Healers All Around Us: An Introduction to Sacred Places
There are healers all around us, and they are willing to work for free. In my last post, Ecology, Energy and Sense of Place, I wrote about how places, built or wild, express certain essences or energies which can be perceived by the human being. Much like people, they have "personalities"...placalities?
Now, we have certain types of people whose personalities lead them into certain types of professions like doctor, priest, shaman, or therapist. I believe certain places are also especially suited to those roles and I call such places "sacred places". They embody an essence of healing, divinity, compassion, love, or light, or somehow seem to be spilling out more "chi" than other places.
I know, I know, everything is sacred on some level, but there seem to be specific places that, for whatever reason, are more sacred. Just about every culture has their own version, places where the spiritual and mundane are said to intertwine.
There's probably a sacred site within a few dozen miles of your home. There are famous tourist destinations such as Stonehenge, the Great Pyramids, Lourdes, Ayers Rock, and Chichen Itza. There are New-Agey "vortex" sites like Sedona, Mt. Shasta, and Glastonbury. There are innumerable churches, chapels, temples, shrines, mosques, and synagogues. There are hot springs, cold springs, wells and rivers. There are ancestral sites like the caves of Lascaux, and the ruins of Mesa Verde, not to mention thousands upon thousands more petroglyphs, pictographs, dolmens and cairns.
Sacred sites can be entirely wild such as Devil's Tower or Shiprock, NM. Or entirely built such as a modern LDS church. But most are somewhere in between: marked by a medicine wheel, or a mound, an intaglio, or embankment. Furthermore, many churches are on top of indigenous sacred sites, and you can bet any hot springs spa in existence was once frequented by natives.
Some people believe that sacred sites are entirely subjective: social constructions. If you feel different there than you do anywhere else, it's because of your belief system, probably passed down by your culture. Other people believe sacred sites are entirely objective, places where the divine literally erupts into our world and there ain't a thing we can do about it, or at the other end of the spectrum, determined by electromagnetic and other perfectly explicable physical forces. A third view is phenomenological, which is a fancy way of saying that sacred places are wherever people experience the sacred, and however that comes about, who cares, it happens.
I think the cultural geographers like William Gesler explain it best: the natural environment, the built environment, the social environment, and the symbolic environment all combine to create a sacred place. And they combine in different proportions depending on the place.
In my opinion, this is the only theory that explains all circumstances, for if you delve into this topic you'll find many accounts of people who didn't know a place, perhaps a particular meadow in the Black Hills of South Dakota, was supposed to be sacred until after they experienced something unusual there and told someone about it, or they suddenly heard a voice calling them to a destination they'd never even heard of before.
If we use Sedona as a case study we can see all these factors at work. Was the Sedona area of particular religious significance to Native American tribes? Some think so, though claims that no one lived in that area because it was so holy are bogus since there are many housing ruins. But we know now it would be hard to visit Sedona without gleaning some knowledge of its mystical reputation since its chockablock with New Age shops.
Is this all a marketing ploy or is it based on something real? I think it's real (though much of the hype is totally cheesy and out of hand), but either way it contributes heavily to the social expectancy factor.
In addition, because the vortexes have this reputation you are likely, when hiking, to run into all sorts of people walking barefoot, meditating, sunbathing, doing yoga, and other such activities that would be a little weird in any other place. You don't sit down in the middle of a tour of Mammoth Caves and meditate (though that would be pretty sweet!). The vortexes are more like a church in the sense that people are prepared to quiet their minds and open their hearts. Although, unlike church, they also are hoping a jolt of orgasmic bliss might shoot up their spine.
I haven't pulled out my own compass, but I'd wager that there are some weird geomagnetic anomalies going on in the Sedona area with all those oddly-shaped, solid-rock landforms. Other factors that are known to influence the delicate workings of the human brain are acoustics, radiation, and negative ions.
These factors influence our state of consciousness in the same way that researcher Michael Persinger induces mystical experiences using his magnetic "God helmet", or binaural beats induce certain brainwave patterns. People and animals are extremely sensitive to all sorts of changes in the frequencies we're bombarded with on a daily basis, hence the problems with EMF sensitivity.
But do these common physical measures always correlate to an underlying spiritual sort of energy or can the two exist irrespective of each other? I would guess that they can. I know I am particularly sensitive to the energy inside certain churches like Chapel of the Holy Cross in Sedona and Santuario De Chimayo in New Mexico. It seems to come more from the people who have visited those places in a state of reverence than the land itself.
Of course people have mystical experiences in modern, poorly designed, poorly sited, churches (don't underestimate the power of ritual). This makes me think that it is entirely possible to create a sacred space anywhere, having an anchor in the land just helps.
So you can see how these factors all combine: the land has a certain quality to it, which gets recognized by people, who then erect structures to symbolize or demarcate that place as special. Or these structures may even enhance and harness the energies, with feng shui or sacred geometry or just plain good aesthetic design principles. The people also pass down cultural myths about the place which puts new visitors in a receptive state of mind. Then the visitors in that state of mind further lend their energy to the place with their prayers and meditation, leaving not only a social impression on those who are witnessing them, but perhaps, an energetic imprint long after the area is empty. Mind altering rituals such and song and drumming further tip the scales toward something unusual occurring.
All of these forces coalesce and combine with a final important factor, the personality of the individual visitor, to promote states of altered consciousness in which experiences of energy, visions, intuitive insights, healings, feelings of profound peace and other mystical phenomenon are likely to occur. Temperament explains why not everyone experiences the same thing. Some people are more sensitive than others.
Why does it matter? I would suggest that this sort of knowledge is important and useful to consider because it may be a viable alternative to going to a healer or ingesting an illegal substance. What if we were really able to pinpoint those places that were best for healing depression, and those that were best for anxiety, and those that were best for cancer? What if we were to really lay out a set of guidelines for how to get the most out of a sacred site experience?
It's also important to understand how/why sacred sites work when making policy decisions about how to treat public lands. Many Native sacred sites are on forest service property or have become national parks and monuments (sublime natural beauty, no doubt helps foster a transcendent mood). Underlining the healing value of sacred places can help prevent developments that would ruin a sacred experience and promote those that will enhance a sacred experience.
I envision a future in which there is a network of protected Heritage Religious Sites, much like we have National Wildlife refuges. There will be enough that there will be no danger of over-exploitation, and there will be special guidelines for visitors instructing them on proper etiquette. Perhaps there will be organizations that do things like lead camp-outs near such places for Veterans with PTSD.
Do you have any unusual sacred place experiences? If so share in the comments below.
Emily, The Super Sensitive Human