Six Signs of Sacred Landscapes

Volume 45, Issue 3

Making my way through woods of the Canadian Shield, I come upon billion-year-old primal basement granite rock. On a path navigating an island surrounded by shrub swamp and shallow marsh, I move through a grove of mature hemlock we call “The Cathedral”: surely, this grove of beauty and majesty is connected to the sacred fabric of the universe. Attentive to a profoundly mysterious and intimate relationship to something within and around me, I sense luminous familiarity. Surrender and embrace.

Sacred landscapes such as this are revered owing to unique features that appear in natural formations of earth, waters, skies, and the energies emanating from the presence of revered sages who taught and meditated at these spots. They provide a foundation, a crucible of principles for designing places of transaction with spirituality and the everyday corollary.

Unbound wonder and reverence–
Naked–in silence and the unbearable lightness of space–
Beauty and spirituality arising together in the same breath —

Qualities of sacred landscapes where spiritual experience becomes tangible as form and space correspond to six increasing degrees of subtlety in both meditation and design procedure. However subjective, these six signs of sacred landscapes are grounded in experience, historical precedence, philosophical view, and spiritual texts.

First, ”Favourable Context” refers to selecting the location, a field of generosity. It might be an auspicious site, a place of refuge, nestled in the embrace of landscape that embodies balance and harmony of the universe. Like a universal mandala, it absorbs beneficial life forces and mitigates negative spears.

Second, “Contained” sets a relationship to the personal and social environment through analysis, like house-cleaning. A field of ethical application: a distinct form in space, a distinct space surrounded by form, identifiable qualities and characteristics in distinct contrast to chaotic, nebulous surroundings. Silence cradled by sound, light cradled by night, sanctuary in one’s heart.

Third, “Coherent” provides an organized framework of whole and constituent parts, like arranging the place for meditation, a field of patience. It helps the spiritual journey make sense with clearly defined enclosure, gateway, and paths for directed and focused entry, transition and movement, each in its place. This corresponds to Aristotle’s Definiteness and Aquinas’s Integrity.

Fourth, “Composed” is the creatively designed feature, like formulating the meditation, a field of creative resolve. It is an intentional arrangement of form and space in nature’s lyrics and architecture’s scores to strengthen one’s attention, observant to objects, activities, and thoughts binding mind and landscape. It corresponds to Aristotle’s Symmetry and Aquinas’s Proportion.

Fifth, “Clarity” illuminates design intent, luminosity in meditation, a field of concentration. It is a simple format pointing to less in order to see more, with unwavering attention to just one thing; summoning control of thought and action. It corresponds to Aristotle’s Order in Metaphysics and Language in Poetics, Aquinas’s Clarity, Plotinus’s Charm of Colours.

Sixth, “Artistic expression of Contemplation” conveys a story in a dialect of practice and spiritual view, a poetic field of wisdom. This is an image of profound wisdom and compassion, abode of divinity, appearance as Mandala, Pure Land, Paradise, Nature, Breath, God, Silence.

Presented with the glory of transcendence,
How will you inhabit this Divine Everyday Space–

The author, based in Toronto, is a landscape architect with a background in architecture, environmental analysis, and regional land use planning.