night I dreamed I had died. What I
remember is that I awoke somewhere else. Where am
I now? I seek shelter
within the wisdom of old masters and venerable gods, warmed by
ancient myths and actuarial laws. Each generation
seems to fall short of those who came before,
drawn to the newest while valuing the oldest.
as ages pass, the world changes; so it is true that the Old
Magic is wrong for these times."(1)
the Internet I found a picture of the synagogue in Brooklyn where
my parents worshipped on holidays. The two arched wooden doors, one
now partly hacked through, two Stars of David still visible in the
brickwork, a narrow stained glass window, large black plastic bags
of trash piled by the side of the steps.
Inside, Father would be sitting with the other men, white tallith
draped over shoulders, dovening a language he didn't understand.
Mother would be sitting in the balcony, segregated with the other
women. In front, a cabinet
a Sefer Torah matched
against the widest goals of consciousness. Art, itself a form of
mystification, endures a succession of crises of demystification;
older artistic goals are assailed and, ostensibly, replaced; outgrown
maps of consciousness are rolled
onto two wooden posts and covered with blue satin.
was crossing a wide boulevard and then began walking up a dark
hill. Behind me, two young
women were calling after their dog. To my right, where
the synagogue should have been, was a brightly-lighted, walless
market. A young rabbi was walking in with a few people. i joined
them. He gave me a cursory look, then we began climbing a flight
of stairs. Passing
a few empty rooms, i wondered where the sanctuary where
my father used to pray
was, and remembered it as having been in the basement.
At the top of the
stairs was a small room. Something about it was familiar, and
i felt very moved to be there. i said to the rabbi, "When i was
a child, my parents used to come here on high holidays. It's
been 40 years since i've been back." He was sitting in front
a large monitor,
holding up against the blank screen pieces of cloth that
had words and symbols woven into
both my parents gone, I think: How can we know whether God,
or the Gods, is alive or dead, when we don’t even agree on
how to define life when it comes to ourselves? A god’s mortality
is not based on DNA, but something alien to us. So, how strange
to see this building abandoned and falling apart!
the second temple was destroyed (by
the Romans in 70 CE),
some men went to Jerusalem and worshipped God on the ruins."(2)
orthodox people of Abrahamic faiths, the Holy Land's mythological
or historical sites, its various temples or ruins, are holier than
the land itself.
that hogan was built, the owner probably had a place in the
wall beside the door where he kept his medicine bundle. Minerals
the sacred mountains. That sort of thing. Some collectors will
pay big money for some of that material, and the older the
Solomon's Temple, the Second Temple lacked "the Ark, the sacred
fire, the Shekinah, the Holy Spirit, and the Urim and Thummim."(4)
opened its green doors on Christmas
Day to attend High Mass, walking through
the narthex to sit in the back of the
on a hard wooden bench. Standing, kneeling,
sitting, singing hollowed-out hymns,
incense burner swinging, a few old
heads. Celebrants' backs toward
us, arms hooked through each other,
child's crying, a plate for our
money, the sermon delivered
in a shaky voice.
earliest temple found so far is at Göbekli Tepe, in southeastern
Turkey. Made in stages over thousands of years, the beginning around
12,000 years ago, besides its megaliths and stone circles, "bulls,
foxes, and cranes, representations of lions, ducks, scorpions, ants,
spiders, and snakes" are caved into pillars," and "a
statue of a human and sculptures of a vulture's head and a boar" were
also excavated.(5) Archaeologists
David Lewis-Williams and David Pearce opine that the site depicts
myths that "featured protagonists
who mediated the hunting / farming dichotomy and
did so within the tiered cosmology of the time...Myth and cosmology
were thus consonant
as "the architecture of the network itself shapes its pattern
of activity,"(7) temples
are a city’s connection with the temenos of a larger
wattage. However, what matters is not the rituals that take place
within them, but the reception of their brick and mortar architecture
in the shadow of corporate structures designed to reflect light.
left the church when communion began, walking home through
damp cold air talking of the
emptiness we'd felt inside. How a story that that once stirred souls
now yokes the imagination. "What
is the Big
Bang," I was thinking, "not the Creator but the Created? Then everything,
all matter and anti-matter, would be sacred."
a friend who is a lama,' Shan whispered. 'He
says the holy things are still everywhere, just harder to
years ago I wrote about being invited to attend "a hossen,
'a combination examination and graduation ceremony' that marks the end
of a Zen student's term of training. It had been many years since I'd been
in a Zen temple.
arrived early, took off my shoes and sat in a vestibule.
