I love to write about specific poems, specific practices, the concrete realities of daily life. Sometimes I surprise myself by my practical bent. What follows is on the abstract and theoretical side, but as John Lee Hooker said about the blues “it’s in me and it’s sho got to come out.”
A “sacred world” is an imaginative expression of intentions that helps bring them to manifestation, within the constraints of possibility.
Let me unpack this dense phrase, which is uncomfortably like a mathematical formula:
- An imaginative: Not “unreal” but “generated by imagination” – the most powerful creative tool we have available to us.
- Expression: As simple as a momentary act of visualization, as complex as a cathedral. Can include artmaking of all kinds, including writing, visual art, music, theater–and most emphatically including participation in these art forms as a reader/listener/watcher–as well as “religious” activities like ritual, prayer, pilgrimage, devotional practices.
- Of intentions: Can be individual or collective, can be for positive (healing, unitive, compassionate) or negative (destructive, divisive, hateful) purposes. I have no interest in holding or teaching negative intentions but they do exist and function in a similar way: your imagination expresses intentions and that leads toward manifestation.
- That helps bring them to manifestation within the constraints of possibility: Not in the wishful semi-conscious form that intentions often take; rather, manifestation comes about in ways that are aligned with one’s true nature, purpose, and karma.
Better yet, let me give some examples, first from the religious context because I think that’s easiest to understand:
- In Tibetan Buddhism, we can think of the practitioner’s visualization of a mandala in all its intricate detail as a sacred world, generated by the imagination with the intention of propelling oneself and all sentient beings toward enlightenment. Constructing a sand mandala is simply the same activity carried out in the physical world.
- In medieval Christianity, a common devotional practice was to imagine episodes from the life of Christ in vivid detail, an act of imagination intended to lead to emotional openness to the reality of the story, leading to faith and ultimately to salvation. St. Francis of Assisi was instrumental in the development of the Christmas creche, again a physical manifestation to sharpen and deepen the mental visualization practice.
These religious sacred worlds and the traditions of working with them are informed by very clear, well-defined philosophical/theological frameworks. When we move into the realm of poetic and artistic creations, the basic dynamic is the same, but the field of energy takes the intentions we put into our interactions with them and transforms them in unexpected and less controllable ways: we may not know quite where we will be taken and what manifestation might result. It is an act of love and trust to engage with such a world; the gifts are less definable than “salvation” or “enlightenment” but they are no less profound, healing, and life-giving.
- In Greek mythology, the story of Persephone, Demeter and Hades takes place in a sacred world of above and below, seasons and fertility, loss and return. The intentions expressed through such a sacred world are unconscious and intuitive, but the sacred world remains powerful and efficacious at generating manifestation through the telling or the hearing: this could take the form of an awake and alive awareness of a bud opening in spring, a leaf falling in autumn, the breaking open of a pomegranate. It could take the form of a perfected emotion of grief at the loss of a loved one.
- William Faulkner’s sustained imaginal construction of northeastern Mississippi results in a sacred world of racial and generational tensions, tribal identity, retribution, karma and madness. We engage our attention and intention in this world and are confronted with the ambiguities and toxicities of life and meaning in the American South. Transformational opportunities abound but again it happens at a deep and perhaps chaotic level. It may be a cathartic coming-to-terms with American brokenness.
All these sacred worlds–rituals, myths and stories given to us by our ancestors or by individual writers–are fascinating to me and full of power and benefit. But what happens when we make use of the potency of sacred worlds to construct our own stories, our own myths and rituals? This above all is what I want to explore.
In this “sacred worlds” area of my blog I seek to map all of these territories:
- Sacred worlds from traditional religions
- Sacred worlds from traditional mythologies
- Sacred worlds created by artists
- Sacred worlds we generate ourselves
The first three are powerful in their own right, but also powerful because they provide us with inspiration and raw materials to construct our own sacred worlds. In support of manifesting my own intentions and those of others, there’s nothing I’d rather work on!