Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Sacred Places and Pilgrimage

At the end of November I'll be going to southern England, near Avebury, to attend the Gatekeeper Trust Annual Conference  DREAMING the LAND’:  Working with the Consciousness of Nature,  24 - 25 November 2018.  I'll then be spending some time in Salisbury, and in Glastonbury, where I will be giving a talk about the Masks of the Goddess Project, sponsored by the Temple of the Goddess of Glastonbury.

I spent time in southern England in 2011 when I attended the Goddess Conference, an event that was truly transformative for me.    


NUMINA:  Sacred Places and Pilgrimage

"To the native Irish, the literal representation of the country was less important than its poetic dimension.  In traditional Bardic culture, the terrain was studied, discussed, and referenced:  every place had its legend and its own identity....what endured was the mythic landscape."

    R.F. Foster

The Romans believed that special places were inhabited by intelligences they called Numina, the "genius loci" of a particular place.   I believe many mythologies are rooted in actual experiences of "spirit of place", the "living landscape", a conversation within which we also participate.  

Myth is, and always has been, a way for human beings to become intimate and conversant with what is vast, deep, and ultimately mysterious. Our experience changes when Place becomes "you" or "Thou" instead of "it".   There are many disciplines now writing about the importance of place, asking, in essence, “how can we renew our ancient conversation with the Earth"?  As pagans I believe we are uniquely able to answer that question, and lead the way into re-mything our culture.  In the past, "Nature" was not just a "backdrop" or a "resource"...........nature was a relationship within which cultures were profoundly embedded.  Whether we speak of the aborigines of Australia, Celtic fey folk, or the agrarian roots of Rome, the landscape was spiritually personified.  Every valley, orchard, healing spring or womb-like cave had its unique quality and force - its Numina.   Cooperation and respect for the Numina was essential for well-being.  And some places were places of special power, places of pilgrimage.

With the evolution of monotheism and religions that increasingly removed divinity from Nature and the body, and in the past century, the rise of industrialization, we have looked at the world primarily from a "users" point of view.  This  screen tends to frame the world as an object.  Yet every culture, including ours, has insisted throughout its pre-industrial stages that the world is alive,  and responsive to what human beings do upon it.   From katchinas to the Orisha, naiads to dryads, the Australian Dream Time to Alchemy's Anima Mundi,  every local myth reflects what the Greeks and Romans knew as the resident “spirit of place”, the Genious Loci.

Contemporary Gaia Theory proposes that the Earth is a living, self-regulating organism, responsive and evolving.  If one is sympathetic to Gaia Theory, it follows that everything is responsive and conversant in some way, visible and invisible.     Sacred places may be places where the potential for revelation, healing, or transpersonal experience is especially potent.  Ancient Greeks built their Oracle at Delphi for this reason, and certainly early Christians knew this when they built churches on existing pagan sites.  There is a geo-magnetic, terrestrial energy concentrated at certain places on our planet that throughout the millennia catalyzes spiritual insight, healing, visionary experience, even prophecy.  Before they became contained and mythologized by  religions or marked by prehistoric monuments, these sites were intrinsically places of numinous power and presence in their own right.  They radiate their powers to all who visit, and ultimately, no practice of a particular religion or belief system is needed for them to have a transformative effect, although human architecture and the accumulation of human psychic energy and visitation may amplify this effect.  

Roman philosopher Plinius Caecilius commented that:

  "If you have come upon a grove that is thick with ancient trees which rise far above their usual height and block the view of the sky with their cover of intertwining branches, then the loftiness of the forest and the seclusion of the place and the wonder of the unbroken shade in the midst of open space will create in you a feeling of a divine presence, a Numina."

Many years ago I lived in Vermont, and one fall morning I stumbled down to the Inn for a cup of coffee to discover a group of people about to visit one of Vermont's mysterious stone cairns on Putney Mountain.  Among the researchers was Sig Lonegren, a well known dowser and researcher of earth mysteries.  Before I had my second cup of coffee I found myself on the bus, and then at a chamber constructed of huge stones, hidden among brilliant foliage, with an entrance way perfectly framing the Summer Solstice.  No one knows who built these structures, which occur by the hundreds up and down the Connecticut River, but approaching the site I felt such a rush of vitality it took my breath away.  I was stunned when Sig placed divining rods in my hands, and I watched them open as we traced the ley lines that ran into this site.   Standing on the top of the somewhat submerged chamber, my divining rod "helicoptered", letting me know that this was the crossing of two leys, a potent place. 

