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Spirits and Presences

Jacob Reuter


Myriad peoples and spiritual communities consider Crestone to be a sacred place that carries the energies and presence of spirits. Some of the voices of the Crestone Spiritual Alliance say it is these spirits that bring lamas, yogis and other people of elevated spiritual status to the religious Mecca of North America. Others claim that it is the presence of these holy people that make the San Luis Valley a sacred place. Perhaps it is both. Within these multiple understandings of spirits and presences, there are three main theoretical camps among the people our class interviewed in Crestone. 1. People who believe in the elemental power found in sacred geography, 2. People who believe in the power of spiritually enlightened individuals who reside in Crestone to emit their positive energies to the Baca area, and 3. People who believe in the forces of otherworldly realms and spirit beings without a strict application to the physical, geographical or human realms, but rather what we may call “spirits and presences.” Fiona Bowie differentiates understandings of spirits and presences in her discussion of animism and animatism, where the former is a belief that natural objects and phenomenon possess spirit and the latter is the attribution of consciousness to inanimate objects and phenomenon (2006). I will explore the different ways people perceive the presence of superior forces or spirits and how these understandings of the meta-physical are cornerstones of the sacred “bloodless valley.”

Many people attribute the power of the San Luis Valley to the dramatic Sangre de Cristo Mountains, which drastically rise up from the flat glen floors. Others find the same power in the water that runs 14,000 feet under the earth’s surface, a symbolic mirror to the majestic mountains. The clean, dry, crisp air or the graceful elk that graze along the ridges in the early morning hours gives patronage to a land that is still wild. Whether it is air, water, sun, mountains or trees, the people who ascribe to these beliefs are finding spiritual energy in the power of nature.

Hanne Strong the founder of the Manitou Foundation spoke of the intensity of the aquifer’s energy:

“This aquifer is part of the spiritual energy that helps people do the work, get enlightened. When you come in here on retreat you better do the work or you’re going to go crazy because the energy is so intense, and everything is amplified!”

Joy Kells, a volunteer firefighter also finds power in the earth:

 “The energy comes from the earth and the mountains and the sky…I am pretty much a worshipper of Mother Earth and the sacredness of the unity of all life. I pray to Mother Earth.”

 Hanne continues by describing the sentience of all earthy creations:

“…. Then you have of course all kinds of major spirits, the Indians call them nagas, but ya know, there’s a spirit of the earth a spirit of the water, spirits of the trees, spirits of the mountains, it’s not just a dead landscape.”

 William Buehler understands the earth’s energies as relating to human energy:

“There is a hum that comes out of the earth, people have heard it…that’s an energy conscious wave that comes out of the center of the planet… the planet is humming a tone in the way that humans do as a meditation technique... messing with earth reduces our unconscious ability to pick up this humming"

Some Crestone residents view this spiritual energy from the earth as a means to achieve further states of spiritual consciousness such as enlightenment or a deeper understanding. These beliefs that give value and life to all of the earth’s components tend towards a more integrated and interdependent understanding of the physical and spiritual dimensions of the human experience, opposed to a linear and reductionist approach. That is to say there is more focus on the interconnectedness of everything than the direct cause and effect standpoint. While the themes of this approach to understanding the meta-physical are common among many Crestone spiritual groups, they are not the sole force of spirits and presences. Among many individuals it is not the earth or the energies of natural elements in Crestone that give its powerful spiritual force, but rather the presence of highly spiritual people who practice there.

Debra Floyd the self-proclaimed village witch stated:

 “In the mountains, there are masters up there, I’m telling you, and they would teach me. I would hear them loud and clear. There’s just so many things. You feel it. The people who are called to it really feel it, and then others aren’t.”

