Notions of the Sacred
Ashley Mersereau and Larissa Phillips
Crestone and the Baca National Wildlife Refuge area are often referred to as a sacred place. The term sacred is difficult to define and has many different meanings to different people. According to the New Oxford American Dictionary, sacred is something “connected with God (or the gods) or dedicated to a religious purpose and so deserving veneration.”
In Crestone there are a variety of factors that come together to create the feeling of a special place, somewhere set aside and unique within the context of the rest of the world. For some it is the physical landscape of the area, the fact that it is such a stunningly beautiful and harsh place. For others it is the fact that the San Luis Valley has a history of being a peaceful and sacred place for the Native Americans who have lived there. The remoteness of the place lends it a solitude and sense of purity in relation to modern society which is extremely important to some people. And finally, for others, it is the community of spiritually conscious people who have gathered in the area and created a unique atmosphere in which to pursue something “sacred” or “divine.” While people may place more value on one of these factors, they are all important and when put together paint the picture of a unique, and perhaps “sacred,” place.
Natural Elements and the Landscape:
The landscape of the Baca area is extremely dramatic and beautiful, the mountains jutting abruptly out of the high desert valley, the bright blue sky and the plethora of wildlife. The elements, the water, wind, sun, and land are very close and raw in the Baca, and for many, this is the base of what makes the place sacred. For some, the environment of the Baca is particularly helpful in spiritual practice and makes it easier to focus on such goals. This is true for Debra Floyd, The Village Witch, who attributes this to the harshness of the elements in the Baca. She says,
Everything is sacred, you can’t separate that out. There are just some places that are more powerful than others, and this place is. I have been to a lot of sacred places, and I find that I get clearer in my communication with the divine here than any other place. If you just look at it geographically: the altitude, the harsh conditions to live in, the weather, and financially, and all of this. It constantly tests your metal. It is not any easy place to live, not at all. If you are being mirrored, the place is just in your face all the time about whatever issues you have unresolved. It’s not exactly comfy cozy. -Debra Floyd, The Village Witch.
For others it is the combination of the specific elements which creates a unique and sacred place. In many religious traditions the elements are treated as sacred entities and worshipped for their power. Ralph Abrams discusses this, and references the combination of wind, water, and mountains as very powerful in the San Luis Valley. He says,
We talk about the sacredness of the land here, the sacredness of the environment. Crestone as an area is a place where you can practice in a very powerful fashion. We talk about the mountains here being sacred, as a container of a very rounded energy. The aquifer, which lies under us—the water element kind of rounds the energy here. The wind coming from across the valley picks up the water element, hits the mountains and comes back and circles back down. –Ralph Abrams, White Jewel Mountain Center.
Lorain Fox Davis speaks to this idea as well, saying that many Native American tribes considered certain landscapes and combinations of elements particularly sacred. She says,
Sacred places are places with a large expanse of land where the wind can come across unimpeded, with water below to connect to the wind and then mountains to force the wind upward. This forces everything, all of the energy, upward. –Lorain Fox Davis.
For others it is as simple as being able to see the sky and breathe clean air. The Baca is particularly pristine and allows for practices that involve connecting with nature and the elements. Abrams again discusses this, saying,
The pristine air quality that allows us to…one of our practices is to gaze into space, see the blue sky, the pristine blue sky. Let’s say the gas comes, one of the things they do is pollute the air quality, so you won’t be able to achieve clarity. -Ralph Abrams, White Jewel Mountain Center.
Others spoke to the lasting quality of sacred places, and the inability of humans to alter that. This is the idea that there is something inherently sacred to the physical place itself which is unchangeable and has nothing to do with human activity. Joy Kells says,
The energy comes from the earth and the mountains and the sky. And they can’t change it. They can pollute it, they can make it dirty, they can put up buildings and oil derricks that make it ugly but they can’t touch the energy of mother earth. -Joy Kells, Volunteer Firefighter and member of Cottonhood Sustainable co-op.
This is very different from the idea that part of the sacredness comes from the aesthetic beauty and purity of the place. This is not to say that Kells feels that polluting such a place is good, but more that she recognizes some deeper, lasting power in the physical place of Crestone. Bill Jedis echoes this sentiment, saying,
You can’t make things unsacred, you can deface them, you can paint graffiti on a rock but it doesn’t make the rock not sacred, it just means someone painted graffiti on a rock. But you can certainly reduce the appeal of coming to be there by doing that and that’s what’s at the base here. I expect that the mountain will always be as sacred as it is until it wears down after millions of years, and there’s also the suspicion that nature will win, it’s going to outlast us, nature has the upper hand.
-Bill Jedis, member of the Dharma Ocean Foundation and Crestone resident.
