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The Spiritual Art of Sand Painting

Updated on April 4, 2013

The Art, Cultures and Spirituality of Sand Painting

Sandpainting is the art of creating ritual paintings with multi-colored sand for religious, spiritual or healing ceremonies. It is also referred to as dry painting.

Sand painting is known to have been practiced by three ancient cultures: Tibetan Buddhist Monks, in the form of geometrically shaped Mandalas; Australian Aborigines, to honor ancestral myths; and the Native Americans, for religious healing ceremonies.

Latin Americans in Mexico picked up the tradition and paint in celebration of some Christian holy days, such as "Los Dias de los Muertos", which literally means "The Day of the Dead".

Lets explore the Buddhist Monk and Native American, spiritual art of sand painting...

Source: Wikipedia,


Native American Sand-Painting - Navajo Medicine Wheels

The Navajo word for sand-paintings means "place where the gods come and go." Sand-painting has been used for centuries in religious rituals and healing ceremonies performed by Navajo medicine men.

A sand-painting for a ceremony is made on the ground in the ceremonial hogan and destroyed at the end of the ritual. In order to preserve this long-standing tradition, in the late 1940s, Navajos began to create permanent sand-paintings, changing the design slightly to protect the religious significance when these paintings were shown publicly. Pictorial sand-paintings which reflect daily Navajo life also became common.


Today sand-paintings are made by trickling sand slowly through the hand onto epoxy-covered particle boards, using sand made from naturally colored crushed rock, stone, and minerals for the different shades and colors.

At least 600 to 1000 unique sand-painting designs are recognized among the Navajos. They are not viewed as static objects, but as living things that should be treated with great respect.

Sacred Rituals

Sacred Rituals: Creating Labyrinths, Sand Paintings, and Other Traditional Arts
Sacred Rituals: Creating Labyrinths, Sand Paintings, and Other Traditional Arts

Each of Barbara Page's 544 contiguous painted panels represents a million years of the history of life on earth, with fossil plants and animals depicted at the same scale and in association with each other just as they might be found by a paleontologist in the field. A muted rainbow of background colors evoke the rocks in which the fossils were found—the Texas Red Beds, for instance, or the yellow Solnhofen limestone—and keystone events are shown metaphorically, with fat rolls of paint marking major extinctions or continental drift.

To fully experience the awesome impact of an eon's worth of time spread across 500 feet of bas-relief panels, you'd have to visit the Museum of the Earth in Ithaca, New York, where Page's specially commissioned work is displayed. But this book is the next best thing. Not only does it contain crisp color reproductions of each painting, but it also includes an accessible essay from paleontologist Warren Allmon giving the scientific context behind the art.


The Father Sky and Mother Earth Narrative

Father Sky and Mother Earth appear in many of the sand paintings throughout most of the Navajo healing ceremonies of "Ways." These include the Shooting Way, Mountain Way and Blessing Way. They are invoked not because of a part in a particular story, but because of their strength and all pervading importance.

In the body of Mother Earth are the four sacred plants-corn, bean, squash and tobacco. In the body of Father Sky are the constellations, including the Milky Way, represented by the intertwined zigzag lines of dots, and the sun and the moon, represented by the circles with "horns."

The Rainbow God encircles three sides of the sandpainting, to protect the gods, Father Sky and Mother Earth. To guard the top, you find the medicine bag and a small rug- the real sandpainting uses a medicine bag and a bat. In the real sandpaintings, the open end faces the east. Various guardians of the east are used by the Navajos, including buffaloes, beavers, otters, bats, snakes, suns and moons, arrows, etc., according to the needs of each ceremony.


Help Kids Make Sand Art!

"Treat the earth well,

It was not given to you by your parents,

It was loaned to you by your children."

-Indian Proverb

Using sand from the beach and some paint and some spoons, you can make sand art as bright as the moon.

What You Need:

Empty jars or plastic yogurt containers

Powdered tempera paints in a variety of colors

Sand (from the beach or playground)

Paper, pencils, glue and popsicle sticks

Plastic spoons and a plastic or styrofoam tray

What You Do:

Draw out a picture on your paper and remember to keep it simple.

Once the pencil sketch is complete, pour some sand into an empty container. Choose a color of powdered tempera and add just a little to dry sand. You will have to experiment when mixing the sand and the tempera to see how little or how much tempera you need. For more vibrant colors add more tempera.

Once there are a few colors of sand mixed up, the "painting" can begin. Work at one small section at a time. First decide where the color is going, put an even layer of glue on the paper and pour some colored sand onto the glue using a plastic spoon.

Repeat until the entire paper is covered.

Let the sand painting dry and seal it using either artist's fixative, hair spray, or spray it with a mixture of glue and water (80% glue, 20% water).

Art Tips:

One of the most effective images to create in sand is a landscape.

Place a few wavy lines across the paper and fill in with different earth colors for a very compelling sand painting.

After each color has been applied, lift the paper up and shake lightly over a plastic or styrofoam tray to collect the excess sand to use again.

Tibetan Sand-Painting - Mandalas

Tibetan Buddhist sand paintings, made by lamas or monks, usually consist of intricate mandala designs.

From a traditional iconography that includes sacred geometric shapes, ancient spiritual symbols, seed syllables, and mantras, the sand-painted mandala is often used as a tool to re-consecrate the earth and bless its inhabitants.


The lamas begin by drawing an outline of the mandala on a wooden platform. The following days they lay the colored sands, by pouring the sand from traditional metal funnels called chak-pur. Each monk holds a chak-pur in one hand, while running a metal rod on its grated surface; the vibration causes the sands to flow like liquid.

