On our recent trip to New Zealand, I was struck by the traditional Maori emphasis on the sacredness of particular places. In being introduced to Maori culture and religious belief, we were asked to respect this rock as of being of sacred significance, or that mountain, or this other place. In some ways this practice is not much different from the respect given to sacred spaces in a Western, Christian tradition. But the sacred space of a building (rather than the natural world) means that the emphasis is on separation: the sacred space is one separate and distinct from everyday life, and to some extent cut off from it. When the sacred space is found in the natural world, there is a much greater sense of integration, and I might encounter the sacred at any moment in my everyday life.
My favourite story during our travels relates to the origins of Hahei on the beautiful Coromandel Peninsula. (It include the place, Cathedral Cove, where the opening scene of the second Narnia film, Prince Caspian, was shot.) It is named after the tribal leader Hei, who led his tribe to a new area until he came across an island (Mahurangi Island) that he believed look like his nose. This was a sign from the gods that this land should be theirs, and not only that island but everything that could be seen from it. The name of the place, Hahei, means ‘breath of Hei’; Hei now revered as a divine ancestor, whose breath from his island nostrils creates the onshore and offshore winds in the area.