Summary of Sacred Space and Making the World Sacred, Mircea Eliade
Sacred space and making the world sacred, is an extract from theorist Mircea Eliade’s 1987 book The Sacred and The Profane: The Nature of Religion. Mircea Eliade’s argument is that there is no such thing as a homogeneous space, even for the non-religious man. He presents this argument that all religions share something in common, by identifying the difference between the sacred and the profane it gives us a meaning of life.
According to Eliade, “Where the sacred manifests it-self in space, the real unveils itself, the world comes into existence,” this manifestation can occur in the form of a hierophany or a theophany; both allow us to identify our axis mundi or absolute fixed. Hierophany being the manifestation of the holy and theophany means manifestation of God or the divine into the mundane world. To support his argument, Eliade presents us with his five key points regarding religion. To the religious man, religion differentiates between sacred and profane space through hierophany and theophany.
Second, as presented in creation stories it has the ability to orients us; allowing us to identify our place in the cosmos. “Life is not possible without and opening toward the transcendent; in other words, human beings cannot live in chaos”. According Elaide, the religious man hungers after the transcendent and for that reason he needs an axis mundi; a sacred world center that permits him to communicate with the divine. His fourth key point is the consecration of sacred space, for the religious man it is the repeating of the cosmogony in the name of their God.
In his final key point Eliade compares and contrasts the religious man and the modern man. According to him, “religious man can live only in a sacred world…it is there that he has real existence,” for that reason he hungers after the transcendent. According to Eliade, non-religious man on the other hand leaves us disoriented about our existence. Their idea of a sacred space differs from that of the religious man; it is not associated with the divine. Mircea Eliade, in his writing presents us with various examples to help us understand his point of view.
There is a reoccurring theme of how space is not homogenous even for the non-religious man, sacred space for the religious man gives him a sense of identity. The first example Eliade gives us is of Moses traveling through the desert to Sinai from the biblical book of Exodus. On his journey he comes across a burning bush, curious, Moses walks towards it and at this moment God appears to him. God orders Moses to not come any much closer, He said the following words to him “put off thy shoes from thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground”.
In this moment manifestation of the holy and sacred has occurred, hierophany and theophany has taken place marking the area as a holy and sacred ground. “When the sacred manifest itself in any hieorphany, there is not only a break in the homgenity of space; there is also a revelation of an absolute reality, opposed to the non-reality of the vast surrounding expanse,” which according to him orients us. Axis Mundi is what provides a method of communication between the divine and humans. One of the examples Eliade gives us is of the Judaeo-Christian traditions of Jerusalem being ‘navel of the earth’.
Hebrew tradition states that ‘the world was created beginning with Zion,’ because the world originates from the center of the earth and spreads outward. Eliade’s fourth key point is the consecration of sacred space which means repeating of the cosmogony. For the religious man consecration takes place in honor of their God, the example Eliade gives is the raising of the Cross; “the raising of the Cross was equivalent to consecrating the country…The newly discovered country was ‘renewed,’ ‘recreated’ by the Cross”. To the non-religious man, Eliade states that a world that is not discovered by them is not yet a world.
Eliade, in his last key point from the text describes the difference and commonality between the religious and non-religious man. For both space is not homogenous, there is common belief between the two that somethings are more sacred than others. For a non-religious man it is his birthplace and the places he shared with his first love; “those are the ‘holy places’ of his private universe”. For a religious man Eliade uses the church and a street as an example, “for a believer, the church shares in a different space from the street in which it stands”.
According to Eliade, the church provides a continuous life and a connection between man and the divine; it something that the profane world cannot provide the religious man with. The religious man can only experience real existence in a sacred space and therefor that is where he can truly live. Eliade in his text and through his five key point regarding religion has explained his theory and continuous theme of how the experience of the sacred space provides us with a sense of identity by revealing the truth. The scared allows for orientation to happen by also revealing the truth.