5 Things Not to Do at Sacred Sites

Are you visiting a sacred site, like Sedona?. Image by ImagineGolf/E+/Getty Images

You’ve just arrived at a sacred site, and it’s an exciting thing indeed! But guess what – you may not be the only person who’s there to enjoy the experience. If you want to get the best experience possible, make sure you're not the person who ruins it for everyone else. Here are 5 things you'll want to avoid doing when you visit a sacred site.

1. Don’t Be Disrespectful of Others

Sure, if it’s an obscure place that’s hard to reach, like the Bighorn Medicine Wheel, you might just be alone.

However, if it’s a place like Stonehenge, that’s a popular destination for tourists as well as spiritual seekers, odds are good that you’ll have company. It’s important to recognize that their experience is just as valuable and important as your own.

So, what does this mean? Pretty simply put, act like an adult. Don’t run around like a fool, don’t scream at the top of your lungs, and don’t be hostile towards others – especially people who are clearly of a different spiritual persuasion than your own.

What you can do instead: Even if you’re outdoors, use an inside voice when speaking with the people around you. Walk quietly and slowly. Take the time to enjoy what you’re seeing, and don’t just look, but feel the magic of the place. If you happen to encounter someone who’s quietly meditating somewhere or obviously enjoying their time alone, don’t pester them unless they’ve made it apparent that they’d like to engage.

2. Don’t Be Destructive

Every year, particularly during the summer months, we see news stories about people who do destructive things at sites that are, if not sacred, certainly archaeologically valuable. There was the guy who rode an ATV over the grass at the Great Serpent Mound in Ohio, or the people who dug up rocks and threw them around a prehistoric cave in Arizona, or the spray-paint graffiti that ended up all over some thousand-year-old rock art in the Nevada desert.

None of this is ever okay, although that should go without saying. In some places, visitors are asked to not even touch things, and if that’s the guideline at the site you’re exploring, then follow it.

What you can do instead: Keep your hands to yourself. If you wouldn’t want someone to do it to your grandma’s house, then don’t do it to a sacred site. Also, if there's a donation box for upkeep and maintenance, contribute if you can.

3. Don’t Take Souvenirs

It’s really tempting to bring home a bit of sacred stuff with us when we leave a site – after all, that way you have a little bit of something that you can enjoy once you’ve returned home. The problem is that if every person who visits the place takes a stone, or a tree branch, or a chip off a big rock, or whatever, eventually the landscape is going to change, and there won’t be as much left for future generations. Even if it’s really tempting to break off a piece of something – after all, it’s just a little bit, who’s going to miss it? – don’t do it.

What you can do instead: Don’t hesitate to ask the people working at a sacred site – and there are often paid staff or volunteers nearby – if there is something they encourage visitors to take.

I’ve visited a couple of places where guests are told they can take a small handful of earth from nearby, or a single stone from an adjacent area. If you’re told it’s okay, then feel free to do so.

Reader Brad K says, "There is an old Catholic Church in Chimayo, New Mexico where so many people take a bit of dirt that the Priests bring in a couple of wheelbarrows of new soil every evening after the tourists leave. An old Spanish tradition is to walk to the church on Easter and take some sacred dirt before you leave. A bit of dirt for a $10 donation is a pretty good business."

Also, an even better option? Take photos. Take lots of them, from different angles, at different times of day if possible.

4. Don’t Leave a Mess

It’s hard to believe in this day and age that we actually have to remind other adults to clean up after themselves, but it’s true.

People visit locations the world over and leave acres of detritus behind them. Don’t throw your garbage on the ground. This includes pet waste – if you’re lucky enough to be able to take your dog with you when you visit a sacred site, for the love of all that is holy, don’t leave his droppings behind.

What you can do instead: Try not to take much in with you in the first place, but garbage you do generate – snack wrappers, cigarette butts, water bottles – should come right back out with you. Pack a trash bag – and an extra one if you’ve got your pooch with you. Keep in mind that some sacred sites do allow visitors to leave specific types of offerings behind - if that's the official guideline, go for it.

5. Don’t Be Unappreciative of the Staff

In different parts of the world, sacred sites fall under the management of a variety of different entities. In the US, many are part of our National Parks system. In the UK, some of these locations fall under the National Trust, and in other countries, there are a number of local and national bodies that maintain these sites. Sometimes, a site may be on private property, managed by the people who own the land. Regardless of where you’re located, a sacred site probably has someone who is staffing it – this may be a single park ranger, or an entire fleet of volunteers. These people are there to do a job, so if they ask you to do something – or not do it – please be respectful.

What you can do instead: Chances are pretty good that the people staffing a sacred site have a lot of great information to share.

Why not engage? Ask questions, and see what you can learn that you didn’t know before. It’ll be a rewarding experience that can help to give you a brand new perspective.

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Wigington, Patti. "5 Things Not to Do at Sacred Sites." ThoughtCo, Jun. 2, 2016, thoughtco.com/things-not-to-do-at-sacred-sites-2562639. Wigington, Patti. (2016, June 2). 5 Things Not to Do at Sacred Sites. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/things-not-to-do-at-sacred-sites-2562639 Wigington, Patti. "5 Things Not to Do at Sacred Sites." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/things-not-to-do-at-sacred-sites-2562639 (accessed November 18, 2017).