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Guidelines for Sacred Architecture

By Alex Stark. Copyright and all rights reserved.

The creation of a sacred building requires that it conform not only to the wishes of its creators, but that it fall in alignment with both natural as well as spiritual law. Although at first this statement appears to be rigid in its intention, the fact is that there are certain prerequisites for the succesful completion of a truly sacred building, a structure or space within which the sacred can become manifest. This short essay will attempt to summarize the fundamental criteria that need to be kept in consideration when undertaking such a challenge.

It needs to be remarked, however, that modern understanding of the technology of the sacred continues to fall behind the legacy we can perceive in the great sacred buildings of the past. It is my hope that, through the dissemination of our extant knowledge and through the continuing efforts of the elders of many traditional societies, the knowledge necessary for the creation of the sacred enclosures of the future will be able to flourish and improve.

THE NATURE OF DESIGN

It is important to note, consequently, that as a collective dream, contemporary sacred architecture has become imbued with a particular type of energy which is associated with aspiration and longing.This is due in part to our lack of understanding of the processes of sacred design, and is also a by product of our society’s need for romantic fullfillment. In terms of oriental geomancy and cosmology this is often understood as a yang force, directional in nature, energetically active, and localized in the upper realms: it seeks to be, rather than to serve. In addition, the very fact that the conception of a structure stems from visionary processes, similarly presents a directed approach which is yang. Hence it is necessary to categorize the majority of such projects, at this point in time, as a yang force seeking to become real in the plane of space and time.

In order for this process to unfold successfully, it is necessary that it be embraced by the yin aspect of its own reality, since it is in the union of yin and yang that manifestation takes place. Hence it is possible to say that a sacred project needs to move into a yin phase in order to accommodate the excess yang that its inception possesses. This will require that yin forces be marshalled on its behalf. Of these the most important are the earth itself, the underground water courses, the form which the structure will ultimately assume, and the community for whom it was conceived.

In addition, it is also clear that for such projects to become reality they must also partake of the full surrender of its creators to the will of Heaven, as its is the pairing of Heaven and Earth that will be responsible for their manifestation. Ritual, prayer, and celebration are therefore important aspects of this process and can be conceived not only as agents of its manifestation, but in a certain sense as part of the creation itself. By this I understand not only the need for a physical container for the sacred, but also for a constituency and a recurring process of use and learning that will take the sacred enclosure into the future.



RITUALS

In terms of the earth forces, it is important that connection be made at this stage between the vision of the project and the Earth itself. This can occur irrespective of the final location of the structure. To achieve this connection it is important to make gestures to the earth in a number of ways. One such approach consists of ritual processes that honor and court the earth in order to be gifted with the proper site for construction. Rituals also need to be performed at various stages of the construction process, as well as during the lifetime of the structure. (See below for more information on Rituals.)



SITE SELECTION

The earth needs to be supportive of the project. This happens not only by virtue of the ritual gestures performed at various times during the inception, construction, and life of the building, but also by virtue of the interactions between the building’s footprint and the land. In this regard site selection is of paramount importance. It is axiomatic in geomantic terms that a sacred structure partake of the sacredness of its site. The land can provide sacred forces of the caliber needed for this project only under certain restricted circumstances. For a site to channel sacred currents, it must include (in addition to more conventional earth qualities such as healthy vegetation, unspoiled air, surface water, etc.), at least one powerful earth line or a power spot (hsueh), and at least one underground water course.

EARTH LINES

Earth lines occur in several forms. The ideal line for a sacred site is a ley line, or energy meridian. These are energy lines which have both physical and spiritual components and which traverse the landscape as paired male/female vibrations. The male component is often linear and above ground, and the female sinuous and underground. In certain cases ley lines have sidereal components as well and can therefore connect the landscape to the skies.

Another important type of earth line is the dragon vein, which is more physical in its nature and which roughly follows the ridges of mountain tops. This force rises as a consequence of the uplift of tectonic forces and then proceeds to cascade down slopes following the terrain. Finally, certain earth lines can be man-made, such as the seques of the Inca energy grid that radiated centrally from Cuzco. These, however, require ritual maintenance and are therefore almost non-existent in our part of the world. Nevertheless, the creation of such a line can become part of the building program as another form of honoring the land.

