Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The "Oracular" in Art Process......

This started out as a journal, but somehow it's become quite political, and I feel at least today like pulling it back to it's original introspective intent.

Here's a very old drawing I found, which of course I completely forgot about.  I did it when I was just 20 years old.   It's not particularly good, but from the perspective of 45 years later, it reads to me like a prophetic page in the book of my life, and the reason I'm sharing this little story is not so much about the content of my personal story, but the way it illustrates the seamlessness and timelessness that we can touch when we are in creative (and mythic) mind space, which is also where the "oracular" can be seen.  There are themes......

I didn't know much when I was 20 years old  but I loved to draw.  I had not yet encountered feminism, let alone eco-feminism, Goddess spirituality, patriarchy, the Chalice and the Blade,  Lilith, etc. In fact, most of that was still underground and yet to evolve into the public eye.  Those forces were fermenting.  I had encountered the story of St. George and the Dragon, which is what this drawing was supposed to be about.  

At the time I was living with my first boyfriend, and the face of George is clearly him!  I still remember his angry, bullying face.   He used to hit and humiliate me, classic abusive behavior,  and after I left him I began the psychological quest to  selfhood that most women have to make when leaving such a relationship..........back then the path to understanding and empowerment was not so clear, or so available.  I am fortunate that I lived in Northern California, where the second wave of feminism was making its mark, and "consciousness raising groups" were becoming available, along with the early women's shelters.  

The face of "St. George" was, although I had no such language  for it, the face of patriarchal domination, which was personally playing out in my life and indoctrination,  as well as universally. 

But looking at this strange drawing,  what was the "Dragon" all about?  What a sad face that dragon has, not really fierce at all!  And it rises from depths in the earth.  Behind George is a barren kind of landscape, but behind the dragon, rising from the dark as the dragon seems to rise from the below, are  all kinds of foliage, plants, flowers, the abundance and vitality of nature. 

It was years later that I learned about symbolism of earlier Goddess cultures, the importance of the snake/dragon  as a universal symbol of the Goddess  Earth Mother, the Shakti, the Kundalini force, and the moving forces of nature ("Dragon Lines")  often represented (as in Celtic art for example) as snakes.  Perhaps the "slaying of the dragon", like "St. Patrick driving the snakes out of Ireland" was an intuiting of the loss of an earlier pagan reverence for the earth and the divine feminine.  What Celtic Bard Robin Williamson spoke of as

 "older yet and lovelier  far, this Mystery...........and I will not forget."

And who is the falling winged woman who seems to be part of the dragon? I think she was supposed to be the "maiden" being rescued by "St. George", at least in my conscious mind which was not much versed in mythology.  But a strange maiden she is indeed.   Snakes seem to encircle her as well as her merging with the dragon.........and she does not seem at all happy about St. George turning up.  In fact, she looks quite tragically sad.  From my perspective now, I would say that what we have here is really Lilith, the Goddess banished, along with the Earth Dragon, by the self-righteous sword of good old St. George the warrior.  

I don't know if we can all say that we have (or haven't) "found our life work".  I believe we can have a number of "life works", among them things we have to learn to do our soul making, and these might just as aptly be  called "life themes".  But looking back at touchstones in my own life, I see that the Goddess has always been with me, that if I contributed to anything significant in my life, it was my participation in the great wave of women (and men) who have sought to bring about the Return of the Goddess, with all that means, from women's rights  to uncovering the deeply buried past and understanding the lost and buried mythos and overlay hidden underneath the veneer of  patriarchal religion culture. 

And  the muses can be Sybils.  In fact, the Oracle of Delphi   was called......... "the Pythoness"!

**I wrote a little novel about the Oracle of Delphi based on Riane Eisler's CHALICE AND THE BLADE back in 1993.  It was called "The Song of Medusa" 

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

"Balance" from the Rainbow Bridge Oracle

I have always loved this Angel, which I painted a long time ago, and it being just past the Equinox, I felt like sharing the Angel again, along with the text from my Divination Deck, the Rainbow Bridge Oracle.

