SACRED AND PROFANE SPACE
(Written for Deakin: Assign.2 for ASR-103, ‘Religious Studies’.)
To discuss sacred space, places and things we must first look at the meaning of sacred as compared to profane. Emile Durkheim (1965: 83) sees all religious phenomena as always having a "bipartite division of the universe." He says that:
“Since the idea of the sacred is always and everywhere separated from the idea of the profane in the thought of men, and since we picture a sort of logical chasm between the two, the mind irresistibly refuses to allow the two corresponding things to be confounded... the two classes cannot even approach each and keep their own nature at the same time.”
(Durkheim: 1965, p.83)
This bipartite division of life between the sacred and the profane is often referred to as the 'Duality of Life'. Joseph Campbell, in his video 'The Power of Myth' (1988), explains that the themes that permeate all of life will always have pairs of opposites. It is Man's individual choice between these pairs of opposites that orchestrate life's dance and evolution.
“When one moves out of the transcendent, one comes into a field of opposites... Male and Female, Good and Evil, Being and Non-Being, Is and Isn't... we must put our mind in the middle.”
(Joseph Campbell: 1988)
The effects of this choice between these pairs of opposites mean that totally different myths and ways of living are created depending on whether we see nature as corrupt, profane and chaotic or as divine and sacred. I believe that the ancient cultures saw all of nature as sacred, where as in today's modern culture we choose to see nature as corrupt and therefore we try to control and have power over nature. This however again shows the duality of ancient verses modern, another pair of opposites.
Mircea Eliade (1959: 11) explains that all space is profane until it is made sacred. Saying that Religious Man, or as I prefer 'Spiritually Aware Man', "finds expression in the experience of an opposition between space that is sacred - the only real and real-ly existing space - and all other space, the formless expanse surrounding it." This 'founding of the world' or finding sacredness in the world is a "primary religious experience that precedes all reflection on the world." To look at the spiritually unaware man's idea of sacred and profane, you could almost say that everything is profane until it is possessed or owned by him, and then it is sacred to him. Every culture has it's own way of making space and land sacred.
The next question that needs to be answered is how does man make space and things sacred? According to Eliade (1959: 12,18), to obtain any orientation, man needs a fixed point (a Sacred Centre, an Axis Mundi), which comes from a spiritual revelation. This revelation comes because the centre is where there is a break in the planes of conscious man, either upwards to the Gods (Heaven) or downward to the Underworld (Earth, the unconscious, the dead, or hell). Because the Axis Mundi, or Universal Pillar is a sacred centre - opening up communication with the three cosmic levels (Heaven, Man and Earth or the Underworld) - "the world comes into existence." It is from around this sacred centre that the sacred world is made. In the Vedic Ritual, the erection of a fire altar to Agni is a reproduction of the creation, and thus communication with the Gods is made possible. This making of sacred space means that any future building and living activity around this sacred place also becomes sacred. Therefore according to Eliade (1959: 16) every act of organisation being made out of chaos is a sacred act. There are many other examples of religious myths and legends that describe how through repeating the acts of the Gods, the world is made sacred.
As different cultural groups make their world sacred via different revelations and realisations, then different myths, dreams, religions and symbols are formed. Joseph Campbell (1988) says that: "Myths and dreams come from the realisations that have to find expression in symbolic form." And I feel that although the realisations change from place to place and from time to time, there are some symbols that are common to all cultures, religions and times. This is because according to Campbell, "The human psyche is the same all over the world. It is the inward aspect of the human body, which is essentially the same, with the same organs, instincts, impulse systems, conflicts and fears."
Durkheim (1965: 80) says that: "Religious representations are collective representations which express collective realities." Carl Jung refers to these common symbols throughout humanity as 'Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious'. The most powerful of these common ideas is the idea of a higher power or God, and the most common religious symbol is the circle, in which the centre represents the 'Axis Mundi' and the circumference represents the world around it. Campbell explains what he calls 'The Wheel of Fortune', which can also represent any emotion or part of being alive. He says that: "If you are attached to the wheel (circumference), you will be either above (well off), going down, at the bottom (poor), or coming up. But if you are at the hub, you are in the same place all the time." Meaning that you can watch your finances, emotions, or any aspect of living go around and around, up and down, without the outward circumstance having any effect on your psyche.
This brings me back to the religious and cosmic centre of the self, which when the mind, body and soul are all centred in an harmonious unity, then communication with the Gods is made by joining Heaven and Earth. Therefore Heaven (often referred to as the All Father or Upper World) and Earth (the All Mother or Lower World) are consciously and spiritually united in the self, allowing one to experience their roots, their source of being, and thereby creating a sacred place within oneself, an Axis Mundi, a centre of the Universe, a Sacred Centre.
Joseph Campbell (1988) refers to this sacred place as a 'Bliss Station' for creative incubation. He says: "It gives you a thou feeling of life." On a psychological side Campbell says that:
“The realisation of your bliss, your true being, comes when you have put aside (Sacrificed or Resisted) the passing moment with it's terror (Fears), temptations (Desires), and requirements of life that you should live this way (Social Duty).”
In other words when you are centred or balanced psychologically and spiritually you are living according to God and nature. There is also the indication that a person's 'true being' is a sacred centre within the human body, mind and spirit or soul. Therefore to find sacredness in many religions requires an inward journey to the sacred place within. A perfect example of this inward journey can be seen in Buddhism, Yoga, Meditation and altered states of consciousness. When this inward place can be reached, it will guide the diligent Buddhist to Nirvana, which is the salvation from the attachment to and the lust for: power, success, money, sex, comfort and other temporary and bodily pleasures, which cause all the ills of life.
So if sacred space and sacred objects come from realisations of a person's 'True Being', then it stands to reason that different people will consider different places and different things as sacred. The ancient 'primitive' religions have the principle animal or nature's main source of food as sacred objects. This can be seen from the cave paintings which act as myths to indicate that the life source of the animal, like humans', comes from the Transcendent, Great Spirit, or God, and appeasement or thanks must be given to the animal that is giving it's life so that human life may continue. Campbell says that the guilt of killing and taking life is wiped out by the myth. For Islamic Muslims there is only one external sacred place, and that is Mecca. And the one major sacred object is the Koran, which is Islam's book of how you should live your life according to God, the creator and judge.
For Christians, the Bible is the source of all sacred places, objects and knowledge.
Because the bible often uses metaphors and symbols to help the faithful understand the messages that can guide them to the sacred space within, which then opens them up to communication with God, I consider these messages to be myths. These myths are reminders of the realisations and revelations that have been had by religious leaders of the time. These myths or stories mention all the sacred; symbols, places, objects and messages that call men and women to a deeper awareness of the acts of life from birth to death.
Dreams come from personal realisations and revelations in symbolic and sometimes cryptic form to give deeper awareness of the personal acts of life.
In concluding, it is man's awareness of the pairs of opposites and his centring of himself spiritually and psychologically that brings him the revelations that turn any profane and chaotic world into a sacred world. This means that for the truly spiritually aware man all space, place, and things in this natural world are sacred.
Emile Durkheim – ‘The Elementary Forms Of Religious Life'. (1965)
Joseph Campbell – ‘The Power Of Myth'. (1988: video)
Mircea Eliade – 'Sacred Space And Making The World Sacred'. (1959)