Eugene Sekaquaptewa, Hopi, Arizona

We first met Eugene Sekaquaptewa in 1991 when we visited the Hopi Mesas on a Sacred Sites International study tour to Northern Arizona Indian sites. He was from a progressive family and we learned about his parents and their lives through reading the life story of his mother, Me and Mine, as told to Louise Udall. Eugene’s family believed in education and he became a teacher, as did his brother, Emory, whom we also met.

Eugene walked in both the Hopi and the “white” worlds; he was a leader of his medicine lodge with the Eagle Clan.

He taught us to recognize ceremonial kivas and respect them by not walking on or near them. He also showed us the eagles his clan kept for ceremonies. A highlight of our tour was when Eugene took us to the Bacavi-Hotevilla school where all the students had computers and they were also schooled in the traditions of Hopi.

We went back for one more visit with a Sacred  Sites International member from Ireland. Eugene talked about Hopi dry farming and invited us to his home. He said he liked what we were doing at Sacred Sites International. It was the last time we saw him. He died several years later of complications from diabetes. We remember him fondly for his quiet, patient way of being with us and for his blessing on our work at Sacred Sites International.


By Nancy and Leonard Becker

Bulu Imam, Hazaribagh, Jarkhand, India

A Site Saver and His Family’s Story

I was born on August 31, 1941, in the small town of Hazaribagh, India which is surrounded by jungles. I spent my early childhood with our tribal people in the jungles where i developed my deep love and knowledge about the tribal folklore. I also developed an understanding of the deeper spiritual significance of tribal life and its meaning even though it can never be experienced or understood in the same sense by non-tribal people. For our people, the bears and tigers and wild deer are brothers and sisters. The elephant, because he is so big, is considered a symbol of strength. Everything is deeply associated with the environment that we live in, the forests surrounding the village, wild animals and birds, the fields and rivers, and the various kinds of fruit trees in the village. These things give us food, medicine, shelter, and out of them our folklore and songs and dances are woven.

From them our laws and spiritual beliefs have grown, and without them we are nothing. Our children grow up learning about these things from us, and our stories are our history and literature and these, form the sacred book of knowledge for us even if it is not all written down. We can not allow this priceless knowledge to be lost and we cannot allow this environment to die without losing everything that is connected to it in such a deep way.

When we saw that the government did not care about preserving and protecting our environment, but rather, looked at our environment as a forest or mineral resource to be exploited, we became hurt and angry. All our people are not educated like I am, so it was my work to do the fighting against the destruction being done by the government under the pretext of developing the tribal people.

We have been influenced by Christian missions for over a century and have looked at the missionaries as an ally against the government’s policy. But some of our elders became aware of the missionary’s motives of also exploiting us in a different manner. They brought us schools and education and new values and ways of living in an urbanized environment that we are not used to. They also made us learn their religion and study their language and history. IN this way we found our old traditions given new forms and meanings. In this way, the missionaries were no better than the government. The land is sacred to us because of who we are. Our ancestors tell us our creation stories that say we were the first people on the earth. This idea forms the foundation of our religious beliefs.

My greatest inspiration was my own mother. She was an example of tolerance and sacrifice and endured pain happily to help others.  From her i learned the meaning of the willing acceptance of pain. Our strength as a society is our ability to weep and toil. This is our elders’ vision of the higher reality surrounding us everywhere in nature. Greedy modern materialistic societies are blind to this because of their sense of self-gratification. From my mother I learned a superior vision of the earth as a mother – a nourisher, a provider. We do not see nature as a hostile environment to be either feared or exploited. To us it is Mother.

When I reached the age of forty I was an art teach in a local polytechnic school on a very modest pay with a large family to support; it was hardly imaginable I could take on the addition burdens of my community. But, when we were driven to protect our valleyt from the miner’s machine – the strength simply came. We could not bear to see our burial grounds and sacred groves uprooted. I gave up my teaching job and became a full time environmental activist, even though it was far from easy. But, we had as a family, a new and inspired strength, and a purpose which or life did not have before.

My mother died in 1989 leaving us alone to continue the fight with the government against the destruction of our entire region. Jharkhand is very large area with hundreds of villages, several thousand square kilometers of forests containing all kinds of wildlife. Dozens of rivers and hill streams had to be saved. In these villages and hills lay the scattered remains of our ancestors and the rock art that they painted and left for us in the caves from the ice age. When we think of these things we feel strongly that we can never allow our sacred places to be destroyed for any reason whatsoever. In these places we see the presence of our people, our ancestors, our roots.