Dancing to Shiva's music
we dance our oppositions
into legends of hate and love,
light and dark
good and evil.

Choiceless and willful,
we return, again and again
to a deeper need for Balance
to renew
rites of reconciliation

with self, soil, friend and foe
again and again
seeing, at last,
at last,
before we forget,
again and again
that reconciliation is beyond balance.

A labyrinth.
And at the center, labrys
the butterfly's shape.
Whole, winged.

In the traditional Tarot, this card was called Temperance.  In my own interpretation, the androgynous Angel of Balance holds two cups, dark and light, pouring water into each, representing the energy of a continual exchange of opposites.  The "rainbow bridge" issues from this exchange, which can be viewed as the practice of creating spiritual Balance.   In addition to the meaning of temperance or moderation, this card can be interpreted as symbolizing the blending  of opposites.

The rainbow is the visible spectrum of the  whole of white light.  The rainbow may symbolize the "rainbow bridge of the chakras", which in Hindu philosophy represents the different energy and perceptive systems of the human subtle body.  Balancing the Chakras is  to balance the energy system  If you've chosen this card,  continue to develop this virtue and insight in your life.  Reversed:  You are out of balance, and must seek ways now to bring about harmony, be it physically, psychologically, or even socially.

 The Rainbow Bridge Card Deck may be veiwed and  ordered: 

To purchase the accompanying book visit:  

All artwork is copyright Lauren Raine MFA (2012)

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Persephone: Goddess of the Equinox

Persephone (2016)

Persephone, it seems to me,  is truly the Goddess of the Equinoxes, because She is both symbol  of spring and life's renewal when she returns to her mother Demeter at the turning of the seasonal Wheel, and she is also Goddess of death, wife of Hades, and Queen of the Underworld in the ending and dormant times of  turning of the wheel.  

Having said this,  I allow myself here to move out of the great universal language of archetype, and will get a bit personal.  The truth of life in nature is that everything is changing, everything dies to become something else, or at least, make way for something else.  As beings embedded in nature, this is true of us as well, whether we like it or not.  The summer ends, and as we feast on the delightful fruits and breads of the harvest, we barely notice, indeed, deny, the slow creep of winter.  And yet that beautiful, or horrific, or both, Leveler is already advancing over the horizon, implacable and indifferent.   Both Demeter and Hades have jobs to do.  

This is true of nature, this is true of biological life, and by golly, it's true of our psyches as well.  When Persephone calls, I believe in listening to what She has to say, whether it occurs in the bright lit flowering fields, or is a painful cry echoing from caverns deep in the Underworld.  And that is the point at which Hecate appears with her torch (but that is another story).  

We all love the Song of Persephone in the spring, the song that tells us "this is the time to BE", to feel the honey sun on your shoulders, to love, to move away from the lonely tunnels of the mind and into the great Conversation of the fields, of the planet.

When Persephone calls from the caverns, not so easy.  Recently I had a meltdown from out of seemingly "know where".  All of a sudden, I couldn't sleep, found my face full of tears that would not emerge from my eyes, was angry, very angry, and having just completed a massive project building a studio, wanted nothing more than to jump into my car and drive east and just keep going, free.  I didn't, but I really, really wanted to.   I decided doing such a thing was very ill advised, although I'm not opposed to such trips when the necessity arises, but I did allow myself to go a bit crazy.  I allowed myself to have those feelings, to walk in the desert, to drink too much, to be educated by the process of their arising.   That's one of those "calls from the deep" that must be heard, no matter how uncomfortable.  You try to discover the language and content of that dark song too, what you need to know to become more fully human, what the soul is trying to tell you.  You don't "transcend" the voice of Persephone, you mature and change, you keep on moving.

This is Persephone's time of Balance, of Equinox, Her Integral being.  Which moving away from psychological jargon simply means realizing that we must, somehow, say "yes" to all of it, and keep moving, keep dancing the light and shadow dance.  Persephone will dance with us, will educate, if one can only accept this Moving Point of Balance.   

