The idea of sacred places
If you do a search with the phrase "sacred architecture" you're likely to come up with academic monographs on churches, Buddhist temples, mosques and the like, as well as a hodgepodge of neopagan geomancy and dowsing, perhaps a reference to Egypt or the Mayans, books on the Golden Proportion, vaastu, feng shui and Le Corbusier. All of which have their merits (though in the last case, not many). But I'm interested in something arguably more subtle, less likely to be defined by any institution or particular tradition--though again, a number of ancient and traditional religious buildings are among the most available examples of the nugget I'm digging for.
Essentially, a sacred place is a place conducive to a particular sort of experience. The experience may take on a variety of permutations, from ecstatic bliss to a quiet nanosecond of fully present awareness. There's bound to be at least an element of the subjective in the mix, but one of my contentions is that there's a consistency throughout the whole range of these experiences, and that it's possible to establish a set of patterns that enable confident design and construction of places that serve this purpose.
In due course I'll address in detail implications that arise from that contention. For example, Arvin Knettle may have found, while swigging his eighth cup of coffee after midnight under the blaring fluorescent lights of Dancing Donut at Tenth and Clement in San Francisco, a reasonable facsimile of the mind he'd previously lost at the Left Luggage desk of Chhatarpati Shivaji International Airport untold months ago. He stared into the groundless, bottomless cup and felt that, indeed, this was the moment he (or whoever it was inhabiting his body) had been waiting for.
Does this qualify the donut shop as a sacred place? You or I might be skeptical. We would likely imagine ourselves in the place and (if we didn't reject the claim outright) would suggest that our experience would not likely resemble Arvin's. Which brings us to a primary principle of sacred places: to some degree, any reasonably sensitive person (and even the occasional insensitive churl) will be susceptible to their effect--just as it is no surprise that many people experience some degree of stress (if not indiscriminate rage) when stuck in traffic. A notable (and I think supportable) corollary is that the presence of other stressed commuters compounds the stress of simply being stuck in traffic. Which holds a convenient negative implication that a community of revelers at the bacchanal (or, if you prefer altered states of a more sedate flavor, meditators in the temple) will increase the effect of the place. Not simply by bumbling in as oblivious tourists, but (actually almost as simply) by entering the place with an intent of being altered. That is, by participating in the transformative effect of the place, simply by being receptive to the possibility of such an experience.
So far we're nowhere near defining, or even really much in the way of describing, the properties of this effect. So far just tracking a scent, a hint of a scent.
Here's a twist, though not really so surprising: for most people throughout our meanderings as a species, and still now (if we're honest), an experience of the sacred is most likely to occur in a natural setting. Out away from buildings and human-made structures of any sort. Not in them.
TrackBack URL: http://www.dwellingcraft.org/cgi-sys/cgiwrap/szahavi/managed-mt/mt-tb.cgi/4