Visiting sacred places can have a profoundly positive impact on people’s lives. Earth is dotted with power centers where people have experienced visions, healings, prophecies, inspiration or insight into the meaning of their lives. Stonehenge in England, the Pyramids in Egypt, Machu Picchu in Peru, Sedona in Arizona and Mount Shasta in California are among the world’s best known power sites, but there are over 1,000 stone circles, holy wells, sacred forests, healing springs, oracle caves and pagan temples across the planet that have been attracting visitors since ancient times.
The healing power of sacred places
Only 30 miles from Santa Fe, New Mexico is El Santuario de Chimayo where 300,000 visitors each year come to scoop sand from a hole in the floor of the “Room of Miracles.” Its walls are lined with letters and photographs from hundreds of thankful pilgrims who say they were healed here. Cornwall, in the southwest of England, has more than a dozen holy wells where, like Lourdes in France, miraculous cures have been reported for hundreds of years.
Jean Shinoda Bolen, MD, a psychiatrist and clinical professor at the University of California, documented the healing power of both prayer and pilgrimage in her book, Close to the Bone. “The energy of sacred places is very subtle,” she said. “The healing capacity of a place can aid the healing process similar to the way that prayer can. When someone goes on a pilgrimage believing they may be healed there, they can set powerful forces into motion.”
Vision quests lead to self-understanding
Going on vision quests is a North American native tradition that has become a popular New Age practice. It involves spending time alone in an isolated, often wilderness setting, in hope of receiving a message to guide one’s life. When Helene A. Shik leads spiritual tour groups to islands in Scotland’s Inner Hebrides, she often includes a vision quest opportunity at a holy well called Tobar na h’oige (the Fountain of Youth) on the tiny island of Iona. A popular pilgrimage site for Pagans and Christians alike, Iona is the burial place of 48 ancient Scottish kings, including Duncan, who was murdered by Macbeth in 1040. Shik says Iona was a sacred isle for pre-historic Celts and later for the Druids. “It’s a place where the veil between the worlds is thin,” she says, “where we can transcend time and space.” Shik says her tours give people new perspectives on their lives, enabling them to understand themselves more clearly. “Sometimes people learn more about themselves in two weeks with me than they could in 20 years of therapy.”
Sedona vortexes stimulate creativity
One of the most power energy centers in the USA is Sedona, Arizona. Once a secret known to few outsiders save for Hollywood crews who filmed countless western movies in its picturesque canyons, Sedona became an artists’ colony in the 1950s when surrealist painter and sculptor Max Ernst and author Kahlil Gibran moved in. After the 1987 Harmonic Convergence was held in Sedona, it became the New Age center of the country. A 1995 study by the Chamber of Commerce found that 64% of Sedona’s four million visitors per year come to find “some kind of spiritual experience.” The focal points of Sedona’s power are four energy vortexes, identified in 1980 by trance medium Paige Bryant.
It is a rare visitor who does not feel invigorated by the vortex energy. Many people who retire to Sedona because of its mild climate and beautiful scenery suddenly develop an interest in painting, sculpture or crafts work, even though they had no previous artistic interests. It is not uncommon for visitors to fall in love with Sedona, buy homes there, and then a few months later have to move out because they are unable to withstand the constant force of so much energy. Sedona is also the headquarters for dozens of astrologers, psychics, spiritual counselors, massage therapists and other energy workers. A local psychic association member joked that “Sedona is the only city in the world with 1,500 channels and no TV station.”
How to get the most from sacred sites
People hoping for a transformational travel experience can enhance their chances of a non-ordinary event by preparing in advance of their visit. Before a native youth went on a vision quest, he or she would train with a shaman to learn about the spirit world. They might take part in extensive prayers, fasting, drumming, chanting, dancing and even psyotropoic herbs or mushrooms. You can’t expect to have a similar quality experience if you simply show up at a place like Stonehenge, buy a ticket, follow a tour guide around and take a few pictures. Dr. Jean Shinoda Bolen suggests, “You need to approach a pilgrimage site with an attitude of openness. Since you are going there to be affected by the place, you have to allow yourself to be affected.” At the very least, you should approach a sacred place with a humble attitude and ask permission from the spirits before you enter.