Shrines & Altars to Nature
In Britain, traditional shrines to Nature can be found at trees and springs. Practices include tying strips of cloth or ribbon onto branches (when tying things to trees, make sure you will not constrict their growth) and hammering 2p coins into an old stump (always in a dead tree, never a living one).
The former is practiced with the intent of making a prayer or an offering, in remembrance of someone or to honour the tree or Nature Beings. The latter is carried out to remove a dis-ease or a problem, by placing the energy in the coin with one’s intent and then asking the divine to take the unwanted energy when hammering it in the tree as a cleansing ritual.
These folk rituals can be found around Britain, Janet’s Fosse, near Gordale Scar, Yorkshire is a place where tree stumps with coins can be found. Strips of ribbon or fabric on trees is more common, several places have this, some secretive, some public, such as at Avebury.
Sometimes we may wish to create something more personal as a means of honouring the Nature Spirits and Elemental Beings around us. The simplest shrine can be made with a plant in a pot or an area can be set aside in the garden, house or in nature for a more elaborate arrangement.
What does a shrine need to contain? The most important factor is to go with the heart and intuition, create something that has true integrity and love, this is what gives a shrine power. What are you trying to say? “Thank you”, “I love you”, “I honour you”, “Please support me”, “I offer you healing”, “I ask for healing”, the list is endless but it is your guide in the making of it.
Let’s start out with some basic structure, although, never forget that there are no rules and anything that comes from the heart with love and true intent is good. I would like to strongly urge consideration of the materials used, preferably natural materials that will not bring harm to Nature, no plastic or string that might get caught in a bird’s beak or feet, nothing sharp-edged or likely to break or become harmful to animals.
Number is the structure of the universe and a shrine can be modelled on this in microcosm.
The Trinity and the One: We start with the One, this may be the centre of your altar or shrine. Traditional shrines would have a statue of a deity. It can be anything that represents the focus of your shrine or the Creator, a natural object or something more specific.
Then we have Two: duality, representing the physical world of humans, also the two worlds, the one we live in and the one the Nature Beings and Elementals live in, represented by two opposite objects such as a black stone and a white stone, for instance.
Then Three: representing manifestation, the triple nature of God/Goddess, creative forces, action.
The Four: Four directions, four seasons, four faces of the Goddess (Maiden, Bride, Mother and Wise Woman), four elements (Water, Earth, Air, Water), four dimensions, four gateways of the year (Imbolc, Beltaine, Lughnasadh and Samhain or the two solstices and two equinoxes), the list goes on. Mark four directions on your shrine or altar, perhaps with four stones laid in the shape of a cross. Or instead, set up a cross.
Finally, Seven: The musical notes, colours of the rainbow, representing the vibration of the energy of the universe and creativity.
Every number has a meaning, here are just some examples, use what your heart directs.
Shape: The circle is Nature, the turning of the year, planet Earth and the sun or moon, so it’s a lovely shape to represent on the altar within the overall layout.
Triangles; pointing up, masculine and grounding energy, pointing down, the feminine and opening energy. Overlapped triangles symbolise “As above, so below” or bringing heaven onto Earth.
Spirals are commonly used in the carved decorations of our ancestors, and represent cyclic nature and ascension, our progression on our soul journey, moving through key initiations, awakenings and gateways at higher and higher levels.
The elements: Fire: Small tealights are commonly used on altars, even in Nature, with responsibility to not leave flame unattended, potentially causing a fire. Fire elementals are present in the light and warmth from the sun but also wherever decomposition takes place, such as leaves in the woodland, compost heap in the garden. They play a major part in the process of decay, transformation and regeneration.
Water elementals can be represented by placing liquids like milk or water on the altar or just sprinkling them over it. Also, shells. Water is the flow of life, it also holds the Akashic record, a source of wisdom, as are trees.
Air is represented by burning incense, once more, with care and responsibility when in Nature. Flags and tying rags or ribbons on trees for air, as we have seen. These allow the breeze to take our prayers to spirit, you can write a prayer or blessing on them. Found feathers have different meanings, depending on their colour or type of bird, they have many meanings and can be placed on the shrine or altar.
