Sacred States of America

Ellen R. Hartman

Reviewed by Jesse Vogler

10 May 2016

Sacred sites tran­scend time through asso­ci­a­tion with unique geo­log­i­cal fea­tures or envi­ron­men­tal con­di­tions, and their impor­tance is con­veyed through myths and con­struct­ed mark­ers. Of known sacred sites, most are long-estab­lished yet the ratio­nale for their selec­tion is now for­got­ten. Archae­ol­o­gists can inter­pret such sites, spec­u­lat­ing on how they were used, but, despite those con­jec­tures, motives direct­ing site selec­tion and for­ma­tion remain large­ly unanswerable.

To explore how sacred sites might be ini­tial­ly chart­ed and their mean­ings devel­oped, this project uses geo­man­cy to locate ten future sacred sites in the Unit­ed States. Inter­ac­tions with those sites are then prompt­ed to ini­ti­ate a process that gen­er­ates their sacredness.

Geo­man­cy is a field of inquiry and inter­pre­ta­tion based on inter­pret­ing the earth’s ener­gies. Depend­ing on the prac­ti­tion­er, it is used either to divine the future by ask­ing ques­tions1 or to iden­ti­fy sacred geome­tries with­in land­scape.2 Inter­est­ing­ly, nei­ther of those two sub­fields rec­og­nizes the meth­ods of the oth­er as valid. I use both geo­man­tic approach­es first to pre­dict the loca­tions of future sacred sites and then to iden­ti­fy the sacred fea­tures at those loca­tions.3

Pre­dict­ing the loca­tions of future sacred sites is a mul­ti-phased process, the first step of which is to cast geo­man­tic charts to deter­mine whether such sites can be locat­ed and, if so, how many are possble.

To locate future sacred sites in the Unit­ed States, I engaged that first step and con­clud­ed that there would be ten. I then cast ten sets of ten points on a cur­rent map of the Unit­ed States. Next, lines were drawn sequen­tial­ly to con­nect the points in each set. The result­ing geome­tries were ana­lyzed to deter­mine broad pat­terns and rela­tion­ships between all the points. Based on that process, ten tri­an­gu­lar areas were estab­lished by iden­ti­fy­ing clus­ters of sim­i­lar points, such as three of the same cast point (7,7,7) or a sequence of num­bers (2,3,4). Those points were plot­ted in GIS, and the geo­graph­ic cen­troid of each tri­an­gle was cal­cu­lat­ed to pin­point the loca­tion of each of the ten future sacred sites.

Locations of future sacred sites within the United States

Sit­u­at­ing each site geo­graph­i­cal­ly pro­vid­ed phys­i­cal char­ac­ter­is­tics that were used to guide more spe­cif­ic geo­man­tic inquiries. For each site, mul­ti­ple geo­man­tic charts were cast ask­ing about the future of the place and what type of sacred ele­ments would come to define it. The geo­man­tic div­ina­tion pre­dic­tions were cross-com­pared with an analy­sis of each site’s phys­i­cal char­ac­ter­is­tics to arrive at a unique sacred geom­e­try for each loca­tion. The form for each site was relat­ed to a famil­iar type his­tor­i­cal­ly asso­ci­at­ed with sacred sites: ompha­los, cairn, gates of hell, mega­lith, holy moun­tain, sacred grove, earth­work, temenos, spring and well, or geoglyph.

Forms for the ten future sacred sites were developed by casting geomantic charts, undertaking geographic analysis, and identifying site-specific sacred archetypes.

The sacred sites and their future forms were then plot­ted in Google Earth, a plat­form cho­sen because of its capac­i­ty to ren­der three-dimen­sion­al ter­rain, ease of nav­i­ga­tion through dynam­ic view­points, and its his­tor­i­cal imagery slid­er. With the abil­i­ty to ren­der build­ings, objects, and land­scape fea­tures — includ­ing trees — in 3D, Google Earth has the poten­tial to become a high­ly detailed, if not real-time enabled, dig­i­tal ver­sion of the phys­i­cal world. Map­ping future sacred sites in Google Earth pro­vides the most dig­i­tal longevi­ty and the poten­tial to see the sites change through time as geospa­tial data col­lec­tion, com­pu­ta­tion, and visu­al­iza­tion con­tin­ue to become more sophisticated.