We are all, in the final analysis, Wanderers.

"Pesephone II" 2016
"Persephone the Wanderer" 
by Louise Glück,

In the first version, Persephone
is taken from her mother
and the goddess of the earth
punishes the earth—this is
consistent with what we know of human behavior,

that human beings take profound satisfaction
in doing harm, particularly
unconscious harm:

we may call this
negative creation.

I am not certain I will
keep this word: is earth
“home” to Persephone? Is she at home, conceivably,
in the bed of the god? Is she
at home nowhere? Is she
a born wanderer, in other words
an existential
replica of her own mother, less
hamstrung by ideas of causality?

You are allowed to like
no one, you know. The characters
are not people.
They are aspects of a dilemma or conflict.

Three parts: just as the soul is divided,
ego, superego, id. Likewise

the three levels of the known world,
a kind of diagram that separates
heaven from earth from hell.

You must ask yourself:
where is it snowing?

White of forgetfulness,
of desecration—

It is snowing on earth; the cold wind says

Persephone is having sex in hell.
Unlike the rest of us, she doesn’t know
what winter is, only that
she is what causes it.

She is lying in the bed of Hades.
What is in her mind?
Is she afraid? Has something
blotted out the idea
of mind?

She does know the earth
is run by mothers, this much
is certain. She also knows
she is not what is called
a girl any longer. Regarding
incarceration, she believes

she has been a prisoner since she has been a daughter.

The terrible reunions in store for her
will take up the rest of her life.
When the passion for expiation
is chronic, fierce, you do not choose
the way you live. You do not live;
you are not allowed to die.

You drift between earth and death
which seem, finally,
strangely alike. Scholars tell us

that there is no point in knowing what you want
when the forces contending over you
could kill you.

White of forgetfulness,
white of safety—

They say
there is a rift in the human soul
which was not constructed to belong
entirely to life. Earth

asks us to deny this rift, a threat
disguised as suggestion—
as we have seen
in the tale of Persephone
which should be read

as an argument between the mother and the lover—
the daughter is just meat.

When death confronts her, she has never seen
the meadow without the daisies.
Suddenly she is no longer
singing her maidenly songs
about her mother’s
beauty and fecundity. Where
the rift is, the break is.

Song of the earth,
song of the mythic vision of eternal life—

My soul
shattered with the strain
of trying to belong to earth—

What will you do,
when it is your turn in the field with the god?

“Persephone the Wanderer” from Averno by Louise Glück.
Copyright © 2006 by Louise Glück.

Sunday, September 18, 2016


Brushwood 2016 by Theresa Guzman

You that create the diversity of the forms:

Open to my words
You that divide it and multiply it

Hear my sounds

Ancient associates and fellow wanderers
You that move the heart in fur and scale

I join with you

You that sing bright and subtle
Making shapes 

that my throat cannot tell

You that harden the horn
And make quick the eye
You that run the fast fox 
and the zigzag fly

You sizeless makers of the mole
And of the whale

aid me and I will aid you

I make a blood pact with you

You that lift the blossom
and the green branch
You who make symmetries more true

Who dance in slower time
Who watch the patterns

You rough coated
Who eat water
Who stretch deep and high
With your green blood
My red blood 
let it be mingled

Aid me and I will aid you

I call upon you
You who are unconfined
Who have no shape
Who are not seen
But only in your action
I will call upon you

You who have no depth
But choose direction
Who bring what is willed
That you blow love

upon the summers of my loved ones
That you blow summers

 upon those loves of my love

Aid me and I will aid you

I make a pact with you

You who are the liquid

Of the waters
And the spark of the flame:
I call upon you

You who make fertile the soft earth
And guard the growth of the growing things
I make peace with you

You who are the blueness of the blue sky
And the wrath of the storm
I take the cup with you