History of Sacredness and Peace:
The San Luis Valley was called “The Bloodless Valley” by Native Americans who, throughout time, never fought or caused bloodshed there. It was considered a sacred place, somewhere not in which to live but in which to worship and give offerings. This history, as well as the more recent history of spiritual groups establishing themselves there, lends validity for many to the notion of Crestone as sacred. Many of the residents of Crestone referenced this history when talking about the sacredness of the area. Sister Connie said,
From what I understand of native culture this valley was actually a very sacred place for many different tribes, it was called the peaceful valley which it was kind of a place where the tribes would come through to hike and fish and there would be no disagreements or wars. They did not fight in the valley or anything like that and Blanca is considered one of the sacred mountains, so it is a sacred area, the whole valley is but I mean the whole world is sacred. - Sister Connie, the Nada Carmelite Hermitage.
According to Ralph Abrams it is not only the ancient history but the current spiritual community as well that makes Crestone a special place. He says,
The idea that this is a sacred valley, and special, isn’t just a myth because the American Indians were here for thousands of years, which is also important, but here today, this valley and this area is used every day by spiritual practitioners who come here to engage these mountains, and this has been going on since the 1950’s. So there’s a history of place here, there’s a history of recognition of the special power…that occurs in spiritual practice here, and it would be a shame if that’s lost. - Ralph Abrams, the White Jewel Mountain Center.
For some the current fight over the mineral rights itself is seen as a form of “war” and is destructive to the peacefulness of the valley. Julie Quinn addresses this idea, saying,
This land is called The Bloodless Valley for a reason, the land was so beautiful and sacred that no one would fight here. Now there is the biggest war. Just the controversy of the gas drilling is politically disrupting here. It’s an environment and lifestyle issue. - Julie Quinn, Crestone resident and member of the San Luis Valley Citizen’s Alliance
This idea that Crestone is sacred and set apart from normal society, and hence should not be the site of “battles” such as this current one over oil, may be similar to the views that Native Americans held about such places. Author Peter Nabokov says,
...Indians lived in two worlds at the same time. There was the practical world where they hunted, traveled, loved, fought and died. And there was the equally real world of the spirits. Trees, animals, springs, caves, streams, and mountains might each contain a life force, spirit or soul and must be treated with caution and respect. –Peter Nabokov, author of Where the Lightning Strikes, p. xi.
Quinn, as well as others, alludes to this idea that Crestone is one of those places which should be treated with “caution and respect” and that even this political battle is stepping over that line.
Solitude and Purity:
A sense of solitude and purity, an area lacking in pollution, whether from traffic, industrious growth, light, or noise, contributes to the sacredness of Crestone. A pure, simple space where one can cleanse the mind and body plays an important role that allows the community to connect to their sacred environment.
“The quiet is very important here, just getting away from city noise…what you’re aware of shifts,” says Naomi Mattis of Mangala Shri Bhuti and CSA. She feels strongly that “these retreats are very meaningful, very powerful.” She notes how those who are in retreat become more aware of the wildlife and the environment of the area. “You pay so much attention to rabbits, deer…we’ve had mountain lions, bears…the deeper you go, you start thinking about life in a different way, thinking about the world as it is and the world as it could be."
Similarly, Jayendra of Humanity in Unity defines sacredness in the importance of purity, where not only the area, but the people who hold that quality give Crestone its sacred vibration:
Why is a pure space important? For two reasons; the first reason is for the body. The body can strengthen itself because it’s pure, and also, when we connect ourselves to the highest as we did here, we begin by connecting our self outside, and outside is pure, so all the things which are not pure in us just gets out. If we do the same work in the town, where we have a lot of people, a lot of thoughts, forms, a lot of vibrations, when you open yourself to vibrate with the outside, you begin by receiving all of this, which is not pure. So it is really good to be in a pure space like here or in the Himalayas to do the spiritual work of cleansing, connecting to the light, trying to strengthen the light inside you, purifying the body, and be more and more what we consider a being of light… What is holding us here is this purity… [We’re here at Crestone] because it’s pure, it’s because it’s sacred, it’s because it’s peaceful, it’s because it’s prefect. It’s a place for the powers of the earth. -Jayendra, Humanity in Unity.
This sense of pure, unaltered nature is rare among today’s growing population where buildings are erected, traffic is flowing through, and communities are expanding, leading people away from the natural world, and into one centered on industry. Julie Quinn commented on the affects of industrialized society on the natural aspects of the unique, sacred Crestone area:
I love the dark here. It is pitch black at night. There are very few places where you can absolutely experience that kind of darkness. I love the quiet here. There is no noise, no traffic. The dark and the quiet and night, I just love that. It is difficult to find that experience coupled with a strong community. -Julie Quinn, Crestone resident and member of the San Louis Valley Citizen's Alliance.
