So I was asked to do a post on shrine-building, and talk about how I put my shrines together. The short answer, in many cases, is simply symmetry, but that wouldn’t make much of a blog post. Instead, I thought I’d go back through my old shrine photos, and perhaps talk about how I learned to build shrines, and how they’ve changed over the years. I don’t think I’ve ever done a post like that before, and I was curious to see how things had changed, and how much had stayed the same.
This will be a bit long, and image-heavy, so you’ve been warned. But other than that, I hope it’s somewhat interesting to you. Also, I apologise if some of these are not great quality. I did the best I could.
ETA: ffs I guess this is what I get for posting right before bed, sorry for the formatting errors. They are fixed now. Flickr embed code is the worst, I swear to the gods. >:(
I became Pagan around sixteen years ago, and the first shrine I remember building consisted of my statue of Isis, some candles and incense, and I’m sure there were elemental representations somewhere in there. I did begin my Pagan life as a Wiccan. I’m pretty sure I made an image of Thoth to sit on there too, but I don’t know what I used for Sobek, as going back through my (very old and very undated) Book of Shadows notes, He was part of my devotions in 2001. I could’ve sworn I only knew about Him until later. So there you go. I guess that’s what you get for not dating your BoS notes consistently, or sometimes at all. /I’m a terrible record keeper.
Anyway, the earliest shrine photo I have is from 2004, and I suspect it’s not that much different from my first shrine, except for the statues. I do remember this particular layout, with the three candles, and my first attempt at a naos that I made out of an old box file. I made the ankh in the front from air drying clay, and the stick on top is actually not a wand, but a stick I found that had a fork in it that looked like an ibis foot. It’s there for Djehuty. The canopic jar at the back left I made in art class, year 10 I think, and that’s as close to the original paint job as I can get. My original design was for a cat, but in a hurry, I ended up making a penguin. PenPen, from Neon Genesis Evangelion, which me and my friends were fucking up our brains with at that point in time. 😀
It’s actually not a bad little shrine, and I spent a lot of time doing devotions there. The blue bowl was for incense, and there’s also a little charcoal burner behind the scribe statue on the far right. Winged Isis is not on here, though; I suspect She is sitting on the storage shelf below, I can just see a wing tip that looks familiar. I think I couldn’t find room for Her there in a way that didn’t wreck the symmetry. But there you go.
I don’t think I ever used it for anything more significant than daily devotions, but it’s still not a bad attempt for someone four years or so into their practice. I’d clearly left Wicca behind at this point; I think I ditched in 2002, iirc, but definitely by 2003. So if there are any changes between this one and my first one, it’s probably that this one isn’t Wiccan.
So in that case, it’s probably my first attempt at a Kemetic shrine. Sorry, Kemetic altar; the picture is named ALTAR1.jpg, so I guess I still thought of it as an altar, rather than as a shrine. Some people don’t quite pick out the distinctions between them, and I don’t think I did it for a long time. My shrines first started being built on my IKEA Ivar shelves. Which are seriously the best shelves in the world omg This sat on the third shelf up; the one below it was for storage, and there were books and other stuff under that. The shelves are 90cm x 50cm, or ~35.5in x 19.7in, so there’s a decent amount of space to work with if you plan it right. I used Ivar shelves for my main shrines up until I completely redid my room. Now I only have one Ivar shelf for a shrine, currently used by Masrai and Her pantheon, and one smaller one on my other book case, which is 30cm x 30cm, or about 12in x 12in, and that’s for Hekate.
I don’t know how much I really needed the naos, but I made one anyway. It was an old box file that I cut the lid off. NOWAIT. It did once have the lid on it, and the whole thing was covered in parchment paper. And that was used as a naos-ish thing for a while until it turned into this iteration. The lid was cut off, and I used some screw eye pins so I could hang curtains. The box file was partly made of wood, so it was easy to use them for that purpose. The curtains were black velveteen, and there were two of them, and they could be brought down to close the shrine. The painted material on the picture of Djehuty served a similar purpose, and could be brought around and stuck back to cover the image. I was big on covering images back then.