There was a curtain
it and the zendo, the meditation hall, behind
which was silence, except for a cough or two. After
a small bell rang came an harmonically sweet chanting that went
about fifteen minutes while other visitors joined me in the waiting
room. When the chanting stopped, we were ushered outside, down
steps into the basement, where we were told what
to expect before walking back upstairs into the zendo.(9)
followed a long ritual that included full bows to the abbot,
bows to senior teachers and visiting priests, each time carefully
unfolding/refolding a length of cloth for the knees; picking
up ritual objects, walking around, returning, finally sitting
to answer questions."Too much thinking," I thought. "Too
many words, too many bows." When it was over we filed
the Buddha—into the cold street."(10)
of Carlos Castenada's early books, his hero, Don Juan Matus,
has Carlos searching for a "power spot," a particular
spot opposed to others. When I read
this, in the late 1960s, I didn't see how the concept of places
of numinous power would set off a frenzy in real estate values
and spiritual hype.
I would say—
mind made the world around her green."(11)
Solà-Morales laments that, "Today’s
work of architecture is no longer the result of a magical action."(12)
follows that, if it were, the neighborhood would
be unrecognizable in the contours of secular topography.
is not "the religious experience of the
nonhomogeneity of space...that precedes all
reflection on the world;"(13) it
is the fault between the sacred and
profane that matters, and
how we code the interdependencies
and entanglements in the
we are creating.
by the same token, is not something interior mapped onto the
world; places have their own depth, even when actually
mapped; and, in the end, all perception of places...proceeds
in depth, is never
depthful, thanks to the concatenation of gradients of textured
temples by whose virtue "the
world is resanctified,"(14) instead
of seeing the world as sanctifying itself, is one of the ways we've
become alienated from the non-human. Thus,
some mornings we walk the forest's path, to the place where
we vowed ourselves
to each other with no witness but the stately trees, creek-washed
stones, water risen from the earth, fish, birds, mammals and other
non-human beings, hidden and seen.
Japan, utamakura are
places where poets go to recall
muse, their progenitors, a notable historical
event, or to see fabled scenery—then
add their voice to the archive of the site's mystique. Why can't a neighborhood
place where artists may inherit the
is subject to the market's short-term investments, while the
very word street has a rough dirty magic to it, summoning up
the low, the common,
the erotic, the dangerous, the revolutionary culture
is a slowly emerging, usually aleatory, reading of the world. We recall
the history of an urban neighborhood by scaning photographs
of buildings no longer extant, of streetcars whose
buried beneath sagging potholed streets, and people wearing
unfashionable clothing. However, "high art," for
lack of a better term, even if out of style,
remains viable in the collective unconscious mind.
mind is the moon."(15)
is Where the Moon's Deep-Rooted Light Enchanted,
summer's eve, I drove from San Francisco north
of the Golden Gate Bridge. Parking, then
walking on the flank
of a mountain sacred to indigenous tribes,
I followed my shadow
across a field of pale light, jotting what
proved to be indecipherable
one winter's night, I drove from Santa Fe up toward the
de Cristo Mountains, to where by the side
of the road a
grove of trees grew near a half-frozen creek.
smooth shadows and sharp silvery light, I scribbled
seemed to be a poem.
