaving an offering after use, etc).  You’ll find that some well placed signage also helps visitors and/or family respect the space.  It may also be that there are certain kinds of people you simply don’t want in that space, and that’s ok too.


I hope these thoughts help those of you pondering the idea of a sacred space here in our landscapes and how we might use the idea of sacred space as revival druids in the US.  Thank you, as always, for listening!




Building Outdoor Sacred Spaces, Part III: Other Small Projects September 21, 2012

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.

Our circle at Alban Elier / Fall Equinox - made with stone and wood

Our circle at Alban Elfed / Fall Equinox – made with stone and wood

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.

Natural Shrines

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.

Earth Spirit Altar

Earth Spirit Altar

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:

Fairy Shrine

Fairy Shrine

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!

Tree man

Tree face wedged in a maple tree.

Garden Shrines

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.

Cherish Earth Garden Sign

Cherish Earth Garden Sign

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.

Web of Life

Web of Life

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.

Fairy Circle

Fairy Circle built at the Equinox

Hanging Things

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.

A spiral with an orb in a tree shows us the otherworld

A spiral with an orb in a tree shows us the otherworld

An ash tree is reminded how much she is loved

An ash tree is reminded how much she is loved

A fragment of our yule log hangs in our sacred circle

A fragment of our yule log hangs in our sacred circle

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.

Fire altar with gateways

Fire altar with gateways

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.



Closing thoughts.

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.


Building Outdoor Sacred Spaces, Part 2: Stone Circles, Stone Spirals, and Permanent Outdoor Spaces June 5, 2012

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.


Maypole with circle behind, Beltane 2012

Maypole with circle behind it, Beltane 2012

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

Very early version of the circle (before altars or stones or trees)

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

The circle last fall

The circle last fall

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.



Stone Spirals

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.

Strawberry Spiral – Freshly Planted


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.