Earth is usually represented as the base on which the shrine or altar is made. However, food offerings are greatly accepted, also dried sage. Stones, pebbles, crystals, seeds, cones, leaves, the list is endless.
I tend to change my altars every three months on 1st March, 1st May, 1st August and 1st November and at any other time I get the urge or desire. I am always moving things about, adding and removing things as I sit at my altar every day to meditate and do my spiritual work. A complete refresh is a good idea from time to time.
Once up, the most important part is what you say. This comes from your heart. Dedicate your shrine or altar when it is first made or when you refresh it. Talk to the nature beings and elementals, get to know them. To do this, it is important you place only the energies of love and peace in your heart and mind. Make sure you do that every time you approach the shrine. If you do, you are opening yourself up to communication. Here is an invocation you can use:
“I call upon the protection, light and love of my personal guides and the Creator; I ask that you assist me in gaining a state of love within my mind and heart while adopting an existence of peace. I am love, I am peace. I now invoke the light, love and wisdom of Nature and the Creator's soul, to anchor into my being allowing the most appropriate vibration and level of energy to flow through me. I ask that as I open my truth and love to Nature, I am able to sense and experience the trust and love held within Nature. Allow me to receive the wisdom and energy that I need and is essential to my growth now on the Earth. Thank you and let it be.”
Then allow yourself to sit peacefully in a state of acceptance and peace. Next, ask for your senses to be open to receive the light, energy, love and consciousness of Nature. Be open to any thoughts, feelings and insights. From these simple beginnings, go with your own flow, your soul knows what to do, you cannot go wrong.
The objects placed on the altar or shrine simply need to be meaningful to you, containing some of your energy (hold them in meditation, perhaps, placing your love, peace and gratitude in them). Breathe your intent into them. This is all about working with energy, nature beings see and feel the energy you put into things, if there is no energy, there is no offering, no gift. I have heard it said they prefer to receive energetic offerings rather than physical ones, it is us humans that feel the need to do everything in the physical. Nature Beings live and work in the Emotional frequency, whilst you speak to them, it is your emotions, not your words they pick up on. Go to a place in Nature and visualise yourself placing a gift there, whether a crystal, some sage, a flame, a light or a feather, if you place it with intent in your mind’s eye, Nature Beings will receive it. Energetic objects truly are a part of you and you can leave anything from a diamond to a burning sun!
Thank you, to Shelli for inspiring this with the question she left in Comments:
“I stumbled upon your site while searching for shamanism based on my British ancestry. Thank you!! I am wondering if you tend shrines to the elements? If they figure into this cosmology? How you go about doing it if you do? How it benefits your life?”
Yes, I do tend shrines to Nature Beings, I am about to set one up in the woods next to where I live. I have one in my house. I like to make impromptu shrines and altars when I am out in Nature. It’s also possible to care for a sacred site energetically from a distance, I act as the site-guardian for a sacred spring in Yorkshire, even though I live hundreds of miles away, I visit it energetically and work with the energy at the location.
One of the most important lessons I have learnt over the years is keep it simple, go with the heart, do things from a place of love and peace and that is all that matters. It benefits my life because it enables me to open up to the energies of Nature and Elemental Spirits and make a connection which enriches us both. They are living side by side with us, aware of our presence and our influence on Nature. They desire to get to know us and share our energies but not many humans are ready or able to do this, so they don’t get much chance. Their connection to the Earth, to the Creator and the Inner Planes is unquestionable, but humanities connections are poor. A shrine can help us to make this a regular practice and gives us a focus, but in time we can take away the physical element and just walk in Nature with joy, love, peace, serenity and gratitude in our hearts and minds, inviting them to connect, they will know, they will respond, that is enough.
I heartily recommend all the books of Marco Pogacnik on this subject, especially 'Nature Spirits & Elemental Beings: Working with the Intelligence in Nature: Revised, Updated & Expanded Edition'