Spirit of place refers to the unique, distinctive and cherished
aspects of a place; often those celebrated by artists and
writers, but also those cherished in
folk tales, festivals and celebrations. It is thus as much
in the invisible weave of culture (stories, art, memories,
beliefs, histories, etc) as it is the tangible physical aspects
of a place (monuments, boundaries, rivers, woods, architectural
rural crafts styles, pathways, views, and so on) or its
interpersonal aspects (the presence of relatives, friends and
kindred spirits, and the like).
Often the term is applied to a rural or a relatively unspoiled
or regenerated place — whereas the very similar term sense of
place would tend to be more domestic, urban, or suburban in
tone. For instance, one could logically apply 'sense of place'
to an urban high street; noting the
architecture, the width of the roads and pavements, the
plantings, the style of the shop-fronts, the street furniture,
and so on, but one could not really talk about the 'spirit of
place' of such an essentially urban and commercial environment.
It must be noted, however, that an urban area that looks
faceless or neglected to an adult may have deep meaning in
children's street culture.
The Roman term for spirit of place was Genius loci, by which it
is sometimes still referred. This has often been historically
envisaged as a guardian animal or a small supernatural being
(puck, fairy, elf, and the like) or a ghost. These beliefs have,
for the most part, been discarded in the modern world; however a
new layer of less-embodied superstition on the subject has
arisen around ley lines, feng shui and similar concepts.
The western cultural movements of
Romanticism and Neo-romanticism are often deeply concerned
with creating cultural forms that 're-enchant the land', in
order to establish or re-establish a spirit of place.
Many indigenous and tribal cultures around the world are deeply
concerned with spirits of place in their landscape. Spirits of
place are explicitly recognized by some of the worlds main
Shinto has its Kami which may incorporate spirits of
place; Christianity has spirits of place in the
Angelic Choirs of Dominions and Principalities, Hinduism,
Vajrayana and Bonpo traditions.