When we found that archaeological importance was being given to our sacred sites we were elated, because outsiders cannot understand the sacred relations we have with these places and the surrounding sacred landscape. To us the hills have human forms, the trees of the forest are living beings, the wind’s voice is of a near one. All these constitute our sacred sites and give meaning to our culture. We cannot accept that a sacred grove or a megalithic site can be relocated. Like a flower, megaliths are products of their environment; their meaning is in their location. When we want to show our children our place in the world, we need to have some mapping points. This gives us an idea of where the spirit is. We need to be able to tell our children, “Look at that Mother Hill and worship it;” or, “Stop by the megalith outside the village and be silent for there you will feel the presence of our Ancestors, and our presence when we are gone…”

This then is why we gave up the normal materialistic longings of an educated family and all of us turned inward to protect our roots. We feel very happy our projects to save our region and protect its cultural heritage have been so well received. Many people call us the “Bulu tribe,” and in a way that is perhaps how all tribes started.

Aunty Pua and Uncle Ned Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii

Aunty Pua and Uncle Ned, Lahaina, Hawaii

Aunty Pua as she was affectionately known, was born in 1914 in Honaunau on the Big Island. Her great-grandmother was a chanter at the famous City of Refuge where ancient Hawaiians took refuge after breaking a kapu (taboo). According to her son, Ed Lindsey, this is where she got her spiritual strength.

Aunty Pau was always with her husband, Uncle Ned, a Lahaina boy, who she met at the Maui County Fair. They had five children who they raised on Maui. Their children were instilled with the values of their parents: malame (to take care of) and kokua (to help).

Once their children had grown, Aunty Pau and Uncle Ned assumed the role of Hawaiian elders, or Kupuna. Aunty Pau was a contributing member of the Lahaina community, giving counsel on issues, until her death in December of 2003, at age 89.

Akoni Akana, Founding Director of the Friends of Moku'ula, Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii

Akoni Akana, Founding Director of the Friends of Moku’ula, Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii

Aunty Pua was a kupuna who held herself with dignity while standing up for what she believed in.Her words and actions reflected her strong belief in the rights of Native Hawaiians to a sovereign Hawaii. She was a leader in Na Kupuna O Maui, a group that encouraged Hawaaiian elders to get involved in issues effecting Native Hawaiians.

We fondly remember having lunch with Aunty Pua and Uncle Ned, both in their 80s, and hearing their tales about recently occupying a house on land that should have been returned to Native Hawaiian control.

Aunty Pua and Uncle Ned assumed the role of advisors and worked closely with Akoni Akana, who was the Native Hawaiian advisor to Sacred Sites International and to others who re-discovered the ancient sacred island of Moku’ula in Lahaina. Aunty Pua was one of the first Friends of Moku’ula who urged the restoration of the ancient grounds of Hawaiian royalty, when naysayers said it couldn’t be done.

These elders are also the guardians of sacred cultural knowledge, ceremonies and stories.

The Friends of Moku’ula were successful in getting the Native Hawaiian sacred land returned to native hands.

Upon the founding of Sacred Sites International in 1990, we met Keali’i Reichel – the well-known Hawaiian singer – when he was a curator at the Maui Historical Society’s Bailey House Museum, located on the island of Maui. He suggested we meet Akoni Akana when he learned of our interest in preserving sacred sites. Akoni was working as the Cultural Resource Director at Maui’s Ka’anapali Beach Hotel which was named as “Hawai’i’s Most Hawaiian Hotel.” This unique hotel required its employees to find a cultural project, research it and make it their own.

We arranged a meeting with Akoni and he immediately invited us into his circle of hoaloha (friends) and shared his “gut-level feeling” that there was something more to the baseball field at Lahaina Park, located in the town of Lahaina. He began researching archives for original Hawaiian language newspapers and talking with kapuna. Over time, the history of the place revealed itself. The park had originally been called Moku’ula and had been the site for the Pi’ilani court, the 16th Century ruler of Maui. In the 1830s it was the residence of King Kamehameha III. Akoni learned that the site still contained a buried mausoleum housing royal bones. Oral histories recounted that the sacred site was guarded by Kihawahine, the mo’o kia’i or lizard guardian who lived in Mokuhinia pond.

Sacred Moku’ula was the powerful piko or center from which the Hawaiian Kingdom maintained its legitimacy, its cultural and its spiritual traditions. Over time, the royal mausoleum contained the iwi or bones of many royal Hawaiians which added to its mana, or power.

Akoni eventually went on to be the Founding Director of the Friends of Moku’ula whose mission was the restoration of the site including the original wetlands where Mokuhinia pond was located. (These wetlands were later diverted for use by the sugar cane industry and the site was buried under landfill.) They hired an archaeologist who surveyed the site and uncovered planks belonging to a wooden dock where Hawaiian royalty would have launched their canoes. Remains of the royal mausoleum were also located beneath the baseball field.

Akoni and his organization had to fight for repatriation of the Native Hawaiian land that had become Lahaina Park. To garner support, Akoni went on a national speaking tour that included the Smithsonian Institution and the National Geographic Society.

