Spirit of Place – Geomancy and Art in the Landscape

by Grahame Gardner

Geomancy aims to harmonise and enhance the telluric energies of a specific area. This workshop, conducted in France during 2004, explored how geomancy principles can be applied to the intentional placement of artworks in the landscape, and how inspiration can be drawn from the Spirit of Place.

In May of last year, I was invited to host a week-long workshop on geomancy and art, in conjunction with renowned Japanese glass artist Keiko Mukaide.
We were based in the workshop of the Glass Museum of Sars-Poteries in northeast France, historically a celebrated glass production centre; and our brief was to provide the nine students with an introduction to earth energies and geomancy, with a view to them producing and installing site-specific mixed media artworks in the gardens of the Museum in just 6 days. Not an easy task, especially without any translation facilities as neither of us speaks French! But this was a unique opportunity to explore the interaction of art and landscape, to see what sort of inspiration could be drawn from nature, and how the installation of such artworks would affect the earth energies in the area.

Keiko specialises in site-specific works and, being Japanese, has a good understanding of energetic placement in landscape. One of her previous mixed-media installations was in the gardens of Hill House in Helensburgh, a Charles Rennie Mackintosh-designed home in the care of the National Trust for Scotland. Since she was forbidden to attach anything to the fabric of the building, Keiko concentrated on the various terraces of the garden and installed several works, linking the separate pieces together using sound, light and careful placement to provide a sense of connection where no direct link existed. For example, visitors to the house were first alerted to the presence of the installation by moving twinkles of reflected coloured light on the ceiling of the drawing room, and when they looked out of the window to see what was causing this, they would see the first piece of the installation outside, little pieces of coloured dichroic glass mounted on springy stalks. When they walked outside for a closer look, their attention was drawn towards a second piece by the use of sound, and so on. Keiko calls this technique ‘Miegakari’, a Japanese word meaning ‘between the seen and the unseen’, and this seems to me to be a very appropriate description for our unique collaboration between art and geomancy, exploring our relationship with Spirit of Place.

Keiko’s microscope-slide installation over blind spring

The major problem of course was in trying to communicate these ideas to the nine students. The Museum had declined to pay for a translator as all the students spoke English to some degree, yet not surprisingly some people had trouble understanding the concepts of dowsing and geomantic placement, although most fared better with Keiko’s broken English than my rapid-fire Scots accent. The first day was particularly difficult, and there was some clear resentment from some of the ‘regular’ students who did not understand what we were trying to do and could not understand why they weren’t being allowed to do any glass work. Even though we started gently with a slide show and general introduction to our plan for the week, one or two of them told us later that they had considered leaving at lunchtime. However, they willingly joined in with a short attunement meditation, and the afternoon fared somewhat better as I began dowsing lessons, with most people managing to get fairly consistent reactions from underground water.

The workshop is a new building with an extensive drainage network laid all around, so it was easy to demonstrate the difference between drains and natural water flows. We moved on to finding a blind spring and a couple of energy leys, and I demonstrated the energy effects of these on the human body using muscle-testing.

I also introduced them to the concept of map dowsing, by asking them to try to locate a tetrahedral crystal that I had concealed in one of the workshops, by dowsing a plan of the building. This turned into an impromptu treasure hunt using L-rods, but sadly only two students correctly identified the actual room where the crystal was concealed and no-one managed to definitively locate the crystal. But we would return to that exercise later, so the location was not disclosed.
At dinner in the workshop that evening there were some very mixed reactions around the table. About half of the students were very excited that they had managed to dowse successfully, whilst the remainder were wondering what they had let themselves in for and whether they had made the right choice in coming along at all.

sand-etched glass labyrinth

Day two started with a circle meditation followed by discussion and another slide show from Keiko’s archive, illustrating her style of work and past installation projects. I followed this by a session on labyrinths, since we were going to make one in the gardens of the museum that afternoon. We had thought this was a good way to get the students to open up to the earth energies, but it was to prove much more than that!
By lunchtime the students had done some more dowsing practice and had a better idea of what we were trying to achieve, and most were eager to get on with some glass working, which was scheduled for the afternoon. But first, we paid a visit to the garden of the museum, about half a mile away, to pick spots for their finished works. The garden is a lovely location; plenty of trees and shrubs at the rear with lots of secret places, a stream running down one side, and a large lawn with a stately but lightning-struck tree in the centre that was desperately clinging on to life. It was spoiled only by the addition of an astonishingly badly placed grey Portakabin that contained the museum offices.

