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Sacred Geography Gallery Series

Paul Devereux

In this 5-part series of galleries, we will look at a range of sacred geographies, the mindscapes of past times that can still speak to our souls. The power of sacred place.


It was the land itself that first whispered the idea of the holy to humanity and the earliest sacred geographies, mindscapes, were mapped on unaltered natural landscapes. People venerated specific topographical features because they were considered to be the homes of mythic beings – totemic and nature spirits, creator heroes, ancestors, gods – or else were simply places of supernatural power.

The German theologian Rudolf Otto claimed such places had an eerie quality he called a numen, a divine power, from which the term “numinosity” was later coined. He felt this sense of a spirit of place, a genius loci (or as Otto actually called it, a numen loci), was the origin of humanity’s association of place with sanctity, and wrote that this was acknowledged in Genesis 28 when Jacob sleeps on a stone at Bethel and has his dream-vision of angels on a ladder to heaven and of a powerful entity he assumes to be God. Afterwards, Jacob remarks, “How fearful is this place! This is none other than the house of Elohim…,” and erects the stone he slept on as a monolith. The sacred place, Otto argued, is literally an awe-full one.

In more pragmatic terms, landscape features came to be venerated because of certain properties – they were locations that were rich in materials that could be used for ritual and ceremonial activities (such as herbs for healing or plants and minerals useful for dyes or body paints), places where important actual or mythical events occurred, locations that offered commanding views (for hunters especially), sites with powerful echoes or other sensory properties, or that exuded a particularly strong numinous quality. Anthropologist Lucien Lévy-Bruhl noted that primary peoples observed “outstanding and remarkable features of the landscape” which were taken to be indications “of the presence and the activity (in the past and now) of the mythic ancestors.”

Eventually, people began to embellish such places with rock art, ground markings, or subtle constructions. Later, with its urge to “improve on nature,” humanity began to build entirely artificial sacred places – we call them “monuments” or “temples.” The earliest ones acknowledged local natural holy places by either being constructed within sight of them, or else using raw materials brought from more distant ones.


G  A  L  L  E  R  I  E  S

NEW! Gallery Three
Pony Hills Shamanic Landscape

The Chevy Blazer bucked and bounced along the dirt road leading into the desert wilderness of New Mexico northeast of Deming, near the Mexican border. My son and I were heading for an area just to the west of Cooke’s Range that had been the heartland of the Mimbres people, whose culture had emerged around 250 BC and became extinct about 1,000 years ago.

State archaeologists had given us directions to an area called Pony Hills where rock carvings – petroglyphs – made by Mimbres shamans could be found. It was a remote spot and the rock art there had not yet been properly catalogued. Our route led along the forbiddingly-named Starvation Draw until we had to leave the SUV behind. We spent some hours on foot searching the Martian-like landscape of red-brown rocks, which seemed bereft of any human signs, and the scurrying lizards kept their own secrets. But we at last identified a low, rocky ridge that turned out to be our intended destination. Click here to view the gallery.

Gallery One
Where the Great Spirit Sits

This sacred geography is located within the forested wilderness of Whiteshell Provincial Park in the Canadian province of Manitoba. Two areas of focus are explored in this gallery: Tie Creek and Bannock Point. The images show ‘petroforms’ at both locations, which include large-scale abstract and geometric designs and patterns, such as lines, grids, curved and radial settings.

Of these two sacred geographies, Tie Creek is significantly more preserved, due to it’s remote location and restricted access, only allowing visitors accompanied by Anishinabe (Ojibway) people. At Bannock Point the viewer will find more figurative, representational elements, especially rock arrangements depicting serpents or snakes. Click here to view the gallery.

Gallery Two
The Shamanic Landscapes of Death Valley

One of the least-known examples of ancient sacred geography is to be found in Death Valley, California. This place is so remote and arid, it is easy to understand why few people would ever guess that it harbors a shamanic cartography marked by ritual pathways, shrines, vision quest beds, and curious sinuous lines and weird patterns of rocks.

The valley is 95 miles (153 km) long and 25 miles (40 km) wide, adjacent to the Nevada state line. People inhabited Death Valley from about 9,000 years ago, when a cool period caused a shallow lake to occupy the valley floor. Eventually warmer, arid conditions developed, and it had dried up by about two thousand years ago. Whereas the region looks inhospitable to modern eyes, the collective territory of Death Valley, the adjacent Panamint Valley and the nearby Coso Mountains to the west, plus the wilderness stretching to Charleston Peak outside Las Vegas to the east, was known to the Shoshone as tiwiniyarivipi – “where the stories begin and end” or “mythic land, sacred country.”

The Death Valley ground markings (geoglyphs) are to be found in scattered remote locations across that magic land, and take various forms. They are extremely fragile and sensitive to damage, and so their precise locations are kept fairly secret. But in this second installment of our Sacred Geography galleries, we take a look at a few examples.. Click here to view the gallery.

Please check back for additional installments of this 5-part series.


All images in the Sacred Geographies galleries ©Paul Devereux unless otherwise stated.

For many more images of sacred places and a fuller text describing them than can be accommodated in these galleries, see Paul’s book, Sacred Geography (Gaia Books/Orion Publishing, 2010).

Lead Image: Paul Devereux. Pony Hills Shamanic Landscape, New Mexico.

Previous Lead Images:

This photograph shows the weirdly lone hill known as Glastonbury Tor, Somerset, England. It is associated with Arthurian myth.

The setting sun bathes a Death Valley ridge in golden light.

Paul Devereux is a research affiliate of the Royal College of Art, London, and is a specialist in the anthropology of consciousness, archaeoacoustics, and psi phenomena. He is a founding co-editor of the peer-review publication, Time and Mind - The Journal of Archaeology, Consciousness and Culture. He has field researched ancient places ranging from European Stone Age sites, to Mayan temples, to vision quest locations in the US, and many more. Besides articles, peer-reviewed papers and magazine columns, he has authored or co-authored 27 books in as many years, including Re-Visioning the Earth, The Sacred Place, Stone Age Soundtracks, and Sacred Geography.

Read more about Paul Devereux

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29 April 2015

Tagged Under
cosmology, Earth, environment, scientific cosmology, nature meditation, sacred geography, Living Universe, Sensing Presence, place,
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