Ultimately, Akoni went before the County of Maui’s Planning Parks and Land Use Commission where a letter from Sacred Sites International was read before the Commission. The  letter testified to Moku’ula’s unique historic and sacred qualities and urged the legislative body to return the land so that it could be protected. In 2002, the Friends of Moku’ula were granted a lease to some of the land and revenues to an adjacent parking lot.

Plans were drawn up and fundraising began for a complete restoration of the site – its mausoleum, boat dock, former dwellings and surrounding wetlands that encompassed Mokuhinia pond. But, by 2011, Akoni, who had diabetes, was in failing health and by March he was gone. He had passed the torch to his assistant, Shirley Kaha’i who became the Project Director. We traveled to Maui to meet with Shirley who agreed to be our new Native Hawaiian Advisor. Shortly thereafter, the unthinkable happened, we lost her to a heart attack.

Blossom Feitiera, Director, is exploring the future of Moku’ula with the Native Hawaiian community. Regardless of what Moku’ula ends up looking like, the vision, wisdom and tenacity of Akoni Akana lives on.


By Nancy & Leonard Becker

 

Debre Berhan Selassie Church, Gondar, Ethiopia

The Church of Debre Berhan Selassie – Photo by Bernard Gagnon – November 2012

Debre Berhan Selassie Church and Monastery is located in northern Ethiopia in the town of Gondar. It is part of a larger UNESCO World Heritage Site known as Fasil Ghebbi, Gondar Region, inscribed in 1979 for its Outstanding Universal Value.

King Fasil (Fasilides) officially founded the town of Gondar in 1634 as the capital of the Ethiopian Empire. The World Heritage Site is home to royal palaces, historic libraries, monasteries and churches dating from the 16th and 17th centuries, built by King Fasilides and his successors.

The church of Debre Berhan Selassie is a modest stone building surrounded by an exterior stone wall.  It is particularly well known for its interior filled with extraordinary examples of Ethiopian Christian Church art painted in what is known as the second Gondarine style.

Interior of The Church of Debre Berhan Selassie – Photo by A. Savin – February 2018

The biblical scenes are vividly remarkable and the interior paintings cover the walls and ceilings in richly applied red, blue and golden hues. Subjects include the Holy Trinity – God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, seated above Christ on the Cross.

The Holy Trinity – Photo by Sam Effron – October 2008

Be sure to locate the symbols of the four Evangelists surrounding the Trinity. These are painted in a charming Medieval style: the lion on the lower left represents Saint Mark; the oxen on the lower right symbolizes Saint Luke; the winged bird on the upper right illustrates Saint John; and, on the upper left, a winged man stands in for Saint Matthew.

The upper sections of the church walls are covered with panels that depict familiar biblical figures and stories.

Frescoes of Saint George Slaying the Dragon, The Assumption of Mary, and other biblical Subjects – Photo by Bernard Gagnon – November 2012

Pictured below is perhaps the most endearing sight – the ceiling of the church is completely covered by the faces of cherubic angels peering down at visitors.

Ceiling Painting – Photo by A. Savin – February 2018

My Son Sanctuary, Vietnam

By Tung Nguyen

My Son Temple, Stele, Lingams and Yoni -Photo by Bernard Gagnon (1992)

My Son Temple, Stele, Lingams and Yoni, Photo by Bernard Gagnon (1992)

Deep among the forest and mountains of the central part of Vietnam lies one of the most significant sacred sites of Southeast Asia – My Son Sanctuary of the ancient Champa kingdom. About 70 kilometers (43.5 miles) to the southwest of the bustling city of Da Nang, My Son valley is home to a temple complex with about 71 standing structures, 32 epitaphs and a wide array of cultural artifacts from a long-lost kingdom. My Son served as the religious center for the worshipping of Hindu deities, especially Shiva. It also was the site for Cham kings to carry out important rituals and was a burial site for kings and religious leaders. 1 Like other Cham temples spread throughout the territory of modern-day Vietnam, the temples and towers at My Son are the combination of the cosmology of Hinduism and the Cham’s technical as well as cultural ingenuity. My Son’s towering structures, built from fired clay bricks and adorned with extremely detailed carvings and sculptures, have withstood hundreds of years of weathering and wartime destruction. This is a testimony to the unique and impressive building technique of the Cham. The site is still considered sacred by the Cham people, who are currently a recognized minority in Vietnam, and to a certain extent the larger Vietnamese population. Although the site was recognized as a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1999 and is being preserved continuously by the Vietnamese government, My Son still faces the issues of pollution, deterioration and misinterpretation.

