Building Sacred Outdoor Spaces, Part 1: Stone Carin Building / Stone Balancing / Stone Stacking (2023)

I think its important that, as druids, we work to build sacred spaces within the landscape. Yes, many would say that all land is sacred, and I’ll not disagree. But at the same time, there’s quite a difference between a parking lot or a strip of land between two segments or highway and a quiet forest glade or a stone circle set upon a hillside overlooking a river. Whether in your own home garden, in a corner of a local park, or in the forest behind your workplace, you can build and maintain small sacred spaces that can provide peace, restorative energy to you and the land, demonstrate reverence and respect. In my own property and in other wild places I visit, I’ve been working to build small natural sacred spaces and wanted to share my experiences and insight.

This post is meant to be the first in a series; I will detail other building techniques in the next few months. Some of these will include a set of smaller projects that you can undertake in as little as 10 minutes or larger projects which may take days, weeks, months, or years to complete.

Stone Cairns / Stone Balancing / Stone Stacking

(Video) How to Stack the CAIRN stones at Ingelborg in Eurvicscire ► Assassin's Creed Valhalla

The first “Sacred Space” building technique that you can use is building stone cairns, also known as stone stacking, stone building, or stone balancing.

The art of balancing stones has origins in many cultures. In many parts of Asia, stones are balanced and stacked as a sign of prayer and meditation. In North America, native Americans used stone cairns to watch over animals and forests while humans were not present. As druids, we often meet among stacked stones (such as the OBOD events at Stonehenge each year) or in stone circles. I see stone balancing as a kind of natural poetry–an aesthetic that is difficult to put into words. When we balance stones, we connect the depths of our souls to the depths of the earth and create something of beauty and harmony. What do the stacked stones convey? Ask them, and you may find out.

Stone balancing is a very simple, yet profound activity. Stone balancing allows you, at its core, to connect with the ancient energies of the earth. As you stack stones, you can enter a deep communion with the land, a kind of movement meditation. You might begin stone balancing by simply seeing how stone A stacks upon stone B and stone B stacks upon stone C. Try these kinds of stacks for a while, and once you get the hang of simple stacking, you might want to try more complex stone stacking, where stone C depends upon both A and B, or where B and C need each other to sit atop A.

(Video) How This Guy Balances Impossible Rock Structures | Obsessed | WIRED

When I started stone balancing, I made stone stacks very simply with the larger, round stones found so commonly in south-east Michigan. I have several active stone stacks in my yard which I maintain–these simple stacks of rounded stones would fall over each time the weather changed by more than 20 or 30 degrees. But over time, I started adding complexity to my stone stacks–when small pebbles were added between the larger stones, I created a more solid structure that can withstand the changing seasons, wind and rain.

I also began experimenting with different kinds of stacks and designs, such as the design I’ll call “Thor’s gate” and the “Yggdrasil” designs in the photos. When I went to Western PA (which is where I grew up), I found that the rocks there were much more conducive to stone building–nice, flat rocks allowed me to stack in many different patterns. Most of the cairns I am posting on this blog are from PA, where the stones love to be stacked!

When you are working, its important to pick out a good site to begin. Something that is firm for a base (a stump, a stone in the ground, a bit of flat earth with the leaves cleared away). You should also start with an ample supply of good stones in the area (for the reason, building stone cairns nearby or in rivers/streams is an excellent activity). As you are working, let the shape of the stones determine how you work with them–they will speak to you and the stone building will just flow.

(Video) Why we stack rocks

I have found stone balancing to be a wonderful activity for both my own property and for visiting natural areas and leaving a tribute. In my own property, I build them in different parts of the property as altars/shrines. For example, a stone cairn I maintain every day is my “Shrine to the Fallen” which sits on top of a white pine tree stump from a tree that was cut before we moved here. This shrine, aptly named, reminds me each day of the ongoing struggle our planet and our lands face; the trees cut in the name of “human progress” and the species threatened with extinction. In addition to the stones, I add symbols of rebirth and renewal such as pine cones and evergreen boughs to this shrine. A second stone cairn is a set of numerous stone stacks near a large oak and series of smaller sassafras trees, which I also maintain daily as a “Reverence to the Land” shrine. This shrine is where I might leave some seeds or pumpkin cakes as a “thank you” to the earth which provides all.