Earth shakers
And with you
the sharp and the hollow hills
I make reverence to you

Round wakefulness 

We call the Earth
I make wide eyes to you

You who are awake

Every created thing

both solid and sleepy
Or airy light,

I weave colors 'round you

You who will come with me

I will consider it Beauty
I will consider it

Beauty, beauty

Published by  WARLOCK MUSIC, LTD.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Sophia Speaks - the Veil

Back in 2003, just before the invasion of Iraq, I directed a performance at the Black Box Theatre in Oakland, California.  Included in that event was a ritual dedicated to Hagia Sophia, the Feminine Face of God in early Christianity,  to pray for the arising of the Great Mother, to pray for Peace.

Our event closed with a meditation in the dark, and when the lights came on they beheld Ann Waters aspecting the Goddess Sophia, the light rising from chaos and darkness.  I shall never forget the power of that.

And also the power of this extraordinary music/poem by the Bay Area group The Veil.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

"The Way of the Mask" - Workshops for 2016 and 2017

With a new studio on my property, I'm so happy to be able to offer more intensive workshops this winter and fall in beautiful Tucson (yes, we do have the best winters just about anywhere).  Depending on availability, participants can also stay here as well, affording workshop members  a chance to share meals and informal discussions as well as the class activities.  

 3 Day Mask Arts Intensive Workshop 
                        for women

November 11 - 13, 2016   and 
April  7 - 9,  2017  

Limited Housing**  is available  for $50.00 extra.  

Introduction and check in begins Friday evening,  and Workshop ends at Noon  with a potluck lunch on Sunday.  In this workshop we'll  draw on our mythic imaginations as we explore ways to invoke the Goddess within through the creation of durable theatrical masks. We will also discuss ways to use these  masks for storytelling, ritual, community performance and personal exploration.  You take home the means to continue the work, alone or with your community.  

 To learn more, please visit:  the Masks of the Goddess Project.

 Note: There is a $20 fee for supplies. Bring  a story about a Goddess archetype you wish to explore.   

 "The masks of the goddess workshop was a pivotal event in my life.....I have been feeling
 the Goddesses waking up ever since.  They  were there, definitely there."

Lorraine Hogan, Kripalu Participant 

To read more about making  masks: 

**As available.


3 Day Mask Arts Intensive Workshop
for Men and Women

November 4 - 6, 2016  and
April 14 - 16, 2017

Limited  Housing**  is available  for $50.00 extra

Introduction and check in begins Friday evening,   and Workshop ends at Noon with a potluck lunch on Sunday.  Although masks can be experienced as art objects,  by their very nature they are active rather than passive.  They are  "vessels for our stories".   We'll draw on our “mythic imaginations” as we explore the creation  of  durable theatrical masks.  Is there a Persona  that awaits a face, a story, a voice?  Creating a mask is a way to open the conversation.   We'll learn:

·         To sculpt masks from our faces,  creating durable theatrical masks.
·         Explore personally significant stories of  mythic Archetypes.
·         Discuss approaches to working with masks  for  performance, community,  and   
           educational purposes.

Note: There is a $20 fee for supplies.   Bring  a story, and art materials that you might wish to include in a mask. 

 To read more about making masks:

                    "Myth comes alive as it enters the cauldron of evolution,
  drawing energy  from the storytellers who shape it." 

Elizabeth Fuller,  The Independent Eye Theatre ​

**As available.​​

*A $100.00 deposit is required for workshops, which can be purchased via Visa, Mastercharge, Paypal, check or money order.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Heyoka Masks......

I have always been fascinated with the concept of the "Sacred Clown".  Among the Lakota they were called Heyokas, clown priests.  Sacred clowns are found among the Pueblo peoples as well, for example the black and white striped clowns of the Zuni, or the Hopi.  It's said that even at the most serious and important of rituals, the Clowns, and only the Clowns, may do whatever the spirit moves them to do, which can include making rude noises, pinching bottoms, or appearing anything but reverent.  