Temple A1 Drawing after Henri Parmentier (1871-1949) The site was studied by Parmentier and his successors from the École française d'Extrême-Orient

Temple A1 Drawing after Henri Parmentier (1871-1949) The site was studied by Parmentier and his successors from the École française d’Extrême-Orient

The creation of My Son was imbued with religious and cultural beliefs. One can say the geographical position of My Son is a reflection of Cham cosmology, one that is heavily influenced by Hinduism coming to the Indochina Peninsula as early as the 4th century CE. My Son Sanctuary was built in a valley encircled by three sacred mountains: the Kucaka Mountain to the north, the Sulaha Mountain to the south and the Mahaparvata Mountain to the west. 2 The Mahaparvata was considered particularly sacred and was compared to the holy Mount Meru of Hinduism. To the north of My Son is Thu Bon River, or Mahadani River in Cham language, which was believed to be an avatar of the goddess Ganga. Surrounded by such natural elements, in addition to the tranquility of the forest, My Son was considered an ideal location for a Hindu sacred site. It was here in the valley of My Son to the west of then Champa’s capital city of Simhapura (“The Lion City”) that King Bhadravarman (reigned from 380 CE – 413 CE) built a wooden temple to worship the deity-king Bhadresvara, 3 whose power was represented in the form of a lingam. After a fire destroyed the temple in the 6th century, King Sambhuvarman (r. 577 CE – 629 CE) rebuilt the site with fired bricks and renamed it Sambhu-Bhadresvara. Since then, My Son had been one of the largest and most important sacred sites of Champa. Throughout the history of the site, generations of Cham kings and religious leaders had maintained it. They also carried out religious rituals and burials, as well as added more temples and towers to the original site. Thus, over several hundred years, from the 7th century CE to the 13th century CE, My Son Sanctuary became a temple complex with a rich history and a collection of architectural styles from different periods.

The storehouse known as "B5" (background) is the outstanding surviving exemplar of the My Son A1 style– Photo by Doktor Max – Summer 2007

The storehouse known as “B5” (background) is the outstanding surviving exemplar of the My Son A1 style– Photo by Doktor Max – Summer 2007

While the environment surrounding My Son had a certain spiritual meaning for the Cham, their religious and cultural values are exhibited more heavily in the structures within the temple complex. Structures and carvings are spread across the valley and separated into distinct groups – evidence of the continuous expansion of the complex through several dynasties in Champa’s history. Despite the grouping and the apparent differences in style, most of these temples bear similar characteristics that reflect the dualist Hindu worldview of the once thriving civilization.

Map of Temple Groups – Photo by Khuong Viet Ha

Map of Temple Groups – Photo by Khuong Viet Ha

Each temple group contains a main temple, complemented by towers and auxiliary structures. They were mostly designed on the east-west axis, with the main gate usually pointing east as homage to the rain god Indra. An agricultural civilization like Champa would generally consider rain to be beneficial and a sign of prosperity, thus explaining such design in holy places. The main temple can be divided into three parts that resemble the holy mountain Meru in Hinduism: bhurloka (the base) resembles the realm of the ordinary and is decorated with patterns, humans and animals on reliefs; the bhurvaloka (the body) resembles the rise to the spiritual world and has columns and vertical pattern decoration; svarloka (the top) has finely-carved decoration of mythical creatures and holy men, which resembles the spiritual realm at the summit of Mount Meru. Another similar characteristic between temple groups is the presence of a set of stone monuments – a cylinder called a lingam mounted on a square pedestal called a yoni. The lingam is an icon of the masculine power of Shiva, while the yoni symbolizes the creative power of the goddess Parvati. 4 It is symbolic of the dualist worldview of the Cham as they believed in the creation of life through a combination of masculinity and femininity in the universe.

Lingam and Yoni – Photo By Shankar - 2016

Lingam and Yoni – Photo By Shankar – 2016

It is impossible to talk about My Son without mentioning the technical ingenuity that created it. All of the temples and towers in My Son were built with red-fired bricks that vary in thickness depending the part of the structure they were used for. The materials used to manufacture these bricks created a substance that absorbs water but also releases it quickly under dry conditions. Thus, although light and spongier, Cham bricks were far superior to modern bricks in terms of quality and durability. 5 Despite the massive size of the structures, there are no visible signs of mortar between the bricks. This creates a homogenous exterior that adds to the grandeur of the structure. Once masons built a structure, carvers and sculptors would then decorate the external surfaces. The continuous stability of the standing temples is a testimony to the quality of Cham masonry.

All of the buildings are made of red bricks with stone pillars and have sandstone bas-reliefs showing scenes from Hindu mythology, except for one - labeled B1, which was made of stone. – 2016 By Shankar S.

All of the buildings are made of red bricks with stone pillars and have sandstone bas-reliefs showing scenes from Hindu mythology, except for one – labeled B1, which was made of stone. – 2016 By Shankar S.

