Many people have shrines in their homes, either as an area of worship to a particular deity of spiritual leader or simply as a means through which they can shift their thoughts from the minutiae of daily life to higher and more spiritual considerations. The shrine consists of more than just the altar itself; it is both the shrine and the space it occupies. Unless you subscribe to particular religions, there are no formal ‘blueprints’ detailing what constitutes a shrine. The dressings are not as important as what they come to represent when you steal some time to interact with it. Building a shrine in your home can be a superb way to keep your spiritual side nourished and balanced with the demands of modern living.
Why build a shrine?
It is first worth considering what you want your shrine for and who is going to use it. A shrine can represent many things - a conduit to a higher force, a place for contemplation or a special area in which to honour the memory of someone who has died. If you are a Hindu, then you might need to make yourself aware of the geometric requirements of a shrine in relation to certain rituals, such as the Srauta ritual. Alternatively, as a Christian, you might find it important to have a particular statue or item present and if your shrine won’t support it or there isn’t room for it, then you may feel that you have defeated the purpose of building it.
If the shrine is purely for contemplation or meditation, then consider the ambience you would like to create. Should the shrine be to commemorate a loved one who has died, then you might want to consider where you will put certain items and just what they will think of your shrine. Is it constructed in a way that would give them pleasure and does it hold some special meaning for you?
Select your space
You will first need to select your space. It should be a room or even part of a room that is removed from the hustle and bustle of the rest of your home. If possible, it should be away from traffic noise and have limited accessibility, minimising the chance of interruptions. Some prefer to build their shrines as far away from the house as possible, creating them in garden sheds or even in allotment buildings. The main elements you want from your space are peace, seclusion and the minimal chance of intrusion. The space is as much a part of the shrine itself and the more ambient you can make it, the better it will serve you.
Define your shrine
Once you have chosen your space, it is important to define it. While it might only be psychological, it can be important to create a threshold that you have to cross, symbolising leaving the ‘real world’ behind and entering a more spiritual realm. If your shrine is in the corner of a room, then you might consider cordoning it off with a curtain or beads. Even if your shrine is in a separate room or is in the garden shed, make the perimeter of the shrine slightly before the door, giving you an area in which you can perform preparatory tasks such as removing your footwear without it impinging on the spiritual space itself. As a result, you will slowly develop little rituals – even as simple as taking your shoes off – that will trigger a thoughtful and respectful frame of mind.
Place solid structures in the shrine that will support any artefacts you wish to use and raise them to a physical level that you feel is appropriate. Tables and shelves are perfectly suitable, as are cardboard and plastic boxes. However, it is worth seeing if you can find means of support that are made from natural materials, such wood or even stone.
Whatever your spiritual beliefs, there is something to be said for the ambience created by natural materials. Some believe that this is because they generate benign and calming energies, while others see it simply as away to somehow connect with the natural environment. However you view things, it cannot be denied that the ambience created by the stones of a church or the wood of a cabin engender feelings of peace and calm, which are a vital part of this, your spiritual space.
Representing your beliefs
You now need to transform your support structure from an ordinary pile of boxes or shelves into something that is representative of your spiritual beliefs. A simple sheet can add something to your structure or you may prefer to cover it with items that are pertinent to what you are focussing on. In addition to visual stimuli such as statues, photographs, personal items and talismans, it is worth remembering to appease your other senses. Incense sticks and oil burners can help to calm the spirit through the use of associated smells and even items that make gentle noises, such as wind-chimes can help to engender the right atmosphere. However, what is most important of all is that the items you use are somehow relevant to you; that they have some meaning and symbolism that you will respond to.
Dedicate your shrine
Finally, you must dedicate your altar to your purpose. This might be through a ritual of your own creation, a special prayer or even meditation. Whatever you choose to do, ensure that you set aside a special time in which to do it. Dedicating your space can mean as much as consecrating ground or conducting a spiritual cleansing. By doing so you are affirming its intent and filling it with positive energies. The ritual, just like your choice of artefacts should have some personal relevance. You are creating a space that is, in effect, your own miniature church or temple and an extension of your personality and all that you believe in.
Approach and leave your shrine in a ritualistic manner each time you use it. This reaffirms its purpose and reinforces its spiritual potency.