Here's a timely little post for all of you who are basically stuck on your own little plot of land. Which should be all of us right now. So weep not for your lost freedom! Today I'm going to tell you how to build a backyard shrine!
The dictionary defines a shrine as "any structure or place consecrated or devoted to some saint, holy person, or deity." Any religion qualifies! Or none at all. I've seen shrines to Elvis in Baltimore. Shrines can be very comforting -- places to meditate, commune with the deities, Ancestors, and Nature Spirits. They need not be large. Here is mine:
You can see a conch shell on there that helps for sizing.
Looks so complicated, but trust me. I have no building skills. You can do this, fabulous you!
When I decided to build a shrine in my yard, I did what every sensible modern person would do: I Googled "backyard shrine" in the Images tab. Of course all the photos are of Catholic shrines, but hey. Go ahead and appropriate. The Catholics sure did.
So when I looked for an image, this lil puppy showed up:
My shrine is not this high or wide, but it's built on this principle.
First I put down a sheet of plastic, so that weeds wouldn't grow up through the shrine. This really works, and it doubles as a nursery for mosquitoes. Hey, bats gotta eat! If you don't like mosquitoes, skip this step.
Next I gathered up bricks I already had in my yard, including some of those nice pavers. I laid them in a semi-circle. Then I went to the landscape store and bought a flagstone and two bags of gravel. Put the flagstone in the semi-circle and poured the gravel around it. This is what it looked like at that step:
As you can see, it was Samhain when this photo was snapped. You could easily stop right after this step and have a tidy and wonderful shrine.
Me, I had some extra ambitions.
I grew up on Polish Mountain, as had seven generations of Johnsons. I miss that mountain like a lost lover. So I drove to Polish Mountain and loaded my trunk with rocks from the mountainside. I took one really nice flat stone from behind my great-grandfather's house to use as an Anchor Stone. I also dug out some little pieces of crumbly shale to put over top of the generic gravel. I placed these mountain stones over and around the bricks. No mortar. No cement.
Except this is just the beginning. This is where you really begin to personalize your shrine, so that it is pleasing to your Gods and your ancestors and the spirits of your place.
You can see that my shrine looks bright and shiny. That's because I went to the beach and collected white pebbles and sea glass to put on it. (There are sea shells too.) I put marbles on there, and crystals, semi-precious stones, trinkets, Mardi Gras beads from the Mummers Parade, silk flowers from the Fairy Festival, and souvenir rocks from hikes. Please note: If there are signs on your hike that say "Don't take the rocks," don't take the rocks! You don't want a sneaky shrine.
A shrine should be fluid. You put new things on it and take the worn-out things off. You re-arrange the rocks and add seasonal garnishes.
Once a year I gather up all the shiny stuff and give it a good bath. Last year when I was doing it, my phone fell into the bucket of water and was in there for awhile before I noticed it was gone. I pulled it out of the water, and it started right up. Not a single problem. When you seek to honor entities on a shrine, They will appreciate it.
When it's not too windy or too dry, I light a candle on my shrine at night. On the solstices (weather permitting) I let the candles burn overnight or for 24 hours. I use jar candles and hurricane globes that I buy at the thrift store. On Samhain I always put a jack-o-lantern on my shrine.
I tend this shrine gently almost every day and do my devotions there on full and dark moons, on holy days, and when I need to petition the Gods, Ancestors, and Nature Spirits.
You know what's the most brilliant thing about my shrine? It's portable. I can pick it up and move it anywhere. No mortar, no cement.
So ... you've got a little piece of ground and a lot of time on your hands, right? Building a shrine is the perfect way to spend a long afternoon outdoors! Go forth and give it a try! And share your results with me. I would love to see them.