Unsacred • Ian Corrigan

September 19, 2012 by Categorized: Natural Reflections.

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Photo Credit: (CC) Lee and Mary

The title of the rather edifying blog No Unsacred Place keeps bugging me. The phrase brings to my mind the little discussion that sometimes occurs inside Neopagan ritualism in which the idea of casting the circle or creating sacred space is questioned. The argument is that in a ‘nature religion’ all of existence must be the manifestation of the divine, and therefore human efforts to designate any particular space as sacred are at best redundant and at worst irreverent and presumptuous.

To me this notion contains misunderstandings both theological and linguistic. Let’s do the linguistic first.

“Sacred” is derived from Latinate roots that mean ‘to separate’ or ‘to cut off’. It refers especially to places or things that are made separate from common life and work, in order to be especially dedicated to the work of religion or magic or spirituality (as you like). The thing is, the essential point of ‘sacredness’ is its separation from the common. To use ‘sacred’ as a reference to unity is rather a contradiction in terms. To say that there is ‘No Unsacred Place’ – that everything is equally dedicated to the special work of religion, is essentially to say that nothing is, in fact, special. If nothing is unsacred, then nothing is sacred.

The complement to this is found in the word ‘holy’. Holy is from the same Germanic roots that give us our English ‘whole’, ‘heal’ ‘health’ etc. It is perfectly reasonable to say that the entire cosmos is holy – wholly whole, and wholly holy, as somebody famous once said. “No unholy place’ makes plenty of sense, if you like.

On another level, sacredness isn’t an intrinsic quality, it is an imparted one. In order for a thing or place to be sacred it has to be declared so, either by a spirit or by a human. My ritual robe is sacred not because of its cloth or its color, but because I have set it aside for the special work of spirituality Sometimes a god makes a mountain or river sacred, sometimes it is done by humans. In every case sacredness happens because some specific intelligence makes it so.

To me this isn’t really a theological matter so much as a technical one. Religious methods are intended to induce spiritual experience in the participants. The technique of designating a specific space as the sacred space – the space where we can expect the gods and spirits to manifest – is basic and undeniable. As always, I assume that spirituality works by most of the same rules as material nature. If you diffuse your work thinly over a vast area you’re unlikely to get a useful result. Concentrating effort in a specific zone is the way to have real impact. So when I want a god to be present I make an image of the god and bring the god to be present specifically in the image. Note I don’t try to ‘have the divine be present’. The divine is always present, but unless it is concentrated in some specific form and place it is mainly irrelevant.

Sacredness is about separateness, and without separateness there can be no sacredness.


Ian Corrigan is a Neopagan of the Druidic sort, interested in Celtic polytheism as it might manifest for modern people in North America. He is also an occultist, broadly interested in arcane and magical systems and ideas, from medieval grimoires through Hindu Tantra and Asian shamanism to Thelema and Chaos Magic. He’s a fan of the folk music of the British Isles and its modern inheritors as well as of fantasy and horror lit, especially the work and legacy of HP Lovecraft.

This article originally appeared on his blog Into The Mound.

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5 Responses

  1. "The Ik" - Conversations from the PorchSeptember 19, 2012 @ 10:59 am

    I’m sorry to say that I caught this the other day, and, shared the “Unsacred Opinion” as an addendum/connection to our page.

    Personally, I find the harping of the word “unsacred” pointless and moot as the name of your blog is *NO* Unsacred Place – there is not any space on this planet that is not sacred… to someone who holds faith in any higher power.

    And, if that be the case, then there is truth: India may not be sacred to the Americans. However, it is to Indians; conversely, any other point on Earth to it’s inhabitants.

    Besides, Mr. “Linguist”, there, has applied more High Ceremonial magicks into his Druidic practice that to attach the word “Celtic” to his artes is a horrible misappropriation of cultural identity.

    Alas! I cannot complain, overmuch… I follow both of your blogs.

    Keep being you.

  2. The “thing” being temporarily created by casting a circle, by casting a Ceremonial Magick circle with square/triangles &etc, inside an enclosing circle of trees/dolmens/trilithons/etc., setting up under an archway/what-have-you is “Liminal Space.”

    Once upon a time this concept was a basic bit of instruction. I can’t really claim to know all that much, having begun these Pagan pathways in 1970-71 (see my library listing on my website).

    Liminal Space is a place which is not entirely in this world, nor entirely in the other. It’s sort-of in between them, linking them together. The space between two boulders, trees, a crack in a cliff-face, the joins between the blocks of Jerusalem’s ‘Wailing Wall,’ etc., can be a gateway-sort of liminal space.

    To those who see Deity as only Transcendent (monotheists mainly) and not Immanent, the concept of places which haven’t been made holy by priestly ceremony is just a bit of ordinary thinking.

  3. After 4 years of Latin a lot of research since I can comment that “sacra, sacrare, sacravi, sacratus’ means to set apart as holy, to devote, dedicate
    Or to devote, doom or declare cursed
    to render sacred or to hallow to render perishable.
    It does not mean to cut off in the sense you used it.

  4. I think, even working within your definition, that while I can see and respect your perspective as one that differs from mine, it is different. To me, the sacred is everywhere I look, from the highest mountains to the colors mottling the plastic surface of the kitchen counter. What makes something sacred to me is its ability to inspire wonder, and I’ve yet to find something that didn’t do that to some degree.

    That being said, I can also appreciate the specific parameters of ritual space as a conscious method of describing a unique junction in space and time. Humans are fond of ritual, and on a psychological level it can help bring our awareness into sharp focus. So while your definition of sacred differs from mine, I don’t see it as any less valid in the terms we’re speaking.

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Continuing the Discussion

  1. [...] Over at No Unsacred Place, Ian Corrigan takes (etymological) issue with the premise of that blog: [...]