Earth lines are often delicate in nature and can be easily damaged through human activity. Road cutting, mining, and the use of explosives, in particular, are very detrimental to these lines. Once damaged, an earth line can be difficult to cure. Damage to earth lines is also known as geopathic stress.

POWER SPOTS

In addition, earth energy often presents special concentrations, known as hsueh or dragon’s nests, which are highly sacred and which are often associated also with water courses as we shall see below. Tapping into a hsueh is a primary form of sacred earth craft, and can also become part of the selection process for the structure. Power spots can be dowsed, although in traditional societies the location of such valuable resources is known to all. Because they act as energetic valves for the deeper metabolism of the planet, these power spots are often noticeable through their effect on nature or on human consciousness. Lush vegetation, multiplicity of fauna and flora, rock outcroppings, seismic activity, and proximity to water are often indications of such places.

Because power spots are so charged, they are also economically important as they often harbor large tracts of forest or mineral deposits. Western lack of understanding of such matters have placed many sacred places in danger as they are exploited for their resources. Similarly, the beauty often encountered at these locations often attracts tourism, which, although less destructive than logging or mining, is nevertheless an intrusion on the sacredness of the landscape. Hence the need to protect such places and to erect sacred structures on them to mark their importance.

UNDERGROUND WATER

Although there are many forms of underground water, in terms of sacred buildings only three forms are considered to be useful.

a. Water Courses
The presence of underground rivers is highly desirable when siting sacred structures. Many of the greatest temples around the world are located over underground streams or rivers. Such is the case at Chartres, Santiago de Campostela, the Abbey at Glastonbury, and many more. Whereas underground water can be detrimental to human habitation, its purifying and healing force is an important component of the revelatory process associated with successful sacred sites. It is also implicated in the potential for miracles and paranormal phenomena that often surrounds those sites.

This water is independent of surface runoff or the existing water table, although the latter can be brought into concert with the deeper layers of water to generate special vortexes. Such was the case at Santiago de Campostela, where excavations have unearthed a radial pattern of channels that bring water under the nave crossing, focusing it under the central cupola. The same is apparently the case at Chartres. Underground water is detected through dowsing, and because of its relative depth, may or may not be encountered during the construction process.

b. Blind Springs
Of all the underground water possibilities, a blind spring is the most desirable. The term refers to a body of water which is surging upward but which is diverted laterally before reaching the surface. Hence the appellation “blind”, as it is water that does not see the light of day. This upsurge creates vibrational fields which are renowned to have spiritual and healing powers. Encountering such springs is an extremely auspicious event, and all efforts should be made to assess potential sites for such gifts of Nature.

c. Water Line Crossings
In certain instances two or more underground water courses cross at different depths. These can also be combined with blind springs to generate truly magical locations. If these are combined with a crossing earth line, the site is considered to be optimal and architectural development can begin.



GEOPATHIC STRESSES

There are locations in which it is not desireable to build. Thisis particularly true for sacred buildings. Despite the auspiciousness of earth lines and underground water, it is not uncommon for such gifts of the Great Mother to become sick or weakened. Such events are collectively known as geopathic stress. This can occur for a number of reasons, the most important of which involve human transgressions upon the land. These can be caused by wars, desecrations of burial grounds, disrespectful real estate development, heavy industry, mining, power lines, etc.

Black Streams
Underground water that becomes contaminated in this way is known as a “black stream” and can have a significantly detrimental effect on human life. Black streams have been associated with many forms of cancers, auto-immune disorders, crib death, depression, psychosis, and many other ailments. Fortunately, there are cures for black streams, and a competent geomancer can determine the appropriate cure for the specific situation. In many cases geopathic stress cures are combined with earth rituals to increase their potency. It is important to determine if there are any geopathic stresses in a site under consideration, as cures can sometimes be tedious and prolonged procedures.

Mineral Concentrations
There are also natural causes for geopathic stress. These involve primarily the presence of metallic deposits, radon gases, or other geomagnetic materials. Un fortunately, stresses caused by such deposits are more resistant to treatment.

