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Regarding Sacred Landscapes

Where Landscape and People Place their Heart

Presented at the 10th Symposium of The Forum for Architecture, Culture and Spirituality, Coral Gables, FL, 2018


We seek the meaning of displacement, to those forced from their homeland, to those who attempt to ease its effects. And along with questions regarding the practical caring to house and feed, we have some basic queries that warrant attention – What is it between People, Landscape and Divinity? What is the nature of their relationship? Is it of physical stuff that becomes genetically modified and chemically altered by displacement? Why ask such harebrained questions here and now?

Because who we are is much the same as where we are. And displacement is a cleavage between the psyche of people and the psyche of landscape with which each has evolved, indivisibly bound. A binding as deep as lover with beloved; a binding as deep as body with soul. And throughout the philosophical and spiritual spectrum abide thoughts of the heart that penetrates, more deeply than rationale, into the tenuous spiritual effects of unrootedness and the trauma of forced movement – witness to the depth of people’s being of their landscape, landscape’s being of its people, divinity a composition of the entirety.

Displacing people from their traditionally held lands and waters is not simply a loss of chattel and property. Severing people and landscape from each other is a severing of stories from ancestors; sinew and blood from mountains and rivers; breath and heat from winds and currents; heart and soul from transactional grounds with divinity.

It’s the dissolution of nature’s logic, orientation and guidance through life and death. It’s the loss of intimacy that people and landscape hold for each other, and the trauma to both from the crumbling of their spiritual ways of life. It’s the severing of a compact between the great mother and father of nature and its people to care for one another. Loss of healers, teachers, lovers, companions. It’s unwanted, unwarranted abandonment.

The first shade: engagement with the physical landscape obvious and evident to the senses. The second shade: engagement with landscape revealed through stories neither evident nor logically understood. The third shade: engagement with the extremely hidden landscape, the sexual play of lands, waters and skies meshed with all aspects of life.

For Indigenous tribes of the Kogi, Arhuaco, Wiwa and Kankuamo and the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Colombia, it would be the loss of identity. For us here at ACS 10, it would be the loss of a rich opportunity to learn about intimacy and immediacy with landscape, about deeper insight into the meaning of home and homelessness.

When the Spanish arrived on the continent, they came to colonize the South American Indigenous civilizations of the Sierra Nevada. Each tribe responded differently. The Kankuamo remained in their villages, only to lose their ancestral language and customs. The Kogi climbed high into the rugged mountains, the Conquistadors unable to follow. The warrior Wiwa and Arhuaco were able to resist colonization in the mid and lower tiers of their ancestral mountain. However, when the Capuchin missionaries made their way to the Sierra during the 1920’s, the tribes migrated up the mountains to avoid cultural cleansing. There they joined the Kogi, sharing respective teachings and languages while maintaining their individual traditions.

There they all made a sacred vow to uphold the Great Mother’s original law – that all must protect and nurture, not only the Sierra mountain system; all must protect and nurture the entire planet, our common home. For this reason, the tribes work and live together committed to their primary mission: they serve as caretakers of the Earth.

Their ancestral lands are the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. Tan and red snow-covered peaks, a pyramid shaped mountain range lifted 18,000 feet high above the Caribbean Sea. This right side up pyramid – personification of Earth’s male forces. Below, the triangular massif is tethered to the Earth’s core, tectonically bordered by faults and lineaments on three sides. This upside-down pyramid – personification of Earth’s female forces. A male / female Sri Yantra. Emblematic of the human body, coordinates and orientation, valleys and villages are tied to components of the sacred human body. The topographic axis is the vagina of the Great Mother. The loom of life.

Containing Earth’s full bio-diverse ecological range, the Sierra’s 600 streams birth thirty-six major rivers. To the tribes, the Sierra is a reflection of the entire Earth: the entirety dependent upon the Sierra’s constituent parts, an interconnected web of life. Individual parts equivalent to the whole, each rock and river of the Sierra contains the essence of all lands, waters and skies – the rhythm of Blake’s first stanza of “Auguries of Innocence” tangible on many planes.

