Last 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 the light

of ancient myths and actuarial laws. Each generation seems to fall short of those who came before, drawn to the newest while valuing the oldest.

"[But] then, as ages pass, the world changes; so it is true that the Old Magic is wrong for these times."(1)

On 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 contained 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.

I 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 of a large monitor, holding up against the blank screen pieces of cloth that had words and symbols woven into them.

With 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!

"When the second temple was destroyed (by the Romans in 70 CE), some men went to Jerusalem and worshipped God on the ruins."(2)

To orthodox people of Abrahamic faiths, the Holy Land's mythological or historical sites, its various temples or ruins, are holier than the land itself.

"When that hogan was built, the owner probably had a place in the wall beside the door where he kept his medicine bundle. Minerals from the sacred mountains. That sort of thing. Some collectors will pay big money for some of that material, and the older the better."(3)

Unlike Solomon's Temple, the Second Temple lacked "the Ark, the sacred fire, the Shekinah, the Holy Spirit, and the Urim and Thummim."(4)

We opened its green doors on Christmas Day to attend High Mass, walking through the narthex to sit in the back of the nave on a hard wooden bench. Standing, kneeling, sitting, singing hollowed-out hymns, incense burner swinging, a few old women with covered heads. Celebrants' backs toward us, arms hooked through each other,
a child's crying, a plate for our money, the sermon delivered in a shaky voice.

 

The 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 with architecture."(6)

Just 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.

We 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 if God is the Big Bang," I was thinking, "not the Creator but the Created? Then everything, all matter and anti-matter, would be sacred."

"I have a friend who is a lama,' Shan whispered. 'He says the holy things are still everywhere, just harder to see.'"(8)

A few 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.

"I arrived early, took off my shoes and sat in a vestibule. There was a curtain between 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 on for 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)

"There 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 out—bowing to the Buddha—into the cold street."(10)

 

In one 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. Now I would say—

"Her green mind made the world around her green."(11)

Ignaside Solà-Morales laments that, "Today’s work of architecture is no longer the result of a magical action."(12)
It follows that, if it were, the neighborhood would be unrecognizable in the contours of secular topography.

It 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 culture we are creating.

"Depth, by the same token, is not something interior mapped onto the external 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 surfaces."(13)

Building 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.

 

In Japan, utamakura are places where poets go to recall their muse, their progenitors, a notable historical event, or to see fabled scenerythen add their voice to the archive of the site's mystique. Why can't a neighborhood be a place where artists may inherit the aura of generations who lived there before?

A neighborhood 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 tracks are 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.

"This mind is the moon."(15)

This is Where the Moon's Deep-Rooted Light Enchanted,
Healed, and Tricked Me.

Late one summer's eve, I drove from San Francisco north through portals 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 notes.

Late one winter's night, I drove from Santa Fe up toward the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, to where by the side of the road a grove of trees grew near a half-frozen creek. Pacing between smooth shadows and sharp silvery light, I scribbled what 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.

"Bestial images are phantasms—'chimaras and fantastic monsters of the mind'—but 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 has its own storiesI don't mean superficial data gleaned by biologiststhey 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 civilized.

 

Where 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)

In 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

"the temple and the landscape form[ed] together as a single architectural whole of contrasted shapes."(19)

In 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)

"In 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)

Man's covenant with the gods can be traced back to when neurons of the Homo sapiens brain began 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.

There are always a few who stop
traveling round the rim,
                turn toward the center,
                      and step inside.

In India, "'Natural sacred places' consisting of geographical features are revered and are almost always associated with oral 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 off by pillars, to which ropes were attached, from which strips of white paper hung, serving to trap the divinity's power within.

HILLTOP overlooking straight irrigation
Ditches and fields,

One large quixotic tree, strips of paper
Fluttering in the wind.

Broken stone lantern
Sun and Moon light

Wood and stone shrines,
Rice and bean offerings

To Ancestors and
Big-bellied gods.
(24)

In the days of travel primarily on foot a pilgrimage was made step by step painfully joining the 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 depreciating the very environment to which I had come as man and poet seeking guidance on the path I was treading.

Three hundred 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)

After reading this, I finally understood that—even given the unimpeachable reasons 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 nature, the seasons, and the landscape, the carriers of poetic and cultural memory"(26)]; or, more contemporary, Allen Ginsberg's cadences from his life on the road, or Gary Snyder's "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:

The 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.
2- Walter, E.V. (1988) Placeways. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.
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. Nov/Dec. http://www.archaeology.org/0811/abstracts/turkey.html
6- Lewis-Williams, D. and Pearce, D. (2005) Inside the Neolithic Mind. London: Thames & Hudson.
7- Zimmer, C. (2011) "100 Trillion Connections." Scientific American. January.
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 Journal.
14- Eliade, M. (1961) The Sacred and the Profane. New York: Harper & Row.
the very word street: R. Solnit, Wanderlust. New York: Viking, 2000.
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. Aldershot: Ashgate.
17- Townsley, G. (2001) "'Twisted Language,' A Technique of Knowing." In, J. Narby and F. Huxley, Editors, Shamans Through Time. New York: J.P Tarcher/Putnam.
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 University Press.
21- Vastokas J.M. (1974) "The Shamanic Tree of Life." ArtsCanada. Dec/Jan.
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.
27- Snyder, G. (1978) From, "Night Highway 99." In, Mountains and Rivers Without End. Washington, D.C.: Counterpoint.
the phenomenon will certainly repeat: T.L. Hansen, "The Road to the Magnetic North Pole." http://www.tgo.uit.no/articl/roadto.html