Onondaga Lake exerts an unusually strong influence on the land around it. Water—the living liquid energy of the land—runs downhill and pools in the land's hollow places to create lakes. Water is heavy, and a large water body like a lake is a heavy, dense mass that exerts a field of subtle gravitational force. But beyond mere mass, and more crucial in biological processes, water gathers and holds many kinds of energies—including thermal, electric and magnetic. Embedded in the land's hollow spaces, water's influence extends through this subtle energy matrix.
Onondaga Lake imprints a remarkably coherent pattern—a geometric blueprint—on the local landscape, and an astonishing geometry links Onondaga Lake to the City of Syracuse. Like an image reflected off a pool of dark water, the Salt City grew as the reflection of the lake's unseen seed-shape influence. Taken together, the images implicit in this esoteric of view of Onondaga geography form a symbol (on the left) that has great power and significance in sacred geometry.
The Salt City &
view from Mount Olympus
Onondaga Lake was an extra-ordinary fountain of biodiversity. The brackish waters of the Salt Lake—its headwaters nestled in limestone cliffs—nursed a flourishing abundance of fish and waterfowl.
Onondaga Lake, unlike other Finger Lakes, suffered two hundred years having a large industrial city across its south end—its inlet side. The consequence of having New York's fourth largest city upstream of the Lake were catastrophic, and nearly resulted in a terminal diagnosis.
The 1788 Salt Treaty between Onondaga Nation and the State of New York established a Salt Springs Reservation consisting of "The Salt Lake and the lands for one mile round the same." The Salt Treaty states that this land "shall forever remain for the common benefit of the people of the State of New York and the Onondagoes and their posterity for the purpose of making salt, and shall not be granted or in any wise disposed of for other purposes."
New York continued to pressure Onondaga Nation to sign more treaties, and in 1795 claimed full control of the Salt Lake—a legal fiction that would persist for 200 years.
New York began to lease Salt Springs Reservation land to businesses to produce salt, and collected a tariff on each barrel of salt produced. Waters bubbling up in salt springs around the Lake were diverted to dry in solar ponds. This salt mining industry produced much of New York's early revenues, most of early America's salt, and gave rise to the Salt City—Syracuse, named after a Greek city on the Mediterranean island of Sicily.
Onondaga Lake's "white gold" grew salt mining industries, and drew settlers. Immigrants swarmed the region to transform the land from forests to fields, farms, and factories. Soon a multitude of municipal and industrial wastes polluted the Lake, its shores and every stream draining into the Lake. Nearly all life in the Lake was extinguished.
The final two decades of the 20th century saw the last salt and other heavy industries leave Onondaga Valley. They left a legacy behind of acres of brownfields with toxic dumps, landfills, tailings, hazardous wastes, and contaminated groundwater.
An earnest effort has begun to clean up these toxic residues, renew the Lake, restore health and biodiversity to its waters. On Valentine's Day 1990, the Onondaga Lake Commission—consisting of U.S. Senator, New York Governor, County Executive, City Mayor, E.P.A. regional director and Army Corps of Engineers district manager—met for the first time to affirm the federal-state-local agreement to restore the Lake. Already the Lake's waters are clarifying and reviving.
Long Branch Park
However, Onondaga Lake is an extra-ordinary place, with features that transcend conventional concepts of real estate, land use and science. Restoring this particular and special Lake will require more than money, engineering and ecology. In particular, three features of Onondaga Lake mark it as a sacred site of extra-ordinary significance:
alignment: winter solstice sunrise
reflection: Salt City chakras
container: vesica pisis
North of Onondaga Lake, in Long Branch Park, north of Long Branch Road, is a modest, enigmatic earthwork. It is easy to pass off this small tump as just another glacial drumlin—however misshapen. Or dredgings from the lake outlet channel nearby. Ordinary people take no notice of this low hill, but anyone experienced with landscape mysteries will suspect a deeper tale is wrapped about this humble hill. Closer scrutiny suggests this is an ancient ceremonial mound.
This modest mound is comma-shaped, with two parts rising out of an otherwise very flat topography at the north end of the Lake. A 50-foot high hill is easily visible from the south, covered thickly by young trees. Hidden behind that, a wide, flat-topped tail curls northwest, then north and east to point to the lake outlet. This curved tail encloses a small ampitheater. The County Parks Dept. sliced a service driveway through this earthwork, separating the higher hill from the low, curling tail.
Midline of the Lake
A line (green line) lengthwise down the center of Onondaga Lake passes from northwest to southeast. This midline of the Lakes passes over this mound in Long Branch Park, down the center of the Lake, then southeast through the City of Syracuse. Early investigation suggests this line eventually touches the top of the highest hill at Syracuse University—an extra-ordinary hill with steep sides and an auspicious name: Mount Olympus—home of the gods in ancient Greek myth. However, this modern day Mount Olympus in the Salt City is crowned by a circular driveway and parking lots serving University dormitories (see aerial photo below). South and west of Mount Olympus is Oakwood Cemetery, among the oldest and largest in Syracuse.
Except for a westward detour around The Big Hill at Onondaga Nation, Onondaga Valley runs in a straight line from Tully Moraine on the south through the center of Syracuse on the north. This section of the Valley is aligned on a north-south axis. Near the city center, Onondaga Valley bends to the northwest at a 45 to 47 degree angle, and Onondaga Lake lies in this leg tilted to the northwest.
