I spend a good bit of time in airports. Culturally speaking, airports offer an interesting glimpse into the generic, surface-level identity of any given place.
As I write this, I’m surrounded by Canadian Maple Leafs, shelves of syrup, stuffed moose toys, and — strangely, but not surprisingly — Starbucks.
Canada is a big country, as is the US, and I’m sure what I see around me does little to represent the diversity and complexity of the nation. But, that isn’t really the point of the merchandise. The point is to touch on the key markers, and to provide consumers with physical objects (for purchase) that symbolize the spirit of the place. But, they aren’t really the spirit of the place; they’re a replica, or close proximity to the spirit of the place.
Pagans often identify themselves with the world, in a religious sense, as “a part of” rather than “apart from”. We are earth lovers, Land Spirit worshippers, or sometimes simply people who are willing to walk with a deeper level of awareness of the holiness of any given place.
But that makes me wonder about this airport I’m standing in. There is a kind of worldliness to this place that feels somehow discordant with a Pagan approach of being “in the world.”
Airports may be liminal — neither completely in one space of the other — but they are also quite utilitarian and secular. They seem very much rooted in the earth, although not in that dirty, gritty, soil-from-the-garden kind of way. They’re carpeted and fluorescent-lit. They are worldy places in that they are filled with things which are of the world but which do not necessarily glorify the world, or even make it more beautiful.
I’m aware that the word “worldy” is used negatively in many Christian traditions, and I may be slipping into that framework here with talk of what does and what doesn’t glorify the world. But, when considering the idea that Pagans see the world as sacred, I can’t help but wonder what might be considered to be un-sacred, if there is such a thing.
Gift shop goods are mass produced stuff, often imported from outside of the location which they elude to represent. They are, in that way, disengenuous; a kind of deceit.
Also, there is a sterility to airports, as well as in office buildings, shopping malls and many other public spaces that feels out of step with the natural world. I don’t take that to mean that those locations are out of step in the same severe way that Christian theology would describe a “sinful” person being out of step with God. But, there still seems to be a disconnect.
If the Divine is immanent and present in all things, how is it then that certain environments feel devoid of anything sacred? Perhaps our experience of sacredness is so heavily subjective that we (or me, in this case) are unable to find the evidence of that sacredness in physical things that don’t blatantly represent our limited, preconceived notion of what sacredness looks like.
If the gift shops were stocked with crystals, or tarot decks, or hand-made rune sets, or some other such Pagan accessory (forgive the irreverent term) would I feel more sacredness in this place? Perhaps. But then, another person with a different set of tools, icons, and symbols might feel little but discomfort in the presence of such things.
I have no problem accepting that the world is to be celebrated, and not rejected as outside the realm of the Divine. What does seem problematic to me is understanding if there are parts of the world that are worthy of more celebration and adoration than others, or if I’m to walk through every airport terminal and food court across the land with the reverence of a monk, the piety of a religious man, the attitude that where I stand — beside the Coke machines, the potted ferns and the ventilation system – is holy ground.
Is every place on the earth sacred? Is it inherently sacred, or sacred because we believe it to be so?