After a brief circle ceremony and attunement meditation, students were instructed to open themselves to the energies of the garden and sent off with pendulum or L-rods to dowse or otherwise sense a spot that they wanted to work with. I had debated about asking them to find a power centre by dowsing, but judged that this was a little advanced for them as we had only really covered basic dowsing, so I simply asked them to find a spot that had energy that they could work with. Here some people found the dowsing worked really well for them; one lady from Israel came back excitedly waving her pendulum and shouting, “I believe! I believe!” – she had found a very strong reaction from the pendulum and was drawn to a lovely willow tree that it indicated.

marking out the labyrinth

Meanwhile, I had started marking out the garden with stakes, rope and paint for a labyrinth. The museum had supplied 160m of rope to lay this out with, and I had spent an hour or two making pins out of galvanised wire. By the time the students had all found a spot for their installation, the labyrinth was marked out in paint and I had started laying out the rope walls. Our youngest student Jean-Sebastian, a 21-year old lad from Switzerland, volunteered to help me with the rope laying whilst everyone else went back to the workshop, eager to finally get their hands on some glass and begin crafting their pieces under Keiko’s supervision.

It’s commonly known that laying out labyrinths always produces at least one moment of confusion, and this one was no exception. Having laid out over three-quarters of the rope walls, it became clear that I had underestimated the length of rope required, although to be fair I had increased the size of the labyrinth on site as the lawn allowed for a bigger size than anticipated. It looked like I was going to be some 20m short. Fortunately I had brought some 90m of coloured marking twine with me, and so we had one ‘line’ of labyrinth in yellow nylon rope, and the other in orange twine! Not quite according to plan, but at least it allowed me to illustrate how the labyrinth is constructed using just two lines.

walking the path

After work finished in the studio, Keiko brought the students back to walk the labyrinth for the first time. Having given a brief chat about the construction and energy effects including dowsing to see where the water and energy leys were (one energy ley ran right through the goal and the entrance was aligned on this, which also happened to be North), I allowed them to walk it individually whilst I played a singing bowl at the entrance. Everyone said that it had been strangely relaxing to walk, although I could see that one or two were a bit cynical about the whole thing.

Time to move things up a gear! I then introduced them to the Appleton trust walk, where each person was guided into the labyrinth with their eyes closed. This proved very popular, and there were smiling faces all round as we finished. By then it was time for dinner, and we regrouped at a local restaurant for evening meal and some animated discussion about labyrinths.

blown and poured glass

For the remainder of the week the emphasis now shifted towards glass-making, and everyone seemed pleased to be finally working with their hands. During this time, Keiko and I wandered round and had private talks with various students to see how they were doing. And I got to thinking about the properties of glass as a material in geomancy terms. The great thing about it is that it is not a solid substance; it is in constant flow and melts over a wide range of temperatures. Even relatively low temperatures will cause glass to flow given a long enough period of time – some people think that the bulging in the bottom of old stained glass windows is due to this effect.

So it seems an ideal material for holding energetic intent. And there is definitely alchemy involved in its production – the roaring fire of the furnaces, molten glass being blown into shape, or moulded in sand boxes… all the elements are involved in the process at some stage.

We continued to walk the labyrinth daily, and I was pleased that the labyrinth magic was clearly working on people. We had two folk breaking down and crying on their second walk, and a few others said that it had brought up many issues of choice and life direction for them. I had demonstrated how to use the labyrinth as a problem-solving device by using each turn to focus on different aspects of a particular issue, and this clearly resonated with the students.