The Global Geomagnetic Grid
Similarly, the global geomagnetic grids which surround the globe are sometimes implicated in cases of geopathic stress. Ideally, human activity should proceed in areas that are free of crossings of the various geomagnetic grids. As these grids are fairly densely spaced (between 3-12 meters apart), it is not always possible to build in ideal locations.

However, there are processes that can neutralize these effects. It is now know, for example, that the ancients had developed technologies to divert the global magnetic grids so that the interior of temples could remain altogether free of their influences. Such is the case at Luxor and at the Great Pyramid of Cheops, for example. There is a challenge, therefore, to find ways to incorporate this ancient knowledge in the creation of modern sacred buildings.



BUILDING FORM

The creation of a sacred structure is a sacred process in itself. Hence the need to proceed with a sense of the forces that will be acting over time during this process. I have already remarked on the need to introduce yin factors in order to facilitate the transition of this project from vision to reality. Working with the earth is one of the most important ways to do this. The building itself is another. Working with forms, materials, and processes that are respectful of the earth is of paramount importance.

Foundations
From the geomancers point of view, the interface between building and earth is another critical factor. How the building sits on the land and how it cuts into the landscape therefore requires careful thought and proper rituals. Similarly, the choice of foundation materials has a significant impact on the potential for sacredness because it is through these materials that the earth force will ultimately channel into the consciousness of the Chapel’s users.

The use of cast concrete foundations (as opposed to stone, for example), poses particular problems because of the type of tensile and compressive forces contained within it. In addition, the curing process for concrete releases a great deal of heat, bringing the Fire element into play. This is something which needs to be carefully considered and if necessary, balanced with other forces, in order to render the structure capable of creating the desired harmony. We have already mentioned the possibility of creating patterns for underground water as part of the foundation of the sacred enclosure. This might be a powerful way to enhance the sacred potential of the site.

Orientation
The placement of the structure on the land is another important contribution to its potential to induce revelation, healing, and transformation. A sacred building needs to make the proper gestures to the horizon, because the cardinal directions are primary sources of power. In general terms it can be said that the hierarchy of power in the Cosmos begins with the vertical dimension, which connects us with Heaven and Earth and the transcendent forces, and continues with the horizontal, which brings to us the power of change and transformation.

All other forces are subsets of these primary purveyors of power and unity. The orientation of the main entrance is likewise of great importance. In addition, more specific mandalic design tools such as Flying Star or the Early Heaven Sequence Bagua can be used to analyze and determine optimal orientation for the structure on the land. Flying Star in particular can prove advantageous because it accounts for the progress of time over the life of the structure.

In addition, it is important to mention that in many traditions, specialized tools are used for sacred buildings which are different from those used in profane or secular architecture. In feng shui, for example, the traditional Bagua used in the analysis of homes and offices is not used for sacred buildings. Instead, a special Bagua known as the Early Heaven Sequence is used. The difference between the two resides in the fact that the Early Heaven Sequence is considered to be a diagram of the eternal perfection of the Cosmos and is therefore not concerned with the movement of change in time.

External Envelope
The use of sacred geometry and its ability to create balance and harmony between the polarities of physical reality is an important components of this task. It is in the interaction between the horizontal footprint and the vertical form of the structure that the architectural sacredness of the building becomes manifest. External form balances not only the forces moving though the structure, but also acts as a channel for all other forces that are to focus on the Chapel from Earth, Sky, and the horizon.

Sacred Geometry in particular offers many tools for the creation of harmonious shapes and volumes and is a study in and of itself. It is through the use of such design tools that the eternal is made plastic in the physical world. Hence it is important to use tools that refer to that perfection outside of time and space.

Energy Flow
Whereas sacred geometry can provide formal tools for the creation of sacred space, it is the flow of energy within the form thus created that will determine the success of the Chapel over time. Careful consideration therefore has to be paid to this vital component. Flow is a complex phenomenon which has many variables and potential outcomes. It is partly a result of form and location, but it also responds to changes in time and in intention.