When I organized ritual events and ritual theatre, along with calling the quarters and making a Sacred Entranceway, I always had Sacred Clowns.  And just like the Heyokas, they could do what they wished in the course of the otherwise scripted ritual.  Because they are those liminal ones, the ones that circle the periphery, they are possessed by that  aspect of life that is mutable and changing, and thus is beyond the pairs of opposites.  Heyoka is the chaos from which order and form come, and to which they can and will ultimately return,  Perhaps the only appropriate expression is humor.  

Heyoka is the hilarious  laughter beyond the seemingly serious procession of life............

"Sometimes we encounter Heyokah the Trickster Teacher on the Sacred Path. This contrary clown is a Spiritual Counselor to us humans who teaches us through laughter and opposites. Heyokah will make you wonder if what you are doing or saying is actually correct, which will then make you think and figure it out for yourself. When the Trickster Teacher gets you to look at the beliefs you use as a crutch on your own, you might find the crutch breaks and you land on the ground on your rear end. Heyokah has taught you a lesson! If the opposite happens and the crutch stands firm and holds you up, you have gained a Knowing System for your life.

Many tribal traditions have Trickster Teachers who dress in costume for Ceremony and wear regular clothing in their daily life. The Plains Indians called their Divine Trickster, Heyokah. The Hopi and Pueblo called him Koshario. Their jokes do not stop, however as they are teachers. All Heyokahs operate through opposites. These trickster teachers impart their wisdom to seekers in the exact opposite of how we might try to find the answers ourselves. The laughter that results is usually a lesson for the entire community.

Heyokah is known for creating lessons at the expense of another’s seriousness. This will break the bonds that destroy balance in our lives. The Trickster Teacher will not create a lesson of laughter that would harm the soul of the seeker. He will see this insecurity and turn to laughter toward himself, knowing the seeker will still get the message.  In Native traditions no one would have found offense if this Spiritual Counselor used them for a lesson.  In fact, most would have felt quite honored to have Heyokah play a trick on them. Anyone seeing the prank or talking about it later would also grow from the lesson."

Beverly Two Feathers

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Interviews with Transformative Artists - Rafael Ortiz

This morning, out of the blue, I received a call from someone who wanted to know if I knew Rafael Ortiz.  I haven't seen Rafael since 1992, but his name always evokes respect for his genius and vision.  The caller wanted to know if some drawing by Rafael was "worth anything", and I found his mindless greed and lack of any effort to understand what Rafael was disturbing that I hung up on him.  I am sorry that something from his hands and imagination are in the hands of such a person.   But there is a synchronicity in here, ravelled threads of a long ago coming forward for weaving, for my attention.  There is, I believe, a buried treasure here, and perhaps I have a responsibility to it still.  

"The Fifth Chakra" by Beth Ames Swartz from "A Moving Point of Balance"

Last week I received a call from my friend Vernita, who I also haven't seen in many years, who used to be the Director of Artist's Talk on Art in Soho in the 90's, and in 1990 she helped me organize a talk on Art and Spirituality with ATOA that featured Rafael Ortiz, Beth Ames Swartz, and Alex and Allyson Grey.  
Alex Grey "Universal Mind Lattice"

Our phone call was mostly about the profound need to revive that Conversation about art and spirituality in the face of an overwhelmingly mercantile art world.  And hanging up I thought about the passion I had to pursue my book project (SEEING IN A SACRED MANNER:  Conversations with Transformative Artists) back in the late eighties, and how supported I actually felt in my quest, often in quite miraculous ways.  (But that is another story (a pretty good one, actually, of what can happen when you give yourself up to a  worthy project...........)

It was my privilege, after finishing graduate school in 1987, to share conversations about art, spirituality, and cultural transformation with some extraordinary artists. Travelling across the country to meet  them in New York City, in Arkansas, or in California I realize now I was also trying to understand my own reasons for making art.  The art world I had just come from seemed soul-less to me, full of abstractions that seemed to spiral into mind-boggling incomprehension, and often very cynical.  I wanted to find those who where driven - inspired - by a passion and a vision that went beyond the intellect, beyond "cultural construct", and certainly beyond money.  