My Son Temple Bodhisattvas. The temples at Mỹ Sơn are made of a reddish brick. Decorative carvings have been cut directly into the bricks. Photo by Tycho December 22, 2017

My Son Temple Bodhisattvas. The temples at Mỹ Sơn are made of a reddish brick. Decorative carvings have been cut directly into the bricks.
Photo by Tycho December 22, 2017

As magnificent as these temples were, no man-made structure can stand the test of time forever. When the Champa Kingdon fell at the end of the 13th century, My Son Sanctuary fell into a state of disrepair. The site was later rediscovered in 1898 by the French and scholars and other experts began to study and somewhat maintain it. My Son temples suffered heavy damage from wars, especially during the Vietnam War – 1959 to 1975. With peace after 1975, efforts have been put into preserving what is left of the site. As a result of continuous promotion and nomination, My Son was recognized as a World Heritage site in 1999. However, the site faces three major issues, namely pollution, deterioration and misinterpretation.

Temple Damaged by U.S. Bombing During the Vietnam War Photo by Pierre Dalbera

Temple Damaged by U.S. Bombing During the Vietnam War
Photo by Pierre Dalbera

Pollution is mainly caused by the increasing influx of tourists and traffic into the main temple area. It is estimated that about 350,000 tourists visited My Son in 2017. As of 2013, private cars, buses and minivans were allowed to freely enter the main area of the site. 6 The concentration of traffic inside My Son, especially during rush hours, created a risk of significant air pollution, faster ground deterioration, as well as deterioration in the integrity of the structures. To combat these risks, the site’s management board implemented several traffic control methods, including a separate parking zone outside of the main temple area, electric shuttles to the site and tourist guidelines on site protection. However, as the number of tourists continues to rise, stricter planning and stronger implementation are needed to properly maintain the quality of the natural beauty that made this site a holy place.

A more immediate threat to My Son is the deterioration of its integrity. Due to its position inside a valley surrounded by three mountain ranges and a large river, My Son is susceptible to annual flooding during the monsoon season. A solution to this issue came in a joint preservation project sponsored by the government of Italy in 2003. Following a proposal by French architect Pierre Pichard from the École Française d’Extrême-Orient, a drainage system was installed to improve the site’s ability to resist heavy rains and flooding. 7 The original drainage system built by the Cham was also discovered and integrated where possible to the new one. 8

The structures also face severe deterioration due to a long period of disrepair and weathering. Early restoration efforts in the 1980s, aided by Polish preservation experts, could only temporarily improve the integrity of major structures. This was because the construction techniques and materials used by the Cham were not entirely clear due to lack of information remaining from the original builders. Another project, from 2003 to 2013, was funded by the Italian government and continued research on the brickmaking and masonry techniques employed by the Cham in the past. All of these activities aim to stabilize and restore the structures as close as possible to their original design.

Corbelled Arch disintegrating – Photo by Bill Bradley, 2010

Corbelled Arch disintegrating – Photo by Bill Bradley, 2010

Finally, every heritage site needs an accurate and educational narrative that serves to further the cultural understanding of it. However, as Champa has long cease to exist and the Cham are only a minority in Vietnam, the responsibilities of maintaining and narrating the history of My Son now rests in the hands of the dominant Kinh people. Because of this, there is a risk of misinterpretation and bias in the presentation of Cham cultural and religious values. There are plans to implement eco-tourism that incorporates modern Cham guides to enhance the tourist experience of the site. These plans will improve the integrity of My Son and preserve Cham cultural identity through more accurate narratives.

My Son has been a sacred site since its creation. Over the centuries, it expanded beyond the original temple to become a complex that exhibited not just the technical ingenuity but also the worldview of a people. Like many other heritage sites across the globe, My Son faces issues like deterioration, pollution and misinterpretation. A lot of challenges still lie ahead for the preservation of My Son. It is my hope that the conviction to preserve the site with cooperation between governments and international organizations, and proper site management, will mean that future generations can fully appreciate the cultural and spiritual beauty of My Son.


Tung Nguyen is an Anthropology student at the University of California in Berkeley and a cultural enthusiast from Vietnam whose focus is the preservation of cultural heritage in Southeast Asia.


UNESCO, Safeguarding of My Son World Heritage Site 2003-2013 Project Completion Report, Vietnam, 2013.

© 2018 Sacred Sites International

Creating a Contemporary Sacred Site

By Stephen Fowler

Peace Site Overview — Photo by Stephen Fowler

“Every land should be a holy land. One should find the symbol in the landscape itself of the life there. That’s what all early traditions do. They sanctify their own landscape.”
~Joseph Campbell, “The Power of Myth” with Bill Moyers

In this article I will explore how Arthur Lisch organized a community of supporters to create a “Peace Site.” I will also give a brief history of the enterprise, which continues to this day, though Parkinson’s disease has forced Arthur to cease working there. I will also touch on the subjects of anthroposophy and geomancy.

Arthur Lisch and His Background

In 1986-87, Arthur Lisch and some friends set out to sanctify a small portion of land on the western edge of Sebastopol, located in Sonoma County, California.