Like Julie, Jayendra notes that Crestone is unique. What makes the area a sacred space is a combination of its solitude, its history, its landscape, and its overall sense of purity.
It is unique in the world. And this means the vibration, it’s pure, no war, never fight, never war, all these sacred mountains, people are coming from all over the world to come to these mountains. It’s giving the place such a diverse vibration, and the purity, the purity… because we are so far from the towns, we don’t have industries here, so all of that creates a pure space. -Jayendra, Humanity in Unity.
The solitude and purity of Crestone create a sacred space that could easily be destroyed by industrialization. The fact that Crestone is isolated from the negative energies of society allows the community to focus on their reason for being there. The community is searching for a space where prayers and good thoughts can be passed on for the benefit of all, and the vibration of the area allows for this to happen.
Spiritually Conscious Community:
An important aspect to defining a place as sacred is its connection to the people who live there. With a large concentration focused on spiritual practices, an energy is created within the valley that further connects the community with their environment and gives the area a stronger sense of the sacred. Spiritual awareness is key to understanding the connection between people and nature, as Joy Kells points out:
Almost everybody from every religion views this as a sacred and holy, spiritual place. It’s a center of spiritual power on the earth. These spiritual groups or religious individuals that are here, I am not part of a group, but all of us are in harmony on believing that this is just a totally holy place. -Joy Kells, Volunteer Firefighter, member of Cottonhood sustainable co-op.
Because Crestone is a sacred place to so many people, extraordinary events occur more often than in other areas of the world. Focused, positive energy in a sacred place, and a community that is open to the wonders the area can provide help define Crestone not only by the space, but by the people who reside there, as Yoshiyuki Yominaga of the Shumei center observed:
There is more spiritual power here than other places...If we think about somebody, they appear…..If we pray for world peace here it will be realized easier than in other places. I think it is very important to pray for world peace here. -Yoshiyuki Yominaga, of Shumei International Institute.
Because Crestone hosts a very spiritually conscious community, the town’s population, in part, helps to define the area as sacred. Instead of defining a site as sacred based on its holy landmarks or objects, the congregation of spiritual people gives the area its sacred appeal.
There are kind of two components for me (for living in Crestone). One is the social aspect, which is being with other people, which is kind of one of the reasons that I moved here… to be with other people who were kind of more conscious in that way, and as you know, Crestone is a very spiritually conscious place, and it’s also beautiful here and there’s a kind of sacredness to the natural surroundings. Minnesota lacked the social component. The two components kind of come together here. You have the sacred space and the family of people. -Bill Jedis, Dharma Ocean Foundation Member and Crestone resident.
Even when certain practices are absent from the Crestone area, the conglomeration of such a wide variety of other spiritual groups, all working toward the same goal, causes the town to radiate with a glowing sense of common purpose, where the community works together to improve our way of life. Julie Quinn, a Crestone resident, noticed the strength of the community, despite the fact that her spiritual group was absent:
I became more and more connected to the fact that the spiritual groups are here. It feels good that they are here, even though my own spiritual group is not here. -Julie Quinn, Crestone resident and member of the San Louis Valley Citizen's Alliance.
A community can define a town, and in the case of Crestone, the spiritually conscious community helped make Crestone a sacred place.
Although the community members of Crestone aren’t considered permanent pilgrims, they share a similar goal. According to author Fiona Bowie,
In the liminal stage of a rite of passage the bonds of communitas or egalitarianism are uppermost… pilgrimage takes people out of normal social hierarchies and institutional norms and ideas. It is anti-structural, creative, and transformative… [and] for the duration of the journey, all pilgrims were equal and shared a common goal. –Fiona Bowie, author of The Anthropology of Religion, p. 240.
In Crestone, a person’s past is ignored and their spiritual practices aren’t looked down upon for being different. Where a person comes from makes no difference within the community. The community is a family, all working in harmony to reach a higher state of being and protect the sacred space they practice on. Whether sacred is defined by the natural elements of the landscape, the town’s geographic location at the base of a mountain range known for its history of peaceful interactions, the solitude and purity of a minimally developed area, or just the fact that so many spiritually conscious people gathered in one area to find inspiration, Crestone itself is sacred to those who live there. Like Bowie’s description of pilgrimage, the community is creative, transformative, and equal, all working toward a common goal. Therefore, according to the Crestone community, sacred isn’t as simple as something “connected with God (or the gods) or dedicated to a religious purpose” ( New Oxford American Dictionary). Sacred is a word with much deeper meaning, and is something worth protecting.
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