Sacred Space and Special Environment
"Wilderness holds the answers to questions we do not yet know how to ask."
This weeks blog is on Sacred Space and Special Environment; the third of six in the "How to's of Wilderness Rapture."
1) Receptivity and Intent
2) Fear and Stress
3) Sacred Space and Special Environment
4) Connection With Metaphors, Archetypes, and Signs
5) Primal, Primeval, and Primitive Experiences
6) Humility and Subordination of the Ego
7) Peeling Away The Levels of Consciousness Leading to Self Awareness, Peak Experiences, or Moments of Transcendence
Sacred Space and Special Environment
The power of one's initial experience in a novel and exotic place is often startling. These completely new and fresh exposures help us get in touch with the uniqueness of the environment by bringing us into the present moment. They also shake us free from our habituated patterns of behavior. Some of the magic is lost on subsequent visits to these primal areas. Those of us who spend time in wilderness have no doubt that it is more than a restorative environment and fulfills the requirements of a sacred space, possibly more so than any church, synagogue, mosque or temple. The words of a wilderness guide to his group on entering the wild express this clearly: "This is my church, don’t desecrate it!" There are multi-dimensional possibilities here that do not exist in other places. The more pristine the area, the more powerful, hence the value of areas untrammeled by man.
"Wilderness is an area where earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man; where man himself is a visitor who does not remain." The Wilderness Act of North America
The act is true to the archetype of sacred space and recognizes it as such.
Wild places which have polarity offer more opportunity for the imagination to express itself and possibly this is why they engender a greater feeling of the sacred. For instance those with peaks and valleys, dry areas interspersed with lakes, creeks or rivers and wide open spaces mingling intermittently with areas of vegetation and trees.
Santa Barbara County
Not all spaces are sacred and when one comes across a perfectly lovely looking area but feels something is wrong, it is best avoided. Those that are enclosed, often with little light, such as a deep gorge, a cave or a recess in a mountain that look suitable for shelter from the elements may sometimes harbor negative entities from the past who lived there and do not like visitors. I remember a weeks backpacking trip in the Drakensberg mountains of South Africa when we took shelter in a cave that in years past was probably used by Bushmen. I had an unpleasant night and so did another trekker where we felt there were angry energies around us. Neither of us could sleep. The Bushmen suffered terribly when the Bantu migrated down from the north and the whites later pushed northwards from the south. It did not matter that we came with good intentions. These spirits were troubled by our presence. I have had similar experiences around sacred Native American sites in California.
Sacred site Santa Barbara CountySometimes the areas visited are so sacred they could be called "power" spots. When one comes into these areas, it is well to honor them, if not for their magical healing effect, then for one's own sake in the hope that the gods, spirits or energies of the place are not disturbed. There is little doubt that there are special sites in nature that have a sacredness or numinosity to them. If we are able to visit in a respectful fashion, our trip may be more meaningful and safer as well.
In Peru when trekking over a mountain pass it behooves the traveller to place a stone on a cairn to acknowledge the Apus or the mountain spirits that preside there in the hope of a safe journey. Similarly in Tibet and Nepal when one hikes one is greeted by prayer flags in similar situations and for the same reason. This is not superstitious quaintness but rather a tribute to forces that dwell there, that whether you believe in them or not, hold sway.
I trekked up a sacred mountain in Zimbabwe once with two of my kids and a guide who was surveying the area at the time. I knew the mountain was sacred to the Shona people and although the white farmer who owned the land scoffed at the idea I made suitable tributes to, and asked permission from the ancient ones, that resided there. I urged my companions to do the same. We camped out in a gorge before climbing up early the next day. Being winter it was cold. As we meandered up the trail I noticed that the guide and Paul and Romi had both stepped over a huge python lying on the path. It was as thick as my calf with its head buried in some grass on the left side of the trail and its tail somewhere hidden on the other side. I must have been twelve foot long. None of them had seen it and I called them back to look. The snake was motionless because of the cold but a few hours later in the day with the sun up the situation could have been different. We eventually arrived at the top and visited a cave where there were some ancient ceramic pots and a few baskets which we left well alone. We also noted what looked like a Native American medicine wheel to the four directions but the poles did not line up with compass directions and there is no such sacred circle that I know of in Southern Africa. When we left the farm I picked up a Shona woman hitch hiking on the road. When I asked what she knew about the mountain she told me that the place was very sacred and only the medicine men and women ventured their. I asked what would happen if someone else went up. She added; “they will see lions and mamba or pythons that guard the place and will run away.”
Native American Medicine Wheel