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Ethics for Visiting Sacred Sites

After screenings of In the Light of Reverence, people often ask how they can experience sacred places respectfully, in a way that doesn’t appropriate from native people or offend them. Here are a few ideas for discussion and practice.

1. Always ask permission from a site's caretaker or guardian before visiting. Be prepared to accept a negative response. Many sites can be visited only by those who are initiated. Even after attaining permission from a governing agency you may be offending indigenous people who may not have jurisdiction over their own sacred sites.

2. Learn about and respect customs regarding attire, offerings and behavior at sacred places. Know the history of people and place before visiting.

3. Realize that people of other cultures have different belief systems about sacred time, space and appropriate actions. For example, nudity may seem natural to some but offensive to others, particularly at important cultural sites.

4. Refrain from performing rituals that may be culturally unacceptable or offensive. Most sites have people who are specially trained to perform rituals that are traditionally associated with the site. Ask about participating in rituals that are being performed. Sometimes outsiders may not have the proper instruction or preparation required for participation.

5. Always ask for permission before taking photographs, video or film, or before drawing, recording or taking notes. When in doubt, don’t.

6. Refrain from walking on fragile, ancient “ruins” or from entering ceremonial sites. Stay on marked trails or walkways even in temples, churches and shrines.

7. Do not move or remove anything at a sacred site. If you are at a natural sacred site such as a mountain or spring, remember that offerings can take many forms.

8. Find a quiet location and quiet time to experience the spirit of place. Even at crowded places of mass pilgrimage, out-of-the way spots exist for reflection, contemplation and inspiration.

— Christopher McLeod, Filmmaker





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As I looked up at the climbers on the tower, it imparted
to me a feeling of violation — a sense of desecration.
And I thought to myself, “Why are they doing this?
Don’t they have any respect for anything?”


— Johnson Holy Rock (Lakota)

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