On New Year’s Eve 2010, in a
small town just up the Hudson from the wild crush and thrill of Times Square, a
few hundred people found a way to usher in the year with both revelry and
The Chapel of Sacred Mirrors
(CoSM) in Wappinger, New York, is Alex Grey and Allyson Greys’ refuge for
spiritual art and global community. The celebrants who came to its wooded
hillside on Dec. 31, 2010, found a scene lit by sculptor Kate Roudenbush’s
sacred dome, costumed firespinners, a bonfire and the colorful windows of the
main Guest House. Inside, DJs and dancing held forth among the awe-inspiring
paintings and sculptures of Alex Grey.
“When beings come together in
oneness, it creates sacred space,” Alex told the crowded front rooms during the
night’s opening talk. “This place was meant to be a temple. These are temple
grounds. I’m convinced of it.”
That temple, envisioned as part
of a decades-old dream, is closer to fulfillment than ever. And it’s more
needed than ever, as Allyson said later on the dance floor.
“Our family is everywhere. It’s
called the Love Tribe,” she said joyfully. “We went to Moscow, and our tribe
was there. We went to Bali, and our tribe was there. We went to Egypt, and our
tribe was there. These are ritual-oriented people, people who want to celebrate
love. Everywhere we went, they wanted this [experience] there. But New York
needs it. It’s a little harder to penetrate, but the Love Tribe is coming
The coming out journey for the
temple, at least, began in 1978, when the iconic “Sacred Mirrors” were first
inspired. The 21 images, now familiar worldwide for their detailed blending of
physical anatomy and energetic symbols, were imagined as a comprehensive map of
body, mind and spirit.
The first hint that something
beyond mere art was at work emerged in 1985, four years before the series was
“A collector named Marshall
Frankel became interested in purchasing a few of the pieces, and we refused to
break up the series,” the Greys recalled in an e-mail interview this week. “He
then offered to purchase the entire work in order to exhibit his favorite two
or three paintings in his private home and keep the rest in storage.”
“As we were negotiating this
amazing amount of money offered, Marshall shared two hits of MDMA [then a legal
substance in the United States], which changed our lives,” the Greys said.
“Lying on our bed in Brooklyn, we had a simultaneous vision of the Sacred
Mirrors being available to the public within a Chapel.”
The Chapel’s evolution from that
first vision has sped up dramatically in the past 15 years. The Greys
established CoSM as a nonprofit in 1996. Seven years later, they began hosting
full moon ceremonies at their Brooklyn home. In 2004, CoSM became a well-known
gallery and gathering space in a loft in New York City’s Chelsea district, and
within four years, it was officially recognized as a religion. In February
2009, CoSM relocated to a former United Church of Christ retreat center in
Wappinger, a small town an hour north of the City.
“The town of Wappinger is a
unique location with many Christian churches, a Buddhist monastery and stupa, a
mosque and a Sihk temple — all representing the broad range of spiritual
possibilities for people today,” they said. “Fifty years ago, the United Church
of Christ, the former owners of this property, vowed to build a Chapel on this
land, and instead passed that promise on to CoSM. Friend and native American
scholar Evan Pritchard tells us that this land was also sacred to the
Wappinger, the native people that, tragically, were expelled from this region.”
Even with most of their art not
yet on view, events at the CoSM in Wappinger “actually are often better
attended than those we held in the city, where the support was also very
strong.” The 2010 New Year’s Eve event, for instance, sold out days in advance
and had what the Greys called “magnificent energy.”
CoSM’s new home is the same
distance from the Hudson River as the former loft in Manhattan, another
important element of the site. “For us, the river is a symbol of community,
because it is made up of many small streams moving toward the ocean of love
bliss,” they said. “The Hudson is a tidal river that flows from the Atlantic up
to Poughkeepsie, 10 minutes upstream, and then back every six hours, flowing by
the Town of Wappinger both ways. The worship of a community is like the tidal
forces that draw the ocean of love upstream into the river.”
Community is certainly an
integral part of raising the millions of dollars necessary to complete the
“As isolated artists in our
earlier days,” Alex and Allyson said, “we’ve had to transform our personalities
to be able to speak to people about the project and generate their
participation. As people are inspired that building a sacred site is a worthy
investment, they join this project.”
The personality transformation
was evident on New Year’s, as the couple spent much of the final evening of
2010 embracing visitors with their particular brand of grounded enthusiasm,
delight, curiosity and warmth. The rest of the time, they performed live
painting in a well-lit alcove. Allyson’s work involved bright, channeled,
hand-sized sacred letters in rows that filled the canvas. Alex, alternating
playful grins and jokes with his trademark intensity and focus, drew and
painted portraits of patrons who’d paid $500 fees for the honor.
The money will go, in part,
toward fulfilling the original vision for a Chapel to house the Sacred Mirrors.
That building is in the design phase, planned for the meadow now illuminated by
Roudenbush’s dome. The Greys said it will feature an “uplifting, original
approach to architecture” intended to still exist in 1,000 years.