Months later 13 friends gathered in the dark to sit in that chamber and watch the sun rise through its entrance way.  We were not a coven, I had not even heard of such a thing, but we all felt the power of the deep, vibrant energy there, and awe as the sun rose illuminating the chamber.   None of us knew what to do, so we held hands and chanted Aum.  We were all as high as a kite when we left, and this was the beginning of a life long journey for me, a journey that led me here. 

Earth mysteries researchers like John Steele and Paul Deveraux in their book EARTHMIND have written that we suffer from "geomantic amnesia".  We have forgotten how to listen to the Earth, to engage in "geomantic reciprocity", instinctively, mythically, and practically, to our great loss and endangerment. 

We disregard or destroy for short term economic gain places of power, and conversely, build homes, even hospitals, on places that are geomagnetic ally toxic.  The ancient Greeks built their shrine for Gaia at Delphi because the unique personality of that place was divined to be especially suited to Gaia residing there. They also sited their healing Dream Temples according to the auspiciousness of place.  Honoring what inspired the early Greeks to decide on a particular place may be important not only to pilgrims, but to something at the base of building future sustainable human societies.

The act of making a pilgrimage is among the oldest human endeavors. Recent discoveries at Gobekli Tepe in Turkey include a landscape of monolithic  temples that peoples journeyed to 12,000 years ago.    The Eleusinian Mysteries  combined spirit of place and mythic enactment to transform pilgrims, and enact the death/rebirth cycle of nature, for almost 2,500 years.  I believe there are both leylines and mythic “songlines" that trace ancient pilgrimages to the Black Madonnas of Europe (which are still going on).One of the most famous is the "Camino" which concludes at the Cathedral of Santiago at Compostella.  Some believe the earliest Camino was to the “Black Madonna of Compostella", a very ancient effigy. Compostella comes from the same root word as "compost",  the fertile soil created from rotting organic matter, the "dark matter"  to which everything living returns, and is continually resurrected by the processes of nature into new life, new form.  Pilgrims finally arriving in  Compostella after their long journey were being 'composted' in a sense.  Emerging from the  dark confines of the cathedral they were ready to return home with their spirits reborn. 

In 2011 I visited the ancient sacred springs of Glastonbury, the Chalice Well and the White Spring as well as participating in the Goddess Conference there.   Making this intentional Pilgrimage was life changing, and I had a profound, personal sense of the "Spirit of Place", what some call the "Lady of Avalon".  Pilgrimage opens one to blessing, vision, and reverence.  

As a dowser myself, I've experienced shifts in energy - which means also shifts in  consciousness -many times when visiting areas that are geomantically potent, be it the henge of Avebury,  or the labyrinth at Unity Church in Tucson, Glastonbury, or even a crop circle in Wiltshire.  Freddy Silva is an Englishman who has spent many years researching authentic Crop Circles. He has found that they have unique phenomena, including magnetic and energetic properties, which have been documented to alter consciousness and affect the health of some individuals.  The vast majority of the documented authentic crop circles have occurred near prehistoric standing stones, Silbury Hill, and other places of geomantic potency near by.  Silva believes they are not only communicating through the universal language of symbol and Mandela but they are also, speaking in terms of subtle energies, changing the land and underground water tables  in some way - perhaps, an infusion, a "pollination".  He calls them "Temporary Temples".

Sacred Sites are able to raise energy because they are intrinsically geomantically potent, and they also become potent because of human interaction with the innate intelligence of place.  My teacher, spiritual dowser Sig Lonegren, has spent many years exploring sacred places, and commented that possibly, as human culture and language became increasingly complex, we began to lose mediumistic consciousness, a daily, conversational Gnosis with the "subtle realms". 

 With the gradual ascendancy of left-brained reasoning he suggests the ancients were concerned with how to continue contact with the gods, the ancestors, the numina of the land.  According to Sig, Stonehenge may represent a "last ditch effort" to keep in touch with the spirit world with communal experience.   As the rift between personal gnosis and spiritual contact deepened with the development of patriarchal institutions, tribal and individual Gnosis was replaced by complex religious institutions that rendered spiritual authority to priests who were viewed as the sole representatives of the Gods or God.  

Perhaps this capacity is returning to us now, a new evolutionary balance. As crisis engulfs us, we need, once again, to re-member how to “speak to the Earth", to make pilgrimage to the Source, by whatever name. 


***Sig Lonegren:

*** EARTHMIND: Communicating With the Living World of Gaia, by John Steele, Paul Deveraux, and David Kubrin (1989) 

***Freddy Silva:  http://www.invisibletemple.com/

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