A Definiton of Sacred

by guy keulemans on November 26, 2008

Notes from my meeting with Erna Beumers on the 17/11/08.

During my meeting with Erna she drew attention to my continual use of the words sacred and profane in my abstract and research analysis. The simple reason is that this is because intuitively I feel they are the words that best express the kind of design I want to produce. Design that is uplifting and worthy of pause for contemplation. Design that can be sublime, in its original meaning.

But, sentiment aside, what is the nature of sacredness? What and where are sacred things and places and what are their purpose?

My feeling is that I want to define sacredness apart from religious definition. Of course sacredness is intrinsic to religious practices; the placement of the crucifix about the bed, or the the Buddhist habit of placing a shrine to ancestors somewhere in the house. But can this be compared to the sacredness of a a bookshelf, should the books on it be cared for properly and treasured for what they represent. Is the secular sacred truly sacred?

The example of Minoan artifacts is an interesting example; due to a lack of surviving sources archeologists are unsure about the status of ceramics and pottery discovered. Some are found in sacred caves and assumed to be use in religious services, however others are found without geographic context. Yet these are still perceived as being sacred, and at the least are treated this way in the present day; their sacredness is manifest by their extreme age and beauty.

In the case of the Phaistos Disc (above), an object of beauty and curiousness, we may be dealing with something as banal as a market sign or a board game, but its language has yet to be deciphered, so we may never know. In this cloud of uncertainty, the Phaistos Disc is perceived by default as having a spiritual power. Sacredness as defined by age, beauty and mystery.

Mystery also plays a part in the contemporary value of the Voynich manuscript (below), and the Codex Seraphinianus (above), although centuries separate their origins. The two books are encyclopedic in nature but are written in code and detail plants and exotic human activities. The case of the Codex is easier to fathom, produced in the 1970’s by an Italian designer who is still alive, although unwilling to discuss this work. It is reasonably assumed that the Codex is written in purposely random script, and therefore not actually written. The beauty and strangeness of the illustrations that beg for explanation are what keep most readers intrigued. Still, sporadic attempts are made to decipher the text too, in part because the page numbering was recently “decrypted” and discovered to be a form of base 20 numbering.

However, the Voynich Manuscript (also here)was produced in the 15th century in a script that has repeatedly withheld interpretation by some of the world’s best cryptographers, while passing statistical tests that show the book is written in some kind of language.

At their most profane, the Voynich manuscript may be a (highly) elaborate hoax, the Codex Seraphinianus, an adolescent preoccupation. The Phaistos disc, more or less consequential than some archaeologists desire. But the point is that sheer amount of critical analysis that has gone towards decoding these books places them into another category altogether, that of the anomalous object. This is a category for those objects that intrigue, mystify and overwhelm us with their individuality. The force us to feel the fragility of our own comprehension and move us towards the sublime. They are objects that can be defined as “secular sacred”. This is the domain of crypto-archaeology.

Another topic to investigate, should there be time…
The Sacred Represented by the Void:
The Calvinistic practice of stripping churches of ornament, and the Shinto sand-gardens which define space by the absence of objects.

{ 1 comment }

marco guido corsini July 28, 2010 at 6:05 am

You will find my phaistos disk translation on


best wishes, dr. Marco Guido Corsini I can send you a english translation if you ask me

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