Lisch was also a follower of Rudolf Steiner, an Austrian philosopher who founded the esoteric-spiritual Anthroposophist movement.

Arthur was well prepared for undertaking the creation of a peace park. He had been active in the counterculture heyday of San Francisco and was part of the Diggers, an activist community group, operating from 1967-1968, in the Haight-Ashbury district located in San Francisco, California. The Diggers had the radical idea that they could provide all the necessities of life to whomever wanted them – for free. It was here that Arthur learned the fundamentals of community organizing.

Lisch was also a follower of Rudolf Steiner, an Austrian philosopher who founded the esoteric-spiritual Anthroposophist movement. Steiner’s lectures on agriculture led to Biodynamics and his educational philosophy was manifest in Waldorf Schools. Steiner’s lectures on numerous subjects were infused with spiritual philosophy such as believing there was a spiritual foundation for all phenomena including earth’s features.

Steiner’s spirituality developed into a personal form of Christianity that was non-denominational and non-dogmatic. While Arthur, and his wife Paula, chose to attend an Eastern Orthodox Church in Calistoga, California. Arthur hoped for a reconciliation of the Catholic and Orthodox branches of the Christian church, a thousand year-old schism.

Geomancy

Geomancy identifies lines of force, alignments, patterns and invisible earth energies underlying the visible landscape.

For Arthur Lisch, all of his concerns and passions blended seamlessly with the art and science of geomancy – the study of earth’s energies – that was being taught in the 1980s by Richard “Feather” Anderson. Geomancy identifies lines of force, alignments, patterns and invisible earth energies.

Humankind’s response to these forces has resulted in countless efforts to modulate them through the acts of building temples, pyramids, barrow mounds, and standing stones that may align with landscape features and celestial phenomena, such as solstices and the progression of the planets.

Mother and Child Wood Carving

mother and child wood carving

– by Takayuki Zoshi; Mother and Child Wood Carving – Photo by Kate Broderson

 

As John Michell puts it in his book, The Earth Spirit,

“Like Kundalini, the vital serpent current that animates living bodies, the spirit of the earth is discernible only in its effects and not by analysis. It is therefore of no concern to physical science…yet its influence was formerly considered to condition every aspect of life on earth, and…heroic efforts have been made…to learn its secrets so as to bring forth its more socially desirable properties.”

Theory in Practice

With his knowledge and experience with geomancy and spirituality, Arthur began to execute his vision for a peace park. First, he examined the map of Sonoma County and discovered one striking fact that involved the early settlers of what is now Sonoma County. The Russians and their Orthodox priests and the Spanish padres had each created outposts precisely fifty-five miles apart. The Russians, in their trek down California’s coast, had stalled at Fort Ross, while the Spaniards and their evangelical padres had reached the northernmost point of expansion at the Sonoma Mission. For a while, until the Russians retreated, these two Christian cultures maintained outposts in a landscape that was already extraordinarily potent, with its Pomo and Miwok Indian sites, its redwood forests, rugged Pacific coastline, fertile inland valleys, cloud-topped Mount Saint Helena, and meandering river – now known as the Russian River.

Lisch began by drawing a straight line between Fort Ross and the Sonoma Mission. He noticed that it passed through the town of Sebastopol, and that a point on the western edge of that town was exactly twenty-two and a half miles from each outpost. Going to the vicinity indicated on the map, Arthur discovered a county regional park that was in the process of being constructed on the long-defunct Ragle family ranch. Wandering in the abandoned Ragle orchard, he discovered a unique chestnut tree formed from two trees wedded together. About fifty feet away stood a Bartlett pear also created from two trees springing from the same root. Using the chestnut as the hub and the Bartlett as the radius point, he circumscribed a circle one hundred feet in diameter and declared it to be a “national peace site.” Regional parks officials, of course, had doubts and questions when Arthur took his idea to them. However, Arthur’s persuasive presentation convinced the park’s chief, Joe Rodota, and Lisch was allowed to implement his idea.

First Steps and County Pushback

Arthur fashioned a mission statement for the Peace Site, stating his intent to build “ a stating his intent to build “ a work of public art with the maximum of community participation that makes a profound statement about world peace.” His mission successfully engaged the large pacifist community in Sonoma County who formed the volunteers who help build and care for the park.

At first, the site had no features other than its two trees and a stretch of rank weeds and grasses. A formal groundbreaking took place on November 8, 1987.

A year later, Arthur wrote a report to the Sonoma County County Parks Department. Some excerpts included:

“…Hundreds of people have taken part. A Pomo elder has prayed for the land. Fourteen Soviets, who had come across the country as part of a joint U.S./Soviet peace walk, came to the site. There have been visits by Russian Orthodox and Catholic priests. There was a group meditation on peace for all nations. The group donated a “peace pole” which has the message “May peace prevail on earth” in Russian, Spanish, Japanese, and English. Biodynamic compost…was incorporated into the circle. Ann Magnie, (Sebastopol’s then-mayor,) donated a Japanese black pine. At the spring equinox, there was a large celebratory event. Plants were put in at poles that had been placed in the four directions…We came to a decision that we would have a spiral path. The path was moved a bit in relation to “Feather” Anderson’s suggestions about the entrance.”

