We all value our sacred traditions, including our special sacred sites, but do we ensure that "our ways" protect the traditions of others?
"...if we leave this area in a natural state as the Great Spirit made it...just leave it that way...that is how we keep this land in balance. Not just this area but the whole world"
We have all been disgusted and angered by the mistreatment of ancient sacred sites around the world as well as the modern day Pagan sites used to for meditation and for the worship of our Gods. These sites create a sense of wonder in all of us and to see them dispoiled is sickening. In April 1997 the outside sanctuary of the Aquarian Tabernacle Church near Seattle was vandalized to the outrage of Pagans around the country. The desecration was treated as a hate crime by the Federal authorities.
In August of 1997 the National Park Service closed the Casa Rinconada kiva in Chaco Canyon to visitors. The cause? "New Agers" (i.e., "Pagans") had desecrated the Native American site with "New Age" offerings.
That same month at Mount Shasta's Panther Meadows, a sacred site of the Wintu Indians, photographers from the Sacred Lands Film Project filmed "a baptism ceremony at the Wintu's sacred spring, a group drumming in the nearby trees, people running naked through the meadow, and offerings of sage and crystals left at the spring".(1) All of these activities are viewed as offensive to the Native People who have held this area sacred for hundreds or thousands of years.
You ask the connection between these three events? The connection is the same mindset which produces selfish and ethnocentric mindlessness.
An important Hopi shrine has been repeatedly "disturbed" by tourists in the Grand Canyon. Prayer feathers left by the Hopi have been taken time after time.
One of the most sacred sites in Britain, Averbury, has had megaliths streaked with colored candle wax and smoke smudge and the landscape littered with offerings of crystals. These acts by "Pagans". Stonehenge, perhaps the most well known of the sacred sites of Britain, has become a scene of pitched battles over the years between police and new age revelers (as the above BBC News photograph illustrates) who have done everything from climbing the stones to using the site as a trash dump.
My point is that we must behave as we would in our own sacred areas and view the beliefs of others as valid as our own. We do not have ownership of sacredness or of the favor of the Goddess. If we want to run naked or have drum circles or participate in our own ritual we should have the right to do so--in our own sites and in ways that are not offensive to others. We need to be cognizant of where we are and what we are. It is certainly not the way of the Goddess to flaunt our ways before others for "affect". If we truly abide by Pagan ways and wish to worship as Pagans have in the past we must exist with the Earth and the elementals and the other residents of this world and the Other in respect.
Sacred sites belong to the world. They hold power and energy and history for all of us. They demand respect and understanding. They deserve better from us.
Modoc tribal leader Jerald Jackson stated that "when we use these (sacred lands...),we introduce ourselves to our relatives--rock, trees, water, air, the four-legged ones, the winged ones". We do the same when we open our circles and perform ritual magick.
Hopi elder Thomas Banyacya has said that the Hopi land "is a spiritual center, the heart of the mother earth...if we leave this area in a natural state as the Great Spirit made it, just leave it that way...that is how we keep this land in balance. Not just this area but the whole world." (2)
Let us continue to gain the knowledge we need to treat the Mother Earth as the Hopi elders do. The whole earth is a sacred site held in trust by us. Let us try to treat the Earth and all of Her special sacred areas as holy.
In this day and age where Wicca is becoming a positive force again in the world we must not add to the misconceptions and distrust that still remains through our own actions and thoughtlessness.
I wrote this article in October 2001. What I have come to realize since that time is that the world's sacred sites are being threatened by the neglect of the very people who are traditionally regarded as the guardians of some of these places. I was in Arizona earlier this year to do research for my latest book, Water of Life--Water of Death. I happened to stop at Turkey Canyon on the Navajo Reservation which is a sacred place. It is a "smaller" version of the Grand Canyon and breathtaking to behold. But what also took my breath away was the amount of garbage and trash strewen about the canyon rim--left by, and not picked up by, the Navajo people. There is a small parking area at Turkey Canyon where the Navajo have set up an area selling pottery, jewelry and toy bows and arrows to the many tourist that travel through here. The plastic bags and wrappings blow off the tables and scatter everywhere. There was no effort made to retrive them. I was aghast to think that the Navajo would allow this magnificent site to be defiled in this manner. Have all of us lost our sense of responsibility to our natural world? Have we relegated our sacred sites to be simply areas of trinket sales?
1. McLeod, Christopher. Sacred Lands Film Project 1997 Annual Report. www.sacredland.org
2. McLeod, Christopher. Sacred Lands Film Project 1995 Annual Report. www.sacredland.org