The lead photo for this post is one I took at St Nectan’s Kieve on a recent trip to Cornwall.
It’s just down the road from Tintagel and is supposed to be the place where King Arthur baptised his Round Table knights.
Obviously, a story like that is archaeologically inaccurate for a variety of reasons I will get into at a later date. But you could definitely detect an astral imprint of some kind of baptisms or water rites.
Both my mother -who is more clairvoyant than me by a factor of around a thousand- and I could clearly detect the images of different people sitting in whatever the Old Cornish version of half lotus is under the waterfall with a phalanx of others around them. I could only see males, however. (Story of my life.)
There isn’t even actually a St Nectan. There is, however, a Cornish sea god called Necton. And this hidden valley and waterfall had a hermit guardian for about a thousand years. Presumably that’s where the idea of a ‘saint’ of ‘Necton’ came from. You can still pray in his cottage/chapel. Also they sell ice creams there.
As I walked up the valley, I was distinctly aware that this was a Holy Place. Something lived here. And it’s a feeling you only encounter as you walk up the valley. From the hills at the top you can’t feel anything… You can’t actually see anything.
It reminded me of the Elvish name for Rivendell; Imladris. Which means “hidden valley”. I would be very surprised if Tolkien hadn’t visited St Nectan’s Kieve. He was part of a research group doing archaeology just up the coast near Bristol and he certainly had a thing for tales like this. (Not necessarily Arthurian tales… They were way t0o French for him. But he would have liked Cornish sea gods. The man had taste.)
St Nectan’s Kieve is definitely one of the few remaining corners of the First World where the spirit world is palpably right there… Even for the least sensitive of humans.
I love holy places.
I love them for practical reasons, I love them for their physicality. They are an outward manifestation that something more is going on in the universe.
How/why do I love them? Let me count the ways:
Practicality is always a good place to start. You can leave offerings, you can leave objects to cook/charge. In some cases you can even take things away. We took small vials of water from the waterfall.
They make you feel small
If there is a weight loss holy place that you know of and you aren’t telling me about it then we are no longer friends.
They make you feel small in a sense that magic doesn’t necessarily lend itself to. Presumably because you spend so much time trying to big yourself up so your spells work better.
It’s almost like you can’t take in the enormity of the whole place with just your eyes.
You feel small because you experience psychic vertigo.
And humility is something we can all do with more of.
Back to practical again, but it’s unavoidable. Holy places are benchmarks.
If I encounter Necton either in the sea, in a dream, during a ritual or whatever…. I now know what he ‘feels’ like. (At least when he’s on land.)
This is unbelievably useful if you are risking spiritual trespassing. In New Zealand, I used holy places to great effect to get a feeling for what Täne was like. And also a whole bunch of Taniwha. (Who, it turns out, are more useful in magic, anyway.)
Do you see the little offerings in the photos? There are more of them in the Flickr gallery below.
Some of them were too personal to photograph (so I didn’t). There were postcards to deceased uncles from kids saying they went to his favourite holiday spot that summer “just like they always did”, there was a letter written from a young mother to her deceased mother telling her how the grandchild was doing at school… Clearly a child she hadn’t got the chance to meet in life… That kind of thing.
Holy places give you a window into humanity that you can’t find elsewhere. And that’s a privilege.
They’re good for sharing
My father is a celebrated mental health professional. And while he’s technically open to the ‘whole spiritual thing’ as a notion -and has done a few years of trying some of them out- he is not as open as he may think.
To make matters worse, his psychic sensitivity is in the minus range. Literally in the minus range. He negates psychic ability like some kind of walking, talking kryptonite. (I hope it doesn’t sound like I don’t like him. We actually get along great.)
Like most men of a certain age, he has formed his opinions. Which he will tell you. Never mind that they are mostly just soundbites from a documentary he watched last month or (this one drives mum crazy) in fact your own opinions repeated back to you several years later as if they are his own.
But holy places are like being cockpunched in a dark alley.
You can’t see what happened but something certainly did. My father came with me when we dived on the sunken city of Nan Madol back when I was 19 and shooting an underwater documentary. Over drinks that night, he said that “something” was “undoubtedly there.”
Bringing it back to St Nectan, he described the place as “moving”.
So this is why I like holy places.
What about you?