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Santiago de Compostella

It was an impulse thing — picking up a book at the sale table while waiting for a friend. “The Pilgrimage,” by Paulo Coelho was about an old trail that pilgrims used during the Middle Ages to get to some shrine in Spain called the Santiago de Compostela where the bones of the apostle St. James are said to be. After reading the first three pages, I found tears running down my face. I knew I had to walk the Camino de Santiago, all 800 kilometers of it.

For the rest of the summer I walked every day, trying to build up my couch potato muscles. I bought the best walking boots I could find. A friend lent me a backpack, another insisted I take his old raincoat. “You’ll need it before the trip is over,” he said. I argued that I would be walking through sunny Spain, but he won out. There was one additional thing I decided to take, an old fiddle. I’d learned to play, not too well, but well enough to keep me company.

camino-markerI still remember that first day walking  over the Pyrenees. It was a long hard route full of fog that hid the path. I thought I’d get lost even before I started. Maybe it was those thousands of other pilgrims across the ages that had walked this way before me — who knows? Somehow my feet stayed on the path, and just in time for dinner I arrived at the ancient town of Roncesvalles, where the great warrior of my history books, Roland, fought his last battle.  In the weeks following, I trekked up glorious hills filled with tall trees, through lush farmland with vineyards almost as old as the hills themselves. I walked small villages with cobblestone roads, cattle in the street, chickens about, and at every house door (fortunately, tied up) a barking dog. but never a drop of rain. The only useless piece of clothing in my rucksack was that darn raincoat.

Every evening, I would arrive at a refugio: special places pilgrims can stay overnight, sometimes in old monasteries.  I remember one old monk giving us a delicious garlic soup for dinner. On a few nights when I wasn’t too tired, I’d bring out my fiddle and play some of my favorite pieces.  I began losing my beer belly, and my legs grew stronger. I walked farther each day. People began to wave at me as I passed along the road. At first I wondered why. Then I realized that I wasn’t a tourist, nor a stranger. I was like those who had been walking through their village for centuries. I was a pilgrim.

church-in-ronsevallesSlowly I began to see like a pilgrim.  Everywhere I looked, in even the smallest town there was not just a church, but a cathedral. A beautiful ornate structure that had taken generations to build. A father had laid the foundation, his son and his grandson’s had built the walls and their children had put on the roof.  My memories are of early mornings full of joy and gratitude at being alive.  I found myself  filled with warm feelings of goodwill toward everyone I met. Was this what it meant to be a pilgrim?

After a heavy rainfall the morning I arrived in Compostela, the sun came out while I had my raincoat on. What I saw amazed me. Hardly believing my eyes, I pulled out my camera,  taking a picture of the shadow cast upon the road. It wasn’t just a shadow, what I saw in front of me on the road was the image of the pilgrim, complete with hat, staff and cloak but in duplicate.  There was only me, yet there were two shadows. I felt as if my soul had connected to the thousands who had over time walked this sacred road that connects heart, mind and soul to a time of simple faith and limitless spiritual energy.

raincoat1I’ll never forget the power of my 30 days on the “Road of St James” …. NEVER!

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Macchu Picchu

Machu Picchu at Dawn

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The bus screamed in low tones as if calling out ‘Uncle’ to the twisting dirt road before it. Looking through dust covered windows I see the majestic Andes; and somewhere in the distance, feel the presence of the mountain spirits (Apus) gazing into my soul. Ascending around the last turn, my heart is overwhelmed by the power of this place—The Lost City of the Incas, The Crystal City in the Clouds….. Machu Picchu. Her aura like a fairy–tale, enchanted, magical, shrouded in mystery, remote, yet breathtakingly beautiful!

Perched high atop the Andes, she is the Tibet of the Americas. Seated at an elevation of 9000 feet she has been held in the silence like a secret, protected by the most powerful feminine energy vortex on the planet. Here she lies, soft and welcome, awaiting pilgrims like myself who are willing to risk finding themselves among the vastness of this sacred landscape.

Her mysterious past fills you with question after question, yet reveals nary an answer. Her energy reverberates off white marble walls which are 40% quartzite, which in essence makes her a giant crystal emanating vibrational energy all the time.

hitching-postAs you saunter through her maze like passageways, and meander up stone staircases, you are lead to the Intiwatana or Hitching Post of the Sun, the highest and most powerful energy spot on the mountain. After a brief period of meditation,  continue to explore, taking in the Temple of the 3 Windows, offering prayers to the Sacred Pachamama Stone while embracing the circular architecture of the Temple of the Sun.

