Sacred places in geography like Mt. Shasta, Ayers Rock (Uluru), Easter Island, Stone Henge, just to name a few, out live not only people but cultures and so their ‘meanings’ and usage change over time.  This is the natural state of beings and things that exist in linear time.  Change is the only true constant.  It is the kind of change that occurs which speaks to the spirituality and intent of the people who interact with these sites.  And it is the clash of perspectives that strikes me as most difficult to deal with and possibly the most damaging.

Aboriginal or Native cultures, in general, have a perspective of being just part of the ecosystem, not in control of it.  They attempt to leave a small footprint, literally and figuratively, they try to keep their interactions with the world (other human groups being the exception) harmonious and positive, and they revere various geographic formations as sacred such as springs, rivers, mountains, caves, trees and rock formations.  They see these as explicating the role of man in the world, as indicating human origins, and teaching lessons about right living.  The sites themselves are considered intrinsically spiritual or sacred and not to be disturbed.  Entire cultures have formed around the spirituality and understanding of the universe that incorporates the living by/with/on these sites and their appropriate use.

People from other cultures, mostly white western cultures, attempting to return to a more aboriginal form of spirituality, find their own personal path to the All that Is, connect to something more authentic, or seeking to find a more grounded and earth based spirituality to practice, have developed a plethora of practices and beliefs.  The less structured and more eclectic of these have been dubbed “New Age”, but seem to have found one element in common.  “New Age” practitioners, whether through naiveté or through western societies ingrained entitlement, utilize the colonialist notion of being able to take and use whatever they find regardless of and in the face of the culture it came from or what violence this does to the native culture.

Native Americans and First Nations struggle with this constantly while attempting to practice their spirituality.  A constant parade of non-native people feel that they have a right to attend ceremonies, sweat lodges, pipe ceremonies, teepees, without spending any amount of time learning about the culture, about the particular rules and expectations of the ceremony or whether their presence will even be appreciated.  Native people learn from early childhood what is necessary to honor the people and spirituality expressed in these ceremonies so as to be a positive participant.  Outsiders seem not to realize that they have walked into a different culture with different rules.  The most obvious being that white western culture requires direct eye contact during conversation and Native culture finds this not only insulting to the point of violence but a direct challenge that might require beatings or a knife!

Sacred sites are coopted in the same manner.  There is a percentage of ‘New Age’ practitioners that tour spiritual sites like vacation spots, seeking for the photo-op and an ‘experience’ but doing nothing to understand the local culture or people or finding out whether their presence there is welcome or damaging.  Ayers Rock is an example of this.  Several Aboriginal cultures are still present there and still utilizing the site in the ancient ways of their culture and the mountain is still an active sacred space to them.  However, even the literate and websites about the space note that ‘New Age’ groups have coopted the rock and Aboriginal spiritual concepts of ‘Dreamtime’ and now utilize the site as well.  Even the name shows colonialization.  It’s Aboriginal name is Uluru.  Ayers Rock was the name given by the white settlers who colonized the region.

Before trying to bring ‘peace to all men’ which has misogyny embedded right in the phrase, or trying to heal the entire planet or get in touch with something bigger, why not start where you are and look at the people around you, the cultures around, you the violence that may occur through your own best intentions.  Before trying to heal what others have done, look to what you are doing.  It may be that what you are doing or the way you are doing it is hurting others in a way that cannot be healed.  Sometimes the best thing to do is not just do something, but stand there.