Sacred Sites

Sacred Sites – Marking out particular places—from a small cave containing rock art to an entire landscape—as being special in some way is a consistent aspect of shamanisms. Small-scale sites such as watering holes, rivers, waterfalls, individual trees, and hills may be identified as places of metaphysical or otherworldly potency, the location of important spirits, or the site of a major spiritual event. These sacred sites may not be substantially different, to the Western eye, from any other natural location; in some cases, a small shrine may mark out such a place as significant or a building or monument may clearly demark its importance. Most obviously, Aboriginal Australian narratives of creation processes (“the Dreaming”) refer to the making of the landscape by the formative acts of creative beings ancestral to all life, and every feature of the landscape is related to traditional knowledge and practices.

Such understandings of sacred landscapes persist in other indigenous traditions. Paul Devereux has argued that “ley lines” in Great Britain and elsewhere in the world are not lines of energy or the spiritual “arteries of the Earth” but are instead the routes by which shamans undertake out-of-body journeys. Fellow earth mysteries scholar Alby Stone has countered some of Devereux’s claims, but the hypothesis holds sway among researchers of ley lines. Devereux’s Dragon Project of the 1970s scientifically investigated a number of anomalous phenomena at sacred sites, and the recent Dreaming Project, involving a collaboration between Devereux and Stanley Krippner, has analyzed people’s dreams at sacred sites. Michael Dames, discussing the megalithic landscape of Avebury in southern England, has emphasized the sacredness of specific places as marked out in the burial mounds, stone circles, and other monuments constructed in prehistory.

Contemporary Pagans and neo-shamans have drawn on this and other discourse, such as punk musician Julian Cope’s “New Antiquarian” approach, for their own engagements with sacred sites, including the megalithic complexes of Avebury and Stonehenge. The current Sacred Sites, Contested Rights/Rites Project, codirected by Jenny Blain and Robert Wallis, has been theorizing the meaning of the “sacred” site and examining Pagan engagements with these places in Great Britain. In the United States, “vortex sites” and other places of power, such as Sedona in Arizona, the Medicine Wheel in Wyoming, and ancient Pueblo remains in Chaco Canyon in New Mexico, have become pilgrimage sites for New Agers (see work by Adrian Ivakhiv and Wallis). A recent scholarly survey of research on sacred sites (mainly in Britain), Sacred Places: Prehistory and Popular Imagination (2005), was written by Bob Trubshaw.


Historical Dictionary of Shamanism by Graham Harvey and Robert J. Wallis 2007