Looking for peace, tranquility, something to stir your soul? Spiritual connections to the land, water, and human structures can be found from the very first people that lived in the area. Moved by Sacred Sites of Wisconsin , by John-Brian Paprock and Theresa Peneguy Paprock, I started a journey to explore places in and around Dane County that speak to ones spirit.
Ancient residents developed a rich culture often inspired by nature and the Wisconsin landscape. What we experience today are remnants. These early cultures built sophisticated mound communities, such as Aztalan in Wisconsin and Cahokia in Illinois, and mysterious effigy or animal shaped mounds.
Secretary Jewell of the Department of the Interior designated Man Mound a National Historic Landmark on November 2, recognizing its exceptional value and quality. This mound, which stretches 214 feet in length and 48 feet in width, depicts a manlike figurine with a hornlike headdress and is thought to represent a god or super being. Few man mounds exist, so it is striking in both its shape and size.
Nearby, the Kingsley Bend Indian Mounds have been designated a sacred site by the Ho-Chunk Nation. This mound group provides a representative sample of barrow, conical, and animal mounds grouped together. Not all mounds contain burial remains, but all mounds are considered sacred and unique cultural sites. Please treat them with respect and walk around, not over, them.
Springs are also considered peaceful, restorative, and inspirational places. For some indigenous nations, springs are considered sacred, and the Ho-Chunk stories tell of springs as the watery entrance to the underworld. In addition to being somewhat mysterious or sacred, springs play an essential role in sustaining the lives of those dependent on them by being both healing and life giving, and are a critical natural resource, supplying water for streams and wetlands. Wisconsin is blessed with over 10,000 springs of different sizes that surface, creating some very beautiful places.
Look for springs across Dane County, from Frederick Springs in the Pheasant Branch Conservancy in Middleton to the springs on the south side of Lake Wingra in Madison and the springs of Donald Park in Mount Horeb. Take the peaceful walk along the Springs Trail from the south end of Donald Park. You will become mesmerized by the waters boiling up through the creek bottom. Look for watercress and a rich variety of water life where cool spring waters emerge. Or fill up a jug at Rock Springs in Sauk County and sample some direct ground-to-table water courtesy of the Rock Springs Artesian Water Corporation, who owns the land. For more on springs and their importance in the history of the area, visit wgnhs
Unattached to a specific religion or theology, angels represent special people or beings of exemplary conduct or virtue. Beloit hosts the Angel Museum in a repurposed catholic church. The museum collection emphasizes angels as symbols for what is joyful, noble, and good in this life.
The guided tour of the collection provides the stories and intent behind many of these figurines. They are organized together by style and type. A section holds the donated Oprah Winfrey collection of black angels. The figurines are not just human, but include animals and more fantastic characters.
The church itself adds to the ambiance. This historic building is constructed of brown brick in a simple Romanesque style, typical of churches in Italian villages in the 1900s. The stained glass windows and interior stone grottos add charm to the museum inside and out. Visit the Angel Museum and you will certainly find at least an angel or two that will make you smile or possibly cry.
Labyrinths serve as a spiritual tool and metaphor for the path of life we walk. Use of labyrinths date to ancient times in Crete, Tibet, and Greece; Celtic spirituality; and the Christian tradition. There are several labyrinths open to the public in our area.
The most significant outdoor labyrinth can be found at the Sinsinawa Mound Center. Through its programs and retreats, the Center offers experiences of intellectual, spiritual, and aesthetic awakening. The Dominican Sisters, who run the Center and the labyrinth, invite you to walk the labyrinth and discover a new, yet ancient, way to pray and meditate. Built in 1999, the outdoor labyrinth consists of 6,000 limestone bricks forming a circle with walkways leading to the center. The labyrinth is open at all times, weather permitting.
You can walk a labyrinth closer to Dane County at the Madison Christian Community Church grounds. In addition to prairie paths and other outdoor features, the congregation built a labyrinth with grass paths outlined with brick. Walking slowly through the paths, you will find a way to focus inward and quiet your mind. The setting embellishes this outdoor spiritual experience. Take your own walk or take a workshop to guide you through the labyrinth.
Wisconsin is blessed with numerous structures representing a variety of faiths, many with historic and spiritual significance. Two caught my attention. Every day people drive by the Gates of Heaven Synagogue, located in James Madison Park in Madison. Built in the Romanesque style in 1863, this is the fourth-oldest surviving synagogue building in the nation. It has also served as the First Unitarian Society Meeting House and the Womens Christian Temperance Union among other uses. After being preserved and moved to its current location, this historic public structure has become popular for weddings and other events.
In Olbrich Botanical Gardens in Madison, the Thai Pavilion & Garden offer a uniquely mysterious experience. The garden that surrounds the pavilion features hardy plants, including bamboo, ornamental grasses, and others that provide a tropical feel. The open building, not intended as a spiritual structure, sits alongside a pond and exudes tranquility and reflection. A gift from the Thai chapter of University of WisconsinMadison alumni and the Thai government, the pavilion was placed here because of the garden setting and proximity to water, important for good health and prosperity.
Take your own journey and seek out some of the mysterious and special places. You will appreciate the simplicity and time you spend in the midst of our busy and fast-paced lives.
Liz Wessel is the owner of Green Concierge Travel, which has information for honeymoons and other ecotravel at greenconciergetravel.com .
Angel Museum in Beloit
Thursday through Saturday,
10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Sunday through Wednesday, CLOSED
Museum is closed December 22 through March (except for tours or special events)