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The dichotomy of Spirit, and other stories.

February 25, 2009

Some places seem to burst at the seams with something, a mood, or a personality. An ‘aroma’ that cannot be attributed to anything other than the sum total of its history leaving a residue.

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Sacredness comes in many different forms. The kind of sacredness that Jerusalem has is different to the sacredness that London has, or that San Jacinto has, or that Big Sur has. Judaism, Christianity and Islam are all built around this masculine god, and Jerusalem is the place where these three religions converge.The sacredness of Jerusalem is a sacredness that has been worshipping its god for thousands of years. For that reason, Jerusalem is a place that is built of stone. It is built beautifully, created from rocks that were taken from the earth, crafted meticulously to house temples and sanctuaries and markets that pulse with the history of civilisation. Each one of these stones was erected in worship of this great god and each one of these stones holds up its building like a little crusading soldier waving its sword in the air and smiling even to his death. The splatters of blood on their faces, stained over centuries is insignificant. This is god’s work.

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For the same reasons, London is a sacred city with a rich history. Deep under the ground is the blood of the Saxons, and the scars from hundreds of battles. Kings are crowned and kings are killed, and churches are erected and paganism outlawed and fires engulf the city and plagues wipe it out. All of these things are etched into the stones and into the earth and if you listen, you can hear the walls heaving with the effort to contain all of it. Heaving with the effort of being old, of being beaten by rain and soot and dirt for all this time. And when you walk on the cobbled streets you can still feel the words of Virginia Woolf chattering with every step, and Charles Dickens pulling his hat low and bracing himself against the rain. You can see Aleister Crowley and Austin Osman Spare emerge from the darkness of Atlantis books after too much absinthe and stagger back along Museum Street. London, to me, smells like soot and blood and beer and opium (although for some reason it sounds like the “Eastenders” theme tune, but that’s another story).

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I wonder about these cities. I wonder whether the place itself had power before it was built on, whether they were chosen specifically for the spirit of the land. Or whether the spirit grew as the city grew and before the city came along it was just a normal piece of earth. And then I wonder about the sacred places I know in California.The places that I am drawn to here are places that have been designated as ‘sacred’ by some Native American tribe or another. Were they as powerful before that title was bestowed upon them, or did they become powerful because so much energy has been put into them over time?

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They don’t have the same history as these cities. They aren’t buzzing with words that make any sense to people. Their sounds are not sounds that were created by humans, nor are their smells. But they have just as much power and strength as the vortexes that civilisations create. At Big Sur, the ocean heaves with the same sound each morning, carrying big flats of kelp towards the shore, and then sucking them out again. The cliffs along the ocean front stand victorious and strong after thousands of years of being battered and carved. The power in a place like this is not due to the things that have been built on it, or the residue left by civilisations. But these places have a spirit that is impossible to conjure with words because they are not built on words, they are built on the spaces between the words. They are like the white space that holds the letter, instead of the letter than stamps itself on the white page. The sounds and smells that they have, because they aren’t created by us, don’t translate well too “essence of Big Sur pine and ocean spray and seagull poo”. Words quantify. Wild spaces cannot be quantified.

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And both are necessary. As much as I would love to see the wilderness take over the entire planet, there is always a need for balance, and control. As much as I love chaos, it can only exist in the presence of some order. Eileen pointed this out to me when we were hiking a couple of months ago– we were discussing the chaos, and how in the world there are weavers and unweavers. The people who try and hold everything together and organise it and make it make sense, and then those of us who, every night, will undo what they have been working for. Then the next morning they wake up and redo what we have been working to undo. She pointed out something to me that is only starting to make sense: It isn’t a battle. It’s a balance. They are necessary, just as we are necessary. Without that balance, the world would grind to a halt. Without the constant movement, inertia sets in. Life cannot exist without movement. It’s the push and the pull of the weavers and unweavers that create and move life.

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