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Black Elk

Should We Visit Sacred Places?

September 5th, 2009

Resurgence Magazine’s last issue was dedicated to sacred places and pilgrimage – a subject of interest to many readers of this blog. I contributed an article which is mentioned here in another excellent magazine – but this time with a weird title: Utne. I used to buy copies of Utne when I visited the States. Does anyone know what it means? It sounds like chutney without the chutzpah.

Mercy for Spiritual Travel’s Footprint
Julie Hanus

Resurgence Sacred Places issueTourism is this day and age’s dirty word, with rightful concern for the environmental impact of travel looming over alluring vacation plans. In this line of thinking, spiritual journeys pose a special quandary, writes Philip Carr-Gomm for Resurgence.

“Our desire to visit sacred places has resulted in the creation of yet another industry that is pushing us to the brink of environmental collapse,” Carr-Gomm writes. “And yet doesn’t visiting sacred sites help us to appreciate our world? . . . Isn’t pilgrimage often a key component in many religions and an important spiritual practice in itself? . . . How can we honor these concepts and respect the Earth at the same time?”

Carr-Gomm has done serious thinking about the matter. He is the author of Sacred Places, a book detailing 50 spiritual and religious sites around the world. In the book, he endeavors to include both the ups and downs of any particular location. “Like any relationship, our interaction with sacred sites can either be harmful or beneficial, depending on the awareness brought to the relationship,” he writes.

To foster awareness, Carr-Gomm proposes building our relationships with sacred sites at the “soul level.” Visit them when one must, but focus on “building the bond primarily in the soul world and in consciousness.” Make use of Google Earth, virtual museums, and other rich writing and photography on the Internet—the wealth of information that, in part, is responsible for spurring this unprecedented interest in traveling to spiritual sites in the first place.

And if reinterpreting armchair travel isn’t satisfying spiritual hunger, well, Carr-Gomm has another idea: “We can turn our attention to our own landscapes—take care of a local sacred site, clearing it of rubbish and visiting it often.”

You can read the Resurgence article in full here.

One Response to “Should We Visit Sacred Places?”

  1. Lovely article Philip. More and more for me it is about finding the sacred in the local. I love the idea of creating new places of sacredness, and as you say, how wonderful to think that we can each create these in our own gardens (even in a window box!). I find that the urge to visit the more well known sites has becomes less and less urgent for me. I feel the need to reassess what it is that makes places sacred for us; how we exclude certain places in favour of others and why.

    At our local woodland burial site, they have just constructed a very beautiful stone circle. The concept of woodland burial is such a wonderful one and the erecting of this monument at first seemed a little at odds with the rather anonymous nature of these burial places – the idea being that you mark graves only by the planting of trees. And yet this beautiful circle seems to fit this place very well and actually appears to add something to its meaning. For the people who visit where their loved ones are buried, this circle will come to have a deeper significance. This seems to be how sacred sites start, layer upon layer of meaning built up over years. It’s about honouring our relationship to something and this can be done, as you say, in our own imaginations and on our own doorsteps.

    I feel deeply worried about the impact of travel upon the environment; perhaps in sacrificing our urge to roam we might lose something and yet gain something else of greater value. If we cannot find the inspiration and spiritual nourishment in our own hearts, it is likely that the kind we find elsewhere will only have a transitory impact; this doesn’t seem worth the cost to the earth, especially when there are such treasures beneath our own noses.

    The focus on the local is going to become increasingly more important – not just with respect to sacred places but with regard to how we manage our communities. What worries me about a decrease in travel and movement is the potential lack of circulation of ideas, the acceptance and embracing of difference. Living on an island has shown me that sometimes it can be easy to become a little closed to outside influence -not a healthy place to be. Perhaps the internet is the saving grace here.

    Having said all this, with rising sea levels, there is potentially going to be a whole mass of human movement across the planet. Maybe our notion of what constitutes a sacred place has to be flexible and open to change; perhaps our notion of pilgrimage has to change too. So much seems uncertain for us at present and I guess these challenges require from us a whole new way of approaching the sacred in our lives and our environments.

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