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Religion Library: Paganism

Sacred Space

Written by: Carl McColman

Sometimes human beings can visit otherworldly realms, although myths are often vague about how such a journey can occur. Once in the otherworld, the human visitor may have a quest or sacred task to complete, may be held prisoner, or may fall in love with a beautiful otherworldly figure and then face a terrible choice between remaining with the lover or returning home to the mundane realm.
Perhaps such "otherworlds" only exist in human imagination - but even so, they can be meaningful elements within an individual's or a group's spiritual practice. Such forays into the realm of mythic imagination can be experienced as challenging, healing, inspirational, or deeply transformational.

Many Pagan groups and individuals engage in magical ritual practices as part of their spiritual life.Such rituals can be devotional in nature (offering love, honor, and worship to gods, ancestors, or nature spirits) or thaumaturgical (attempting to create real change in the world through magical means).In some Pagan traditions, performing a sacred ritual involves establishing a bounded space (often a circle) in which the energy of the ceremony occurs. This space is understood as having a magical quality that sets it apart from the rest of the physical universe. In Wicca, for example, such magically inscribed ritual circles are said to create a world "between the worlds" - a spiritual locus between the material and the spiritual realms, allowing access to both planes. Unlike other faith traditions where rituals need to be performed in relation to a specific physical location (such as a church or a temple), the magical circle is, in essence, a portable sacred space that can by psychically created with each new ritual and then dismantled when the ritual is finished.

Pagans do not seek to create a rigid distinction between what is and is not sacred, but rather to anchor a cosmic understanding of the universe as enchanted within specific locations that are particularly appropriate for veneration.For Pagans, sacred space is a key to understanding that all of nature - indeed, all of the cosmos - is holy, by and through the particular veneration of a specific location (either in the physical universe, in the spiritual otherworld, or within the imaginal space of the devotee).

Study Questions:
     1.    Why could all spaces be considered sacred?
     2.    How have prehistoric sacred sites come to be understood within contemporary society?
     3.    How does myth influence a site’s sacred value?
     4.    What is the “otherworld”? Where does it exist and what takes place there?


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