Articles/Essays From Pagans
December 15th. 2013 ...
The Hex Murder of 1928
My Top Ten Favorite Cauldrons (Part 1)
Lunar Insight Moon Musings: Hunting, Fires and Parting Shots
Lady of the Forest Mist (A Story of the Woods)
December 8th. 2013 ...
Help and Thoughts for Pagans New to the Journey
Using Your Wand in Reverse
Leaving a Group - Part 2: Leaving, Healing and Moving Forward
The Cry of the Soul
December 1st. 2013 ...
A Pragmatic Look at Neo Paganism
The Tarot as a Tool for Raising Consciousness
Leaving a Pagan Group – Part 1: To Leave or to Stay?
November 24th. 2013 ...
The Pagan and the Papacy
The Groovy Aquarian Christ: Jesus From a Pagan Perspective
November 17th. 2013 ...
For Love of the God
Which Witch? Philosophical and Psychological Roots of Wicca
A Threat to Religious Liberties?
November 10th. 2013 ...
Where did Aleister Crowley’s Influence on Wicca Go?
Thoughts on the Threefold Law/Law of Return
Nine Creeds: A Statement and Explanation of My Beliefs
The Celtic Tree Calendar
November 3rd. 2013 ...
The Mundane/Spiritual Mirror: What Does it Say About Your Life?
October 27th. 2013 ...
Thoughts On a Miley-Cyrus/ Robin-Thicke Society
On Being Wiccan: Some Unsolicited Advice
Pagan Religious Communities in your Area: Connecting With and Creating Them
Banishing, Invocation and the Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram
October 20th. 2013 ...
Weather Magick: Who is Responsible for the Weather?
Broom Closet: In or Out?
Bottle Spells and Magick in Hoodoo Tradition
On Coven and Claws
October 13th. 2013 ...
Destroying to Create: A Lesson from the Dead
Consume the Scorpion- Scorpion Energy Revisited
October 6th. 2013 ...
UPG and U: A Breakdown and Building Up of Unverified and Unsubstantiated Personal Gnosis
Answering The Call from Spirit
Coping with the Loss of a Familiar
The Five-way Road: A Pagan Pilgrimage, Part 2 (The South)
September 29th. 2013 ...
Six Reasons Why Covens are Here to Stay
Priestessing and Titles: What's the Point?
Truth or Convenience? Questioning Motives for Spiritual Advancement
Speaking Up: The Conflict Between the Spiritualist and Our Human Experience
September 22nd. 2013 ...
Death of a Friendship within the Craft
The Five-way Road: A Pagan Pilgrimage, Part 1 (The Center)
September 15th. 2013 ...
Some Pagan Prayers
The Holocaust Survivor (Part II)
Lunar Insight Moon Musings: Bramble and Cerridwen
September 8th. 2013 ...
Introduction to the Five-way Road: A Pagan Pilgrimage
The Druidic Concept of Nwyfre
The Holocaust Survivor (Part 1)
Giving and Helping
September 1st. 2013 ...
Use a Flyswatter for a Fly: More on the Dark Arts
How Spells Work
Is It Really 'Energy'?
August 25th. 2013 ...
Mother Nature’s Way: Forging a Distinctly American Path
Healing Moon Ritual
Unconditional Love: The Paradox of Perfect Love
Earth to Soul/Sole
August 18th. 2013 ...
How Not to Fall in the Bunny Trap
Why Are You Like That? Thoughts on Hoodoo and Appropriation
Finding the Right Coven
The Knowledge Found in Silence
Moon Musings, Planetary Preponderances, Hazelnuts and Magick Wands
August 11th. 2013 ...
“I Survived a Weekend with Galina Krasskova”
The Charges of the Goddess and God with Commentary
August 4th. 2013 ...
Fair Weather Witches
Pagan Studies II: Modern Paganism in the Americas
Pagan Abbeys - A Practical Heritage for Spiritual Lay and Professional Cloistered Communities
July 28th. 2013 ...
Crystals 101: A Helpful Guide For Beginners
The More the Merrier? It’s not Only an Inaccuracy; it’s an All Out Farce!
My Pagan Manifesto
July 21st. 2013 ...
I'm a Witch, Not a Wiccan: A Brief Summary of Broad Pagan Designations
Rethinking Community for Solitaries
13 Keys: The Beauty of Tiphareth
July 14th. 2013 ...
Ramblings of a Pagan Guy: Stupid Clichés We Use (Part II)
Pagan Humanism: A Tradition of Rational Religion
Moon/Planetary Musings: The Holly King and John Barleycorn
July 7th. 2013 ...
Coping With Depression: Learning to Dance with the Sacred Twins
Shamanic Healing of Anxiety and Panic Attacks
Humility and Community Service
H is for Hubris
NOTE: For a complete list of articles related to this chapter... Visit the Main Index FOR this section.
Personal Thoughts on Sacred Landscape, Character and ‘Seeing As’
Article ID: 15138
Age Group: Adult
Days Up: 493
Times Read: 1,673
RSS Views: 12,348
Author: Rhys Chisnall
Posted: August 12th. 2012
Times Viewed: 1,673
Unlike with Druids, places such as Stonehenge, Carnac, Avebury and Glastonbury do not have any particular significance to Initiatory Craft, though this is not to say that they don’t have significance to individual Witches. That being said, the landscape and the character of the countryside about us, not to mention the fauna and flora of a place, can have spiritual significance to Witches as it can for other spiritual paths. The landscape can receive the projection of mythology and meaning in terms of ley lines, ghost tracks, corpse ways, etc. informing stories and legend that are idiosyncratic to the place. This is because human beings have evolved the ability not just to see and experience, but as Ludwig Wittgenstein (as cited in Beaney, 2007) said, they ‘see or experience as’. Wittgenstein used his famous drawing of the duck/rabbit to illustrate this point. You can see the drawing as either a duck or as a rabbit.