The next evolution in shrine layout came after my Kemetic Orthodox Rite of Parent Divination (RPD) in 2005. 2006? 2005. Something like that. I can’t find anything immediately post-RPD, but I have this photo from December 2007, which gives you an idea of how I was making a shrine for 5 different gods omg.
So this is three years down the track, and now I’ve got a Father and four Beloveds to work with. So Sobek gets the pedestal box at the back (and is currently obscured by the hanging thing I think an aunt gave me for a gift because idek). The box was made from an old spell kit box, iirc, and I covered it with paper and card to make it pretty and useful. I’ve still got it hanging around somewhere, I think, with all my Wep Ronpet cards I’ve received over the years. At least, I think I still have it. I don’t really know where it is atm.
Anyway. You can see my awesome symmetry skillz have improved here. To be fair, when you don’t have much space, and need to include five gods on a shrine, you can’t make a lot of room for them. So I have Heru-sa-Aset on the far left, followed by Aset, then Djehuty, and Wepwawet, they are my four beloveds. I still have the ankh, and the forked stick, but I’ve added some touch stones, an amethyst necklace, and a small seated figure of Ma’at, which I no longer have because it broke too many times.
I actually quite like the simplicity of this one. Partly it’s a space issue; there’s too much to put on here to make much room left for random bits and pieces. But I think this was when I came to really appreciate a less-cluttered shrine aesthetic.
It clearly took a while to sink in, though, because this is what my other miscellaneous everything else shrine looked like. This was on another shelf on the adjacent wall, and pretty much contained akhu + everything else I didn’t have room or the desire to put away. And it’s a huge mess. I spent years with this huge mess of a shrine before I made room for more shrines. I offer it as proof I have not always had neat, clean shrines that look amazingly beautiful. Sometimes, they have just been a mess of stuff and were so cluttered they were of no use at all.
I mean, look at the state of that. There’s some semblance of organisation and layout, but mostly, it’s a cluttered mess. Even my shelves are a cluttered mess. I was still learning my tidy aesthetic, and so everything was still a bloody mess. I didn’t have great storage back then, and so there was often overflow. Which doesn’t help you keep things tidy.
Also, that drawing of a phoenix and a wolf on the side of the wardrobe on the far left is still my favourite thing ever and I really need to find a wall to put it up on again. I mean, it is technically fanart and it’s not relevant to this discussion, but it is the most amazing thing I have ever drawn and I love it to pieces. It is still rolled up in a tube somewhere for when I have a wall I can hang it on.
Anyway. Look, I used to do messy shrines aren’t I amazing. :D?
LOOK AT THAT MESS WTF SELF WHAT IS THIS SHIT.
…At least the books are better organised now? IDEK XD
I call this technique the Kitchen Sink approach to shrine building, in which you put ALL THE THINGS on the shrine, for wildly different purposes, and it becomes so clogged down it’s unusable. 😀
I mean, I know cluttered shrines like this work for some people. They have their own reasons for why this sort of thing works for them. And, sure, at the time, it worked for me, though it didn’t really, because it just became a place to put things, rather than a shrine or an altar. It wasn’t dedicated to anyone in particular, it served no single purpose, and it wasn’t possible to work on it. The only thing it really did was collect dust. And, to me, that’s not a sign of a healthy shrine.
If there’s anyone reading this who does jive with the cluttered shrine thing, I’d love to know why it works for you. I honestly don’t know how you can make it work.
Anyway. So this shrine is from 2009, and I’m including it because it’s the first time I have pictorial evidence of Sobek and Heru’s statues being together. I’d known, since my RPD, that they were both really close, but it wasn’t until I took my shrine down one day, and in the process of putting it back together, I discovered that They didn’t want to be separated. They’ve sat together on the shrine ever since, until it evolved into the Shedety shrine I now have.