There is a shared belief among many Crestonians that the people on retreat in these mountains radiate goodwill to all sentient beings through their prayers and practices regardless of their tradition or affiliation. These prayers, or thoughts of good will, are considered to have a direct causal effect on the people of the world. Others who do not ascribe to this philosophy of energy manipulation are often unable to describe the origin of the presence of spiritual energy in Crestone, but understand its power none-the-less. This camp of people often recognizes signs of the super-natural or spirit realms as callings from the Divine without prescribing to any one religious institution or center. While the first two spiritual archetypes are connected to the earth or people as passageways to contact a greater force, people who ascribe to this archetype related their spiritual path in abstract or general terms. My use of archetypes is simply to delineate different understandings of spirits and presence and does not necessarily represent the entirety of anyone’s complete spiritual ideology, but rather one component of how they described their connection to spirit and presences.

Darlene Yarborough a local real estate broker said:

“There is what you might say an energy here. The reason I say that is through my own experience of it, especially as a real estate broker, I have had people walk into my office and tell me stories about their dreams of coming here, or that they were given a message to come here, or all kinds of ways and stories that come from all walks of life. That is often poo-pooed, but I don’t poo poo it because I’ve heard it over, and over again and I think that people get a message, they have a dream, they have something happen and actually come here and move here.”

 Debra Floyd speaks to spirit and place:

“My spirituality can definitely exist anywhere. Coming out here was a big shift. Ok, ‘now what energies am I working with?’ but o my god can you see things walking around out here.” Debra Floyd Village Witch

 Michael Firsow of the Humanity and Unity Temple of Consciousness Ashram responds to a question about how his guru found Crestone:

“She came here and there is a knowingness that comes from God or spirit or however you want to describe it, this is it, this is where you are supposed to be. You’ve felt that haven’t you, in your heart? Well Sai Maa felt the same thing, that here in this place there was a peacefulness, something special."

There is a shared experience for those who go to Crestone, it is almost as if everyone is reading a different book but is on exactly the same page. A continuum of common consciousness that is tuned in to the wavelengths of spirit or energy or whatever you might call it, that is known to be in the San Luis Valley by this ethnographer. Although the religious imagination of Crestone residents materializes in multiple modes, there is a common agreement about the prevailing masculine energy of this mountainside town. This masculine feminine dichotomy is iconic in many spiritual tradition’s ideologies as seen at the Humanity and Unity Temple of Consciousness Ashram where men and women were set apart on opposed sides of the room. Other people perceive this masculine energy in a benign sense unsure of its source or purpose.

Sister Connie of the Nada Carmelite Hermitage spoke of this phenomenon:

“...here in Crestone it’s the desert and the mountains so I would say the spirituality there ( Nova Scotia) was more of a feminine spirituality and here in Crestone it's more of a masculine spirituality its more sparse and spare.. I think challenging on a different kind of level, no matter what your spirituality is challenging but there’s a physical challenge here that I didn’t find in Nova Scotia even though we lived a very simple life that was hard, but there’s something about the mountains, the kind of energy that you feel from the mountains that’s a different kind of challenge and I think geography really affects a person’s spirituality” (Sister Connie, Nada Carmelite Hermitage. Nick Chambers)

Debra Floyd further supports the notion of the dominant masculine energy of Crestone:

“Crestone needed a village witch, and the goddess came to me and told me ‘I want you to go there, build me a store,’ because there’s not enough of the feminine represented here, and you follow orders when you get orders like that.”

 The spirits and presences of Crestone, the Baca and all of what some Native American tribes called “the Bloodless Valley,” are felt and experienced by many people through several different venues of spiritual devotion and following. Although there is no universal or unified understanding of the energy of these spirits and presences, there are several overlaps in theologies and ideologies across religious boundaries. The expression of these cosmological understandings manifest in the physical, through Earth and People, and in the metaphysical through the Spirit and Presence.

What value, then, can we place on these Spirits and Presences? While it is clear that there are multiple ways to understand these things, the use of them remains ambiguous in the struggle to avoid natural gas drilling in Crestone. For more information on value see “economics: ideas of values” or for more information about place see “notions of the sacred” or “energies and properties.”


References cited:

Bowie, Fiona. 2006. The Anthropology of Religion: An Introduction. Malden: Blackwell.


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