Our approach

Arcane Landscape Trust is a Suffolk based initiative established to advance our knowledge and understanding of historic British Ritual Landscapes.

Our work presents new perspectives on our human heritage and draws on rigorous multidisciplinary research, the study of archaeology and archaeoastronomy*, cultural traditions, mythological narratives, and folklore.

Coupled with a holistic and symbolic understanding of spiritual and metaphysical practices, our aim is to enrich personal experience and improve our sense of wholeness through a deeper symbiotic relationship with place, and an enhanced connection between the present and the past.

Our projects offer a unique opportunity to step into the ‘otherworld’, to re-consider, explore, and illuminate the hidden mysteries beneath our feet and above our heads. And although our research is primarily rooted within the landscapes of the East of England, the place that we call home, it’s underlying principles and theories reverberate with historic sacred sites and traditions across the world.

We hope that our work has a positive impact on your appreciation of the landscape, skyscape and ancient artefacts around you, and stimulates a deep personal affinity with the ‘genius loci’ – the spirit of place.

Our approach invites you to consciously consider:

  • Character and topography of place and its influences, including the liminality of locations, and seasonal cycles.
  • Solar observation, orientation, bearing and alignment.
  • Celestial movements, skylore and mythology.
  • Historical evidence, records, data, and lore.

We do not dictate or demand a set of rigid beliefs, but simply ask that you approach these animate landscapes with a curious mind, open to the possibilities that are hidden within.

*A field which considers symbolic cultural interpretations of phenomena in the sky.


A new grammar for the mind

How we relate to our environment today is largely a modern Western ‘problem’, born out of a societal worldview that on the whole downgrade’s ideas or notions of the power of place.[1] Finding ways of attaining a synergic relationship with the natural world can all too easily allude us.

One could say that we have transformed nature and landscape from an essential “existential ‘partner’ — charged with mythical, cultic, numinous, and socializing places of memory, places with which people had a ‘religious’ connection — into economic entities, containers of resources and raw materials, that we can use or rather misuse in a unilateral way”.[2]

However, one simple prescription that can have a profoundly transformative effect is to “look for more daily experiences of awe”[3] by being in the presence of something ‘vast’ that can transcend our understanding of the world. An increased sense of wonder and belonging is exactly what our work looks to re-establish.

This feeling of awe was at the heart of early human history, and science is now starting to understand why during seven million years of hominid evolution it has become so central to our species emotional repertoire. One suggestion “is that awe binds us to social collectives and enables us to act in more collaborative ways… improving our odds for survival.”[4]

Our work proposes a new ‘grammar for the mind’, an approach that is designed to test us as we find ways to reconnect and move ‘within’ the landscape around us. We believe that the acts of ‘thinking’ and ‘doing’ are inseparable. They combine across both the activity and the setting, where thought is embodied and enacted ensuring we are live and adaptable to the effects of the experience.[5] For the world we see and how we relate to it is “constructed in our head – cognition is inseparable from the realm of affect.”[6]

When viewing our environment, what we physically see and mentally attune to is as much guided by our communal character as it is the objects themselves in the landscape, be these hills, rivers, trees, or stones. The language and labels we ascribe to our surroundings may at first glance seem somewhat academic, but they frame our perceptual understandings and in turn can govern our experiences, our perceptions, and ultimately how we think, and feel. These objects only become carriers of meaning if they form part of our shared knowledge, if we pin and associate meaning on to them, ones that validate and support our worldview or cosmology.[7]

By adopting an alternative ontology or ‘nature of being’ we can reconnect and be ‘within’ the landscape as we embrace new ways in our search for meaning, which we hope may go some way to reconcile the dissociative split with nature that so many of us feel.

Neuroplasticity is our brains capacity to constantly create new neural connections as we respond to every thought, experience and word that is read. By the time you have read this sentence, the hard wiring in your brain will have changed, altering your thinking, reshaping your mental landscape. Even a single word has the power to influence the expression of genes that regulate physical and emotional stress[8] so imagine then the power behind the 6,200 thoughts that we are known to have each day![9]

Despite different people possessing the same biological equipment with which to perceive the world around them, it is through the unconscious process of “worlding” that we discriminate and filter the qualities of that environment, that our world views are made.[10]


An evolving ensoulled space

Across the globe, indigenous peoples perceived their space to be the domain of interacting natural powers, inhabiting both individual and collective beings, in a world that was understood as animistic and totemic.

Ancient landscapes became a canvas of expression for cosmological ideas, where monuments and sacred sites reinforced and created notions of self and ‘mythic identity’. The process of sacred continuity created a ritual and religious palimpsest in the landscape, with the reimagining and reanimation of the sacral on top of older sites.