I quite like this iteration, too. It’s very plain and stripped back, and while it follows a similar pattern to previous shrines, I think it works very well. It wasn’t deliberately or consciously split masculine/feminine, that’s just how it seemed to want to be laid out. I like keeping Isis and Heru on the same side, as They are related, so Djehuty got the other side. It also has Ganesha and Quan Kin because that was a Thing at that point in time for me.
What I find so interesting about this is how much it echoes my practices at the very beginning of my path, in which I really did just do devotions to Isis, Djehuty, and Sobek. And there They are, all together, with Heru now, and Ganesha, and Quan Yin. It’s funny how things cycle back like that.
Also, this is only here because it’s a rare photo of a cat on one of my shrines. It rarely ever happens. This is my current cat, Dora, chilling out on my Kemetic shrine, in 2011-ish? IDK. But anyway. It’s too cute not to include, even if it offers nothing about my shrine building theories. It also offers a nice overview of all the shrines I had at the time, all stacked on top of each other.
I think it gives a better context for how the shrines sat in my room. I think the only shrine you can’t see is the akhu shrine on top, but that’s okay. You can see the two other shrines there anyway, and the storage shelf below that. And, of course, my adorable cat. 😀
I thought you all needed an adorable interlude in this rather long post, so have a cat on a shrine. <3
So anyway. I’m going to skip a few now, because this could end up being 10k words long if I go and talk about each shrine I ever made, and show you the first shrine to Hekate I ever built. Apologies for the angle, but it seems this is the only photo I have of it. This was early 2012, once Hekate got in touch and I learnt we were working together. I built this with all the things I had available to me. All I added was the printout of that Hekate image, but everything else was grabbed from elsewhere. This was the very beginning of getting to know Her, and my basic approach was, in terms of a theme, red, threes, and dragons, because that’s all I really had.
What you can’t see, off to the far left next to the big bowl and the tiny dragon statue, is a skeleton on a stand, because death. Or something. Idk. But yeah. It’s not bad for something I cobbled together with what I had. Again, the symmetry came into play, as well as the three thing, and that helped guide the general layout. I have also clearly become fond of pedestals for deity images/statues, so that’s a thing. She’s actually standing on the same shiny silver box plinth I made for Sobek all those years ago, but it’s turned around to hide the Sobek glyph on the blue side. I also added the feathers because idk. I’m not always sure I remember why I chose the things I did for this shrine. Some things, I think, were just there to fill in space, or because well, it was better than them sitting around catching dust. But mostly, it worked, and I never had Hekate complain about it, so I must’ve been doing something right.
This was also about the time I started exploring paths other than Kemetic paths, and followed my nose into the Solitary Druid Fellowship. I don’t think I was there quite at the beginning, but close enough to it anyway. I’m not sure if there was one thing that drew me there, but I thought it was worth pursuing. I knew people at the time who were working through the Dedicant’s Program, and thought I’d give the SDF a go in a bid to decide whether I wanted to join ADF properly.
The first ritual I did was the summer solstice in December 2013, and this is the first altar/shrine I built for that ritual. It was done using a Roman hearth, as I was drawn to Roman polytheism at the time. Thanks, Isis. It is quite bare, compared to some of my other shrines, particularly given the space it was in, but it was the first time I was doing that sort of ritual, and my first experience with the Core Order of Ritual (COoR), so I did the best I could with what I had.
I won’t describe it as a pivotal moment, or one that gave me some sort of epiphany, but I discovered the COoR worked really well for me, and I was keen to continue using it. There was something about it I found really enriching, and for me, it was the right balance between Roman recon and neopagan druidry.
I grew very fond of the Roman pantheon while I worked my SDF rituals, and after a while, they became Romano-Kemetic, because of course they did.
Though the one ritual I did that didn’t work out for me was the first and only time I did an Imbolc rite to Brigid, which was the next High Day rite following my first SDF rite. I’m still not sure what made me decide to do an actual Imbolc rite, but I set up in the front room, because there was space and I had the house to myself that evening, and did the rite.