It is important to remember that the drawing does not change; you just see it as something different. Being able to see the picture as a drawing of something at all, as far as we know, is something only human beings can do.
So we don’t just see landscape or experience it, but rather we ‘see it as’ and ‘experience it as’, influenced by our beliefs and stances. To illustrate my point a person does not just see a field of wheat; it depends on their subjective phenomenal reality. If they are a farmer they see it as a source of income or as a business investment, if they are an artist they see it as having potential for a beautiful picture, if they are a historian they see it as the site of archaeological significance and if they are an environmentalist they see it as a good habitat for field mice. Likewise a Witch or other occultist may see it as having character, a character that may be partially informed by legends and folklore about the place.
As human beings we see and experience objects in the world as having character and meaning. I am reminded of the psychology experiment where participants were asked to watch a screen on which dots randomly moved around. When asked by the researcher what they saw the participants described it in terms of characters in a story with one dot, liking, bullying, fancying and chasing the others. They had assigned the dots motives, beliefs and thus characters. This is what the philosopher and cognitive scientist Dan Dennett (as cited in Frankish 2007) calls the Intentional Stance. Evolution has programmed us to assign beliefs, motives and agency to things in order to predict what they will do. So in order to predict how a person or an animal will behave in a given situation we assign them the beliefs that they should have in order to achieve their goals and work from there. It does not always work but it works enough of the time for it to be a useful strategy. How many of us swear at our computers or at our cars when they go wrong? We are assigning them characters. Natural selection has programmed us with this ability to infer agency and beliefs because in our distant past it increased our survival fitness. When we were wandering the plains of Africa and we saw a branch shake, it would be to our advantage (and the advantage of our genes) to infer a hidden agency, i.e. a predator and beat a hasty retreat. It is better to run from nine leopards that are not there then to not run from one that its.
Humans also have the ability to hold representations of another person’s beliefs, motives and character in our minds. The cognitive anthropologist Dan Sperber calls this meta-representation. So Shirley can know that Kevin fancies her and can communicate to put him off because she can hold aspects of his character in her mind and make inferences from them.
We are meaning making and character assigning creatures. We don’t just experience the world and people around us, we ‘experience it as’ and this is just as true for places. We automatically assign places with meaning and with character, and it is with this character with which we can form a relationship.
In a previous article, I discussed my personal view of spirituality. To my mind it is a relationship that is experienced as having great value to the person who participates in it. It is so valuable that it can enable a person endure through times of crisis and help to bring meaning to such events. Importantly spiritual relationships are experienced as numinous; we relate to something other and greater than ourselves that inspires within us fascination, wonder, awe and even dread. I think it is possible to have this kind of spiritual relationship with a landscape or place; given meaning through either through personal involvement or through culture as with Stonehenge or Avebury. Such relationships are common in traditional cultures where the landscape is part of the mythology. You only need to think of Native Americans and their connection the sacred landscape as an example.
It is important to remember that this ‘experiencing as’ is a subjective experience that varies from person to person. It is their own meaning, their assigning of character (even if inspired by cultural forces such as legend and folklore) that gives the relationship value. It can also be inspired by the physical properties of the place, such as soaring and majestic mountains, the power of the sea and the beauty of the green wood.
However, there is no intrinsic sacredness that makes the place so significant. By this I mean that there is no need to reify ley lines, genius loci, spiritual energies, wights or whatever. They can still have meaning and value providing we remember Ryle and the category mistake and not mistake mythos for logos. There is nothing extra, no extra objects in the world but rather these and similar terms ‘make sense of’ the feelings these places inspire. The sacredness of a site is about the subjective meaning and spiritual relationship that a particular person has with a place so another person may feel completely different and have a different experience. The American pioneers experienced the landscape in a very different way to the aboriginal people they displaced. Likewise animals that don’t assign meaning may experience it just as environment. As far as we know birds fly directly over Stonehenge without picking up a ‘spiritual energy’ and which makes them go weak at the knees.
Certainly some buildings or woodlands have a ‘negative feel’ about them. This is down to the assigning of character and meaning to a place often based on its folklore and or physical properties. The wood may be dark and dingy with a sinister local reputation. The Jewish museum in Berlin was deliberately designed to create an atmosphere that makes its visitors feel very uneasy. This is done by virtue of its architecture with off kilter windows, weird sloping floors and walls and stark colour schemes. Tom Dyskhoff in a recent TV programme on architecture, called the Secret Life of Buildings, demonstrated how space can have an impact on how people feel. After staying two weeks in his room where the windows were reduced to average size of modern housing he found himself becoming depressed. This may also account for some of sick building syndrome; the rest may be caused by low level noise and electro-magnetic fields.
It is the subjective character of a place that is it genius loci, the spirit of the place. We experience places as having character and personify them. Therefore the power of place is in meaning and is subjective, cultural and personal.
Beaney, M., (2007) , Imagination and Creativity, Open University
Boyer, P., (2002) , Religion Explained, Basic Books
Dukes, R, (2005) , Uncle Ramsey’s Little Book of Demons, Aeon Books
Dyskhoff, K, (2010) The Secret Life of Buildings, Channel 4
Frankish, K, (2007) , Conciousness, The Open University
Location: Stowmarket, England
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Bio: Rhys and his wife Martita run a training course for those interested in initiatory Craft. He is a member of a rural coven in the North of Suffolk and works as a lecturer.
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