"Your work is about your life" painter Kathleen Holder told me,"and if you are fortunate enough to do great work, it not only is about your life but it transcends your life and touches many others. "  

"Sympathetic Magic" Kathleen Holder
Although I was never able to publish these interviews these artists so graciously granted me in a book, several were published in a few small periodicals. I have never felt right about them simply disappearing into my files, and perhaps this strange synchronicity of hearing from Vernita, and then that man wanting to know "what it's worth".....means it's time to share them again as I may. 

So I may post some of them in upcoming posts, and I think I will make a point of posting them (I have permissions) on my pages at Academia.Edu.  Although these interviews took place some 27 years ago, these voices are  potent and universal.  Perhaps they can help other young artists on their paths, just as they so graciously helped me.

They are Worth a great deal.  

"Hands"  Lorraine Capparell

" Within the participatory traditions in art, there is no passive audience. That's a recent idea, which is part of the compromise, the tears and breaks from arts original intentions. The ancient art process was a transformative process; it wasn't a show, it wasn't entertainment.  Art becomes entertainment within a culture that objectifies. If one can enjoy that transformative experience, and certainly in early cultures it was enjoyed, you could perhaps say it was "entertaining". When you say entertainment now, what is meant is that it doesn't change you in any way, what it does is to help you to forget.
We need to see ourselves again as part of a brilliant, shimmering web of life. An artist at some point has to face that issue. Is the art connecting us and others in some way, or is the art disconnecting ourselves and others? I think it's not enough to just realign ourselves personally either - our art should also do that for others, and further, it must happen outside of the abstract. It must be a process that in its form and content joins us with the life force in ourselves, and in others.  And that's not going to be easy. But I do believe that secrets and solutions exist in native cultures of the world. They spent thousands of years uncovering those possibilities, and enough has survived through different traditions for artists to find more than enough inspiration"
Rafael Ortiz



James Swan and the Spirit of Place

I've been thinking about what kind of proposal I might make at the next Pagan Studies Conference in Claremont, and I find that the only thing I keep coming back to in what I feel is Pagan Theology has to do with activism for the Earth, and reverence for the sanctity of the living Earth.  

 Dr. Swan has published numerous books about Numina, the Spirit of Place.   His book "The Power of Place" draws on  26 presentations drawn from the five year Spirit of Place symposium  held in the US and Japan between 1988 and 1993.  I wish the symposium was still happening, because I believe people like James Swan, and Gloria Orenstein, are among those who are helping us how to have a dialogue again with the earth.  

I'm kind of academic, so I guess what I'm doing here is gathering voices to help me understand what  "numina"  means to essence, I want to know how we can speak to the Earth, and how people have spoken to the Earth in the past, and elsewhere.  I agree with  Swan - I think this understanding is so very vital to us now.  It's a blue moon......seems like a good time to share another article that I've reflected on  over the years.

The Spirit of Place Symposiums: 
 Seeking The Modern Relevance of Ancient Wisdom

By James A. Swan, Ph.D
"Modern man will never find peace until he comes
into harmony with the place where he lives." Carl Jung (Pantheon, 1964)


The ancient Greeks spoke of the "genus loci," or spirit of a place. They sited a shrine to honor the Earth Goddess Gaia at Delphi in Greece because the unique personality or spirit of that place was divined to be especially suited to Gaia residing there. Understanding the forces that drew the early Greeks to reach that decision may well be a concept that is at the very root of developing sustainable human societies on earth and creating tourism programs that maximize the unique values of each destination.

