- Sacred grove
Sacred groves were a feature of the mythological landscape and the cult practice of Old Europe, of the most ancient levels of
Germanic paganism, Greek mythology, Slavic mythology, Roman mythology, and in Druidic practice. Sacred groves also feature prominently in many Asian and African mythologies and cultures, most notably in India, Japan, West Africa, and Anatolia.
Ancient Near East
Labraundahave revealed a large shrine - which, according to Herodotuswas supposed to have contained a sacred grove. The site was sacred to both Carians and Mysians.
In Syria, some sacred groves are believed to have been made during
The most famous sacred grove in mainland Greece was the oak grove at
Dodona. Outside the walls of Athens, the site of the Academywas a sacred grove of olive trees, still recalled in the phrase "the groves of Academe."
In central Italy, the town of
Nemirecalls the Latin"nemus Aricinum", or "grove of Ariccia", a small town a quarter of the way around the lake. In Antiquity the area had no town, but the grove was the site of one of the most famous of Roman cults and temples: that of Diana Nemorensis, a study of which served as the seed for Sir James Frazer's seminal work on the anthropology of religion, " The Golden Bough". [James Frazer, The Golden Bough, Dover reprint of 1922 abridged edition, (ISBN 0-486-42492-8)]
A sacred grove behind the House of the
Vestal Virginson the edge of the Roman Forumlingered until its last vestiges were burnt in the Great Fire of Romein 64 CE.
In the town of
Spoleto, Umbria, two stones from the late third century BCE, inscribed in archaic Latin, established punishments for the profanation of the woods dedicated to Jupiter ("Lex Luci Spoletina") have survived; they are preserved in the National Archeological Museum of Spoleto [ [http://www.eng.archeopg.arti.beniculturali.it/canale.asp?id=436 National Archeological Museum of Spoleto] website entry for the exhibit of the inscribed stones] .
The "Bosco Sacro" (literally "sacred grove") at
Bomarzo, Italy is a well-known sculpture garden and sacred grove.
Sacred groves have survived in the Baltic states longer than in other parts of Europe. The main
Baltic Prussiansanctuary, which is also considered a sacred grove was Romowe. The last extermination of sacred groves was carried out in the lands of present-day Lithuaniaafter its Christianization in 1387 and Samogitiain 1413. A sacred grove is known as "alka(s)" in Lithuanian.
Sacred groves feature prominently in Scandinavian mythology. The most famous sacred grove of Northern Europe was at the
Temple at Uppsalain Old Uppsala, where every tree was considered sacred - described by Adam of Bremen. The practice of Blót- the sacrificial ritual in Norse paganismwas usually held in "Lund"s or sacred groves. According to Adam of Bremen, in Scandinavia, pagan kings sacrificed nine males of each species at the sacred groves every ninth year. [Tshan, Francis J. [http://scandinavian.wisc.edu/mellor/myth/pdf_files/AdamBremen.pdf Adam of Bremen] ]
The pagan Germanic tribes also performed tree-worship and had the concept of sacred groves. It is thought that the idea of sacred trees like the
Thor's Oakmight have led to the concept of the present day Christmas tree.
The Celts used sacred groves, called "
nemeton" in Gaulish, for performing ritual animal and human sacrifices, and other rituals, based on Celtic mythology. The deity involved was usually Nemetona- a Celtic goddess. Druids oversaw such rituals. Existence of such groves have been found in Germany, Switzerland, Czech Republicand Hungaryin Central Europe, in many sites of ancient Gaulin France, as well as Englandand Northern Ireland. Sacred grove remains had been plentiful up until the 3rd century BC, when the Romans attacked and conquered Gaul. One of the most well known "nemeton" sites is that in the "Nevet" forest near Locronanin Bretagne, France. Gournay-sur-Aronde(Gournay-on-Aronde), a village in the Oisedepartment of France, also houses the remains of a "nemeton". [ Venceslas Kruta, "Les Celtes, Histoire et dictionnaire", Robert Laffont, coll. Bouquins, Paris, 2000, (ISBN 2-7028-6261-6)] [Maurice Meuleau, "Les Celtes en Europe", Éditions Édilarge, Rennes, 2004, (ISBN 2-7028-9095-4)]
Nemetons were often fenced off by enclosures, as indicated by the German term "Viereckschanze" - meaning a quadrangular space surrounded by a ditch enclosed by wooden palisades.
Many of these groves, like the sacred grove at
Didyma, Turkey are thought to be "nemeton"s, sacred groves protected by druids based on Celtic Mythology. In fact, according to Strabo, the central shrine at Galatiawas called "Drunemeton". [Horace L. Jones, ed. and tr. The Geography of Strabo. Vols 1-8, containing Books 1-17. Harvard University Press and Heinemann, 1917-32] Some of these were also sacred groves in Greek times (as in the case of Didyma), but were based on a different or slightly changed mythology.