Satellite views of the ten future sacred sites

The sacred sites and areas locat­ed in Google Earth inform the Sacred States of Amer­i­ca map, which charts the remains of sacred infra­struc­tures that exist in the dis­tant future with impli­ca­tions for reformed ter­ri­to­ries. Sup­ple­ment­ing the Google Earth file is a print­able pil­grim­age map and cor­re­spond­ing social media cam­paign that directs tourists to the Sacred States of Amer­i­ca to ini­ti­ate the process of trans­form­ing and devel­op­ing mean­ing in those landscapes.

Future Sacred Sites Tourist Cards
Images can be print­ed and fold­ed along the dashed line, with the blank, inside space used for notes.

Sacred States of Amer­i­ca Pil­grim­age Map
Down­load­able pdf file can be print­ed dou­ble-sided for use as a guide in travel.

Click here for map.

Sacred States of Amer­i­ca on Google Earth
User must have Google Earth appli­ca­tion to access.

Click here to down­load .kmz file for use on Google Earth.


By Jesse Vogler

Archi­tec­ture, in its pos­i­tivist and mate­ri­al­ist aspi­ra­tions, has long had an uncom­fort­able rela­tion­ship with div­ina­tion. From the Roman augur, to the nine­teenth-cen­tu­ry land boost­er, to the twen­ti­eth-cen­tu­ry real estate sales­man, architecture’s found­ings have long relied on aus­pi­cious nar­ra­tors of prof­it or doom. The ancient Roman his­to­ri­an Livy, com­ment­ing on what he knew to be always, already at stake in the pro­jec­tive project of archi­tec­ture, asked: aus­pici­is hanc urbem con­di­tam esse, aus­pici­is bel­lo ac pace domi mili­ti­aeque omnia geri, quis est qui ignoret? [Who does not know that this city was found­ed only after tak­ing the div­ina­tions, that every­thing in war and in peace, at home and abroad, was done only after tak­ing the div­ina­tions?].4 Who does not know, indeed. Or, rather, how is it that we have for­got­ten? And so we might reframe the geo­man­cy that gives us the Sacred States of Amer­i­ca as a prag­mat­ic div­ina­tion — one that, as Vir­gil reminds us, does not rest on the inspi­ra­tion of the ora­cle but on knowl­edge and exe­cu­tion of a skill­ful sys­tem.5

And per­haps it is here, in car­ry­ing out the meter of an epis­temic tech­nol­o­gy, that div­ina­tion and moder­ni­ty con­verge. The frame­work that brings us the ompha­los, the mega­lith, the sacred grove, and the temenos is per­haps not as far as we might think from that which gives us the point grid, reg­u­lat­ing lines, and the abstract geom­e­try of the mod­ern city. Read­ing and respond­ing to the flight of birds, on one hand, and the flight of cap­i­tal, on the oth­er: each of those prac­tices depends on faith.

But still, we are told to cast our lot with the ratio­nal­ist dia­grams of moder­ni­ty over these agents of con­jec­ture. Hart­man has cast her lot dif­fer­ent­ly, as have I, and she invites us to join in a new found­ing, from which we can mea­sure our dis­tance in space, time, and ori­en­ta­tion from an estrange­ment that may not be quite as neat as we orig­i­nal­ly sus­pect­ed. After all, what is it that we pro­vide, what par­tic­u­lar cur­ren­cy is it that we archi­tects cir­cu­late, if not that divine scrip of speculation?



John Michael Greer, Earth Div­ina­tion, Earth Mag­ic: A Prac­ti­cal Guide to Geo­man­cy (St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn Pub­li­ca­tions, 1999).


