What does Mythic Cartography mean?
I developed the term Mythic Cartography to describe “the act of creating and maintaining sacred places, sacred paths, and sacred maps”. Some call these places, paths, and maps “sacred geography”. And the relationship we have to them defines our relationship to the entire universe. So Mythic Cartography involves the ongoing relationship with creating and maintaing sacred geography and thus our relationship to all the world.
Every indigenous culture, rooted in place, has (or had) a basket woven of sacred stories that maintains their relationship to the land around them. This basket encourages their care and affection to the land, which supports health and vitality in the people. When this relationship degrades, so do the people. This basket I call the Mythmap.
Nothing tells the story of Mythmaps and Mythic Cartography better than the maps and cartographers themselves.
From Invincible Warrior: A Pictorial Biography of the founder of Aikido, by John Stevens:
Morihei Ueshiba was born on December 14, 1883,..in…Tanabe, Japan…at the foot of the Kumano Mountains….Kumano is Japan’s Holy Land, the sacred place where the Shinto gods descended to earth; the gateway to Amida Buddha’s Pure Land is also believed to be hidden there. the entire district of Kumano is venerated as a mountain mandala–home, over the centuries, to a host of ascetics, wonder-workers, and sages….The grand shrines of Kumano and the sacred waterfall of Nachi are the meccas of Shinto, and every Japanese true believer, including the emperor, longs to make at least one pilgrimage to worship at those sacred sites and perhaps catch a glimpse of one of the Eight Great Dragon Kings who sport in the Nachi Falls.
Morihei Ueshiba, founder of the martial-art Aikido, had a grand reputation for skills and powers beyond belief, and his aging live-in students of more than half a century ago recount marvelous stories to this day. Often present in their recollections you can hear a question: how did he do these amazing feats? As students of Aikido, why don’t we have these magical abilities?
Centuries ago, En-no-Gyoja, the Grand Wizard, practiced Taoist meditation techniques in the surrounding mountains and used his magic to fly from peak to peak; modern-day yamabushi (mountain ascetics) insist that En-no-Gyoja appears to them in vivid visions. It is said that colors and sounds can be perceived in their original state in Kumano, and that ascetic practices conducted there result in unparalleled clarity of mind and clairvoyance. In the year of Morihei’s birth one such yamabushi named Jitsukage leapt from the top of towering Nachi Falls as a final act of sutemi-gyo, the total abandonment of body and soul to the Divine. From birth, Morihei was immersed in an atmosphere in which the supernatural, the mysterious, and the holy were palpably present.
When you live in the embrace of a MythMap, you have the chance to see the whole world with magical eyes. But…do some places have “the magic”, like Kumano, Japan, and others not?
From Long LIfe, Honey in the Heart, by Martin Prechtel:
The people of Santiago Atitlan had no concept of their town being part of somebody else’s country. As far as they were concerned, everything real in the world was inside their territory.
Their land was the world to them. Guatemala as a country was a mythological spirit realm distant and unfamiliar to most Tzutujil people and categorized by them no differently than Japan, Jerusalem, Germany, or the United States…There was no possible way of saying “leaving home” in the Tzutujil language. The people called the placement of their own town the Canyon Village. The surrounding land that was their world, the land that fed them, they affectionately called the Flowering Mountain Earth. This was their homeland. The village itself was known to all Tzutujil as Ch’jay, meaning literally “At Home.”
This Homeland was bound and embraced on all sides but one by three forested volcanic peaks, and on the remaining side by the Mother Lake herself. Named for parts of the human body, this land was concentrically circumscribed by still more forested ridges, valleys, and bluffs radiating out some ten to fifteen miles on either side.
Though appearing relatively small on a modern map, this land of the Tzutujil was the world of the Canyon Village people and to them it was enormous. The Canyon Village was subject to an ancient way of understanding I call Internal Bigness. This way of being and seeing permeated every aspect of Tzutujil life. In the same way little children can magically turn the ten-by-ten area of a sandbox play area into the farthest reaches of the Universe, the Canyon Village understood the internal bigness of their world. Because every rock, trail, mountain, stump, spring, and incline was either the back bone of a dead giant in an old story, or a rock placed there by a Goddess who in her grief could go no farther, the land opened up into an internal immensity that was known only to the people whose world it was. The road map to this internal Tzutujil Kingdom were the myriad of stories, mythologies, legends, and histories taught to them during ritual meetings and village initiations.
This sandbox knowledge was not held by one or two children but handed down and added to by the twenty-eight thousand individuals of all ages who lived in this landscape of ancient Tzutujil story dream.
Because of this, their land was so big and magnificent that no human could comprehend it all. Only the Gods knew how to measure it. Its tiny physical size was simply an abbreviation of a cultural enormity that was carried inside each Tzutujil. Though it appeared to outsiders that the people lived off of and inside their land, the entire earth lived inside each villager.
And so we can perceive our task: to look around us, at the hills, rivers, streets and cemeteries, the parks and playgrounds, to remake them and retell them anew, and have them live inside us, magical and alive. For wherever we live, it lies at the foot of the Sacred Mountains, and wherever we stand, we stand in the midst of the Holy Land.
The central mountain is everywhere. – Black Elk