Home – a place of meaning, of value and of safety.  At a certain point in the history of our development as a species, the term became –  in a sense – the possession of a certain character type of the species. The character type that is more often than not seen in positions of power or on the trajectory of a placement within dominant power structures and hierarchies.

Meaning changed, though the value of the home as the place of meaning remained the same. it took on a meaning associated with territorial ownership that included safeguarding the property. Women, at the time, were also regarded as property.  The idea of home extended beyond the physical boundaries of shelter, and incorporated a larger territorialism which demanded – no less by the character type referred to – sacrifice of life and limb. ‘Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori’ .

Before the value and meaning of home fell into the wrong hands, it was the centre of your world, the place of safety, warm love and comfort. The place where you could shut out the world outside and remain safely cocooned from the madness and chaos that was and still is the world.

Home in essence was the tangible, the real, the comprehensible and the familiar. No masks or feathers worn around the house.

According to John Berger, Mircea Eliade demonstrated how home was the place from where the world could be ‘founded’. Eliade states that ‘a home is established at the heart of the real’.  Without a home everything fragments for the individual. There is an existence that is more like non-existence, an invisibility or a loss of the sense of being, a state of non-being. An existence dominated by the nether regions of cities and towns, countries and nations. Indeed of societies and civilisations marked as such down the ages passed on pages of history and progress.

*Berger states that ‘home was the centre of the world because it was the place where a vertical line crossed with a horizontal one.  The vertical line was a path leading upwards to the sky and downwards to the underworld. The horizontal line represents the traffic of the world, all possible roads leading across the earth to other places. Thus, at home, one is nearest to the gods in the sky and to the dead in the underworld. The nearness promises access to both. And at the same time, one is the starting point, and hopefully, the returning point of all terrestrial journeys.’

  • John Berger’s essay excerpt originally published in “And Our Faces, My Heart, Brief as Photos”  John Berger (Pantheon Books, 1984).