The more you walk, the more you sense you’re not alone here. You even find yourself stopping from time-to-time, looking back to see if you’re being followed. The feeling isn’t eerie instead it’s familiar, like a guide or teacher walking with you on this amazing journey.

Sitting in the long grass plaza, there is a sense that the ancient ones are still here. The plaza is the center or balance point (fulcrum) between the male and female teeter-totter of energy that make up this amazing place.

huyana-picchuOn one side sits the Huyana Picchu—the feminine, and on the other, the masculine peak—Machu Picchu. The Patakusi, a small peak near the plaza is the place where the holy city grounds itself. This balance is Machu Picchu’s message to the world.

Machu Picchu is truly alive, the stones speaking softly to your soul, the peaks comforting your heart and the sacredness of this hallowed ground bringing clarity and peace. It is here that we are reminded that life is not complicated unless we make it so, and that all life’s answers lie within!

A pilgrimage to Machu Picchu is like spending time with a trusted friend, while at the same time re-connecting to the simplicity of life. If there is anything she asks us to take with us upon departure, it’s that constant reminder that everything is just as it’s intended.

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Angkor Wat

Angkor Chau Say Tevoda is a Hindu temple which...

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angor watAngkor Wat (“City Temple”) is a vast temple complex near the city of Siem Reap, 200 miles from the capital of Phnom Penh in Cambodia.  A 12th century creation built by King Suryavarman II as a  funerary temple (Mausoleum) to hold his remains, symbolically confirming his spiritual status alongside that of Vishnu.  After the city fell to invaders, the temple receded into the jungle but continued as a Buddhist temple and a pilgrimage site over the centuries. Angkor Wat is the best preserved example of Khmer architecture in Cambodia and is so grand in scope that some rank it among the seven wonders of the world.  It appears on the Cambodian national flag, the rare instance of a flag incorporating an image of a building.

The “lost city” of Angkor first attracted the interest of Europeans in the 1800s after Cambodia during the French colinization period . Today, Angkor draws  thousands of visitors anxious to see this remarkable “Temple in the Rainforest.”  Buddhist monks are daily visitors to Angkor, their bright orange robes in vivid contrast to the grey stonework of the temple.

Angkor Wat consists of five central shrines, surrounded serendipitously by a moat and three galleries.  On the west side is a paved causeway, leading over the moat,  under a magnificent portico, extending for approximately a quarter of a mile to the primary entrance of the complex.

angkor_wat_monkswmThe first gallery has square pillars on either side of the entrance.  The ceiling between the pillars is decorated with lotus rosettes; the outer wall  with dancing figures. The periphery of the inner wall is filled with arched windows, apsaras (nymphs), and dancing male figures on prancing animals. Apsaras are found on the walls of all galleries.

From the first gallery a long avenue leads to the second gallery. This is reached via a raised platform with lions on both sides of a staircase. The inner walls of the second gallery contain continuous narrative relief. The western wall shows scenes from the Mahabharata epos.

The third gallery encloses the five shrines which are built on a raised terrace and are interconnected by galleries. The roofings of the galleries are decorated with the motif of the body of a snake ending in the heads of lions or garudas. Sculptured lintels and frontons decorate the entrances to the galleries and the entrances to the shrines.

Visitors to Angkor take away a variety of impressions; some gain insight into Buddhism, archaeology or history, while others have a deep seeded experience of connectedness to the spiritual energy of the temples. The real show stopper of Angkor however is the sunrise and sunset.

angkor-watThe skies over the sacred city always put on a show and  if you time it right, you can embrace the glistening rays of dawn or the afterglow of the setting sun as it frames the spires of this ancient space. Whatever brings you here will be far less than what you take away, for a new sense of stillness, peace and solitude will permeate your entire being.  A moment at Angkor is like nothing you have ever experienced before, or ever will again.

Let your feet lead you into the sacred embrace of Angkor – this Temple in a City, a city of Joy!