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour..

Rather than identity of person and place based upon contrast with ‘other’, the Indigenous tribes and the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mutually contribute to the steady state equilibrium of the operations of nature as one. What Buddhists might call the dissolution of agent, action and object. The idea of ‘non-duality’, where physical, mental, emotional and spiritual intimacy connects with outer, inner and secret levels of life.

Accordingly, the well being of their mountains embraces the well being of the Earth. Accordingly, logic holds that rituals extend beyond traditional lands; rituals encompass the entire world system. Accordingly, the mountains counsel: the tribes must preserve their traditions.

The tribes receive guidance and wisdom through their spiritual leaders, the Mamos. The Mamos are trained to abide in a constant state of Aluna. Aluna is Primordial Consciousness. Aluna is fundamental to their way of life. To the Kogi, Wiwa and Arhuaco, the entire world system is connected through Aluna. From Aluna, the entirety of the physical world, all of Nature, individual physical bodies, animate and inanimate, is realized as male and female polarities.

The laws of Nature are simple. Love and Harmony. Love is the connection holding the harmony between the balance of polarities. The magnetism between male and female is a direct expression of these male and female natural polarities. Not the dichotomy of balancing opposites, rather the harmony of complementary pairs.

The Mamos work to cultivate full awareness of the Earth’s connections. The Mamos maintain a deep communion with the spirits of each animate and inanimate thing, and their roles within the whole system. The Mamos take a vow to keep the balance and harmony of all forces within Aluna, whatever is necessary to assure the well being of its inhabitants.

The Mamos say: – Awake before sunrise, face east to the golden orange radiance of the sun peeking over the mountain ridge, its vibrations and warmth kissing your skin, illuminating your heart.
Reconnecting to the Great Mother, your roots spread deep within her soil, reconnecting your Navel back to her. Like our ceremonial kite, its string is your umbilical cord connected to the Navel of the World. Losing your connection with the sacred landscape is like a kite with a severed string, floundering in the wind without direction, without guidance. That’s how we view most of humanity: like kites flying haphazardly and confused, you have lost your strings, your innate connection to the Great Mother, to your own true Nature.

The Mamos maintain their fifty-four sacred sites. They keep them activated. The sacred sites circle the base of the mountain massif that mediates with the sea. They extend from the ocean and through the river basins connected to one another in a grid up the mountain to the ridgeline. Like a closed-circuit electrical system, if one section of the grid goes off line, the whole system can shut down.

The Mamos say: – We must protect our sacred sites because these sites are the eyes, ears, lungs, arms of nature. Each site is a Being; a mother / father spirit very much alive. Our rivers are the veins that run from the head in the glacial peaks through the shoulders of the mountain; its heart to its belly; its legs to its feet.

The Mamos say: – From the mountains, for generations, we’ve seen the destruction of the world’s ecosystems. For millennia, great forests covered the land in complete harmony. There were countless sources of water for birds and animals. Everything had meaning. Birds of prey were messengers. Thunder was a messenger. The wind was a messenger. But if today, we sit anywhere on this mountain as we have for over twenty-five centuries, what we interpret now seems wrong. For here we cannot meditate anymore.

The Mamos say: – From the mountains, we’ve seen the proposed construction of a large seaport that will impact our sacred sites. It will threaten the north coast of our ancestral lands. From the mountains, we’ve seen incompatible development of the lower foothills threatening our fifty-four sacred sites. From the mountains, we’ve watched the destruction of the world’s ecosystems. We’ve seen the snow stop falling and the rivers dry up. Of eight Sierra ridges once snow-covered, only one remains.

If these things are destroyed, it will bring an end to our Indigenous culture and destroy us. It will do harm to all people of the earth, for we will not be able to take care of them. Being forced from our lands will lead to calamity, natural disaster and disease for all of us. Unless we inhabit our ancestral sacred lands without impediment, our work is impossible. The entire Earth will suffer our loss, as we suffer from all peoples’ loss.