Places of Power
Portals to Greater Connection and Awareness
By Jesse Wolf Hardin
My daughter Rhiannon has sensed how special her home is since she was very little, the intensity that makes it stand out from even the most beautiful of landscapes in the deserts and mountains surrounding it. But instead of retreating from it, she daily explores its secrets like Alice pursuing reality down the hare’s hidden hole. She plays, skips, dances with what can only be described as a palpable force... existing everywhere, and yet felt strongest in a few distinctive places.
I watch unconcerned as she climbs up a boulder outcropping above the river, more careful than a year before, and yet free now from her earlier fears. I was witness as this canyon curved around to hold, nourish and comfort her...but also how it challenged her, and then shared with her its power.
All of the natural world is sacred, inspirited and magical. It all has something to teach us, and every bit of it needs our guardianship and love. But at the same time, some places are more charged than others, with heavier concentrations of potent energies and useful insights available to the searching heart. The “genius loci” — the spirit of place — informs, excites and inspires us not from out of the astral or the ether but through specific sites, through landforms charged with that magical force the early Greeks called the “plenum,” and that we refer to as “Anima.”
Sacred sites are sometimes charged not only by the intentions and spirits of the living Earth, but also by the ritual reverence and mindful maintenance, the ceremonies and spells of countless caring generations. Most everyone has some acquaintance with the better-known locations such as Colorado’s Mesa Verde, Britain’s Stonehenge, Machu Pichu and ancient Petra – but every single region, every watershed has its own special spots where the vibe is most intense, where our visions seem clearest, our dreams most urgent and alive.
And it is to such places that the seeker has always gone to face their selves, to heal and expand vision, engage spirit and engage destiny. The African maiden, in search of the confidence she needs in dealing with a lover, family or tribe. The Huichole boy, undergoing a sacred rite of passage on a fabled lightning licked peak. The Celtic Medicine Woman, coming to an enchanted forest to recharge her reserves and excite new abilities, to have a vision of the whereabouts of a much-needed medicinal plant. The shaman, using the intensity of a veritably vibrating canyon to propel his or her journey into the experience of wholeness and the furthest limits of human knowing.
As a young man I basked in the emanations of California’s sparkling Mt. Shasta, and slipped past the locked Park Service gates in order to spend a night in the underground kivas of Chaco. Each place presented new experiences and lessons, and I tried to honor them all equally well.
Then in 1980 I followed the most powerful revelation of my life to an exact bend of a particular New Mexico river, deep in the enchanted Gila wildlands of the American Southwest. Visitors report a feeling inside that gets stronger the closer they get to the center of the Sanctuary, on a stretch of river between two ancient medicine caves. Likewise, they speak of the feeling diminishing as they move beyond or walk back out to leave.
Agnostics and cynics like my dear departed mother, comfortably in denial about anything spiritual or unquantifiable, nonetheless find themselves confronting in the canyon those things in their lives that have been suppressed or neglected, from secret regrets to unanswered needs, and from unexpressed affection to underexpressed joy.
Sites like this are cauldrons of change, catalytic environments that accelerate our existing quests, that turn up the volume of our experience. They’re where we can access the collective wisdom of the planet through the thunder of a tensing mountain, hear it through the expressive mouth of a canyon. Where the gifts are greatest and the work greatest, the responsibilities clearest and the rewards sweetest.
Up until a thousand years ago our Sanctuary home served as the ceremonial center for those ancient Indians the “Mogollon,” the Sweet Medicine People. These days when students and apprentices come to study with us here, they are each in their own way helping reestablish a sacred lineage of intention and commitment, purposeful magic and conscious love.
A “columne” is what a Mayan friend calls the Sweet Medicine
Canyon and other places of pow–er, a column of energy rising out of the ground like water from a deep artesian well. A Hopi elder describes it as more of a portal, through which the seeker can enter the great mystery, and Spirit step out to stir the world. “Spirits always hang out around the openings” he told one of our guests, when she asked why everything seemed to demand her attention, why everything seemed so alive. Another way to think of places of power, is as those sites where there are fewer layers or solid rock and sad forgetting between ourselves and the energetic earth of which we are a part.
Such sites are often composed of edges and extremes, featuring symmetric shapes and mythic themes. Caverns and caves. Waterfalls and wellsprings. River canyons and high mountain peaks. Enchanted deserts and ocean coves. Circular clearings and oaken groves. On the other hand, they are not always obvious, scenic or exotic. They might exist under the buildings where we live and work, or in some weed-draped gully near town where adventurous children go to intensify the colors of their happy dreams or heighten their animal senses and psychic propensities.
One of the most elemental lessons the earth teaches is that we are part of a cycle of reciprocity, and that we unbalance ourselves and the world to the degree that we either fail to except its blessings... or fail to give back. It is crucial that we go to these sites not just to get something, but to return the favor in our own meaningful ways. This could be the simple voicing of prayers or leaving of offerings, or the planting of trees, the building of a shrine, the commitment to service, or the pledging of financial donations for its protection, administration and care.
Likewise, these places are meant to be available to the people called or in need, but without allowing them to be denatured or destroyed. When we pack or drive out, the land should be no less wondrous, healthy and whole than when we arrived. Not just its spirit needs to be carefully honored, but also its intrinsic nature and personable character.
Certainly the gifts to the seeker are clear enough, in the form of important lessons learned, clarity increased, self confidence regained... in the lasting affirmation of who we really are, what we really feel, and what we are most meant or blessed to do. The day we leave a place of power to go back to our regular day-to-day existence, the world might look new to us, with every moment seeming momentous, and our every act more intentional and decisive.
Inevitably, neither the place nor its animate spirits will tell us what we should do. Instead, it will impress in us our individual connection to the answer and the source, draw attention to our abilities, embolden our quests, and enliven our lives.
Whether sojourning to the wildest wilderness, or to a treasured and hidden niche in an overgrown neighborhood park, one way we can measure a sacred site is by how greatly it affects us. It often starts with what seems like an invitation, either an omen or sensation. We may sense we are being observed or evaluated by the resident entities, provoking a moment’s apprehension or fear. Yet with our minds quiet and hearts true, we are soon not only accepted but initiated, instructed and inspired. Sacred sites affirm our personal roles in Gaia’s unfolding patterns. And a place of power, will ultimately be where we feel more powerful as well.
Young Rhiannon takes in a deep breath, her little chest rising, her arms outstretched. From where I sit on the rock below her, she seems to stand at the pinnacle... a wide-eyed extension of the earth, smiling, flying unafraid through endless sky.
Jesse Wolf Hardin is the author of the acclaimed book “Gaia Eros,” and founder of Anima practice. He offers correspondence courses, as well as co-hosts retreats, quests and internships at their enchanted New Mexico sanctuary. Upcoming events include the very powerful Shaman’s Path Intensive, July 26-29; Sister Spirit Retreat, Sept. 27-30; and a special August workshop with herbalist Robin Rose Bennett: Anima Retreat Center & Women’s Sanctuary, P.O. Box 688, Reserve, NM 87830, www.animacenter.org
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