This westward tilt of Onondaga Lake brings into alignment with the Winter Solstice sunrise. Thus, a person standing at the northwest end of Onondaga Lake on the darkest day on the year—December 21—will see the first ray of light shine down the length of the Lake. This is a glorious sight to see a golden thread of luminance dancing down the center of the Lake. Unfortunately, due to thick blankets of lake effect clouds, December is the region's cloudiest month, and such clear morning light is a rare sight in Onondaga Valley.
The significance of this Winter Solstice alignment cannot be overstated. Winter Solstice is perhaps the most important in the annual ceremony cycle of ancient peoples and natural world cultures. Commonly, winter ceremonies began at the new moon after the winter solstice. If there is any doubt, consider the symbolism and magnetism of the modern Christian holy day of Christmas, which falls four days after the Solstice. At the opposite end of the year, Summer Solstice is followed four days later by St. John's Day, honoring the baptizing forerunner of Jesus, when his holy healing herb—Saint Johnswort—begins its season of bloom.
Similarly, in traditional cultures, Winter Solstice ceremonies were the year's most significant, when the sacred fire was rekindled and the first fruits and corn mothers of the harvest were blessed in ceremony. Solstice ceremonies honor the light shining amidst darkness, with evergreen symbols of eternal life, and the fertility of seeds. Winter Solstice also honors the arrival of Messengers who bring instructions from the Creator.
This midline of Onondaga Lake from Long Branch to Mount Olympus divides in half at Hiawatha Boulevard at the foot of the Lake. The northwest end of this midline is occupied by Onondaga Lake. The other end, running southeast through Syracuse, touches several very significant places.
Salt City Heart Line
If this midline of Onondaga Lake is extended from the foot of the Lake to southeast, it crosses Hiawatha Boulevard and then passes through eight distinctive features of the Salt City:
First, the old industrial center, around Solar Street
Then, finance, bank buildings on Clinton Square
Then, commerce, downtown, on Salina, Clinton and Warren Streets
Then, government, around Columbus Circle: County, City, State
then comes culture: Everson Museum, Civic Center, War Memorial
then, the medical complex: Hutchings, Upstate, Crouse-Irving, Memorial, Veterans
then, higher education, on The Hill: Syracuse University and SUNY
and last, in spirit, mausoleum in Morningside and Oakwood Cemeteries
Mount Olympus in foreground
Long Branch Park at Lake's far end
Remarkably, this midline of Onondaga Lake linked the centers of urban life in the old Salt City at its apex in the 1800s. Like beads on a thread, Syracuse is strung on the center line of the Lake. The Salt City's essential aspects align along the Lake axis.
And the arrangement on this alignment is exactly the appropriate order, ranging from the most physical and material—industrial "guts" of the Salt City at the foot of the Lake—through an ascending sequence of higher order energy levels. At the apex, this alignment transcends the physical dimensions to enter the realm of spirit on a hilltop above Oakwood Cemetery.
Such orderly symmetry of the Lake and City should give any thoughtful person pause to ponder the connections implied by this incredible geometry. Such orderly, graduated, differentiated growth of the city along the axis of the Lake suggests an intelligence guided by a universal design. Yet, the overall layout of the city and its pragmatic history offer no evidence that any grand vision guided the Salt City's growth. Rather, it seems certain the Salt City's orderly geometry arose out of a collective unconscious urge following the invisible pattern imprinted on the land—like iron filings drawn into the field of a powerful magnet.
In the early 20th Century, the Lake gradually choked and poisoned with wastes, and the Salt City's industrial core collapsed. In second half of the 20th Century, with the arrival of cars and highways, Syracuse exploded in uncontrolled sprawl as the middle class migrated to new suburban satellite communities. Meanwhile, the central city disintegrated, overrun by poor fleeing collapsing rural economies, torn down in "urban renewal."
An image from ancient India's Vedic traditions, and embodied in yoga teaching, reveals the deep meaning of this orderly image in Onondaga Lake geography. Eastern spiritual tradition says man has a metaphysical anatomy—a body composed of subtle energy. In India, this life force was called "prana," which yoga teaches to control through the breath. In China, acupuncture developed as one method manipulate and control the flow of the subte energy, or "chi." Far East cultures developed several other technologies to describe and affect the living body's life force, or vital essence.
This etheric anatomy from Asia explains our meta-physical body is an egg-shaped field of subtle energy, narrow end up. At the core of this personal sacred space, our etheric essence gathers, transforms and disburses in seven specific centers aligned vertically along the spinal axis. In Sanskrit, these energy centers are called "chakras"—which translates as "wheel"—to describe their vortex-like structure.
In the materialism of western physiology, these seven chakras roughly correspond to the seven glands of the endocrine system—gonads, adrenals, pancreas, thymus, thyroid, pineal, and pituitary. These tiny islands of specialized tissue release powerful chemicals called "hormones" to regulate and coordinate all our body's complex systems, cycles and rhythms.
Salt City Chakras
The characteristics of each chakra accurately mirrors the nature of each Salt City center threaded on the Lake's extended midline.
solar plexus chakra
Ascending from tailbone to top of head, these seven centers of etheric spin progress from the most physical—the root chakra—to the most metaphysical—the crown chakra. Each chakra's energy is expressed by a color, in a rising rainbow spectrum ranging from red to violet, which depicts this seven-step ascent to higher states of energy and consciousness.
It is astonishing to find one of the central images of Eastern spiritual knowledge of human nature to be expressed vividly in the geography of the Salt City.