Tree of Life

Sacred Sites

Warm, drier weather means the summer months are a great time to get out and visit sacred sites in your local area. Or perhaps your holiday trips will give you the chance to visit some further afield. Either way, now is a good time to do some research and plan some trips over the next few months.

Do you have a favourite place to visit in your local area? You may be lucky enough to live near one of the better known sacred sites such as Stonehenge or Tara, the Parthenon in Athens, or the Goddess Temples in Malta. The advantage of this is that you can probably visit at different times of day and different times of year, experiencing the atmosphere at dawn or midday or midnight, in sun and rain and mist. The downside is that quite often we take the things on our doorstep for granted, or keep thinking that ‘a visit is not really convenient this week, but I can go another time…’, and then not ever actually get around to making that visit. Somehow when you know you’re only going to be in the vicinity of something for a short time, it concentrates the mind and you make sure you get there no matter what! The other downside of living near somewhere really well known is that it is likely to be bustling with visitors a lot of the time. Sometimes this can add to the atmosphere, but often what you really want is some quiet, meditative time to immerse yourself in the place. Crowds of tourists are not conducive to this process! A lesser known site is often much quieter and easier to connect with.

Perhaps your local sacred site is sacred only to you, or a small number of people. An atmospheric grove in the forest, a quiet beach, a windy hilltop, a special rock in the meadow where you can sit and listen to birdsong. A place can touch your soul for many different reasons. By visiting your special place over and over again, you make a real connection to it and form a relationship with its spirit.

Sometimes you find a sense of the sacred where you don’t expect it. When I visited La Sagrada Familia cathedral in Barcelona, not being a Christian I expected to find the architecture interesting but I had no expectation of being spiritually moved by the place. Boy was I wrong! The sense of spirit I encountered there moved me to tears. All the more surprising since the place is such a massive project it is still incomplete, despite being started in 1882. This is a reminder that it’s probably a good idea to retain an open mind about what is and is not ‘sacred’. You may find a famous sacred site leaves you unmoved and disappointed, and yet somewhere you had no preconceptions about simply takes your breath away. We are all different and we will all react to and connect with different places in our own way.

When visiting a sacred site it is best to approach the place with respect, with an openness and willingness to see what the site has to say or show to you. You may sense the presence of a genius loci, or ancestral spirits, or some kind of guardian. You may feel nothing, you may have a life-changing moment of connection, or you may experience something completely different to whatever you expected. Be respectful. Don’t barge in, don’t force your preconceptions on the place, ask permission of the site before doing anything. And it goes without saying that you should not do any damage or leave any rubbish behind. As the old saying goes, leave only footprints, take only memories (or photos!). It may be OK to leave a small, biodegradable token (such as a flower or feather), but please don’t leave things like crystals or candles where they don’t belong, however well-intentioned your gift. I once visited West Kennet long barrow near Avebury, only to find the inside full of burning tea-light candles. The flickering candlelight looked magical and I was enchanted until I realised that the candles were leaving sooty deposits on the walls of the long barrow and the heat of them was in danger of cracking the ancient stones. I have no doubt that whoever had left them there had done so reverently and with the best of intentions. But it was an ill thought out gesture that actually threatened to damage the very place this person or persons had sought to honour.

Finally, you may choose to create your very own sacred site wherever you live. This could be as simple as an altar in a corner of your bedroom or a shrine or even something as elaborate as a stone circle in your garden. As with so much in magic, it is the intention that is important. However simple or fancy your site, it is by respecting it, honouring it, and building a relationship with it over time that it becomes ‘sacred’. This means effort is needed, but it is effort well-spent. Over time the connection you will make with the spirit of your sacred site will grow and grow, and you won’t have to spend a fortune travelling to Glastonbury or Chartres or Uluru to encounter the sacred (although you can still do that too!). It will be right there in your very own place.