Thursday, April 3, 2008

Sacred Spaces: The Sacred Grove

From Barbara Walker's "A Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets." Grove, Sacred Next to a cave, a grove was the most popular uterine symbol in ancient religions, even among early biblical Semites, to whom Asherah was the Mother-Goddess of the Grove. A large tree, pillar, or obelisk within the grove often represented the male god inside the Goddess as both child and lover. Brittany in the 11th century still had a druidic holy wood called Nemet. This may have been the same as the fairy wood Broceliande, the grove of Merlin's Nemesis, the lady Nimue, who also bore the name of the fatal Goddess of the grove. A common Indo-European word for the sacred grove was Nemi (Latin nemus), indicating dedication to the Moon-goddess called Nemesis, Diana Nemorensis, or Diana Nemetona - Lady of the Grove. Nemeton was the druidic oak grove. Strabo said the greatest shrine of the Galatians (Gauls) in Asia Minor was Drunemeton, the druid-grove. Southern Scotland had a shrine called Medionemeton. France had another, called Nemetodorum (modern Nanterre). In Spain, the sacred grove of the Moon-goddess Brigit was Nemetobriga.(1) Hungary still has Maros-Nemeti, an old grove-shrine of Mari-Diana.(2) The Irish called a sanctuary nemed, or fidnemed, a "forest shrine," established by the archaic colonists called Nemed or Moon-people. Religious rites continued in these forest shrines throughout the Middle Ages.(3) Christian writers spoke of "heathen abominations" carried out in forest shrines or nimidae. Patriarchal priesthoods seemed to consider the groves dangerous. The Bible speaks of many attacks on the asherim or Groves of Asherah, which were consistently worshipped by both people and kings, despite the prophets' repeated condemnations: Exodus 34:13, Deuteronomy 16:21, Judges 3:7, 1 Kings 15:13, 16:33; 2 Kings 18:4, 21:7. Destroyers of the sacred groves feared the Mother's curse, as shown in numerous moralizing myths. Erysichthon dared to cut down one of Demeter's sacred groves, though the high priestess forbade him with the voice of the Goddess herself. Then angry Demeter cursed him with perpetual hunger that could never be appeased. He ended as a wretched beggar, frantically stuffing his mouth with filth.(4) Druidic sacred groves were somewhat protected by superstitious fear of similar curses. The oak grove at Derry was one of the most ppopular shrines of Irish paganism, its magical name still invoked by the bardic phrase "Hey, Derry Down" in the chrous of old ballads. Writings attributed to St. Columba said Derry's grove must be preserved at all costs. The said said as much as he feared death and hell, he "dreaded still more the sound of the axe in the grove of Derry."(5) Sacred kings in Diana's ancient grove at Nemi were expected to fight any rival challenger who broke a branch from the holy tree. This symbolic act occurs so often in medieval romances that it can only be assumed the custom continued through the Middle Ages. The Vulgate epic of Lancelot said Parsifal challenged a rival knight in the same manner as the heroes of Meni: he "found a tree in the grove undefended, and broke a branch from it."(6) Evidence is not lacking to show that breaking a branch from the sacred tree was equivalent to a threat of cstration of the god, or the incumbent sacred king who embodied the god.(7) Notes: (1) Piggot, 72. (2) Strong, 192. (3) Joyce 1, 359-60. (4) Graves, G.M., 1, 89. (5) Spence, 42. (6) Cambpell, C.M., 555. (7) Frazer, G.B, 815 et seq.

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