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Crestone, Colorado

In a space miles way from the hustle and bustle of daily living, miles from the nearest major highway, a onetime Colorado gold-mining town seems like an unexpected space to find a growing spiritual community. Yet Crestone today boasts a higher number of high Tibetan lamas than would normally be found in Tibet, and that’s just the beginning. Roman Catholic Carmelites, Islamic Sufis, Mystical Jews, Hindus, Zen Buddhists, Taoists, Shintoists, and American Indians have all infiltrated Crestone.

The story behind the formation of this eclectic Spiritual community began in the late 1970s, when a wealthy visionary named Hanne Strong, who along with her husband, Maurice, owned 200,000 acres around Crestone, donated most of the land with the intention of creating a spiritual sanctuary for the world’s religious.

The result has been remarkable, with diverse spiritual groups living in close proximity and intermingling. At a Christmas mass held at the Roman Catholic monastery, whole rows were taken by Buddhist monks in flowing robes. Hindu nuns in saris umpire local baseball games. When American Indians held a medicine wheel ceremony one summer, the offerings to the four directions were made by a Shinto priest, Catholic and Buddhist nuns, and a Hindu yogi.

This exotic blending of spiritual traditions exists amid an American western landscape straight out of the Old West. When the first Tibetans arrived in Crestone in 1980, the  mayor at the time was asked what he thought about them. “Better than a those squatting New Yorkers,” he replied. Now, 30+ years later, the area embraces two distinct variations of the spiritual life—one traditional, the other free-form.

Buddhist scholar, Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche finds that having so many masters  living in residence makes the area one of the world’s best places to practice and meditate. As one Crestone visitor puts it, “Why go to India and get dysentery? No where else in the world you would ever find such a large concentration of world renowned teachers, less have direct access to them.”

One of the many Carmelite nuns living in the valley at the NADA Hermitage , finds it validating to live in the midst of so many faiths. When she wakes before dawn to pray, she sees a fire already lit at the Hindu ashram along the hillside and knows she is not alone: Others are devout; others have made selfless vows and aspire to the same sanctity she has chosen for herself.

Lorraine Fox Davis, an Native American tribal spokeswoman, observed that people change when they reside for a time in a wintry, isolated setting. She says, The people here need to become more self-reliant to survive and, since no one can survive here alone, they eventually become an integral part of the community. Free of the hassles and stresses of urban life—those living in Crestone leave house doors unlocked, car keys in the ignition—people invariably “soften.” Most importantly, Davis says, everyone who visits here has a deep sense of connection to ‘Mother Earth’.

This sense of connection between the inner and outer landscapes. Self-reliance. Community. This softening of the heart. All are hallmarks of the religious life. In Crestone, this sense of  interconnectedness is achieved predominantly without benefit of clergy. With 19 major religious groups represented, even the air people breathe—brings with it a feeling that you are living in a larger universe.

Rabbi David Cooper, author of the bestselling God Is a Verb, notes that  Crestone is the next great step in cooperative spirituality: “postreligion,” in which one can benefit from a given faith without being a believer/congregant. Fifty years ago, the eastern traditions that now reside in the valley were all but unknown in America; today,  their insights about compassion and mindfulness inform even the secular mindset in Crestone (and elsewhere).

Crestonians tend to treat one another well, recognizing not only the individual person, but the goal they are here to achieve. That energy brings together believers and nonbelievers alike, an ideal of seeking enlightenment. “People who visit ‘spiritual’ places behave differently;  actually better than they seem to elsewhere,” many visitors observe. “In Crestone, life truly does become that place where Heart, Mind and Soul connect to bring a sense of Peace and Harmony to those who walk her hallowed pathways.

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The Hajj

Alone, out of all the major pilgrimages in history, the Hajj survives with its vitality unimpaired. Great Christian pilgrimages are but memories; they have vanished with the passing of the Age of Faith, leaving cathedrals and chapels to mark routes once annually traversed by thousands.

The practice of pilgrimage has roots in the notion of inherent sacredness, which accounts for the universality of pilgrimage. Sanctity attaches to specific places through decisive events which have occurred there. For example, the Buddha Gaya near Benares in India, scene of Gautama’s enlightenment; Jerusalem (meaning the city of peace), the scene of the alleged resurrection of Jesus’; and Canterbury where the Archbishop, Thomas a’ Beckett was martyred. Any site of martyrdom (mashhad: martyrium) attracts pilgrims in its own right; witness the way pilgrims gravitate towards the scene of Hamza’s (the Prophet’s uncle) martyrdom at Uhud, or the city of Karbala which grew as a result of Imam Husayn being buried after he was martyred there.