Flow is the result of harmonious convergences of all elements in the creation process and can be best understood as the spirit of a structure. When alive and healthy, the structure is capable of superb performance. If this vitality is diminished, its performance suffers.

Flow is concerned not only with the movement of energy in people and objects, but also with the invisible flow of energy from the spirit world. It connects Heaven and Earth and the Horizon as well, and can be used to enhance the healing or enlightening power of the site, the structure, and its community.

Materials
Materials selection is also of paramount importance. We have already mentioned the need for suitable foundation materials, yet the influence of all other materials is equally important. It is important to consider the energetic qualities of materials because they will have a direct effect on the kinds of experiences that will evolve in the spaces within the Chapel. The use of wood, to mention but one example, requires knowledge not only of the symbolic and energetic content of the particular tree species, but also of its proper growth cycle, relationship to other elements and forces (such as humidity or conductivity), as well as its proper use in space.

Thus it is possible to specify boards and timbers to be used for certain purposes only. Similarly, it is important that timbers be erected with the grain moving in the same direction as that with which they grew in Nature. By the same token, using stone that has been respectfully harvested is another consideration, as the spirit in the material will also have an impact on the sacredness of the enclosure.

Ecology & Sustainability
In addition, it is also important to be aware of the environmental impact the structure will have on Nature. This goes beyond it direct impact on the immediate vicinity of the structure. Construction processes in our society account for some of the largest percentages of waste and pollution generation. Engaging in green and sustainable building practices is another important way to honor and engage the Earth into this process and of maintaining a yin mode of action during the construction phase.



SACRED ARCHITECTURE AS A REFLECTION OF THE HUMAN BODY

Of all the trans-cultural characteristics common to the great world traditions, the association of architecture with the human body is one of the most vastly disseminated. The Vastu tradition of India, Chinese Feng Shui, Egyptian Temple architecture, the Inca Seque system, and the Greek canon of proportions have one thing in common: a reverence for architectural space as a reflection of the human body.

Early Examples
The Inka, for example, patterned their entire kingdom on the idea that Cuzco, the ancient capital of that enormous empire, was the umbilical center of a giant body of land. The word Cuzco literally means belly button. From this center at the heart of the empire, 41 rays of energy, known as seques, radiated to all points of the empire, connecting lands as far as modern-day Colombia and Chile to the temple of the Sun, the Korichancha, at the very center of this body made of earth.

The Inka believed that the cosmic energies necessary for human life streamed into the dimensions of space and time through this umbilicus. Through this connection, the forces of Heaven (the Hanakpacha or Upper World) and Earth (the Ujupacha or Lower World) were harmonized and balanced in the realm of humanity (the Kaypacha or Middle World).

The Vastu tradition of India echoes the centrality of the Inka ideal. According to Vastu theory, architectural space is inhabited by a mythical creature, the Vastu Purusha, who was said to be created from the sweat of the God Shiva during a titanic struggle with demons. The body of Purusha fills the building space completely, with its head in the northeast and its feet in the southwest. The center of the building, which corresponds to the Purusha’s navel, is an area that must be left open in order to allow for the entry of cosmic energies. Also know as Brahma Stan, this central area is the residence of Brahma, the god of creation. The center of the structure is seen as the entry point for reality and the manifest world.

In ancient Greece, the idea of an umbilicus in physical space can be seen in the omphalos discovered in the ruins of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. This carved stone was meant to represent the navel of the world, and on its surface are patterned the rays of energy that correspond to the terrestrial magnetic grid. The location of this temple, and the cave to which it was related, refer to the central position of the mountain as a symbol of the axis mundi, or cosmic pillar around which ordinary life revolved, as the great drama of space and time churned forth the experiences of humans.

The Tai Chi
In Chinese feng shui the centrality of space is acknowledged in the concept of the Tai Chi, the “great ultimate”, a location without dimensions at the heart of a structure through which cosmic energy is understood to stream into the realm of manifest reality. Also known as the “central ridge beam”, to signify its importance as support of all of existence, the Tai Chi is the place where reality and the Void of non-existence connect. This transfer of vital energy or chi is what animates all of consciousness and brings life to the inanimate. The movement of chi in and around a structure is compared to the movement of energy in the human body. The main entry of a building, for example, is often called the ”mouth of chi” to signify the qualities of chi that are necessary to promote prosperity, health, and longevity for the structure’s inhabitants.

