Sunday, July 18, 2010

Certified: Sacred Geography

(One of my fellow students asked me to talk about sacred geography more, so of course I leapt at the chance. Here's what I wrote.)

Sacred geography is about seeing place as important, worthwhile, marvelous, on its own, without regard to what it might be worth in any monetary system.

Of course, some people regard certain lands and places as sacred because they've erected a church on that spot or because people have worshipped on that land for some time.

There are many definitions for sacred geography. But when I'm using it I'm talking about recognizing place as intrinsically holy and sacred (and not in religious terms).

The word "sacred" comes from the word "sak" which means to dedicate or make holy. The word "holy" comes from the word "kailo" which means "whole" and "uninjured." I love that! To be holy literally means to be hale, healthy, and whole—all those words have the same root. For a person like me who isn't religious, I love embracing these words as they were truly meant.

Westerners sometimes have trouble seeing place as it is as holy (or worthwhile.) For instance, I was speaking with a Hopi man at Taos Pueblo about Blue Lake. He said they went to court to protect it. The judge said, "You say this is sacred land, but where is your church?" The judge couldn't understand it. Fortunately, President Nixon intervened and protected the lake. To the Hopi, my friend said, Nixon was (and is) a hero.

You could argue that place is intrinsically sacred, or you could argue that place is made sacred by humans. The Greeks talked about creating "temenos" which meant a place cut off from other places, usually for kings or emperors, the rich and the privileged. Jung used the term more broadly to mean a kind of "magic circle." We create temenos, or sacred space, intentionally.

This is important for permaculture design. This exercise is something to do to visualize and trigger sense memories of place. Draw the space. Your yard and home; your apartment building, parking lot, and green spaces; your block; your town. Whatever. Color it. Then begin naming various place with your own geographic names.

All the names of streets and places anywhere had meaning at one time. Often as newcomers to a place, we have no idea who Jenny Lane was named after, for instance. For a while, we need to make our own meaning. Or maybe forever.

In my town, I often walk by a house where the chickens cluck as we go by. This is Noisy Chicken House. Or the empty lot next to the brewery and bar where bagpipers play. That's George's Bagpipe Stand. Or up by the school: Where the Raccoons Roam. You get the idea.

I'm from Michigan and every Michigander will show you where they're from by putting up their hand, with the thumb out to the right, and pointing to a spot on their hand. If they live up north, they hold up their left hand up with the right hand above it to indicate the upper peninsula. Anyway, I outlined my hands on a piece of paper with the left one for the lower peninsula and the right hand for the upper peninsula. I wrote in places: Lost My Shoe in the Lake. Where I Grew. Where I Met My Beloved. Etc.

I think when we're doing design for ourselves or others, it's important to walk the space and hear (or remember) the stories. "This is where the kids used to stare up at the sky and watch the clouds." "This is where Suzy fell and hurt her knee." "This is where I went with my boyfriend as a teen to make out." All of this can be part of the observation. Of the design interview. Because then when we design we can leave that space open for staring up at the sky. We can put a bench with sweet smelling flowers nearby to mark and accentuate the kissing place. Etc.

This is my long-winded way of saying place is sacred and our designs can accentuate meaning and holiness, i.e., health and wholeness.


kerrdelune said...

Loved this, Sister Kim....

kerrdelune said...

Loved this, Sister Kim... How are you enjoying the course?

All work copyright © Kim Antieau 2008-.