The confluence of two great rivers. Ancient holy sites and settlements. The nexus where Earth’s ley lines converge. There are certain places across the globe that possess a magnetism for those seeking a connection to something greater than themselves; a certain energy, vibration, spirit—or whatever name you’d like to give it—that can be felt the moment you set foot on a place’s soil. Here we chart five destinations where spirituality, wisdom and mystic energy are the main reasons to visit, not to simply check a box or snap a pic.
Priests, pilgrims, and wayfarers all enter the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela through the same path, descending from the mountainous landscape of Ethiopia’s highlands into the earth via a single-file passage that was cut into the porous rock some 800 years ago. These monolithic structures—demonstrations of faith and ingenuity—are attributed to King Lalibela who dreamt of creating a “New Jerusalem” around Ethiopia’s own stretch of the Jordan River after visiting the Holy City in the 12th century. Below these wonders, the ground itself is deemed sacred by Ethiopian Orthodox worshipers who come here to pray, and it is commonplace to see the faithful drop to the ground while they wander these sunken churches, touching their head three times against the rock to honor the Holy Trinity. Lalibela is a physical testament of the power of faith to transform.
The Old City, Jerusalem, Israel
As you walk through one of its seven open gates, the weight of the Old City’s historic and religious significance is laid bare in the polish and gleam of ground stones treaded on by billions of Jewish, Christian and Muslim pilgrims. Approaching the Western Wall, the foundation and all that remains of what was once the venerated Second Temple, one witnesses throngs of the faithful reaching out to touch these ancient stones with prayer in this great open-air Synagogue. Just beyond the Western Wall stands the gilded splendor of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the site believed among Muslims to be where the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven, and where Abraham was to sacrifice his son. At its most hopeful, the sheer concentration of faithful within these ancient walls is testament to a shared connection through place and faith.
Okavango Delta, Botswana
As you navigate the shallow waters of the Okavango Delta in a traditional mokoro canoe, it’s the sheer abundance of life that astounds. Here life’s rhythm for native flora and fauna have fallen into perfect step with the land and seasonal weather patterns, as each year overflow from the Okavango River floods the delta during the dry season allowing the region to heave with life of all scales. Reeds crowned with what appear to be red blooms are in-fact hundreds of Marbled Reed Frogs that leap in and out of the canoe; while beyond herds of African Elephant, Buffalo and Red Lechwe gulp and play in the crystalline waters of the Okavango having survived the Great Migration across the Kalahari Desert. A place to drink in the interconnectedness of life.
Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, India
In the holy city of Varanasi, a tangled web of temples, palaces, mosques and shrines rise from the ghats (steps) along the left bank of the Ganges river to form one of the world’s oldest continually inhabited cities. While it is the dusk Ganga Aarti, where Hindu priests offer a highly choreographed prayer to the Ganges river, that sees crowds jostle and swell for position along the Dashashwamedh Ghat, it is some of Varanasi’s quieter daily rituals that can prove most affecting and life affirming. Pilgrims who awake in darkness to shave their head on the ghats before entering the sacred waters of the Ganges, washing away their sins as the sun breaks over the horizon. Witness the cremation of strangers in the eternal flames of Varanasi, said to have burned for centuries and will release the soul from the cycle of reincarnation, before the ashes are then tossed over shoulder into the Ganges. On the banks of this river, life’s most intense and intimate moments are shared with all.
Home to a soaring landscape of rust-colored buttes, mesas, spires and canyons, formed after millennia of wind and erosion strike a sense of awe for this world. For some, Sedona’s landscape is a shrine for self-healing and spiritual renewal. Those who make pilgrimage here have come for it’s vortexes, points around the globe that radiate the earth’s natural energy along a web of mapped lines (other locations noted for their concentrated energy are Uluru in Australia and the Pyramids of Giza in Egypt). Skip the various religious structures sprouted across Sedona, it is the true believers who pause in meditation along the orange dust trails, or sitting cross-legged at the final height of Bell Rock or Airport Mesa that should be your wayfinder. They know that the energy of this place is in the land.
Conor Burke is a creative director and photographer living in New York, by way of Sydney and Dublin. He oversees PRIOR’s creative, having previously run photographer and interior artist Martyn Thompson’s design studio. Before that he was the market editor at VOGUE Living and a contributing editor at GQ Australia.