_41178306_hajjgetty1Pilgrimage is a communal yet very personal event; climaxing in moments of collective contemplation, inducing a heightened awareness of fellowship, yet always surrounding itself with a sense of quiet transcendence. The goal, if indeed there is one, is the journey itself which becomes a sort a preparatory purification, readying the pilgrim to experience another dimension of their being. Pilgrimage, therefore, corresponds to a deep spiritual hunger present in all of us, offering the possibility of transcendence to those who might not otherwise have an opportunity to experience it.

At the same time, this concentration of ethnically diverse people of the same faith coming together in such great numbers, strengthens the community of believers both socially and economically. Goods are traded, friendships made, marriages contracted, deaths occur – these and many other instances of social interaction arise from the opportunity presented by performing a pilgrimage. It is the spiritual as well as the worldly which account for the popularity of pilgrimage within all cultures.

Pilgrimages also are outlets or spiritual remedies, passed from one generation, tradition or culture to another. When one religion supplants another, it frequently inherits its predecessor’s pilgrimage site, making the ritual and symbolic sometimes difficult to comprehend because of the comingling that has taken place. This may happen more than once in a culture or tradition’s life cycle. In Islam, it has happened twice, as Abrahamic sites and rites were perverted for non-monotheistic usage, later to be reclaimed by Islam. When this happens, the site witnesses a purification of historical accretions (cf. Qur`an, 17:81).

1230Throughout history, iconoclasts have tried to suppress pilgrimage, while governments fear it because of its popular character and the irrepressible manifestation to which it can give rise. The focus of pilgrimage is also liable to shift under the impact of political or economic change: site the Papal monarchy diverting Christian pilgrims from Jerusalem to Rome; in Islam ‘Abdul Malik building the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem to attract pilgrims away from Mecca as part of his efforts to undermine Ibn Zubayr’s rebellion, which would have been funded by pilgrimage revenue.

Islamic pilgrimage, or Hajj, shares with other traditions the basic features of intention or consecration, separation, passage, sojourn (at the shrine or sanctuary), and fellowship, whereby the individual becomes aware of his place as part of a larger social body transcending frontiers, class, culture and language. The reintegration of the pilgrim into his community upon returning from such a journey enriches the community through the pilgrim’s experiential transformings; which alter not only the individual’s perception of themselves; but also that of their family, nation and the cumulative relationship they share with all of them. The hajj uniquely exhibits all these characteristics in very marked and curious ways.

Politically, Hajj constitutes the annual congress of all Muslims, since it is the nearest believers come to a single corporate presence in one place. For peoples of diverse social and cultural origins and backgrounds, coming together with a common purpose promotes not only spiritual awareness but also a sense of solidarity. While mediaeval Christian pilgrimages like Canterbury or Glastonbury promoted national unity, the Hajj promotes international ‘life trade’ and reflects unity of purpose and direction into the lives of its unique community of believers. The Faithfull’s commitment and humility before God, are made sacramental through the seamless ritual garment worn (the ihram) by all.

Spiritually, the outward journey to Mecca precedes the inward journey of Gnosis (ma‘rifah) that follows. The Holy city of Mecca is both location and spirit. Above the visible Ka‘bah are eight other invisible Ka‘bahs disposed along a single axis around which the entire cosmos rotate. The act of circumambulation (tawaf), performed counter-clockwise, makes the Ka‘bah an axis mundi, representing the point of rotation of the spiritual universe.

The Ka‘bah also forms the intersection of two planes, the vertical plane of the spirit and the horizontal   one of human existence. The qiblah axis (the direction of the Ka‘bah in Mecca) used in prayer and which   determines the orientation of all mosques is the horizontal plane, and the cosmological axis of which the Ka‘bah is the visible point is the vertical one. Prayer can be construed as use of the horizontal axis to relate oneself to the vertical plane of the spirit. Thus salat (prayer) and Hajj form but two acts of a single purpose and orientation.

Of the Five Pillars, four – salat (prayer), siyam (fasting), zakat (alms-giving), and Hajj – are secondary to the central one: shahadah (witnessing), which leads to total awareness. The Muslim Ummah (nation) as a whole enterprise (ummatan wasata) focuse on the qiblah in various ways: through daily prayer, posthumously in burial, and, at least once in one’s life, in Hajj. The qiblah is therefore the Ummah’s centre of gravity and its point of convergence.

