A shrine is a place or object that represents, holds and makes a space for a certain entity, abstract concept, idea or belief. At the shrine, offerings are made or prayers are said to and for what is held there.
The practice of building shrines has many functions, some of which are psychological in that they allow us to externalize certain ineffable concepts, like the soul, or a relationship to a powerful but unseen being. Externalizing means giving form to something that we only feel, perceive and understand as untouchable, within or numinous. The practice of externalizing helps us to actively work with them, consider, and care for them in a way that is different from when they remain unseen or are internalized only. With the shrine, we are able to take that relationship, being or concept and place it in a concrete form outside of ourselves, look at it and interact with it in a real time, three-dimensional way.
Though many may think of shrine building as primitive or an old fashioned superstition, that is simply not true. This practice arose out of a common sense need to give expression to the intangible and create form for something that is formless. Shrines have served and continue to serve useful purpose throughout human history. It is potent and effective, even from a strict intellectual point of view, to consider a thing from a different perspective. Externalizing a concept or entity like the soul or a god, building an image of them in our understanding of them, helps humans interact with this part of themselves or the universe. It offers a feeling of agency over our lives as well as interaction and participation with these entities that are unseen.
Shrines make the non-visible visible.
Shrines help humans to remember to engage in an ongoing reciprocal relationship with things we cannot see or touch.
Many of us are familiar with altar type shrines — a bench or a shelf upon which we place items that are precious or sacred and interact with them in that way. I differentiate the word shrine from the word altar in that when I speak of a shrine, I am speaking of the item that is crafted for the purpose of interaction and feeding.
In the Dagara tradition I am initiated into shrines are built out of clay from the Earth in a very special ritual. They are crafted for a specific element, entity or concept to give it embodiment; a place to live inside our homes. Onto these clay figurines offerings are poured. The more one interacts with the shrine, the more powerful it and the relationship becomes. The shrines begin to hold space of their own and anchor the diviner and their medicine in a concrete and very active way.
The become loci for healing.
Strega Tree diviners build and tend to many different shrines. Many of Strega Tree Apothecary’s products are “charged up” on their respective shrines to imbue the product with the powers of that shrine and the entity to whom they are dedicated.
~Theresa C. Dintino
©Theresa C. Dintino 2019
Theresa C. Dintino is an ancestral Strega (Italian wise woman), Earth worker, and initiated diviner in the West African Dagara tradition. For more than 20 years Theresa has studied and practiced an Earth-based spirituality. She currently helps others reclaim their personal lineages through her divination work. Theresa is the author of seven books which include her Tree Medicine Trilogy. Learn more about her books here.