And while nothing exactly went wrong, I just got a sense of polite thanks, with a sense of mutual disinterest. Not a sense of anger or hostility, just, you don’t belong to me, and I don’t belong to you, but thanks anyway, I guess? Which confirmed, again, for me that me and Celtic gods are just never going to get along. And that’s fine with me. I have plenty of other gods I can work with and worship.
But I still remember that first Solstice rite, where I offered to Sol Invictus and Harpocrates. The simplicity of the shrine, and the tree-well-fire along the back, and the offerings before it. It was actually one of the few shrines I’ve ever made that didn’t include deity representations. There are no statues or images or artworks or symbols. It’s just the Fire-Well-Tree, and the offerings and tools.
Partly, this was a lack of deity things to use in the first place. I had nothing for Roman gods. Perhaps those who are more used to working without statues or images, it wouldn’t feel as strange as it did to me, but I have a large collection of statues, and I’m always including them in m shrines. So admire this rare occurrence of a shrine with no deity representations on it. It doesn’t happen very often for me, but I think it adds to the simplicity. It was so much a rite about fire and warmth and the sun that to just have candles and fire and nothing else for deity seemed appropriate.
It was around this time that the Sobek/Heru shrine began to take shape. I don’t think this is the earliest iteration of it, but it’s an iteration of it nonetheless. And this is one of the less-cluttered versions of it. After a while, it gets very cluttered indeed. But I don’t see that as particularly problematic for a devotional shrine. Things get added as the relationship deepens, and more understandings are made. Also when gods claim things because of course they do.
In many ways, it’s an unusual set-up. The shrine I made, sitting at the centre back there, wasn’t big enough for my two large statues of Sobek and Heru, and this meant I had to arrange things differently. So I had all the statues on top of the shrine, along with a few other things, and had different things in the shrine itself.
It has the two horses I used to represent Their connection to Castor and Pollux. The round box has other treasures in it, and my money pot on top, along with a necklace I made for Sobek that has a crocodile tooth pendant on it. I actually just smashed that money pot recently, and got $400 out of it to spend on devotional items for the gods. This included the statue of Isis I got recently, as well as a statue of Wesir I’ve got coming my way.
It’s not quite cleanly separated into Sobek-Sobek/Heru-Heru areas just yet, but it’s beginning to go that way. So there are Sobek things on the left, and Heru things on the right, but there is also Sobek things on the right as well, and so it’s not quite settled in the way it is now. It’s a very central sort of shrine, with the edges more about tools and accessories, rather than devotional items. It makes a change from some of my previous shrines, where the god stuff took over the whole area.
This next shrine is one I created for Woden, when He first came calling. I didn’t have much for Him, either, but I made Him some runes, and cobbled together a few other bits and pieces, and put this together for Him. The white horse represents Sleipnir, of course, though it doesn’t have the right number of legs. Still, it’s another shrine built with what I had, and not a bad attempt, I don’t think.
It’s also got a little hammer for Thunor, and a candle, and some other bits and pieces. And some crow feathers.
I actually really like the simplicity of this one, too, and how it uses the space I have, which is my record player, and the speakers, to make something interesting. This one wasn’t particularly designed for specific devotionals. A lot of the time, I build these sort of shrines to begin opening that relationship. It’s a way to get to know a god, and give Them a physical piece of space in my life that I can’t just ignore. And so I think about Them, and I might offer to Them, and start that relationship going. Shrines inevitably change and evolve as my relationships with the gods change and evolve. I see that a natural process of being polytheist, and making space for many gods in your room. Well. I only have my bedroom for shrines, so I can’t expand everywhere, but at least it limits my shrine building because I don’t have room for everyone who wants space. It’s really only limited to working shrines. Everything else has to wait.
This is another little shrine I wanted to show off. Over on the Covenant of Hekate FB page (I have a private FB account just for pagan groups, and not much else), they offered a challenge to create a shrine to Hekate with just the things lying around in your house. I think the idea was to keep it as simple as possible, and use found objects, or repurpose something else. And this is what I came up with.
It’s possibly a bit hard to see everything, but it includes raven feathers, some red caps from the eucalyptus trees in the park behind me, some marbles I found, and a scattering of barley.
