When surrounded by a beautiful natural setting--a forest, the edge of the ocean, or way out in the desert--most of us immediately feel a sense of wonder, reverence, and familiarity. Something in us knows we have come home. For thousands of years certain places on the earth have been instinctively recognized as holding and emitting concentrated amounts of life energy and power. They have emerged as the world's sacred sites. Humans have often built great monuments and temples at these sites, which become destinations for millions of pilgrims.
These powerful sites serve as a catalyst for people to make lines of connection between their rational, everyday, conscious minds and the non-rational, unconscious aspect of their being. These lines of connection must be maintained if we are to live human lives of awe and wonder. Furthermore, the ritual act of pilgrimage to a sacred site allows us to practice the classic Hero’s Journey: departure, initiation, return.
Sacred sites include nature settings such as mountains and volcanoes, lakes and rivers, islands, forest groves, geysers, springs, sinkholes, and underground caves. Often, sacred sites are found to have special characteristics, such as high concentrations of ultrasonic sound vibration or electromagnetic energy, underground aquifers, proximity to the earth's magnetic field meridian lines, or ambient radioactivity.
Well known examples of human-built sacred sites include the Egyptian Pyramids, Stonehenge and other megalithic complexes in Britain, the Paleolithic caves of France and Spain, the Delphi Temple in Greece, the Nabatean temple in Petra, Jordan, and the Palace of Knossos on Minoan Crete as depicted above. There is Elephanta Cave in Bombay, the very large temple grid of the Chacoans in New Mexico that spans over twenty miles, the ancient Mayan and Aztec cities of Meso-America, and Macchu Picchu of the Peruvian Incas. Monasteries and esoteric schools have consistently located their facilities at specific sites intuitively felt to be of spiritual import, or where certain individuals claimed to have received enlightenment.
No matter where we look in the world, we find that one of the goals of the design and layout of sacred temple complexes was to activate within visitors a sense of connection among microcosm (human being), mesocosm (society), and macrocosm (universe). Temple complex architects used what the Greek philosopher Pythagoras called “sacred geometry.” The size of buildings and rooms were often based on the length of the average human stride or arm reach.
Dimensional proportions were based on universal ratios such as musical harmonics, the “gnomon” (spiral dimension found in nautilus shells, rams horns, and the human fist), geophysical cycles, celestial cycles, or human body cycles. The result of using these kinds of designs is that when one enters a sacred site, one immediately feels a resonance that is part physical, part psychological, and part archetypal. One feels plugged into the cosmos.
Only a few of us are lucky enough to live rural settings where resonant connections can be maintained with natural elements. Furthermore, almost no one lives in temple complexes. Most of us live in or near fiercely economic centers where tall buildings block sunrise and sunset, and city lights pale the stars, causing us to lose touch with important visual rhythms. Also, our cities sprawl relentlessly outward, creating irregular, cancer-like patterns and long drive times, cutting us off from one another. Town and neighborhood centers, though often including some pleasing design touches, are mostly meant to be mechanically functional. Their designs rarely consider universal or sacred geometrical elements. Perhaps most sadly, we have forgotten that we have forgotten.
Make it a point to educate your self on sacred sites, and more importantly, make them destinations in your life travels. Pilgrims and wanderers worldwide have shown that such journeys, consciously undertaken, will have many positive effects on one’s well-being.