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Cairn Construction

By Gordon L. Hayward, additional notes by Alex Stark

A Cairn is a sacred monument dedicated to a Mountain Spirit. It typically consists of a rock pile of varying dimentions. Often these piles are located at strategic crossroads, at sacred places, as markers to power spots, as markers for star configurations, or as personal devices in home surroundings. Metaphysically spealking, a cairn is a fourth dimension (Memory/Time) receptacle which receives, stores and transmits the energy of the spirits of the sacred mountains, rocks, waters, trees and other sacred spaces. This can happen between one cairn and other cairns, between cairns and sacred places, and between those sacred places and the individual or the community.

All traditional peoples have used cairns in one form or another. The stupa, for example, is believed to have been based in older cairn-like structures. Similar arguments have been put forth for the megaliths of neolithic europe. The building of cairns is ubiquitous among certain peoples, including the eskimo and the qechua. In these two groups, the lore surrounding these constructions is extensive.

In its simplest form, a cairn is made of rocks beginning with a square foundation and building into a cone shape. There is no mortar or other support, only care and gravity to keep it intact.


In preparation for the creation of the cairn, a shamanic journey or any other divination process will help you determine the appropriate outdoor or possibly indoor location for this sacred object.

The cairn should be located where it is easily accessible on all sides for care and feeding. The size is optional. However, I have created cairns of sizes from eight to ten inches on a side, up to thirty inches on a side, depending to a large degree on the size of the rocks you intend to use.

Select rocks from the local area and add rocks from other sacred places if you have them. However, other rocks can be added later. Rocks from sacred sites can be placed to the east, south, west, and north. You can include rocks or other objects from your altar or mesas to increase the spiritual value of the cairn.

Flat rocks are easier to use than round ones and triangular rather than square shapes are easier to use. A quantity of very small rocks or stones to fill in cavities will provide additional stability to the structure.


The Construction of a cairn is a solemn ceremony. It therefore needs to be approached in a sacred and ritualistic manner. This is one suggestion of procedure:

Once you have determined the site and the desired size of the cairn, consecrate the ground where you will create it. To do this you can pour a small amount of clear spirits – rum, or grain alcohol into the center of the spot. Sprinkle a clockwise circle of corn meal starting in the south. Follow this with a cross of tobacco across the corn circle first north to south and then east to west.

The form of the cairn is similar to that of a stupa, with a square base evolving into a cone shape. The ideal shape of the cairn has sides rising about 60 degrees above horizontal. This is accomplished with a height equal to one and one half times the width of the base. A lesser angle is easier to accomplish, particularly if the rocks are round.

The cairn is constructed with reverence and prayer. After the location is consecrated, tone or invoke the directions and ask the spirits of the area and the sacred sites around the world to be present and assist you. If more than one person is creating the cairn, each of you can call in additional spirits to assist.


1. Begin the construction by placing four of the large stones in the east, south, west and north in the form of a square.

2. Place two equal or smaller stones among the four corner stones to create a square with twelve stones.

3. Fill in the interior with stones to form a relatively flat platform and fill in voids with the small rocks or stones.

4. Place a second round of stones on top of the first layer beginning at the corners and inset slightly so that the side slope of about 60 degrees is achieved. Add additional stones to create a second layer like the first. Fill in the center so that there is bowl shape with the center slightly lower than the outside edges and fill in the voids with the small stones.

5. Additional layers of stones are added with the shape gradually changing from a square to a circle as you go up.

6. Keep the outsides of the rocks as close as possible to the desired form.

7. Sacred objects may be added to the edges, or in the center of the cairn.

8. When the sides of the cone become close together so that layering of stones is not practical, complete the cairn by balancing one rock on top of the one below to complete the cone shape.

9. A satisfactory top stone is a pyramidal stone with four sides coming to a peak.


After the cairn is constructed, an activation ceremony is appropriate. The ceremony can take many forms depending on the number of persons present. You can begin by toning or invoking the directions.

Following the toning you should feed the cairn with a small amount of clear spirits, a circle of corn meal and a cross of tobacco like that of the consecration. Next you can call in the mountain spirits and the spirits of other sacred sites around the world and the spirits of the rocks and sacred objects within the cairn.

You then face the cairn with the palms of your hands facing the cairn. Then visualize and ask others present to visualize shafts of light coming from all directions; from above; from the stars; from the sacred sites; from other cairns around the world; from the ancestors; from the trees and animals of the area. These shafts of light pass down through the top of your head and out through the hands into the cairn. Visualize the cairn becoming warmer and beginning to glow as the shafts of light increase its energy levels.

After the cairn is appropriately energized, all those present turn around with their backs to the cairn and extend their hands outward. They then visualize the energy of the cairn continuing to grow and then shafts of the golden light radiate from the cairn to each person and then out through the extended hands back to all the sources from which they originally came. Then visualize this as a continuing exchange of spirit energy throughout the universe so that no matter where you are, you and all those present, can connect with the cairn and through it to all other persons and objects throughout the universe. From this time onward time and distance have no meaning to you since you are in spirit contact with all objects in all places in the universe at the same time.

After this ceremony, I ask anyone present to say any prayers or other thoughts that they have and then in closing thank the spirits that have come to assist us and to ask the spirits to help maintain the cairn.


On a regular basis, the cairn should be fed with clear spirits, corn meal and tobacco. It should also be re-energizing with ceremony, sacred rocks and objects from around the world. If for any circumstance the cairn were to be abandoned, it is best to disassemble it and return the stones to Nature.