After several days
of solid gray, this morning’s
sky is crisscrossed by white contrails rising from
the horizon. I’ve been told that a dragon’s
flight path is lower, but we can we see dragons, griffins,
even the lineaments of newly ascending gods.
are phantasms—'chimaras and fantastic monsters of the
it is precisely in that realm of phantasia that
soul beings to move toward self-knowledge. Beasts are
tropes of our imaginative
looking; they are metaphors for thinking about thinking."(16)
Place is where myths,
"tropes of our imaginative looking," take place. Without
being storied, place returns to, as it's never left, nature. Although
the natural world
don't mean superficial data gleaned by biologists—they
are privy only to initiates such as shamans who, if at all, relate
them in "twisted," nonsensical language.(17)
So every place must have its own poets, historians,
mythologists to create, or recreate, the stories that keep it
spiritual architecture is placed in a modern city usually has
to do with the organization's wealthy patrons. Sometimes someone
dies and bequeaths property, or it may be donated as a tax
write-off. "Indeed, some critical aspects of religious
institutions make sense only if we understand
what the market for religious services is like, what kind of
commodity religious knowledge and ritual constitute."(18)
Ancient Greece, where the god was still an integral part
of deciding where his or her temple would be sited, both
gods and humans were able to see how
temple and the
landscape form[ed] together
as a single architectural whole of contrasted shapes."(19)
this city, we
want to be reassured that there really is something progressive
about human understanding. We want to feel that in a final
confrontation with mortality, something profound takes place.
When the end is near, we want there to be a sign of this
in the work itself, some proof the
picture is of a checkerboard of temples [by
temple I mean all religions' and sects' places of observance],
most which were originally built out of scale with the surrounding
architecture: when the god disappeared, the landscape
was no longer taken in.
What began as a sudden
burst of Light [not
sudden, as there was no time to measure it against],
slowly darkened into dogma. What began as inspiration, congealed
into calcified bones of myth. Although
particular characteristics of sacred places vary with each
tradition, they are invariably anthropocentric, humans
at altars, at the axis
mundi, the inner circles of the cosmic center,
of "endless variations of the mandala motif."(20)
fact, the concentric motif seems characteristic of the visionary
experience itself and stands for the aperture through which
the shaman penetrates the Underworld or Sky, by means of which
he transcends the physical universe."(21)
with the gods can be traced back to when neurons of the Homo sapiens
building chemical bridges over synapses, which led to billions
of connections, or ways to leap. The painting by Michelangelo
in which the Hebrew god's finger almost touches the apposite
finger of Adam, the first metaphorical man, illustrates the synaptic
gap in creativity's instinctive mood.
are always a few who stop
traveling round the rim,
and step inside.
In India, "'Natural
sacred places' consisting
of geographical features are revered and are almost always associated
narratives about the location called
stalā purānas."(22) In
the earliest myths of Japan,"the appearance of the divinity
is described as being a natural, spontaneous, almost accidental occurrence."(23) What
attracted the kami were stones,
perhaps a flower, most often a tree. Their landing site was marked
by pillars, to which ropes were attached, from which strips of
white paper hung,
serving to trap the divinity's power within.
Ditches and fields,
quixotic tree, strips of paper
Fluttering in the wind.
Sun and Moon light
Wood and stone
Rice and bean offerings
In the days of travel
primarily on foot a pilgrimage was made step by step painfully
earth, playing out the stations of a myth, punishing
one self as if it were holding one back from living a spiritual
life. My pilgrimage
was to where the gods were still hidden in
plain sight, a trip I made by airplane, train, and bus, ironically
very environment to which I had come as man
and poet seeking guidance on the path I was treading.
years after Matsuo Bashō made his journey into Japan's
wild northern provinces, a Western woman who had trained as a geisha
walked the great poet's route, only to find that most of the sites
where he had composed haiku had disappeared beneath concrete,
rubble, or a comminuty of weeds.(25)
reading this, I finally understood that—even given the unimpeachable
for Bashō's "unceasing forward movement" ["Travel
meant a constant effort to explore new territory and
new languages as well as the perpetual search for new perspectives on
the seasons, and the landscape, the carriers of poetic
and cultural memory"(26)];
contemporary, Allen Ginsberg's cadences from his life on
the road, or
"go hitching down / that highway 99"(27) —it
was time for me, perhaps for everyone who cares about the planet's future,
to pursue the sacred in the local, as it's all here:
mind that scratched the first symbols into antler, bone and wood;
paintings and sculptures mastered by artists of the Paleolithic;
or shamans painted onto rocks, flying beneath bright green
algae; the astonishing pictures from Rembrandt's brushes and the
phenomenon will certainly repeat itself, we just don’t know
when. The dynamo in the Earth’s interior is unstable such that
on occasion the field weakens, loses its bipolar character and regenerates the
depth of Picasso's inquisitive eyes; Bohr's insights and Einstein's
faithful predictions; the Triple World with its gods and demons;
evolution's triumphs, mistakes and latest innovations....