The performance of Hajj is an obligation (fard ‘ayn – that is, the individual is duty bound to perform it), as opposed to a collective or conditional obligation (fard kifayah – that is, when part of the ummah or community fulfils a specified obligation the individual is relieved of the necessity to perform it). This differs from the other Pillars in that its performance is based on possessing the material and physical experiences. Muslims perform different types of pilgrimage such as ziyarah, but Hajj and ‘Umrah. Ziyarah (visit to a holy place) are the only types of Islamic pilgrimage that have a similiar look and feel to the pilgrimages found in other traditions; Hajj and ‘Umrah have no connection to other traditions being particular to Islam. Hajj is fard (obligatory), ‘Umrah is Sunnah (tradition) and ziyarah is neither, albeit meritorious (mustahabb). The addition of Madina to the Hajj, though standard practice, falls into the category of ziyarah.

The rites of Hajj are essentially Abrahamic, being a re-enactment of certain events on the life of the Prophet Abraham In studying Hajj, we have to consider both the Abrahamic core and its Muhammadi transformation, and fulfillment through prophecy. (cf. Qur`an, 2:127-9).

The occurrence and recurrence of events in specific localities endow them with a significance beyond their mere placement on a geographical map. Mecca and its environs can best be understood as a sort of divine theatre where this encounter between God and man takes place. Each rite is tied to a particular locality. The sa‘y, which commemorates Hagar’s anguished search for water for her son Ishmael, is performed at the mas‘ah between the two hills of Safa and Marwa. The stoning at Mina commemorates the points at which Satan successively appeared to tempt Abraham. Both relate to the prophecy of the birth of Muhammad in the Qur`an (2:129). The Qur`an refers to Safa and Marwah as sha‘a’ir, signs or evidences attesting to what had taken place in these areas, making Mecca the scene of divine action (Qur`an, 2:158). The well of Zamzam is a third such sign.

The ordained rites (manasik) are both Abrahamic and Muhammadi, but the Muhammadian component is by far the most important, as Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) completes the work of Abraham. This explains why ritual of wuquf (standing) at ‘Arafat constitutes the primary rite of the pilgrimage, without which the performance of the Hajj is invalidated. The wuquf is also a commemoration, in this instance, of the Farewell Sermon which the Prophet preached from atop ‘Arafat (also called the Mount of Mercy or Jabal al-Rahma) and of the descent (tanzil) at the close of the sermon in verse (5:3) of the Qur`an.

plain-of-arafatDuring the Farewell Pilgrimage, the Prophet substituted the lunar calendar to regulate the year. The lunar year focuses and heightens the sense of fellowship, for the climax of that year, the Eid al-Adha, or the Feast of the Sacrifice of Abraham on the 10th of Dhu’l-Hijjah, coincides with the corresponding rite in Mina on that day. This makes all Muslims spiritually present along with the Hujjaj in Mecca at that moment, so that Muslims, wherever they be, form a single communion. The celebration of Eid al-Adha merely reproduces locally what Muslims are doing in the vicinity of Mecca that same day, so that salat and Hajj coincide.

Islam is a way of life and as such incorporates the political side of human nature. Hajj is, therefore, its political/spiritual festival. Properly understood, the Hajj, throughout history, is both popular assembly (majlis) and a forum for the interchange of ideas and cultures. It was at Mecca during Hajj that Amir ‘Abdul Qadir, the national hero of Algeria, and Imam Shameel, the national hero of the Caucasians, met to discuss the Islamic resistance in the 19th century. In Islam it is not possible to disentangle the spiritual from the political or the cultural from the economic. Islam is a path of unification and a total way of life.

medinah_470_470x312Pilgrimage routes have traversed the Muslim world, from Scutari on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, through Anatolia and Syria to the Hijaz. Many a caravan has come from Iraq or Yemen; yet other routes wer utilized by the North African pilgrims, while an oceanic route from the Far East was finally completed. Monuments all over the Muslim world attest to the religious and economic importance of pilgrim traffic; for example, the Selimiye in Damascus is one the most beautiful of the many facilities provided by a beneficent administration for comfort, as well as the safety of the pilgrims. The facilities includ rest-houses, fortresses and assembly facilities. The reason the square in Scutari is so colossal, relative to the size of the city, is that this was where the annual Hajj caravan formed. At a later stage, the construction of the Hijaz railway (opened in 1908) was but an up-dating of this route. It also formed the lifeline of the Ottoman Empire, and this overlap in function merely reproduced an aspect of the pilgrimage that has always been present, that is, the economic, for trade routes and pilgrimage routes always seemed to converge.