I tried to minimise the stuff I was using from my proper shrine, and only kept my icon, the globe, the dragon statue, and the seashell full of crystal chips and other found objects and keys that remind me of Her. Oh. And I think that’s a little turtle next to the globe that a friend got me while they were on holiday once. But yes, apart from that, it’s cheap and natural and I think it works quite well.
And of course, I couldn’t not include my wall shrines, to show you don’t need a lot of space to make an effective shrine. These were made from $7 spice racks from IKEA that I painted and varnished, and they do the job so well. Sure, you can’t do much with them, in terms of the amount of stuff they can hold, but sometimes, those limits are very useful in forcing you to choose what to place on there.
This is quite an early version of it as well, before it got rather bigger and more organised. But you can see it’s effectiveness. The bottom shelf is for runes, and the jewellery tree was one I painted with runes and turned into something that could represent Yggsdrasil. The top shelf is for the statues, and there is Woden, Kernunnos, and Thunor, and some pictures on the wall above them.
The stag I got cheap at a post-Christmas clearance sale in a Christmas shop, and thought he looked generic enough to represent Kernunnos. His antlers were a bit busted up, but I managed to fix them. He is just a little too big for the shelf, and can’t go on there now with the other things I have on there, but I still love him anyway.
Because I have so little space to make new shrines, putting up these spice racks gave me enough space to add in these little spaces, so I can still let these gods be present in my room, even if it’s only a little space.
And, of course, the whole room changed in 2014, and new shrines were erected. I don’t want to spend too much time on that, since this post is nearly 4000 words at this point in time, but I wanted to show you the initial set-up, and how I decided to put things together. I’ve posted about these shrines and their changing layouts plenty of times since then, so I won’t cover them, but this is how it all started.
I think this is a few months in, but it’s still mostly how it was originally set up. The top shelf is the akhu shrine, and there’s not much up there that’s still there right now. It became too high to be usable, so I moved it elsewhere.
The middle shrine is for several gods. From left to right, it has spaces for Hermes, Artemis, Isis, Hekate, and Hestia. It’s not a perfect layout by any means, and it changed a lot since, but as a start, it wasn’t bad. It was mainly set up for CoH work, and my growing sense of connection between Artemis, Isis, and Hekate. Hestia and Hermes were part of the noumenia rite, and so that’s how They have a place there.
I like the symmetry of it, though, and how it’s laid out. Although, looking at it now, it wasn’t as equally spread out as I’d have liked, and it’s bothering me. It’s not symmetrical omg how did I cope. D: /I coped just fine, akshully.
Then we come to the Shedety shrine, and you can see here how it’s now separated into Sobek and Heru halves, with a central Fire-Well-Tree thing in the middle. This was before I had my naos, of course, so the large statues were de facto devotional icons, and the others were, well. Less importan as cult icons. The horses are there, too, as are a lot of different things. The shrine cloths are actually three separate bits of fabric to show where each part of the shrine is.
Below that is some sort of festival shrine, I think? I can’t actually remember why it’s set up like that at the moment. I know it started as a shrine for the Mysteries of Wesir, but what it is in that particular photo, I don’t know. But anyway. That shrine didn’t last long, because storage, and it was too low. But it was an interesting space to play around with, and stack things on boxes to create interesting layers, even if it didn’t eventually work out.
But anyway. I hope this has been somewhat enlightening, and has given you some insight into how I build shrines. Perhaps there were other ways to tackle this top that wouldn’t involve so many photos, and 4.5k words, but well. I think this is a pretty interesting way to do this. I don’t think I’ve done anything like this before, so seeing all my shrines and their progression like this has brought back a lot of memories, and let me see how much I’ve gone through, and where my practice is at now, since I began all those years ago.
And to finish off, here’s the main shrines done up for the dark part of the year. I’ve changed them up a bit now, even a coupe of days after I redid them, but that always happens. I am forever tinkering with them. I’d show you all my shrines as they currently are, but that would take far too long and this post is long enough already.