Each area or sector of a building is also understood in feng shui to have a direct correlation to a body part, organ system, or metabolic function. The center of a building’s front area, for example, is associated with the element of water, and with all bodily functions involving fluids. The bladder and kidneys, as well as the reproductive system, are therefore correlated to this area. Conversely, the heart or lungs would correlate to the area located at the center rear of the space, an area associated with the element of fire.

The idea of space as a mirror of the human body also includes allusions to the proportions and distributions of parts within the structure. The Egyptian temples of antiquity, for example, were designed to reflect an ideal proportion as exemplified in the body of the Pharaoh, the human incarnation of the divine realm. By patterning the building’s design to the divine proportions of the emperor’s body, the sacredness of the space was thereby enhanced. As the temple grew in size, the size and scale of its component parts were made to retain their proportionality to the canon derived from the divine body of the ruler.

This is can also be seen in the proportional system of the Gothic Cathedral, which was often seen as a reflection not only of the divine body of Christ, the earthly son of God, but also as a reflection of the numbers and ratios which the platonic system allocated to the divine order inherent in the physical world. The English unit of measurement, the foot, is a late allusion to this idea.

The Anthropocosmos
This ideal was carried into the Renaissance, and is part of the canon of proportions which Leonardo and Michelangelo, among many others, used to design and proportion buildings, paintings, and sculpture. Collectively known as the anthropocosmos, the western ideal of patterning images and spaces on the divinely proportioned dimensions of the human body is at the very foundation of both Classicism and the Neoclassical revival that culminated at the end of the 19th century. It behooves us to understand that many of the state capitols or regional banks which grace the village squares of so many American cities, are patterned along these lines, and that in its proportions and dimensions each of these structures reflects not only the cultural peculiarities of their times, but also a much more eternal allusion to the human body as the source for divinely inspired space.



COMMUNITY

In order to facilitate the creation of a sacred structure, it will be important to marshall human resources as well. From the geomantic point of view these forces need to be balanced between the more active or yang explorations of finances, contractors, personnel, etc., with the more yin forms of ritual and prayer. By doing both it is possible to harmonize the process of creation itself and thereby generate a more balanced end product.

Rituals
I have mentioned the need to honor the land through rituals and other such processes. These should intensify with time as the creation process unfolds. At the outset it is important to make significant displays of trust and celebration. To this purpose I often propose a gathering of supporters to create an special offering called a despacho, which can be understood as a way of trading good will and positive intentions in exchange for resources such as land, financing, manpower, etc. This is a ritual in which the participants create a beautiful offering that is dedicated to Heaven and Earth and is then either buried or ritually burnt.

A second ritual that could be useful is the hung bao, or red envelope ritual. In this ritual the Cosmos is requested to assist the process of locating a proper site by ceremonially surrendering control of the process to the Cosmos itself. Based on Taoist principles of non-action (wu wei), this is a very powerful process which can work true miracles. In addition, land rituals should be performed at all potential sites, and once a site has been identified, a ground breaking ceremony is in order. Later on, as the structure itself is constructed, space clearings and blessings will also add to the concentration of energies that will enable the Chapel to perform its role as a place for healing, inspiration, instruction, and revelation. For more information on space clearing see the Articles page.

Prayer
In addition to rituals, prayer is also much needed, particularly at this stage in the process. I therefore recommend that prayer circles be formed. A primary circle can meet at auspicious times in order to set the pace for other groups. Full moons and new moons are particularly useful. In addition, virtual prayer groups can also be created through the world wide web. A newsletter can also help to coordinate not only fund-raising, but also prayer efforts.

Celebrations
Human Joy is the nectar on which all of Nature feasts. By exhibiting joyfulness, kindness, and a dedication of spirit to the purpose of the structure, its creation can also be enhanced. Parties, prayer meetings, discussions, and other communal gatherings can all be part of this process.