A second activity involves building stone cairns on public land where I am visiting: state parks, local township parks, along city walking paths, etc. Make sure you aren’t disrupting local wildlife with your stone building. I have some stone cairns that I return to often or once a year, and some that I build and never come back to again. Sometimes, I have found that if you build an impressive enough and visible enough cairn, others may add to your stone cairn or build others around it, creating a kind of shared poetry.

I have found great joy in building stone cairns in streams or along riverbeds. Recognize that spring rains and swollen rivers will eventually wash your cairns away; however, there is something inherently magical in seeing a stone cairn sitting in the middle of a tranquil brook.

(Video) The Sanctuary Cairn

Stones as Shared Poetry

The photo to the right and below was a small stone cairn I built while exploring the forest with a group of three other women. While none of them were druids like myself, all were spiritually aware and respectful of the land. When I finished building the cairn, I asked each of them how the stone cairn spoke to them; if they had happened upon it in the forest, what would it say to them? Here are their responses:

  • If I had come upon this stone cairn without knowing it was built by human hands, I would have thought that it rose up from the earth on its own. The earth had built it just to communicate with me.
  • I go hiking often, and many trails have these cairns as markers. So I see this cairn as something that helps guide you along your way.
  • I see it as a place for the energies of the forest to converge. A focus point. I also see it where the water and the earth meet.

My own intention was that the cairn was built to revere and respect the land. But the beauty of the stone cairn is that it allows for many kinds of interpretation and communion with the natural world.

(Video) Build a Stone Cairn

I hope that you will be inspired to post your own stone cairns! And if so, please post in the comments and share some of your work and experiences.


What does it mean when stones are stacked on top of each other? ›

Stones mark a path

Stone piles have been built by world cultures from nomadic to agricultural to tribal. Ancient Mongolians erected cairns, as did mountain dwellers in South America. Often, the stacks were intended to help people find their way safely around areas with little vegetation.

What is the spiritual meaning of stacked stones? ›

Rock stacking has carried spiritual meaning across cultures for centuries. The act of balancing stones carries with it a practice of patience and a physical effort of creating balance. Each rock can signify an intention of grace for thankfulness, or offered up for another in need. ...

What do stacked stones mean in Zen? ›

There's something deeply satisfying about stacking stones. It's a common motif in Zen gardens, which seek to create order out of nature's seeming chaos. In doing so, they highlight the harmony and balance of our place in the world.

What is the spiritual meaning of a cairn? ›

Buddhist writers describe the construction of a cairn as a form of worship, a way to ask for good fortune or an effort to balance energies. Cairns were used in astronomy or for pointing toward the setting sun for solstice celebrations. Other ceremonial uses are evident as well.

What do rocks mean spiritually? ›

The words rock and stone, referring to the prime elements in ancient foundations, are used in the scriptures as metaphors signifying strength, steadiness, and durability.

Why should you not stack stones? ›

Rock stacking in forests and on mountains could mislead hikers off trail and lead to dangerous results. Rock stacking can be detrimental to the sensitive ecosystems of rivers and streams. Moving rocks from the river displaces important ecosystem structure for fish and aquatic invertebrates.

What is a stack of stones called? ›

A cairn is a man-made pile (or stack) of stones raised for a purpose, usually as a marker or as a burial mound.

What does a pile of rocks mean in the Bible? ›

When he woke up, he made a pile of rocks and proclaimed they represented the visitation of God in his life and vowed to return there to meet with God in the future(see Genesis 28:20-22).

What is balancing stones called? ›

Rock balancing is when stones are stacked on top of one other to create land art without adhesives or any other means of support. These balancing rock piles, or stone sculptures, are also known as stone cairns.

What do balancing rocks mean? ›

A balancing rock, also called a balanced rock or precarious boulder, is a naturally occurring geological formation featuring a large rock or boulder, sometimes of substantial size, resting on other rocks, bedrock, or on glacial till.

What do 3 stacked rocks mean? ›

Stacked rocks, more commonly known as Cairns, placed along the trail signify that you are on the right track. It is a marker guiding you to the correct path or trail in cases where navigation becomes difficult and the trail may be easily lost.

How many steps are in balancing rocks? ›

Well-groomed 2.5-km trail and 235-step staircase lead to a platform with view of St. Mary's Bay and the Balancing Rock; interpretive panels, rest areas, picnic tables.

