Sacred Lands and Spiritual Landscapes

I love maps. I love their aesthetic. I love their usefulness. I love the wide variety of information we can gleam from any one map. I love seeing how maps change over time. Wouldn’t it be useful if the spiritual life came with a map? This way to the Springs of Refreshment! Avoid the Pits of Despair!

Abraham Ortelius 1570 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Cherry Hill Seminary is hosting a conference next month and an accompanying class (beginning next week) dealing with sacred lands and spiritual landscapes. I’ve been given a sneak peek at the syllabus for the course and it is a good one. I plan to follow along with the readings and use it for inspiration for my posts in the coming weeks.

I’ve written extensively about how Southeast Alaska is my sacred land. But what does that mean? I have no lore for it. No ritual. There is lore and there are traditions with the land, traditions about animals, foods, art, spirits – but it’s not my culture. I grew up learning about some of the Tlingit myths and traditions in school, but it didn’t have any direct relevance to my family or way of life. Now I wish I’d listened more closely to the stories or attended a Celebration gathering. I wish I’d learned more about the plants or learned to hunt.

What does it mean to have sacred lands that one doesn’t live near? How can I transform Olympia into my sacred land? Can I just choose to make it so? Thinking about sacred land raises for me issues of cultural appropriation, lamentations for my transitory life, and the problems of modern culture and its lack of connection to Land.

If we connect to sacred land externally, then the spiritual landscape is surely the map of our inner experience. I wish I was a visual artist. My map would have lush forests, bone dry deserts, dark nights of the soul, all winding up the spiritual mountain. I’ve decided to plot out my own version of my internal spiritual map. I’m going to enlist my graphic designer husband to help me out.

Perhaps exploring the map of my internal spiritual landscape will help me connect more intimately with sacred land.


About Niki Whiting
  • Ashley Yakeley

    I made an “alternate map” in the broken-English style of Russell Hoban’s Riddley Walker. It was fun.

    • Niki Whiting

      Very cool! I’m hoping to work mine out this weekend.

  • 12stepWitch

    I feel somewhat conflicted about my connection to my sacred land.
    My sacred land does represent a long ancestral tradition, and so I am connected to it through at least nine generations who worked the land and water in similar ways.
    I feel deeply moved by this land, and it speaks to me, and it has always been a part of my magic.
    But I struggle with my connection to my family, and whether or not I want to be defined by the things that define my family. If family and ancestors are what connect me to the land, and I explicitly live my life in a way that rejects family traditions, am I severing my connection to the land?

    • Niki Whiting

      Yes, what powerful connections. My family is only 3 generations deep in Alaska – maybe only 2? But I have similar questions. I can do almost none of the things my father can do. Your questions make really thoughtful fodder for a future post!

    • Drekfletch

      The way I see it, a Place is more than the Land. A giant part of an inhabited place is the inhabitants and their culture. Any full culture has many types of positions, almost all subtly influenced by the land it inhabits. While your family may have filled roughly the same position, the tie of community is equally as strong as the tie of the earth.

      When trying to fit yourself into a new type of position, the questions to ask are: “Where am I connecting?” “What can I bring to my Place?”

      As to your final question, my response is that your family and ancestors are a part of who you are, but the connection to Place is entirely you. So by rejecting family, you are rejecting their patterns of connection, not that which they connected to.

      • 12stepwitch

        Thank you Drek—That really puts it into a new perspective. I appreciate that.

  • Sarah Whedon

    Thanks for posting about the Symposium and the course. I love your idea of an internal spiritual map. I hope you’ll share more as you develop yours.

    For anyone who’s curious, info on the Symposium is here