In India, sacred groves are scattered all over the country, and do not enjoy protection via federal legislation. Some NGOs work with local villagers to protect such groves. Each grove is associated with a presiding deity, and the grove are referred to by different names in different parts of India. They were maintained by local communities with hunting and logging strictly prohibited within these patches. While most of these sacred deities are associated with local Hindu gods, sacred groves of Islamic and Buddhist origins are also known. Sacred groves occur in a variety of places - from scrub forests in the
Thar Desertof Rajasthanmaintained by the Bishnois, to rain forests in the Kerala Western Ghats. Himachal Pradeshin the North and Keralain the South are specifically known for their large numbers of sacred groves. [A [http://www.cseindia.org/dte-supplement/forest20031231/forest-index.htm series] of articles in the journal "Down to Earth" on sacred groves]
Around 14,000 sacred groves have been reported from all over India, which act as reservoirs of rare fauna, and more often rare flora, amid rural and even urban settings. Experts believe that the total number of sacred groves could be as high as 100,000. Threats to the groves include urbanization, over-exploitation of resources, and environmental destruction from Hindu religious practices. While many of the groves are looked upon as abode of Hindu gods, in the recent past a number of them have been partially cleared for construction of shrines and temples. [Malhotra, K. C., Ghokhale, Y., Chatterjee, S. and Srivastava, S., Cultural and Ecological Dimensions of Sacred Groves in India, INSA, New Delhi, 2001] [Ramachandra Guha, The Unquiet Woods, University of California Press, 2000 (ISBN 978-0520222359)]
Ritualistic dances and dramatizations based on the local deities that protect the groves are called "Theyyam" in Kerala and "Nagmandalam", among other names, in
The concept of sacred groves is present in
Nigerian mythology as well. The Osun-Osogbo Sacred Grove, containing dense forests, is located just outside the city of Osogbo, and is regarded as one of the last virgin high forests in Nigeria. It is dedicated to the fertility god in Yoruba mythology, and is dotted with shrines and sculptures. Suzanne Wenger, an Austrian artist, has helped revive the grove. The grove was designated as an UNESCO World Heritage Sitein 2005. [ [http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1118 Entry] at the UNESCOwebsite] .
Sacred groves are also present in
Ghana. One of Ghana's most famous sacred groves - the Buoyem Sacred Grove - and numerous other sacred groves are present in the Techiman Municipal Districtand nearby districts of the Brong Ahafo Region. They provide a refuge for wildlife which has been exterminated in nearby areas, and one grove most notably houses 20,000 fruit bats in underground caves. [ [http://www.un.org/esa/sustdev/mgroups/success/2000/SARD-19.htm Entry] at the United Nations Division of Sustainable Development] The capital of the historical Ghana Empire"El-Ghaba", contained a sacred grove for performing religious rites of the Soninke people. Other sacred groves in Ghana include sacred groves along the coastal savannahs of Ghana [Michael O'Neal Campbell, Traditional forest protection and woodlots in the coastal savannah of Ghana, Environmental Conservation (2004), 31: 225-232 Cambridge University Press] . Many sacred groves in Ghana are now under federal protecttion - like the "Anweam Sacred Grove" in the Esukawkaw Forest Reserve[Boakye Amoako-Atta, [http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0011/001138/113898eo.pdf Preservation of Sacred Groves in Ghana: Esukawkaw Forest Reserve and its Anweam Sacred Grove] , Working Papers, South-South Co-operation Programme for Environmentally Sound Socio-Economic Development in the Humid Tropics, UNESCO] Other well-known sacred groves in Ghana include the "Malshegu Sacred Grove" in Northern Ghana - one of the last remaining closed canopy forests in the savannah regions [C. Dorm-Adzobu, O. Ampadu-Agyei, and P. Veit; Religious Beliefs and Environmental Protection: The Malshegu Sacred Grove in Northern Ghana; World Resources Institute and African Centre for Technology Studies, Washington DC, 1991] , and the Jachie sacred grove.
Sacred groves in Japan are typically associated with
Shinto shrines, and are located all over Japan. The Cryptomeriatree is venerated in Shintopractice, and considered sacred. Among the sacred groves associated with such "jinja"s or Shinto shrines are the shrine at Atsuta-ku, Nagoya- one of the most important Shinto shrines in Japan, and the Kashima Shrine- now protected as part of the Kashima Wildlife Preservation Area, on account of its varied bird life and plant life (it houses over 800 kinds of trees). [ [http://int.kateigaho.com/spr05/forests-sacred.html A guide] to Japan's sacred forests at "kateigaho.com"]
Utakisacred sites (often with associated burial grounds) on Okinawaare based on Ryukyuan religion, and usually are associated with tounor "kami-asagi" - regions dedicated to the gods where people are forbidden to go. Sacred groves are often present in such places, as also in Gusukus - fortified areas which contain sacred sites within them. [Asato Susumu, [http://www.jpf.go.jp/e/culture/news/0412/img/pdf/report07.pdf From Gusuku to Utaki : Okinawa’s Sacred Areas from an Archeological Perspective] , Board of Education of Urasoe ] The Seifa-utakiwas designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Sitedesignated in 2003. It consists of a triangular cavern formed by gigantic rocks, and contains a sacred grove with rare, indigenous trees like the Kubanoki(a kind of palm) and the "yabunikkei" or Cinnamomumjaponicum (a form of wild cinnamon). Direct access to the grove is forbidden.
* [http://www.ignca.nic.in/cd_08008.htm M. D. Subash Chandran Madhav Gadgil, "Sacred Groves and Sacred Trees of Uttara Kannada"]
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