To conclude this essay I would like to say a few words about how to approach and respect sacred places. Upon entering the vicinity of a sacred site you may encounter two distinct ‘personalities’: those of the spirits of the site and those of the humans who perform priestly and administrative functions at the site. It is my experience that the spirits of the sacred sites are always welcoming of sincere pilgrims. The human personalities are usually - but not always – welcoming too.

Occasionally the religious and/or administrative staff of a sacred site may be uncommunicative, authoritarian or prejudiced toward foreigners. Such behavior may be explained by narrow-minded religious intolerance, by unpleasant experiences the temple priests have previously had with rude foreign visitors or simply because of the language barrier. Whatever the reception you receive upon entering a sacred place it is important to always approach the shrine and its staff with respect and humility. While appropriate behavior is mostly a matter of common sense and politeness, the following points are important to remember.

  • Respect the atmosphere of prayer, meditation and ceremony in the shrines by not talking loudly. If you have a cell phone with you make sure to turn it off before entering the holy place.

  • Do not assume that you are welcome to participate in shrine ceremonies. While many temples, in Asia for example, are open to foreign visitors, sometimes their ceremonies are not. It is best to simply watch from a distance and wait to be invited. If you are invited to participate in a ceremony or prayer it is best to not leave until other people have done so.

  • Do not take photographs, especially with flash, within a shrine without prior permission of the priests or administrators.

  • To enter many shrines it is necessary to remove one's shoes or cover the head. Watch what local pilgrims do and follow their example.

  • When visiting shrines make sure you wear clothing that is considered proper by the local people. While short pants, skirts and t-shirts may be comfortable in the heat and humidity of tropical latitudes, to wear such attire in religious places is disrespectful. Often temple priests will be too embarrassed to ask you to leave or will not know how to speak your language. Respect them in advance by dressing appropriately.

  • It is best to not leave anything at sacred sites except your prayers and love. Priests I have spoken to in Asia, Europe and South America have repeatedly told me they wished foreign visitors would not leave crystals, feathers, coins and other 'new-age' knickknacks at shrines. This is especially the case at sacred sites of the Hopi, Navajo, Ute and other Native American cultures.

  • Do not remove anything from sacred sites such as other pilgrims’ offerings or archaeological items like pottery shards. However, take the time to pick up litter and other trash; besides this, leave everything as it was when you arrived.