Finding Sacred Place, Part 1

Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God,
But only he who sees takes off his shoes;
The rest sit round and pluck blackberries.

―Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Aurora Leigh

I believe in the grounding, nourishing power of the earth beneath my feet, wherever I may be. My fast and dirty way of grounding and centering involves simply noticing the sensation of my feet touching the ground, breathing deeply, and silently affirming, By breathing deeply and feeling my feet on the ground, I bring myself into a calm and grounded state. The magical practice of grounding works no matter where you are, because the whole world is sacred.

And yet, for as long as humans have been human, we have experienced some places as more sacred than others. The sanctuary of the Unitarian Universalist Church that I attend, the open-air chapel where my husband and I married, and landscapes such as Muir Woods, the Great Sand Dunes, and Big Bend feel sacred to me in a very literal sense of the word. They are set aside, dedicated, in a way that my front yard and the parking lot outside the hospital where I work are not, although I have practiced grounding and centering in each of these places, too. Spiritual experience, the sense of connection with something larger than ourselves, is somehow more accessible at sacred places than it is elsewhere.

What makes a physical place sacred? Are some places inherently more sacred than others? How are new sacred places created? In this essay, I explore the topic of sacred place in two parts. In the first part, I describe the qualities of existing sacred places, in order to understand how they work. In the second part, I suggest practices that will help us wake up to sacred places in our local landscape and reimagine our relationships with them.

Sacred places, which may be landforms, trees, churches, temples, or shrines, have the power to heal, inspire, and enlighten us because they are simultaneously mysterious and familiar. They are set apart, unsettling, and yet they bring us closer to ourselves, because they present us with “new imaginations of our place in the world, and of how that world works” (Dewsbury and Cloke). It is this tension, this juxtaposition, that startles us into deeper awareness and gives rise to a sense of the numinous. Continue reading “Finding Sacred Place, Part 1”

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Three Stones for Samhain: A Silent, Solitary Ritual

“We build on foundations we did not lay. We warm ourselves by fires we did not light. We sit in the shade of trees we did not plant. We drink from wells we did not dig. We profit from persons we did not know. We are ever bound in community.”

–The Rev. Dr. Peter S. Raible

I relish ancestor work, and not only at Samhain; an ancestor offering was my first Pagan daily practice, and ancestor work remains a deeply meaningful component of my faith. A year-round ancestor altar sits on a bookshelf in my living room. It includes a variety of keys to remembering ancestors of blood and spirit: photos of my grandparents and great-grandparents, a fossil from a nearby creek, and photos of beloved pets who have passed away.

At Samhain I experience a strong call to the ancestors and to silence. The following is a silent, solitary ritual response to this moment on the Wheel. To do the ritual, you will need three stones, your journal, and a pen. I like to place these items on an altar, with flowers, photos and other reminders of my ancestors, and a candle, but it is not necessary to have an altar. To prepare, memorize the ritual mantras or print them on a notecard to have close at hand. Outdoors or indoors will work, as long as you are in a place of safety and relative privacy. Continue reading “Three Stones for Samhain: A Silent, Solitary Ritual”