Work continued on their pieces until Friday, when it was time to install the artworks in the gardens. I had not asked the students to provide me with much detail of their pieces, and there had been some very intriguing constructions being made in the workshops, so I was keen to see how they would look once installed.

The weather gods smiled on us and provided a gloriously sunny day, and by 5pm everyone had just about finished installing their pieces. Meanwhile Keiko and I did a small installation of our own in the labyrinth. We had ‘borrowed’ a glass roof finial from the studio – these were a common architectural feature on buildings in the village, traditionally made by the workshop. We placed this at the crossing, and in the goal we placed a black dish filled with water and some broken pieces of mirror and coloured dichroic glass, surrounded by Keiko’s favourite impromptu material, microscope slides. A sacrificial ‘offering’ of some 15-year old Balvenie in my Quaich provided added incentive for the students!

When we were ready, it was time for the dedication ceremony. I asked the students to each find a small stone, before joining hands and leading them in a spiral dance into the centre of the labyrinth, where the stones were placed in the dish of water. I then placed one of my power crystals in the centre to ‘hold the space’. I find that these crystals, a set of five carved into the shapes of the Platonic Solids, produce very interesting effects when placed on energy leys with proper intent; each crystal generating an energy form based on its geometry.

Then, with linked hands I guided the group in a meditation to capture the energy of the whole garden and focus it into the dish, asking that the energy be transferred to their stones. People then retrieved their stones and walked out individually and went straight to their chosen installation spots, where the stones were placed to focus the energies there. Before beginning this process, we had dowsed to find the overall energy level of the garden, and for me it dowsed at 64 units. After the installations were finished and energised, it rose to 364, and continued to rise over the next hour or two to a high of 482 units.

Just enough time left before dinner for a tour of all the installations, and most people were inspired to create a short explanation of the concept and execution of the piece. I was impressed at the way every piece had a definite connection with its placement and also reflected very accurately the personality of its artist – some were very ‘loose’ and free-flowing, others very rigid and controlled. But I couldn’t say that some were ‘better’ than others – they were each appropriate to the person and the place, and we really could not have asked for a better result than that.

Friday night was our last meal together, and everyone seemed pleased with the finished installations, many of which were going to be left in place for visitors to find. And although there was a slight sadness that the week was coming to a close, there was general satisfaction at what had been achieved. All that remained was for John-Sebastian to find the tetrahedral crystal that I had concealed in the workshop as an exercise in map dowsing at the start of the week. He had correctly identified the room on the map, but despite trying all week he couldn’t manage to pin down the exact position either with pendulum on the map or L-rods in the room, although he had narrowed it down to one half of the room. This was his last chance to find the crystal. So off he went with his L-rods, watched by myself and one or two others.

Now, I had concealed the crystal on top of a light switch, just behind the corner of a sheet of canvas that had been taped to the wall, almost covering the switch. I watched from the doorway as Jean-Sebastian followed his L-rods until they were touching the light switch not just once, but three times! Yet he couldn’t make the lateral leap of pulling the edge of the canvas aside. In the end I took pity on him and put him out of his misery. He was both disgusted at himself and elated that his dowsing had actually worked! I gave him a wooden finger labyrinth as a prize.

On Saturday morning it was back to the gardens to remove any installations that were not being left, and to ceremonially close the labyrinth and remove it. Keiko and I smudged the labyrinth as we walked it for the last time, and then removed the glass and microscope slides before closing down the labyrinth. The water dish was carried out and the water given as offering to the old damaged tree at the centre of the garden. Then we tidied up and went back to the workshop for lunch. And all too soon everyone was saying goodbye and packing their artworks into their cars. Keiko left with one of the students as she was going to meet someone from Germany and was planning a trip to Chartres; I stayed in the workshop on my own for one more night before getting the train back to Paris the next morning.
Overall, it went amazingly well given the language barriers; we all learned a lot from the week and it is very definitely something that Keiko and I would love to do again.

© 2005 Grahame Gardner & BSD EEG