How to Visit a Sacred Place

EcoChaplain Roger Wharton

Lecture Notes from: Eco-Tourism Class
Prof. Susz Ross ‘s Class

What are sacred places?

places revered (held special) by people because they believe that the “holy” is encountered there is some way

what is holy? God, Spirit, spirits, totems, a place that is thin between dimensions, etc.

Three types of holy or sacred places:
[More info in “But you, O Bethlehem or Ephrathah” and personal experience on the Web site]

Historic – connected directly with a traceable historic event or archaeological evidence

Traditional – a place connected with an event, but the exact site is unknown, – it has been held to be this place for a long time

Pious Sites – places that have been associated with events for various reasons that are not historic or traditional

examples — The city of Bethlehem (historic place)

Birthplace of Jesus — stable/cave – traditional

Place of the Last Supper – pious site.

Other examples of sacred/holy places (Power Points) (Earth acupressure points)

Mt. Zion — 10 Commandments

Jerusalem = The Jewish Temple covered now with a masque of the Rock which commemorates the places where Mohammad ascended into heaven


Many religious people build structures over holy places


Sacred Wells

Australia – Ayers Rock

The Pyramids – Egypt and Central America

Mountains all over the world

Mt. Tamalpais (reclining maiden) – Ring Mt (Fertility Stone) Mt. Diablo (her lover)

Mt Shasta

Bighorn Medicine Wheel in Wyoming

Pyramid Lake in NV

The Big Island – Mt. Pele



Inca Sites in the Andes

places of beauty, strange rock formations, water, hot springs, etc.
(male/female [birthing] symbols)

places where animals congregated — Hawk Hill in the Marin Headlands –
Red Tail Hawk was a bird of special powers to the Miwok and Pomos

places where many species cooperate and get along with each other

or act strangely

The Artic National Wildlife Area — caribou
Pacific Grove – Monarch Butterflies

Sacred places were the first tourist destinations

people went, however, not as tourists, but as pilgrims

the trips were call pilgrimages not vacations

the trip was a very important part of the spiritual journey — the danger, expense, discomfort, etc.

much longer than the stay as the destination

so you traveled in a sacred or holy way — fasting, being extra kind, walking instead of riding, etc.

substitute pilgrimages

for the poor, working, etc.

Stations of the Cross in the Church instead of Via dol rosa (the way of grief) in Jerusalem
Labyrinth at Chartres

there were also lived pilgrimages

the seasonal migration of people took them from sacred place to sacred place (Native Americans — Buffalo Gap — The Great Race)

Hopi migrations

In religious ( not spiritual) traditions holy places serve to:

connect people to the history of their religion

build community

a place of ritual and worship

aid people in making contact with the holy

In nature based spiritualities (shamanic) religion they play a different role

all of creation is experienced as sacred – ceremonies help gain access to the sacred at any location

Special sacred places are recognized in nature as

amplifiers and portals to other worlds
places where the spirit speak
places where the animals will approach you

ecological balance — rituals and ceremonies that maintain the balance of the world — not only for the tribe, but for the benefit of all beings

Varieties of Sacred Experiences Associated with Sacred Places

1. Ecstasies —

is a personal experience of great intensity which involves an inward turning stimulated by contact with some environmental condition which seems to trigger the onset of transcendence

unitive – deep feeling emerging from the unconscious followed by insights which reveal new levels of meaning and higher truth

adamic ecstasy – involves plunging into negative emotions like fear, guilt, depression and then bottoming out in a moment of pure ecstatic clarity of joy and realization of truth

knowledge ecstasy – in which a person has a deep and profound insight into the nature of truth and reality that is not personal, such as the “aha” moment.

2. Visions of Mythical Beings —

myth being what Joseph Campbell call the connection between waking consciousness and the mystery of the universe

Moses – Burning Bush

Visions of the Virgin Mary – Guadalupe, Fatima

White Buffalo Calf Woman (pipe) – among American Indians

3. Unification with an Aspect of Nature

If one sees an animal, plant, stone, or some other aspect of nature change into human form in a dream or vision, then that transforming piece of nature is an object of great power says medicine man Wallace Black Elk.

That person then becomes a more powerful person of prayer and perhaps able to manipulate nature — rain maker

4. Vivid Dreams

a place where people come to dream

The Dream Corridor in the Southwest

in ancient Greece, temples where build at special places as dream incubation chambers

5. Interspecies Communication

animals communicate – relay knowledge, ask for help, give guidance

6. Sighting of Monsters and UFO

Yeti, Big Foot, Sasquatch, Green Man

7. Unusual Odors, Sounds and Ambiances

bells on Mt. Shata
music at locations – each has it own harmony (music of the spheres)
odors that cannot be explained — a spiritual fragrance the permeates a place
8. Hearing Voices

the best magic words are those which come to one when one is alone out among the mountains. These are always the most powerful in their effects. The power of the solitude is great beyond understanding.

Mohammed – Mt. Arafat
Moses – Mt. Sinai – Ten Commandments

9. Death and Rebirth

At the crux of every transcendental experience is a process of surrendering the ego, resulting in a psychic death and rebirth.

For some people, an encounter with the sacred at a special place involves an actual feeling or experience of dying and being reborn.

How to Visit a Sacred Place

you may choose to seek out a sacred place in hopes of having one of these experiences

the sacred place may choose you (Close Encounters)

you may be refreshed just as you would be in visiting any outdoor location

you may also experience something special

Go in sacred way — consciously — realizing it is holy ground

“Care for the place and it will care for you” don Juan told Carlos Castaneda

pick up litter, clean it up, keep the path clear

find out if the place you are visiting is being used for ceremony at the time you are planning on visiting.

if you arrive an ceremony is going on — keep back unless invited in

realize that some places should not be visited unless you are invited

if traveling there – do so as a pilgrim and not a tourist

when you arrive — don’t rush off — take time for the ambiance to sink into your mind so you can walk gently on your pilgrimage

Move slowly as you walk

Be attentive to plants, animals, insects – especially the ones that seem to stand out or you feel drawn to (nodes of power)

say prayers

make offerings of food — corn meal, tobacco, rice, flower petals, pour water on the ground

do ritual — from what you know of the place — say your own prayers

be careful with fire and fire scars — maybe a small white candle – (pick up wax)

circumlocution — walk in circles around —

mark off some space for yourself — spread a blanket – directional stones (returned) — or better yet find stones that occur naturally and visually use them as markers

don’t have expectations — what ever happens is right for you at that time

sit and be quiet – observe – outer world and inner world

crying is common

don’t expect to gain POWER — ego trip —

the purpose is to come into harmony with the greater unity of all life so that you can become who you are and then serve others according to who you are.

The greatest power in life comes from surrendering to a higher force, not from gaining control of people and things.

do what you feel moved to do

dance, sing, explore, do energy exercises,

it takes time — not like going to a movie — hours, days, weeks, months,

sometime have to work at tearing down the walls that separate us from that reality

there is a psychological bonding that takes place — over and above intellectual knowledge

sacred places are gifts to us —

if you go in a sacred way seeking knowledge you have to be prepared to follow through with what comes to you

and what comes to you is what you need, not necessarily what you want.

May sacred places be your friends, and you theirs. They are there to help people find out who they are and become themselves, in service to the Earth and all its creatures.

Three really good books:

Sacred Places: How the Living Earth Seeks our Friendship, James A. Swan

The Power of Place: Sacred Ground in Natural and Human Environments, by James A. Swan

Dialogues with the Living Earth by James Swan & Roberta Swan#