What do stone cairns meaning? ›

The name originates from a Gaelic term that means “heap of stones.” It was likely first coined by Scots who used them to mark trails across grass-covered, hilly landscapes. In the Andes Mountains and Mongolia, rock cairns were used to mark routes to safety, to food, and to villages.

Are cairns Good luck? ›

In many parts of Asia, cairns dot mountain paths not only as trail markers, but also as a sign of reverence to San-shin, the Mountain Spirit, and to bring good luck to those who add a stone.

Why do people leave stacked rocks? ›

When a pile of rocks points the way home. These days, most rock stackers do it as a way to mark a trail, especially in less frequently navigated backcountry. Others claim the act of slowly and deliberately stacking rocks can be another way to practice mindfulness.

Why do Koreans stack rocks? ›

Doltap, or stone stacks, refer to elaborate conical cairns erected at village entrances as objects of worship believed to keep away bad fortunes and invite in the good.

What are the 7 stones in the Bible? ›

v13: "You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone was your covering: the sardius (ruby), topaz, and the diamond, beryl, onyx (agate), and jasper, turquoise, and emerald with gold.

What do the 12 stones in Revelation represent? ›

Answer: In the Bible, Revelation 21:19-20 lists twelve gemstones as the foundation stones of the Heavenly City. Over the centuries, like the stones of the breastplate of Aaron, these Biblical gems became associated with astrological signs and the months of the calendar.

Why is God called a rock? ›

Justifiably, David called God his rock because God was his strength, his support, his defence, Who enabled him to subdue his enemies, and gave him victories in battles.

Why you shouldn't make rock towers? ›

One of the most fundamental problems with stacking rocks is how disruptive it can be to surrounding environments. In a mountainous area, removing rocks from the ground can cause significant erosion. Rocks of all sizes keep soil from washing away.

Why do Japanese stack stones? ›

"'Stone stacking' is also a form of prayer in Japan," he reports. Visitors to the Nasu Hot Spring Shrine will find large and small stacks of rock and stone piled along trails and within groups of Jizo statues. Legends of this area include a monster vanquished and turned into a boulder.

Are rock cairns illegal? ›

No, you shouldn't stack rocks on your next hike in Texas. It's illegal. The building of rock cairns, or rock stacking, is not allowed inside Texas State Parks. This destroys and disturbs sensitive and crucial wildlife habitats found within the park.

What is a piece of stone called? ›

pebble. noun. a small stone, especially one that has been made smooth by water.

What are the 12 stones of Israel? ›

The Hebrew names of these 12 stones are (1) Odem, (2) Pitdah, (3) Bareketh, (4) Nophek, (5) Sappir, (6) Yahalom, (7) Leshem, (8) Shebo, (9) Ahlamah, (10) Tarshish, (11) Shalom, (12) Yashpheh. Also called Aaron's Breastplate or Breastplate of the High Priest.

What does the Bible say about the 12 stones? ›

So the Israelites did as Joshua commanded them. They took twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, as the LORD had told Joshua; and they carried them over with them to their camp, where they put them down.

What does the Bible say about standing stones? ›

STANDING STONES were used by God many times throughout the Old Testament as a memorial of God's blessing and greatness. So that when the ancients would pass a STANDING STONE they would ask. “What happened here?” And God's work would be remembered and He would be praised!

What are the three parts of a stone? ›

Our current model of the atom can be broken down into three constituents parts – protons, neutron, and electrons. Each of these parts has an associated charge, with protons carrying a positive charge, electrons having a negative charge, and neutrons possessing no net charge.

Where are the Balancing Rocks? ›

To find the Metolius Balancing Rocks, drive to the Perry South Campground in Cove Palisades State Park near the Deschutes National Forest. A parking area and trailhead are situated 13.7 miles west of the Deschutes River arm bridge.

How old is the balancing rock? ›

This isn't the first balancing rock to be discovered, and scientists believe that glaciers - capable of carrying such a heavy rock with them - left it behind as they receded to the North over 8,000 years ago.

Is stacking rocks mentioned in the Bible? ›

Joshua asked one member from the 12 tribes of Israel to go back to the Jordan River. They were to get 12 stones from the bed and stack them in a memorial when they returned. This was to be a memorial, that served as a reminder of the miracle God has done for them.

What are Zen stones? ›

Zen stones are fascinating natural structures consisting of a stone standing on a slender ice pedestal, whose origin had long been misunderstood.

