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Religion Library: Paganism

Sacred Space

Written by: Carl McColman

Many Pagans embrace the idea that the universe is enchanted; that even the most mundane and ordinary elements of nature are, at least potentially, pregnant with spiritual power and possibility. Taken to its pantheistic or monistic extreme, Paganism celebrates all space - all of nature - as sacred or holy. But within that framework of overall immanence, particular sites or points within the natural world are revered as places of special spiritual power and worthy of reverence and veneration.

Stonehenge, Angkor Wat, Newgrange, The Pyramids of Egypt, Macchu Picchu,the Parthenon, the Great Serpent Mound - all over the world, numerous sites of ancient ceremonial and religious significance remain today as mysterious mute testaments to prehistoric or ancient spirituality. Pagans often look to such venerable monuments for inspiration in the continuing quest to revive or recreate polytheistic, goddess-centered, or earth-based devotion.

Such human-made sites often are subject to a variety of different interpretations. Some are burial grounds; others appear to be giant observatories; still others have no clear religious or ceremonial meaning. Prehistoric sites are often the subject of imaginative speculation as different theorists offer their interpretation as to the original or ultimate meaning and purpose of such sites.

In addition to sites that were clearly fashioned by human hands, other remarkable or distinctive sites throughout the earth have become subject to spiritual devotion, often because of distinguishing geographic features, but also because of metaphysical beliefs associated with such sites.Glastonbury Tor in England, the Black Hills of South Dakota, andKi l a u e a in Hawaii are examples of spectacular sacred sites, while many less dramatic sites may be centers of regional or local veneration, such as the tradition of holy well veneration in the Celtic countries.

Such sites typically achieve status as "sacred" in the minds of devotees because of historical significance, particularly in regard to mythology or folklore. Sites associated with ancient gods or goddesses carry special significance even for latter-day Pagans. Remarkable trees, abundant water sources, and other singular features of the earth can be imbued with meaning, either received through folklore or local tradition, or even established by contemporary Pagan individuals or groups who feel drawn to find or create spiritual meaning through relationship with a particular feature of the natural world.

In addition to such physical forms of sacred space, Pagan traditions often also include metaphysical or imaginal forms of sacrality as well. These include mythic concepts of the otherworld, ritually created sacred space (such as the Wiccan "World Between the Worlds"), and even the concept of sacred space as found within each individual's own capacity for inner visualization.

Concepts of the otherworld can take many forms. Nonmaterial realms may exist above, below, or interwoven with the material world. They can exist in a variety of metaphorical locations, such as over or beneath the ocean, through the mist, or within so-called hollow hills ("fairy mounds"). The otherworld can be a place of ineffable beauty and wonder, but also a realm fraught with danger and challenge. It can be populated with gods, goddesses, ancestors, heroes and heroines, as well as spirits, elves, fairies, or other entities seen as intimately connected with nature.

 

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