1- Garner, A. (2006) The Moon
of Gomrath. Orlando: Harcourt.
matched against the widest goals: S. Sontag, “The Aesthetics
of Silence” In, Styles of Radical Will. New York:
Picador USA, 2002.
Walter, E.V. (1988) Placeways. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina
3- Hillerman, T. (1999) The First Eagle. New York: HarperPapperbacks.
4- The Jewish Encyclopedia: http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=128&letter=T
5- Scham, S. (2008) "The World's First Temple." Archaeology.
6- Lewis-Williams, D. and Pearce, D. (2005) Inside the Neolithic Mind.
London: Thames & Hudson.
C. (2011) "100 Trillion Connections." Scientific
8- Pattison E. (2009) The Lord of
Death. New York: Soho.
9- Weishaus, J. (2009-10) "The Gateless Gate." http://www.cddc.vt.edu/host/weishaus/Gate-R/Pgs%207-8R.htm
10- Ibid: http://www.cddc.vt.edu/host/weishaus/Gate-R/Pgs%209-10R.htm
11- Stevens W. From, “Description Without Place.”
12- Solà-Morales, I. (1996) Differences: Topographies
of Contemporary Architecture. Cambridge: MIT Press.
13- Casey, E.S. (1993) "Reality in Representation." Spring
14- Eliade, M. (1961) The Sacred and the Profane. New York:
Harper & Row.
the very word street: R. Solnit, Wanderlust. New York: Viking,
15- Dōgen, E. (1985) "The Moon." In, K. Tanahashi,
Editor, Moon in a Dewdrop: Writings of Zen Master Dōgen. New
York: North Point.
16- Miller, P.C. (2001) "'Adam Ate From the Animal Tree': A Bestial
Poetry of Soul." In, The Poetry of Thought in Late Antiquity.
17- Townsley, G. (2001) "'Twisted Language,' A Technique of Knowing." In,
J. Narby and F. Huxley, Editors, Shamans Through Time. New York:
18- Boyer, P. (2001) Religion Explained: The Evolutionary Origins
of Religious Thought. New York: Basic Books.
19- Scully, V. (1962) The Earth, The Temple, and the Gods. New
Haven: Yale University Press.
we want to be reassured: E. Rothstein, “Twilight of his Idols.” Review
of E.W. Said, On Late Style: Music and Literature Against the Grain.The
New York Times, July 16, 2006.
20- Jung, C.G. (1969) On the Nature of the Psyche. Princeton: Princeton
Vastokas J.M. (1974) "The Shamanic Tree of Life." ArtsCanada.
22- Baindur, M. (2009) "Nature as Non-terrestrial: Sacred Natural
Landscapes and Place in Indian Vedic and Purānic Thought." Environmental
Philosophy 6 (2).
23- Grapard, A.G. (1982) "Flying Mountains and Walkers of Emptiness:
Toward a Definition of Sacred Space in Japanese Religions." History
of Religions. February.
24- Weishaus, J. (1968) "Hilltop." In, Feels Like Home
Again-Collected Poems 1962-2002. http://www.cddc.vt.edu/host/weishaus/cont-p.htm
25- Downer, L. (1989) On the Narrow Road: Journey into a Lost Japan.
New York: Summit Books.
26- Shirane, H. (1998) Traces of Dreams: Landscape, Cultural Memory,
and the Poetry of Bashō. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Snyder, G. (1978) From, "Night Highway 99." In, Mountains
and Rivers Without End. Washington, D.C.: Counterpoint.
phenomenon will certainly repeat: T.L. Hansen, "The Road to the
Magnetic North Pole." http://www.tgo.uit.no/articl/roadto.html