This is a very pleasant thread to hang out in.
So far, I’ve never had a neutral reaction to a shrine. I’ve either liked a shrine or disliked it! It’s always because of the feeling it gave me. I feel this subjectivity is what can cause a shrine to be such a potentially powerful tool.
Theravada shrines in my experience have at least one Buddha image placed higher up; a gesture that is always a reminder to me that I’m aspiring to something that I deeply respect; when I look up at the Buddha on the shrine, I always do so with the emotion of gratitude and love. For me, shrines I have liked have the ability to grow soft, “meditationally” useful qualities like this.
Theravada shrines, might have relics on them. Which only serve the emotional tone of your room or corner if you will let them; if you allow them to represent something sacred/still/silent, compassionate, wise, impermanent, empty…etc.
They might have candles and/or flowers and/or incense. Traditional Sri Lankan alters, from memory, have flowers picked off the stalks, placed in shallow bowls or plates or directly on the shrine, in front of the Buddha. They might have tall sticks of incense stuck in sand and small clay vessels, filled with oil and a small rolled up cotton wick to take the flame.
I don’t have flowers - or rarely. And we’ve both asthmatic tendencies so no incense and rarely will I light a candle, and only then if it’s something special (preferably not made of some nasty petroleum based substance!) But I never buy them; people keep giving them to me every now and then and so because I hardly ever use them, I never seem to be without beautiful candles!
I went through a phase of collecting beautiful stones in my youth - and I’m too lazy to change flowers on a regular basis or clean up after burning incense (aside from the issue with inhaling smoke and having breathing difficulties!!) - so the stones are a representation of beauty, which I offer to the Buddha and to a few of the pictures of the Sangha that I also have; of course, it’s not that they receive them, it’s what it does to my heart to have this intention there.
We’ve one solitary Buddha right at the top…solitary and surrounded by empty space. Then several others, but only because they were gifts, each inspiring somehow and each giving me a particular and beautiful feeling. I only ever bought one Buddha Rupa and it was a small plastic encased photo of the Shrine at Bodh Gaya - I found the feeling there so overwhelming that I snapped this up to always take me there when I looked at it.
I’ve almost always used what I had, and now having recently moved, with furniture not fitting properly where we thought it might, we’ve ended up with an old bookshelf made of up of 16 white boxes. One Buddha right on top, like I said, and the first two rows of cubes taken up with different images, gifts from friends, family and kind people we have met in our lives so far. It’s rather nice and I love the feeling in our little Shrine room. It makes me want to sit in kindness towards myself, however I am, and give myself the temporary, healing allowance to forget the rest of my life.