“Building a sacred temple is our
physical goal,” they said, but added that the physical is only part of the true
Chapel. “By ‘getting along,’ we can make something beautiful together. Focusing
on the creation of beauty can transform the planet. A global community is
coming together on this journey. It will take the talent and ability of many
creative spiritual people to manifest this vision”
And the Chapel itself is only
a part of the vision for CoSM. The
heavily wooded property has revealed hidden reflecting pools and wisdom trails,
a labyrinth, an outdoor stone pulpit, even a history of UCC ceremonies held to
break down racial and other barriers.
Not all the surprises have been
pleasant — the Greys have tackled mold issues and sewage problems as remodeling
continues. And then there’s the life-surprises: a car crash in March 2010 left
the couple facing months of rehabilitation.
“Life is full of hurdles, so, of
course, having our vertebrae crushed like Dixie cups looked like a set-back,”
they said this week. “It can also be seen as a gift. Healing and enduring pain
is a test. All living things suffer. Realizing gratitude for what we have — our
mobility and our life — and seeing that obstacles can be overcome makes us
stronger and better, like the healed bones.
“Do we use this incident as an
excuse not to achieve our goals and be all we can be, or see it as an episode
on the path to realizing our vision?”
Less than a year after the crash,
the two moved with strength and grace throughout the celebratory evening, showing
no evidence of the potentially devastating incident. And they’d certainly made
progress on the path. That night, CoSM’s gift shop, library and dining hall
were brilliantly decorated, showing off the work done on the main house so far.
Alex kept the capacity crowd enthralled with tales of Tibetan monks, tattoo
artists and well-known authors who’ve come to the gatherings, including the
full-moon ceremonies that have happened each month for seven years so far. He
and Allyson have big plans for all six buildings on the site, now being
renovated and expanded for guests, workshops, events, weddings and “community
building activities that will support the infrastructure of CoSM.”
And then there’s the front gates.
While showing photos of the 20-foot, flowing metal scrollwork planned for the
site, Alex earned laughter from the gathering as he described an earlier design
— dragons and a naked man and woman, some of the sacred symbols of CoSM’s work.
Somewhere along the way, someone
asked: “Is that really the message we want to be sending to the neighbors?” A
new version featuring less, er, provocative imagery followed, and is now under
construction in Bali.
But beneath the humor is a more
serious commitment to building relationships between the avant garde and more
mainstream society. “We are newcomers in our town,” Alex and Allyson later
said, “and must prove ourselves to be an asset to the surrounding community and
elicit their trust.”
That can be a challenge for
artists whose most famous pieces can generate comments like: “Whoa. Someone
took some good acid!”
So, while rave music and eclectic
costumes were the norm at New Year’s, event promotions touted it as drug-and-alcohol-free, and the bubbly beverages served for the midnight toast were of
apple juice, not champagne.
“Those who make known their
substance use on the property are escorted off the site,” Alex and Allyson
said. “Use of illegal substances in open defiance of the law cannot be
And yet, the Greys are candid
about their own history with psychedelics, which they see as sacred and
critical tools for the transformation of our time.
“As artists, the subject of our
artwork is the most important decision we have to make. Great art shares the
most important personal experiences and mystic truths.
“For us, traditional Christian
and Jewish upbringings did not catalyze a transcendental opening. The
experience of LSD and, subsequently, other mind-altering sacraments, offered us
personal contact with the divine.”
The Greys warn that caution is needed
to prevent harm to “individuals who should abstain.” The couple says
psychedelics are special medicines that, they pray, will eventually be
delivered responsibly in appropriate religious contexts in support of a society
that celebrates contact with the divine.
“In this country, we can exercise
our First Amendment rights to speak of the experiences that have assisted in
liberating our consciousness. Those inspired by consciousness-expanding
entheogens, especially leaders, can serve others by responsibly sharing this
knowledge,” they said. “We support tolerance, research and cognitive liberty.
That is the stand that CoSM takes.”
In the meantime, substance-free
events, fundraising and expansion continue. A portion of CoSM’s permanent
collection of artworks is expected to be displayed in Wappinger later this
year, with the opening of the full Chapel and collection intended for 2015.
The Greys will lead their next
Pre-Full Moon workshop Jan. 15 at CoSM, entitled “Visioning Our Highest
Intention.” A four-city tour in Australia is coming up, followed by a trip to
Bali. To find out more about CoSM events in the Hudson Valley and its role
throughout the world, check here.
The upcoming CoSM Journal will be
themed “Cosmic Creativity” and feature “some of the greatest visionary artists
of all times, including rarely seen works by Ernst Fuchs and Mati Klarwein and
original articles by Deepak Chopra and Matthew Fox.” One of the new features in the
CoSM Journal is the gallery section where artists can sponsor space and have
their work seen by a wide audience of like-minded visionaries. CoSM Journal will soon be
available online, giving all sponsors increased exposure. To find out more
about sponsoring space in the upcoming CoSM Journal, contact Delvin@cosm.org.
Photos courtesy of CoSM.