Building Outdoor Sacred Spaces, Part III: Other Small Projects

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.

Dana O'Driscoll

Dana O’Driscoll has been an animist druid for almost 20 years, and currently serves as Grand Archdruid in the Ancient Order of Druids in America. She is a druid-grade member of the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids and is the OBOD’s 2018 Mount Haemus Scholar. She is the author of Sacred Actions: Living the Wheel of the Year through Earth-Centered Spiritual Practice (REDFeather, 2021), the Sacred Actions Journal (REDFeather, 2022), and Land Healing: Physical, Metaphysical, and Ritual Approaches for Healing the Earth (REDFeather, 2024). She is also the author/illustrator of the Tarot of Trees, Plant Spirit Oracle, and Treelore Oracle. Dana is an herbalist, certified permaculture designer, and permaculture teacher who teaches about reconnection, regeneration, and land healing through herbalism, wild food foraging, and sustainable living. Dana lives at a 5-acre homestead in rural western Pennsylvania with her partner and a host of feathered and furred friends. She writes at the Druids Garden blog and is on Instagram as @druidsgardenart. She also regularly writes for Plant Healer Quarterly and Spirituality and Health magazine.

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  1. Wonderful post, DruidGarden. The fairy houses, cairns, and gateways that were built at the ECG gave me much to think about. I am not much of a builder, but as a child I was always piling stones and making fairy houses of a kind (although I did not call it that or think of fairies in the way I do now).

    I especially like the idea of hanging something small that conveys a powerful message in a tree. I actually did something like that with a paper leaf that hangs from the rearview mirror of my car — on it I wrote my lesson for the Autumn season, a small reminder of why the fall of the year is important.

    the bard of the marshes

    1. Love the idea of hanging a blessing in your car! Its such a simple act, but is quite profound!

  2. Thank you very much for this post! The nature shrines and other sacred spaces that you have shared here are lovely, and very fitting ways to honour the spirits of the place. I have been wanting to build a nature shrine myself somewhere on my property for quite a while now, but I have never been sure where to begin.

    I also love the idea of leaving small pieces of art made of natural materials in places where other people may come upon them. I like to think that they might lead to others becoming more aware of the environment around them and of the beauty and wonder that are to be found within the small details of nature.

    1. Heather, Thanks for posting! Try something simple to start and trust your intuition. Nature shrines don’t have to be elaborate things–a simple stone cairn, an altar with some acorns, etc, are all great first steps! 🙂

  3. It’s strange reading this I reflected and found that my whole garden is a shrine of sorts, when I travel I collect stones, shells driftwood and other objects which I place by my pond. I feel a desire to create a more focused shrine for the craft. I am going to create a one at a pottery class and then place it in the garden I will place my special finds around it.
    I also have a wooden cat in my garden which has the ashes of my old friends splut, rek, and cassie I feel that their cat spirits are with me.
    I also am creating a witches herbal garden.
    I am at a turning point in my life and see myself becoming, a nature witch, dedicated to healing and protection, and developing my spiritual potential, with the blessing of the goddess and spirits of nature.

    1. Aurora, thank you so much for sharing. I love the story of your garden–it sounds so magical!

  4. I have a small space and sometimes feel hampered by the size, so these small touches are just what I was looking for. Thank you. One question: did you make the hanging “You are loved” message on the ash tree? What is it made of?

    1. Hi Julie, I’m glad this was helpful for you! Small spaces are wonderful spaces that you can work intensively with :). I made the sign–it is made of low fire clay (bisque fired and glaze fired). You could probably get a local potter to make you one or find something similar on Etsy! Or make it out of wood, etc.

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