The Hajj has been described as ‘the most important agency of voluntary, personal mobility since the age of the great European discoveries,’ one which ‘must have had a profound effect on all the communities from which the pilgrims came, through which they traveled, and to which they returned.’ People, particularly the merchant class, would avail themselves of the opportunities offered by the pilgrimage to defray in whole or in part, the expenses of the journey for themselves and their families. Everyone returned spiritually uplifted, intellectually (and sometimes materially) enriched. The transformative effect of Hajj on societies, even if only a few of whose members went on pilgrimage, must not be underestimated. Both the Almoravid and Almohad revolutions in North Africa were brought about by hujjaj who realized the religious backwardness of their own societies through coming into contact with Islam. The British and other colonial nations, recognized the dangers of such dynamic interaction and exchange and in some places, notably Nigeria, went to extraordinary lengths to restrict the number of pilgrims to maintain their control over the population.

Today the Hajj may have increased in quantity yet in the eyes of some, has declined in quality. In the past, scholars would spend months or years on Hajj, not only staying near the Ka‘bah precinct but also stopping off at centers of learning en route; today’s pilgrim is not so taken with this same desire to attain knowledge, yet  the Hajj has become a vehicle of cultural diffusion, helping to bind different parts of the Muslim world into what some might call the single ‘Nation of Islam’. No other pilgrim journey can boast such a claim.


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Isle of Mull, Scotland (topographic)

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 Home of Celtic Christianity – Iona

As we ferry out of Oban Bay, the sky opens and rain thunders down. The droplets are so huge they force many a passenger to scurry for cover. Though it may be true that the rain is part of the allure of these isles, I’m relieved when the clouds fall away and glistening rays of sunlight outline for us the picturesque Sound of Mull.

iona-st-ronans-bayThe ferry ushers us west across Mull where we must take a bus to Fionnphort, then depart by tug to the Isle of Staffa. It is here that we board a passenger only ferry to the small 5.5 kilometer Isle of Iona. Upon disembarking onto the pier in St. Ronan’s Bay, it becomes quickly apparent that you are in a place that deserves a sense of deep reverence. The main road leads past an old post office to the crumbling remnant of a 13th century convent. All that remains today are the chancel, nave and parts of the chapel roof.

Iona holds historical and spiritual importance out of proportion to its size, for it was here in 563 AD that the Irish monk Colum Cille or Columba, founded the Abbey that would become the home of Celtic Christianity. Like many before him, Columba was seeking an island haven as base for his community of ascetics. This small grass covered rock that seemingly crumbled loose from the west coast of Mull became the first Christian settlement in Scotland and a place of spiritual power for centuries to come.

iona-abbeyWith his twelve companions Columba set about building Iona’s first church, made of clay and wood . It was written that Columba had great physical and mental strength, garnered thorough religious training, and had become a persuasive speaker with a ‘genteel touch’. He was greatly beloved, if not a little feared, by the increasing number of followers who began to spread the Christian message amongst the settlers of the adjacent isles. Columba brought his spirit to bear on all he met during his extensive travels and ministry, resulting in Scotland’s embrace of Christianity.

Nothing of Columba’s original abbey or settlement buildings now exist on Iona. However, to the left side of the Abbey entrance a small roofed chamber can be seen, believed to be the site of his tomb. Columba died on Iona on 9th June, 597AD. St Columba’s biography was written a over a century later by the Irish monk Saint Adòmnan. Adòmnan died in 702AD, having been made Abbot of Iona in 679.

inside-cc-on-alien-cinemaThe earliest surviving building on Iona is the Chapel of St. Oran, erected as a family burial chapel in 1100 by Lord Somerled, Lord of the Isles. The burial grounds nearby, known as Reilig Odhrain, are rumored to contain the relics of 48 Scottish kings including Macbeth, Robert the Bruce and Duncan I. Beyond the north wall lies the “Street of the Dead,” which leads to the Abbey. In front of the west door stands a carved cross commemorating the 4th century bishop Martin of Tours. Tucked behind St. John’s Cross is St. Columba’s Shrine. Once inside, the church reveals itself to be brighter than you might imagine, and features a prayer corner, and an effigy to Abbot J. MacKinnon.