What do stones symbolize? ›

Rocks can symbolize wisdom, strength, stability, patience, and time. What is this? While there are many different ways that rocks are used by man and by nature, their core essence and symbolism stay the same. Their symbolism comes from the fact they're dense, impenetrable, and ancient.

Does stacked stone need to be sealed? ›

It's important to seal your stone panels periodically to maintain their luster and increase their longevity. When you brush a sealant over your stone, it acts as a protective layer against weather, moisture, salt, stains and color fading. Sealing also makes your stacked stone easier to clean.

Can stacked stone be used outside? ›

As mentioned above, stacked stone tile is appropriate for both indoor & outdoor use.

What adhesive do you use for stacked stone? ›

SRW's Stacked Stone Adhesive (Rapid Set Polyurethane) is an ideal choice for permanently bonding the stones together.

What are the steps of balancing? ›

Steps of Balancing a Chemical Equation
  1. Identify each element found in the equation. ...
  2. What is the net charge on each side of the equation? ...
  3. If possible, start with an element found in one compound on each side of the equation. ...
  4. Once you have balanced one element, do the same thing with another element.
9 Feb 2020

How heavy is the balancing rock? ›

The total height of Balanced Rock is 128 feet (39 m), with the balancing rock rising 55 feet (16.75 m) above the base. This rock is the largest of its kind in the park, weighing approximately 3,577 tons, the same as an icebreaker ship or 27 blue whales.

How was balancing rock formed? ›

Like the other striking features within Garden of the Gods, Balanced Rock was formed by the uplift of the Rocky Mountains combined with erosion over millions and millions of years.

What type of rock is cairns? ›

Cairns are man-made piles of stones, and you´ll probably notice them when you drive around Iceland. They vary in size and shape, ranging from randomly piled small rocks to very tall and well-put-together structures. They're usually made from lava rocks.

What do stacked rocks mean in Buddhism? ›

This practice is probably a form of worshipping, but it's mainly a gesture of asking or wishing for good fortune to be bestowed on the stacker and his/her family. Each stone within the stack represents a particular wish and possibly, family member.

Are Buddhist rocks stacked? ›

Rock stacking has its origins in many cultural and spiritual practices – a Buddhist tradition of devotion and prayer, for one. Ancient cultures around the world have stacked rocks into cairns to mark a path, create a memorial or as a focus point for rituals.

Why do Japanese stack rocks? ›

Balancing rocks is seen by those who perform it as a meditative and creative activity, with artists saying that the process of physically handling and balancing the stones provides them with mental health benefits. Some compare the impermanence of the structures to zen buddhism.

Why do Buddhists stack stones? ›

The process is meditative; it heightens present moment awareness/mindfulness. Even the simple act of choosing the stones heightens mindfulness! You can infuse each stone with a prayer or intention, and when accidents or mother nature tumbles the stone stack, the prayer has done its work and is released.

Why do people stack rocks? ›

These days, most rock stackers do it as a way to mark a trail, especially in less frequently navigated backcountry. Others claim the act of slowly and deliberately stacking rocks can be another way to practice mindfulness.

Why do Indians stack rocks? ›

Native cultures have used stone stacks for reasons both practical and sacred. They honor deities, remember the dead. The human impulse to stack rocks is difficult to explain, but it's real. “They are these most amazingly simple little structures that do carry so much meaning,” Williams said.

Why do Japanese people put stones on their roofs? ›

Climate had a bearing on construction: In Kyoto in the late Heian and Muromachi periods, roofs were clad in thin wooden shingles so owners would put stones on top to prevent the shingles from flying away in the wind.

What is stone stacking called in Japan? ›

Burdock piling (牛蒡積み, gobouzumi) is an advanced Japanese technique for building stone walls, named after the resemblance of the rough stones used to the ovate shapes of the blossoms of Japanese burdock plants.


1. What is the Difference Between a Rock Stack and a Cairn on a Hiking Trail?
(Ultralight Outdoors)
2. Building a stone arch from start to finish - DIY Backyard Project
(Dave Bachinsky)
3. 3 Reasons NOT To Stack Rocks In Wilderness Areas
(Wicked Wildlife)
4. How to Build a Cairn
(Branch Whitney)
5. creating cairns
(my air space)
6. Building a cairn the fast way
(Siegfried Wenus)
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