Is it a physical place? Is it a mental construct? Is it created by humans, by nature, by Consciousness? Can it be suspended in time and space? Or is it real and constrained by the physical world?
Sacred space is and can be all of these things. A space is made sacred by the intention of a consciousness to make it so. Perhaps in a larger metaphysical approach, all space can be said to be sacred; every here and now is sacred. But in our duality, we differentiate a specific space from the rest (whether external or internal) by intending to make it sacred. In other words, it just takes someone to decide ‘this' space is sacred and 'that one' is not to create a sacred space.
In doing so, individuals or a community (in the case of religious and spiritual groups) then develop a combination of intentional forms, objects and actions to be performed at the site and imbue these with meaning that represents the beliefs, values and experiences of a spiritual philosophy or sentiment. These then serve as symbols and gateways that help the community connect to their own sense of the sacred.
Sacred space is essentially a space imbued with spiritual meaning. This can be spaces built by humans or simply spaces in nature that we interpret as so. Since the intention of consciousness is the defining factor that determines what is sacred space, it can also exist on a purely metaphysical plane. And even places that we normally don’t consider sacred like a bathroom or even a junkyard can coexist in parallel realities as both sacred and non-sacred simply by an individual’s intention.
Individuals and the Collective
For the collective, places can be seen as sacred because “they perform a religious function, not because they have peculiar physical or aesthetic qualities”(1). Although an individual might have an internal experience of the physical, aesthetic or energetic qualities of a space that could inspire them to interpret such places as sacred and hold them so within themselves independent of the collective meaning or lack thereof. This I believe is the lifting of the veil where the internal experience begins to reveal that all space and all life is sacred. This also surges from the individuation of the self where one does not need to validate one's internal experiences with the external or collective experience.
The reverse can also be true, someone that is not aware of the meaning attributed by a community to a space might not be moved in any regard to the same exact place that others might revere. A person that is very in tune might sense a different quality to the space but might not understand why. This can easily happen when visiting other cultures that have very different religious and philosophical beliefs such as westerners visiting the East or vice versa. And conversely, different people might attribute different layers of meanings to the same physical space (as in the city of Jerusalem for example).
In creation myths and religious lore there are of course meanings attributed to specific locations that claim they are inherently made sacred by the deities of the religion. These I would argue are metaphysical sacred spaces that exist in relation to the physical places but the community is what upholds this connection. If there were no humans there would be no sacred space as it all would be sacred and there would be no need to determine if this river or that river is more sacred since it is all one and the same. There would be no need to define what is sacred, no word would be needed for what is, it would just be.
Each people call themselves the chosen people, each religion calls itself the ultimate truth. I think in duality they are both right and wrong simultaneously. All people are chosen and proof of that lies in their simple existence. If they were not worthy of living then they would not live. And all religions lead to the ultimate truth if the individual awakens to it within. But that being said, again, back in duality, each culture has its own places and spaces in which it has ascribed these special symbols.
The Language of Symbols
There are traditions that point at the synchronicities in life as signs from beyond. These can be seen as signs from God, the Universe, gods or goddesses, angels, ascended masters, aliens, spirit animals, ancestors, daemons, or spirits, all depending on which religious tradition you consult. Or a skeptic might say these are projections of your internal psyche into the world. Regardless of where exactly they come from, and even if they are only internal projections, where is the intelligence creating such beauty, weaving such marvelous stories, imbuing life with such depth of meaning that we’ve erected countless cathedrals, ziggurats, temples, stupas and imagined all forms of magnificent beings in attempt to justify what depths we are capable of experiencing within?
In a way, does it matter? After all, isn’t it true that "a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”?
Brereton, J. P. (1987). Sacred Space | Encyclopedia.com. https://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/sacred-space#:~:text=SACRED%20SPACE%20.