Passing through to the cloisters, warm sunlight caresses the arches of perfectly manicured stonework on which hangs a feeling of the centuries in the air. It is not grand like the great cathedrals, but is surrounded by an aura of truth rather than pretension. It is solemn, humble and aged. The soft afternoon light gives the Abbey an earthy glow, polished by centuries of weather, love and the faith of all the silent witnesses who’ve prayed there.

Iona Today

iona-baile-morAbout one hundred and twenty people live on Iona year round. Some have been here for several generations, while others arrived recently to build a life on the island. Work on Iona is divided between crofting, (raising cattle and sheep) and tourism-related jobs in catering, and hospitality both on land and by sea.  A number of craftspeople make unique, individually designed goods for sale in Iona’s shops and galleries. The population is boosted to around three hundred in summer, as people take up summer jobs or volunteer placements in the Iona Community. Iona’s primary school has around ten children enrolled. For secondary education, pupils go to Oban High School, and stay as weekly boarders in the Oban school hostel.

iona-chapelWithin the local community of Iona there is the interfaith Iona Community founded in 1938 by the Reverend George MacLeod of Fiunary. The Iona Community describes itself as ‘an ecumenical Christian community of men and women from different walks of life and different traditions in the Christian church’.  Membership of the Community comes mainly from the UK where residential staff maintains quarters and work on Iona. They are supplemented by seasonal or longer term volunteers. Many individuals and groups share in work and worship at the Chapel on Iona. The Abbey and The MacLeod Centre are staffed by the Iona Community, as is Camas, an outdoor adventure centre on nearby Mull.

The island of Iona is now owned by the National Trust of Scotland. The island was given to the National Trust in 1979 by the Fraser Foundation in memory of Lord Hugh Fraser of Allander. The Fraser Foundation had purchased Iona from the Duke of Argyll.




Sedona Arizona – Vortexes

The Vortexes of Sedona, AZ


The power vortexes of Sedona, Arizona, are deeply sacred sites to New Age adherents who regard them as places of powerful spiritual energy. First discovered in the 1950s, Sedona’s vortexes have become so popular that the region surrounding them has become a major center of New Age spirituality. Many nonbelievers are also attracted to Sedona thanks to the spectacular red rock formations – four of which happen to be positioned within the vortexes.

Historical Overview

In New Age circles, a vortex is a place possessing high spiritual power or energy, located where geological faults called “ley lines” intersect with one another. The concept of ley lines first surfaced with the publication of Early British Track ways (1922) by Alfred Watkins, an amateur archaeologist and spiritual historian. Watkins noticed that straight lines could be drawn between ancient sacred sites like Stonehenge and Avebury and hypothesized that these were once ancient trade routes. He associated these “pathways” with Celtic/Druidic worship in prehistoric England.

The New Age movement eventually took up the idea of ley lines, interpreting them as geologically charged sources of cosmic energy. Some have attributed the lines with UFO landing sites and/or the “spirit lines” of ancient shamanic pilgrimages. They are now regularly researched and plotted through the use of dowsing rods. New Age adherents believe that by meditating at sites like Sedona, one can experience spiritual and physical healing.

bell-rock-stars-cc-giant-gingkgoVortexes, where two or more ley lines intersect, are considered extremely powerful sources of energy.
Sedona’s vortexes were discovered in the 1950s by New Age guru, Page Bryant. Bryant identified four “power vortexes” that coincide with spectacular rock formations in and around the small town of Sedona: Bell Rock, Airport Mesa, Cathedral Rock and Boynton Canyon.

Sedona’s vortexes have become so popular that local visitor centers now offer maps pointing out their locations. There are also guided tours, accompanied by commentary emphasizing Native American and
New Age spirituality.

The four main vortexes are located at:

Follow links above for more details on each or see the Sedona Map for an overview of their locations.

More information on Sedona can be found at:

Sacred sites according to regional configurations of sacred geography – Martin Gray
Sedona’s Energy Vortexes – Love Sedona
Vortex Experience in Sedona – Sedona New Age Center

Watch for future articles on other Sacred Sites in North America ……

What US City Has the Highest Concentration of UFO Sightings? (’s Up with the World Grid, Vortexes/Vortices, LeyLines? (


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