Whilst the people inhabiting our landscape may have changed over time, from the Romans invading Britain in 43 AD through to the medieval period up to the late 15th Century, reusing what was already present in the environment was common place. For instance, medieval field boundaries in the Central zone of England used the same boundaries as that of the Romans 70% of the time.[11]

Recent analysis has shown that from the 600’s settlements in Central and Eastern England were constructed to strict planned design principles, laid out in accordance with geometrically designed grids 18.3 metres square, with towns divided into insulae.[12] This “grid planning was pre-eminently an Anglian cultural trait”[13] and mirrored the work of the Roman agrimensores who engineered straight lines across the land from a central point, with straight roads laid out to the four cardinal points, making a cross. This was achieved through direct observation and measurement of the sun with the surveyor recording the azimuth at sunrise on the foundation day.

These ensoulled landscapes were often charged with profound psychological significance, underpinned by high level technical surveying abilities, as landscapes become “woven into life, and lives are woven into the landscape, in a process that is continuous and never-ending.”[14]

Monuments in these sacralized landscapes have the capacity to provoke states of remembrance, and as such they possess properties that can “draw the believer into a meditative mood or even an altered state of consciousness.”[15] The integrity of place suffers when we become disconnected from our imagination. By participating in the local imagination, we include the whole synthesis of located experience, including the sights, feelings, stories and concepts, a holistic sense of place can be achieved, through our organ of perception.[16]

People constructed and built their identities on the correspondences and connections between landscape features, celestial bodies, particular animals, architypes, and ancestral memories, alongside the occurrence of everyday events and relationships.[17] But what played a central outstanding role amongst these interacting powers of nature, were the objects and appearances in what we call the celestial sphere, as skylines themselves were both ‘monuments and monumental’.[18]

The unfolding drama of the changing heavens was important and “not just a single moment”. Mythical stories formed a corpus for understanding what could be seen on a starry winter night. What appears to be simply the physical stars and their white paths as they move across the dome of the heavens going down below the horizon “should rather be imagined to be the home of divine figures, with different dwellings and with individual characters visible and moving around in both a regular pattern.”[19]


References

  1. Devereux, P. (1997) The Archaeology of Consciousness, in Journal of Scientific Exploration, Vol. 11, No. 4.
  2. Brink, S. (2013) Myth and ritual in pre-Christian Scandinavian landscape. In Nordeide, S.W. & Brink, S. (eds.). Sacred Sites and Holy Places: Exploring the Sacralisation of Landscape through Time and Space.
  3. Keltner, D. (2016) Science-based insights for a meaningful life. Greater Good Magazine.
  4. Keltner, D. (ibid)
  5. Lave, J. (988) Cognition in Practice. Cambridge University Press.
  6. Ingold, T. (2000) The Perception of the Environment. Routledge.
  7. Wilson, P. J. (1988) The Domestication of the human species. Yale University Press.
  8. Newberg, A & Waldman, M (2012) Words Can Change Your Brain. Penguin.
  9. Poppenk, J. (2020) Research Chair in Cognitive Neuroscience. Queens University in Canada.
  10. Descola, P. (2014) Modes of Being and Forms of Predication. Hau: Journal of Ethnographic Theory.
  11. Rippon, S. (2018) Kingdom, Civitas, and County: The Evolution of Territorial Identity in the English Landscape. Oxford University Press.
  12. Blair, J, Smart. C & Rippon, S. (2020) Planning in the Early Medieval Landscape. Liverpool University Press.
  13. Blair, J. (2018) Building Anglo-Saxon England. Princeton University Press.
  14. Tilley, C. (1994) A Phenomenology of Landscape. Berg.
  15. Walter, E.V. (1988) Placeways. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.
  16. Walter, E.V. (ibid)
  17. Iwaniszewski, S. (2016) The Social Life of Celestial Bodies: The Sky in Cultural Perspective. In Astronomy and Power: How Worlds Are Structured. Oxford: British Archaeological Reports.
  18. Ritchie, I. (2004) The Spire. Categorical Books.
  19. Grigsby, J. (2019) Skyscapes, landscapes, and the drama of Proto-Indo-European myth. Bournemouth University.
  • Ancient landscapes might also have been structured according to symbolic or cosmological principles, forming what have become known as ‘sacred geographies’. Specific places, and indeed whole landscapes, are ‘contexts for human experience, constructed in movement, memory, encounter and association.

    Clive Ruggles

  • The natural world had the capacity to achieve divine status, the numen or unseen, where the realm of this ‘otherworldly’ power was inhabited by beings to whom offerings could be made in order to secure their goodwill at these special places and especially at sacred moments in time.

    C.J Godfrey