Respect and Conduct at Public Sacred Sites

When visiting a sacred site, we can get carried away. We can often forget that at public sacred sites there are others there who are on their own quest, pilgrimage, whatever. We want to rush in, to do the work, to perform ritual, to connect, to sing, chant and celebrate. But we have to think more carefully about shared space.

I recently went to the White Spring with my Druid College Year 3 apprentices. I adore the White Spring; it’s such a lovely site. However, after about 15 minutes various people and groups piled in to temple, and the words “Pagan Circus” comes to mind…

At one point, we had some Druids chanting the awen softly one corner. Lovely. But then another woman began singing in another corner. In a third corner, a man was standing and singing at the top of his lungs (which in that space is really, really loud). Trying to get away from all this noise, I made my way the quietest part of the Mirror Pool in the middle of the temple. I gazed into the water, slowly collecting my thoughts and meditating upon the sacred water, when suddenly three women, two naked and one clothed, clambered into the Mirror Pool, stood in the middle of it and held hands, performing some sort of ritual between themselves. Needless to say, my meditation was, by then, a hopeless cause.

We have so little opportunity to be who we are, especially at such sacred sites as the White Spring. But we also have to bear in mind that this is a public space. There are other Pagans there who are attempting to commune with the energies, the gods and goddesses, the spirits of place, and who don’t need others crashing in on their precious few minutes in that area. These sites are not a Pagan free-for-all. We must respect others and the place. You would never see a group of monks from an abbey in the south of France rock up to Ely Cathedral and suddenly perform Mass, or chant their evensong while the resident monks and visitors alike are doing their thing. We have to bear this in mind, that other people’s experiences are just as important and valid as our own.

And it’s not just Pagans visiting these spaces. The White Spring is open to everyone, from groups of nuns visiting from Spain to families from Yorkshire on a weekend getaway. There are very practical things we need to bear in mind at such places. For one, it’s still illegal to be naked in a public space. For another, not everyone wants to see naked people, for various reasons. Imagine the Catholic nun trying to connect with St Brigid, and then having a group of naked priestesses splashing her habit as they clamber in and out of the sacred pool (there is, indeed, a separate plunge pool for people to dip in, should they wish!). Imagine a primary school teacher asking the young girl what she did on the weekend, and her reply was “Daddy and I went to visit a spring, and watched naked ladies.”

Many of these sacred sites have special out of hours timings for those who wish to hold private ritual. Both Chalice Well and the White Spring offer this, and it should be borne in mind by those who wish to hold ritual at these sites. That way, you won’t be intruding on anyone’s time spent at these sites, or offend anyone who’s beliefs are not your own. It requires advance planning and commitment, but it’s not that hard. I’ve done it myself, and had private time at the White Spring to plunge my naked self in the icy waters with a couple of friends, or visited the Red Spring after closing hours.

Let’s bear in mind other people’s experiences, which are just as valid as our own. Let’s not turn our sacred sites into spaces of competing rituals and rites all happening at the same time. Let’s honour the sacredness of the site, and remember that it’s not just there for us. The energy of these spaces is not only for our own spiritual nourishment. We take, take, take all the time. Receive healing, inspiration and more at these sites, by all means. But remember to give back, by respecting the site, and other people visiting it.

Make it an enjoyable and memorable experience for all.

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12 thoughts on “Respect and Conduct at Public Sacred Sites

  1. Oh dear. It’s not so much people performing rituals that bothers me, but general public, who talk and laugh so loud it’s quite simply rude and disrespecful. I also cringe when people having picnics and kids running around sacred stone circles. There are other places to go and do that sort of thing surely . Annoying but

    • Yes indeed. I was about to say you wouldn’t do that in a church, but recently I’ve visited a few cathedrals where parents have just let their children run free, up and down the aisles, shouting and making excessive noise…

      • yes, I was also thinking of a church analogy. It is so disappointing when travelling miles away from home to a sacred sight. Need to find a certain time in the day and organise exclusive access like you say.

    • Sounds good but people ‘ignore’ signs. I live in Glastonbury and volunteer at one of the sacred sites and am constantly upset by the behaviour of a few people who spoil the experience for the many.

  2. Hear,hear,Jo!
    It always bugs me that some folk have an idea of ownership of sites & that they’re the special ones whose ritual takes precedence.
    There seems to be an amount of lack of respect for others practice endemic in some areas of the Pagan/New Age communties that manifests at sacred sites.We all have to realise that there’s a great diversity in our practices & none of us have the right to monopolise a site.
    If nothing else it’s a simple matter of good manners & politeness.

  3. Hear,hear,Jo!
    It always bugs me that some folk have an idea of ownership of sites & that they’re the special ones whose ritual takes precedence.
    There seems to be an amount of lack of respect for others practice endemic in some areas of the Pagan/New Age communties that manifests at sacred sites.We all have to realise that there’s a great diversity in our practices & none of us have the right to monopolise a site.
    If nothing else it’s a simple matter of good manners & politeness.

  4. I’m so glad you pointed this out. Sometimes I feel like an old curmudgeon. It’s a sad but true reflection of the entire world, that respect, common sense and decency are not common anymore. This makes it hard to be in public spaces because people just do not respect other people. The bright side is, now that I know I’m not the only one disturbed by others when trying to find some peace in nature, I can continue acting respectfully, knowing it’s the right thing to do, and forgive others for not knowing what respect is.

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