Like trees, the human spirit needs roots, and a primary root of the psyche is in the land. Psychiatrist Carl Jung was an explorer of those deeper regions of the mind, the unconscious, where symbols and primal energies originate. Jung declared there were two types of unconscious: personal, which is unique to each person, and collective, which is shared by all humans, and seems to have loose boundaries with other objects and creatures (Dell, 1968). In our sleep, the unconscious comes to the forefront, and Jung observed that people tended to have dreams of a similar archetypal nature when sleeping at certain places. Jung called such place perception "psychic localization," and asserted that it was an important part of human nature.

East Indian scholar Ananda Coomaraswamy agreed with Jung about the unique association between place and consciousness and noted that myths were frequently linked to certain places. He coined the phrase "land-nam," a term derived from the Icelandic tradition of claiming ownership of a place through weaving together a mythic metaphor of plants, animals and geography of a place into a unique mythic story (Luzac, 1935).

The spirit of place plays a strong role in traditional societies, where it is commonly held that each place has a personality and some places are associated with spiritual sentiments. Ancient wisdom deserves respect and preservation, but what additional value may such concepts as the spirit of place have for modern society?

The Spirit of Place Symposiums

From 1988 to 1993 my wife Roberta and I produced a five-year series of annual symposiums -- The Spirit of Place: The Modern Relevance of An Ancient Concept -- seeking to help restore the wisdom of the past about the significance of place and explore its meaning to modern times.

Each symposium was begun with an open call for papers, inviting people from all disciplines and cultural heritage backgrounds to share in a common quest for understanding the subtle power of place. Nearly 300 speakers participated in the programs, four of which were held in the United States -- University of California at Davis, Grace Cathedral, Mesa Verde National Park, and at the San Rafael, CA, Marin Civic Center designed by Frank Lloyd Wright -- and one was held in Sendai, Japan. Speakers represented disciplines as diverse as aerospace engineering, biophysics, psychology, architecture, biology, law, history, anthropology, music, dance and art. Members of 20 different American Indian tribes participated with speeches, music singing and dancing, along with others from Eskimo, African, Polynesian, and Oriental ethnic backgrounds. The rule that was used to organize such a diverse group was that they had to participate as peers, equal experts in whatever their profession. 

Thus panels blending a salmon fisherman with a physicist and an aerospace engineer with priest and a farmer became a common search for truth where many new alliances were forged. At each program, we concluded with a performance inspired by special places. Artists who performed included flutists Paul Horn and R. Carlos Nakai, dancer-choreographer Anna Halpern, keyboard artist Steven Halpern, Japanese recording artist Jun Hirose, and the rock-fusion band Earth Spirit.

Lessons of The Spirit of Place

In producing these programs our principle goal was to explore the modern validity of this ancient concept. We did not to try to start a spirit of place movement. Rather, we hope that what has taken place will set the stage for others to conduct programs that will advance our understanding of the power of places everywhere.  In these five programs, listening to nearly 300 speakers, formally and informally, we heard common themes emerge. The following are some of these shared areas of agreement:

1)Among indigenous cultures all around the world, the belief in the existence of special places of power and spirit seems universal. It is commonly believed that some places have spiritual powers, and these places are normally seen as cornerstones of traditional cultural belief systems. Modern society has often not paid much attention to sacred places, which is a source of great concern to traditional cultures. Another concern is that modern cultures tend to see places as only having value to the past or to other cultures, rather than to society in general.

2) At each of the five Spirit of Place symposiums researchers and designers from many disciplines agreed that gaining a sense of place is a very important part of their work, yet there is very little research on this topic or professional organizations seriously investigating the topic. Modern people are often aware of the unique spirit of a place, but do not have a vocabulary to express their feelings, except through art.

3) A characteristic style of art seems to arise from a geographic region; it is a voice that speaks to us through indigenous art of the spirit of that place. Drawings, paintings, carving, sculpture, stories, songs, poetry and dances, are all fed by the spirit of a place. The artist's mind is not so encumbered by the constraints of intellectual reasoning and so it becomes a more clear channel for the unconscious to expressed. He or she gives voice and form to the spirit of the land.