Despite all this activity, a design for the park had not been finalized.

Lisch and his supporters developed the Peace Site by interfacing with the Regional Parks Administration. The process was challenging, but a design was eventually developed and agreed upon by all parties. The plan called for the Peace Site to be circumscribed by a zig-zag split-rail fence, its outer points corresponding to the sixteen compass directions, a concept that grew from Arthur’s study of the chess board.

The Peace Site Takes Shape with a Central Focus

The Peace Site consists of symbolic natural plantings, sculptures and carvings added over time by a variety of individuals, groups and artists. It was decided that a central focus based on geomancy would guide the ever-evolving site.

The logarithmic spiral of the Nautilus Shell

The logarithmic spiral of the Nautilus Shell

The Peace Site began to take shape when Geomancer Richard “Feather” Anderson drew a spiral path that mimicked the natural form exemplified by the logarithmic spiral of a Nautilus Shell. The path culminated at the central chestnut tree. The tree embodied a different sort of symbolism, as well as being a botanical curiosity. When the peace site was started, the tree was in such decline that an arborist declared it would be dead within a few years. But, the tree recovered, even though the trunk still displayed large swaths of dead wood.

The central chestnut tree showing the “daughter’s” roots before the addition of Takayuki Zoshi’s “Mother and Child” wood carving. – Photo by Kate Broderson

The trunk also seemed to be divided into “sub-trunks,” which on close examination proved to be the exposed roots of a second tree – or daughter – which had sprouted from a seed some six feet up in the mother’s damaged heart.

The “mother” and “daughter” trees, wrapped in a tight embrace, became the peace site’s signature feature; both had withstood the ravages of time, weather, and neglect to become – as they are now – radiantly alive and once more producing nuts.

Another important element of the garden that is related to the central tree is a sculpture that was commissioned by the Peace Site Care Group who raised the money for this project.

A five-member jury comprised of artists, chose finalists out more than 50 entries. Six sculptors were selected to create models that were displayed for six weeks in order to allow County Supervisors and Park Officials to inspect them. Ultimately, Masayuki Nagase’s granite “Prayer for Peace” (see photo at the end of the article) was selected as the winner.

The sculpture consists of two upright slabs, each approximately seven feet high, between which visitors can stand, and a carved granite table, over which trickles a tiny, continuous stream of water. This stream is captured at the base and piped to the roots of the chestnut tree. The water is a magnet for birds and small children, and the sculptor has written that it “…symbolizes the source of the human spirit and our consciousness for peace.”

In 2012, the Peace Site Care Group decided to use some accumulated donations to commission a very talented local woodcarver, Takayuki Zoshi, to carve a mother-and-child sculpture into the dead wood of the original tree. Chestnut wood is extremely rot resistant, and it accepted Zoshi’s chisel gracefully. This sculpture made the dual nature of the chestnut explicit, and nowadays, if you stand between the upright slabs of Masayuki’s piece, you look right into the eyes of Zoshi’s celebration of motherhood.

Six or seven paces behind her, you can see a long, carved redwood and hammered copper bench, designed by sculptor Bruce Johnson, and completed by students in the Artstart summer arts program. Johnson also contributed a tall, tapered, octagonal peace pole, which now—thanks to the “Peace Crane Project” of the local Peace and Justice Center—displays the words “May peace prevail on earth” in eight languages, including Pomo.

Many additions to the Peace Site are encountered while traversing Feather Anderson’s spiral path before finally resting in the shade of the chestnut tree. At the far eastern compass point, there once grew a “Peace” rose, planted in a joint ceremony by local Jews and Palestinians to celebrate the famous handshake between Palestinian leader, Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister, Begin. After Begin was assassinated, the rose withered and died.

Further on, a Gravenstein apple tree grows, placed by Orthodox priests who brought it from Fort Ross; in the same ceremony, the Catholic bishop of Santa Rosa contributed a grape grown from vines at the Sonoma Mission. The grape and apple are planted precisely along the Fort Ross-Sonoma line that first inspired Arthur.

 

A bit further, one passes a rosa rugosa, a species of rose native to Eastern Europe, planted by a group of Russian exchange students. Next, comes a group of memorial plantings that includes roses, a solitary boulder, and a mugo pine. All of these features culminate in a small rock garden dedicated to the late Danaan Parry, an international diplomat for peace and founder of the Earth Stewards.

Continuing on, one passes a Colorado blue spruce, brought by the grandson of Cyrus Eaton, who organized the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs; and next, a birch tree ceremoniously installed by Ukranian students. Finally, at “due north,” we see Mayor Magnie’s Black Pine.