Nigel Pen­nick, The Ancient Sci­ence of Geo­man­cy: Man in Har­mo­ny with the Earth (Lon­don: Thames and Hud­son, 1979).


For a more in-depth dis­cus­sion on geo­man­tic div­ina­tion as a tool for land­scape inquiry, see Ellen Hart­man, Sav­ior City,” in (Non-)Essential Knowl­edge for (New) Archi­tec­ture [306090 15], ed. David L. Hays (Prince­ton, NJ: 306090/​Princeton Archi­tec­tur­al Press, 2013), 50 – 79.


Titus Livius (Livy), The His­to­ry of Rome, Book VI, Chap­ter 41.


See Jus­tus Fred­er­ick Hol­stein, Rites and Rit­u­al Acts as Pre­scribed by the Roman Reli­gion Accord­ing to the Com­men­tary of Servius on Vergil’s Aeneid (The­sis, New York Uni­ver­si­ty, 1915; New York, NY: Voel­ck­er Bros., 1916).


Ellen R. Hart­man is an artist, design­er, and researcher trained in archi­tec­ture and land­scape archi­tec­ture. She research­es land­scapes for the U.S. Army Corps of Engi­neers and is co-founder of the design research col­lab­o­ra­tive Stu­dio Ha-Ha. As a researcher, Hartman’s work focus­es on the inter­sec­tion of social and envi­ron­men­tal net­works in urban areas and gen­er­ates pages and pages of tech­ni­cal reports. As a design­er, her pri­ma­ry inter­est is col­lag­ing the his­tor­i­cal, the fan­tas­ti­cal, and the absurd. In 2008, Hart­man became a geo­mancer through an online course and has since used geo­man­cy in her design work as a tool for inves­ti­gat­ing what she does not know. Her geo­man­ti­cal­ly-influ­enced work Sav­ior City” was fea­tured in (Non-)Essential Knowl­edge for (New) Archi­tec­ture (306090/​Princeton Archi­tec­tur­al Press, 2013). Email: ellen.​hartman@​gmail.​com

Jesse Vogler is an artist and design­er whose work sits at the inter­sec­tion of spa­tial prac­tices, mate­r­i­al cul­ture, and polit­i­cal econ­o­my. Drawn to ques­tions that attach them­selves to the periph­ery of archi­tec­tur­al pro­duc­tion, his projects take on themes of work, law, prop­er­ty, exper­tise, and per­fectibil­i­ty. Recent projects include a series of exhibits on the admin­is­tra­tive land­scape with The Cen­ter for Land Use Inter­pre­ta­tion (CLUI), a per­for­ma­tive project on com­mon­ing with the Cen­ter of Con­tem­po­rary Art Tbil­isi, a set of site-spe­cif­ic instal­la­tions at PLAND, and a col­lab­o­ra­tive, mul­ti-plat­form project of crit­i­cal geog­ra­phy cen­tered on the Amer­i­can Bot­tom. Vogler’s work has been sup­port­ed by awards from the Gra­ham Foun­da­tion, Mel­lon Foun­da­tion, Mac­Dow­ell Colony, and the Ful­bright Schol­ar Pro­gram and has been exhib­it­ed at the Venice Archi­tec­ture Bien­nale, the CLUI, the Cen­ter for Con­tem­po­rary Arts San­ta Fe, and the Urban Insti­tute for Con­tem­po­rary Arts. Recent pub­li­ca­tions fea­tur­ing his writ­ings and work include [brack­et], MONU, Ground Up, Art­fo­rum, Domus, and the Los Ange­les Times. In addi­tion to his art prac­tice, Vogler is a land sur­vey­or, co-directs the Insti­tute of Mark­ing and Mea­sur­ing, and is an assis­tant pro­fes­sor of land­scape archi­tec­ture in the Sam Fox School, Wash­ing­ton Uni­ver­si­ty in St. Louis. Email: jessevogler@​gmail.​com