4)The experience of place is multi-faceted and influenced by culture, personal uniqueness and modality of awareness. There may be many more sensory processes by which we perceive the earth and nature than modern science and psychology are willing to admit. Ancient traditions such as Chinese Feng Shui assert that we have at least 100 senses to perceive place. The needs of modern society for ecologically conscious design suggests that in the training of designers we should seek to cultivate the inner designer as well as training professional skills.

5) Each place has a unique quality which in turn influences what can best be done there.
The built environment can serve as an amplifier of the powers of a place, or it can negate the influence of locality, yielding what Frank Lloyd Wright called "cash and carry architecture." Architecture and design that honors the spirit of place and gives it meaning and form expresses beauty and nourishes health and creativity. Architecture is ultimately a ritual in structural materials.

6)The act of making a pilgrimage to special places is among the oldest acts of human respect for nature and spirit, and one of the least understood and appreciated by modern society, despite the facts that we undertake pilgrimages by the millions each year. Psychology needs to better understand the value of pilgrimage to human life as it may be one of the most important ways that we can discover our meaning, find health, and be inspired, as well as build reverence for nature.

7)The lack of feeling connected to a place, especially a place where one lives and works, can be an important source of mental and physical stress. People need to feel peaceful where they are, and maintain a psychic connection with a place of natural beauty if they do not reside in one. Actor James Earl Jones, who gained his awareness of the power of place by growing up on a dirt farm in northern Michigan has observed: "I have always thought it quite wonderful and necessary to keep connected to nature, to a place in the country landscape where one can rest and muse and listen" (Chas. Scribner's Sons, 1993).

8) Geomancy is the spiritual parent of modern design. Many ancient geomancies understand the importance of the relationship between place and personal experience and take elaborate measures to insure people are harmonized with the spirit of a place. When principles of design from Feng Shui and other geomancies are applied to modern buildings and communities, positive results occur. We need to set aside our limiting beliefs and appreciate the power of such approaches in the same fashion that western science has acknowledged the healing values of acupuncture, even though modern science cannot prove the existence of the life force chi and other geomantic concepts.

9)Modern science is beginning to measure the subtle properties of place. We now know that air ions, electrical and electromagnetic fields do influence health and well-being. More research needs to be devoted to the study of subtle environmental fields. Documenting the existence and value of these fields, may well lead to a whole new art and science of design with modern science and ancient wisdom working together.

10) In a Spirit of Place keynote, psychologist Robert Sommer observed that people can become "a voice" for the spirit of that region as much as for a human community or a relationship. John Muir, for example, seemed to embody the spirit of Yosemite Valley. The Lakota holy man Black Elk was a voice for the Black Hills of South Dakota. Rachel Carson was inspired by Cape Cod to write about "the sense of wonder" in nature as well as the dangers of pesticides to ecological balance. Becoming a voice for the land creates a "psychic anchor" that seems to be important to mental health.

11) The spirit of place concept is less understood by modern society, and one result is that conflicts about the value of place can and do arise between traditional and modern cultures.It is easy to flame the fires of conflict in such situations, creating enemies to raise funds to wage wars that should never have to exist. This kind of self-righteous scapegoating is as exploitive as developers who wish to commercialize sacred places for the sake of pure profit. The more difficult task is to build bridges of respect and cooperation between traditional and modern cultures, but it is the only path that can lead us to greater harmony and understanding.

12) We need new laws and land-use categories that facilitate honoring the power of place, including recognition of sacred places. Creating the public policies that yield such laws will require cross-cultural communication, cooperation and understanding unprecedented in modern society.


The consensus among participants in the Spirit of Place Symposiums is that we must rediscover the wisdom about the power of place and turn it into practical concepts that will guide modern people to live in harmony with the earth, as well as show respect for ancient traditions. Learning to plan and design with respect for the unique spirit of each place is a touchstone of responsible eco-tourism that respects traditional cultures and provides important benefits to modern culture as well.


This paper is drawn from Dialogues With The Living Earth  by James and Roberta Swan (1996)


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