How to make your own hal­lowed ground

Gar­den shrines of­fer peace in a chaotic world

The Hamilton Spectator - - STYLE - MAU­REEN GILMER Tri­bune News Ser­vice

When does a gar­den be­come hal­lowed ground?

When we have cre­ated a space for spir­i­tu­al­ity or re­mem­brance there. Tra­di­tion­ally called shrines, these amaz­ing spir­i­tual nooks in na­ture re­mind us that peace can be found in this chaotic world. You’ll find shrines in the ru­ins of ev­ery an­cient civ­i­liza­tion, prov­ing de­sire for ex­pres­sion is in­trin­sic to hu­man na­ture.

Shrines are a tes­ta­ment to our be­liefs, loves, mem­o­ries and val­ues. That’s why they were so com­mon in Catholic fam­ily home gar­dens. Many were first con­structed as memo­ri­als for fallen sol­diers from many wars. Oth­ers were ded­i­cated to beloved par­ents and lost chil­dren. Most fea­tured Mary, the mother of Je­sus, of­ten perched in an up­turned bath­tub grotto, but St. Fran­cis of As­sisi, pa­tron saint of an­i­mals and na­ture, is even more com­mon.

To­day, the many spir­i­tual path­ways are com­ing to­gether in the gar­den, so it’s nat­u­ral to rekin­dle this form of artis­tic ex­pres­sion to lend mean­ing to our favourite spa­ces. There are two ways to cre­ate these el­e­ments, de­pend­ing on your per­sonal pref­er­ence. Images and fig­u­ral stat­u­ary can re­flect Mary, Bud­dha and other re­li­gious icons. An­other op­tion: a photo of a loved one in weath­er­proof case or glazed on a ce­ramic tile.

Where no images are used, then the shrine be­comes an al­tar for ex­press­ing our­selves with of­fer­ings, more es­o­teric sym­bols and ob­jects of mean­ing. This can re­flect a rev­er­ence for Earth with a beau­ti­ful nat­u­ral space, pet­ro­glyphs, man­dalas, min­er­als and plants along with other nat­u­ral el­e­ments. It is the space you deem the cen­tre of your land­scape’s spir­i­tual uni­verse, be it a nook in the side yard or the fo­cal point of your view­shed.

To cre­ate such a space this sum­mer is a great way to re­fo­cus the mind from cur­rent events to the in­ner spirit that truly mat­ters. If you prac­tise yoga or other spir­i­tu­ally­based dis­ci­plines, this is a great way to cre­ate an ap­pro­pri­ate out­door space. This is why the space you choose is di­rectly re­lated to the way you prac­tise your own brand or blend of spir­i­tu­al­ity.

Spa­ces for shrines ded­i­cated to prayer and med­i­ta­tion should not be close to sources of neigh­bour noise. They should be de­signed with re­spect to the weather dur­ing sea­sons of use so you’ll al­ways be com­fort­able there. Where pri­vacy is needed, the space needs room for a screen hedge or par­ti­tion.

Within the space you’ll need a com­fort­able place to re­lax and let your mind wan­der its spir­i­tual cor­ri­dors. A com­fort­able out­door chair with a high back takes the least amount of space. For larger areas, use a chaise longue or a bud­get re­cy­cled fu­ton.

Pay at­ten­tion to your ground treat­ment if you do yoga for a clean, smooth sur­face for the mat.

Once cre­ated, these spa­ces tend to evolve as you do. Items gath­ered there may change from time to time as your path grows and di­ver­si­fies. Vir­tu­ally all spir­i­tual spa­ces are beau­ti­ful, so the fi­nal item — and the most im­por­tant — are plants and flow­ers. These give your shrine life and change as the days pass with one bloom­ing and then the next. By fall make sure your have bright leaves there be­fore it all goes to bed be­fore win­ter.

Where shrines are sea­sonal, let yours be recre­ated each year in a fresh new way. Let your spirit soar to the heav­ens by in­clud­ing all your favourite colours, or per­haps a com­po­si­tion of hues for vis­ual eye candy. Make it a de­light­ful place to look at and one pleas­ing to spend time in so your shrine be­comes a place of gen­e­sis, rekin­dling the fad­ing fires.

In dif­fi­cult times, the gar­den has al­ways of­fered respite be­cause it never changes. The cir­cle of the sea­sons and cy­cles of na­ture are a man­i­fes­ta­tion of a higher power un­af­fected by our hu­man con­flicts.

It’s why hu­man be­ings have brought their spir­i­tu­al­ity into na­ture, and na­ture into their spir­i­tu­al­ity by cre­at­ing shrines in gar­dens.


Shrines can be very sim­ply cre­ated to suit the user and the space.

Some home­own­ers bury the ashes of cre­mated pets be­neath mean­ing­ful and of­ten an­cient spir­i­tual fig­ures.

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