Conclusion

“Peace” is an umbrella concept under which many causes can gather. The Peace Site at Ragle Park does not presume either to define “peace” or to advise nations on how they should conduct foreign policy. It aims for something more personal, more intimate, and less verbal. It is a place of meditation, ceremony, and art, a place where visitors are welcome to bring their own emotions – whether grief, or anger, or longing – into an atmosphere of love and acceptance.

The Peace Site Care Group prunes and waters and rakes so that the many visitors, young and old, feel welcomed into a beautiful, well-tended environment. Then the visitors themselves, by augmenting the earth energies gathered there continue the process of sanctifying their own landscape.

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About the Author

Stephen Fowler is a retired landscape designer who, when his wife died in 1987, set out to do something worthy in her memory. He joined the Peace Site Care Group in 1987. He has been the Volunteer Coordinator since 1992.

 

 The author with Masayuki Nagase’s granite “Prayer for Peace.” The sculptor has written that it “...symbolizes the source of the human spirit and our consciousness for peace.” - Photo by Kate Broderson

The author with Masayuki Nagase’s granite “Prayer for Peace.” The sculptor has written that it “…symbolizes the source of the human spirit and our consciousness for peace.”
– Photo by Kate Broderson

Burro Flats

The Site:

Burro Flats Rock Shelter and Cave Paintingspicture of a cave painting

The Location:

Undisclosed Location, Ventura County, California, U.S.A.

The Site’s Status:

National Register of Historic Places, 1979

Who considers it sacred?

The ancestors of the Chumas and the Gabrielino Tribes, and the Fernandeno Tatavian Band of Mission Indians.

Why is it sacred?

The Burros Flat is a calendric site that marks the Winter Solstice

Description:

It is on 2,849 acres of land that once was owned by Boeing for what was known as the Santa Susana Field Lab; leased to Rocketdyne aerospeace company, along with another tenant, the U.S. Department of Energy. The site was used as a nuclear research facility and for testing rocket engines. The Chumas sacred site was closely guarded and even employees did not know its location, making it one of the best-preserved rock paintings in the country.

The U.S. Department of Energy & NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) had to do extensive cleanup to rid the site of nuclear waste from nuclear meltdowns, carcinogenic dioxins, and heavy metals. The cleanup by the North American Land Trust and is protected as open space. The 2300 acres of land is restricted from farming, hunting, housing along with ranching and any other kind of development.

The Santa Ynez Chumash tribe manages the site and its location; they strictly control who may visit this sacred site. It is a ceremonial site and is only visited by Chumash head holy healers and tribal leaders.

 

McDonnell Hall

The Site:

McDonnell Hall

The Location:

Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish, San Jose, California, U.S.A.

The Site’s Status:

National Historic Landmark, 2017

Who considers it sacred?

The Mexican American Community, the United Farm Workers Union and civil rights communities, and Catholic Diocese of San Jose.

Why is it sacred?

McDonnell Hall is where Cesar Chavez, founder of the United Farm Workers Union and civil rights pioneer, began his lifelong efforts in community organization.

Description:

The modest one-story, stucco clad building, was moved to the outskirts of San Jose in 1953, and first served as a parish church for the growing Spanish-speaking Catholic community in the area. It was a place of worship as well as a social hall used by the community for meetings, celebrations, and education classes.

It was in this capacity that a young Cesar Chavez met Father Donald McDonnell and community organizer, Fred Ross. McDonnell befriended Chavez, bringing to him exposure to the teachings of Ghandi, the work of Martin Luther King, Jr., and the growing awareness of non-violent protest to bring out social change. Ross mentored Chavez and he began to apply these strategies to improve the plight of his friends, family, and neighbors.

It was in McDonnell Hall that Chavez began to involve himself more fully in the organization of the primarily poor and migrant community around him toward improving their treatment and status. This is where his rallying cry, ¡Si, Se Puede! (Yes! We Can!) was developed. Throughout his career, he returned to this building, to his original community, to find strength and solace.

As the parish and the population of the community expanded, the building was moved to another portion of the original site in the 1970s, when it became a parish hall to support the activities and efforts of the newly constructed Lady of Guadalupe Parish Church. The original building was re-stuccoes and modified at that time to better serve its new purpose. Plans are currently underway to restore the building to its appearance in 1953, when Chavez first began his connections to structure.

The recognition of this simple, imperfect building with the Unites States Secretary of the Interior’s highest honor emphasizes the growing the growing awareness of the National Park Service of minority and marginalized community contributions to the cultural significance of the country. The McDonnell Hall National Historic Landmark joins the Cesar Chavez National Monument in Keene, California and the Forty Acres National Historic Landmark Site in Delano, California in celebrating and continuing the work that Cesar Chavez started in 1953 in this humble former-church building in San Jose.