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Even though it is a reality distinct from the ordinary, the sacred does make itself known in the world of human experience.  Appearances or manifestations of the sacred are called hierophanies. The sacred can make itself known through persons, places, objects and times.  Although these means through which the sacred appears may be quite ordinary, they are made extraordinary because they share or participate in the sacred realm. 
Hierophanies are thus like doorways or points of contact between the ordinary world and the sacred. A hierophany can make it possible for the sacred to enter the ordinary and, at the same time, for the ordinary to enter into and participate in the sacred realm.

animated door opening

Eliade notes that every manifestation of the sacred in the profane actually transforms both space and time. If the sacred is made know in a place, for example, people naturally assume that the sacred can breakthrough again at that same place. The time in which the sacred breaks through into the ordinary realm is also transformed. Certain days and times thus commemorate both the past experience of the sacred and serve to re-enact that experience (more about this when we discuss rituals).
Some scholars suggests that hierophanies can be classified by media and by pattern.
  • Media refers to the particular means by which the sacred appears.  For instance, the doorway to the sacred realm may be through a person, a place, an object or a time.
  • Pattern refers to way in which the person, place, object or time is sacred. The way something functions as a doorway to the sacred can be classified as:
    • Prophetic: the object, person, place or time conveys a revelation or message from the sacred realm
    • Sacramental: The sacred is present in some way in the object, place person or time. 
    • Mystic: The object, person, place or time is united with (or assists in the union with) the sacred, usually through a particular state of being. 

Each individual discussed in chapter three of Exploring Religious Meaning has an experience of the sacred.  In so doing, each one becomes a particular type of doorway to the sacred realm.

Moses and Gandhi would fit the Prophetic pattern while Sufism, the Buddha, Saint Teresa and Juan Diego conform to the  Mystic pattern.
Although the text book does not adopt Eliade's approach , much of what is discussed in the section on Experiencing Religion can be understood from the framework built on the concepts of the sacred, profane and hierophanies.  We will thus be referring back to the concept as we study chapters 4 and 5.