Traditionally, like the Navajo Sand-paintings, most sand mandalas are destroyed shortly after their completion. This is done as a metaphor of the impermanence of life.

The sands are swept up and placed in an urn; to fulfill the function of healing, half is distributed to the audience at the closing ceremony, while the remainder is carried to a nearby body of water, where it is deposited. The waters then carry the healing blessing to the ocean, and from there it spreads throughout the world for planetary healing.

The Mandala of Being - The Path to Enlightenment and Awareness

The Mandala of Being: Discovering the Power of Awareness
The Mandala of Being: Discovering the Power of Awareness

Many people obstruct their innate potential through repeated patterns of emotional struggle and suffering. This practical, hands-on guide explains why and how people habitually fall into this trap and provides a program, easily incorporated into everyday life, that frees them from this destructive behavior.

Using a simple mandala, the book illustrates the four places humans go when they feel threatened, uncomfortable, or arent fully centered or grounded in the present moment. Like a trail of pebbles left behind on a hike, it helps trace the path back to the authentic self.



Have You Tried Sandpainting?

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    • NanLT profile image

      Nan 6 years ago from London, UK

      I've not made sandpainting, but I am fascinated by the subject. You have created a very visually appealing lens. Thank you.

      Blessed by an Angel on the Back to School Bus Trip. Featured at "Your Friendly Neighbourhood Reiki Squidoo Angel".

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      I have not, I have no talent like these wonderful artist, gorgeous work.

    • jlshernandez profile image

      jlshernandez 7 years ago

      No, I have not tried sandpainting. But I own one. Favorited and lensrolled to my Navajo Yei rugs lens. Blessed.

    • profile image

      tealmermaid 7 years ago

      Lovely photos here make for an interesting lens.

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      Alas!!! I have been out all throughout the vacation. I was missing on a lot of your articles because the place I went there wasnât much of an access to the internet. But here I am back to the pavilion and it feels great after reading your articles.

    • profile image

      resabi 7 years ago

      Really interesting lens. I love the pictures and I'm happy to learn about the symbology of sand painting. Lensrolling to my Quirky Art: Sand and Sidewalk and Quirky Art: Main Gallery lenses.

    • profile image

      cindylee10 7 years ago

      I love your lens!Sand art looks very complicated and beautiful at the same time. i do Clown face painting designs and i can certainly get a bit of inspiration here.

    • JanieceTobey profile image

      JanieceTobey 8 years ago

      This was a very interesting lens on the Spiritual Art of Sandpainting! The photos are beautiful!

    • HealthfulMD profile image

      Kirsti A. Dyer 8 years ago from Northern California

      I included your Sand Painting lens on the lens that I created to highlight the amazing Sand Artist, Kseniya Simonova.

    • profile image

      RinchenChodron 8 years ago

      Beautiful lens - Yes the Navajo and the Tibetans have a great deal in common. I have seen Tibetan monks creating their mandalas - wonderful!

    • giacombs-ramirez profile image

      gia combs-ramirez 9 years ago from Montana

      Welcome to the Science of Energy Healing Group. Beautiful lens.

    • Aquavel profile image

      Aquavel 9 years ago

      I once had a small booklet on the healing art of Sand Painting, which I carried with me every day for about a year as if it was my personal bible. I was fascinated by it. Later in my art class I taught kids sand painting, but it was far from being part of nature. I saw the Tibetan Buddhists make and disassemble a sand painting & it was a beautiful process. Thanks for this lens and bringing back those memories and inspiring me to learn more. 5*

    • gbenton789 profile image

      gbenton789 9 years ago

      Nice lense and like the idea of spiritual art too.

    • BarryKrost profile image

      BarryKrost 9 years ago

      I love the application to Children. Very interesting.

    • Sniff It Out profile image

      Sniff It Out 9 years ago

      An unusual topic and a lens I enjoyed reading. Well done... and 5*****

    • profile image

      anonymous 9 years ago

      Very nice lens! I've done some sand painting, been awhile. Makes me want to go dig out my sand and equipment and start a project. Inspiring! 5*'s

    • chefkeem profile image

      Achim Thiemermann 9 years ago from Austin, Texas

      I've been always fascinated by sand paintings and I've watched the Tibetan Monks create one here in Austin, TX. Interesting lens, 5*s

    • ZenandChic profile image

      Patricia 9 years ago

      Very cool! I remember dabbling with this as a child. Welcome to the Spirituality Group!

    • thesuccess2 profile image

      thesuccess2 9 years ago

      Something Really Unusual

    • SerenityPrayerG profile image

      SerenityPrayerG 9 years ago

      Beautiful lens! Thanks very much for sharing! :-)

    • MargoPArrowsmith profile image

      MargoPArrowsmith 9 years ago

      I love sand paintings, it is good to know more about them.

      Walking the Labyrinth 5*

    • Heinani profile image

      Heinani 9 years ago

      Mahalo (Thank You) for sharing the spiritual art of sandpaintings. Patterns of power are found in many places. I weave these patterns in a simple loop of string. Aloha from Hawaii.

    • Steve Dizmon profile image

      Steve Dizmon 9 years ago from Nashville, TN

      I have seem sand painting done on TV but never in person. I find the art form fascinating. Thanks for the lens. 5 Stars.

    • Stazjia profile image

      Carol Fisher 9 years ago from Warminster, Wiltshire, UK

      Interesting and unusual subject. Welcome to the Art & Design group.