Think of a Druid, and you may well picture them standing in a stone circle or in a clearing in the forest, a grove of trees around them. Classical historians write of Druids gathering for sacred rites in groves, called Nemetons, a Gaulish word meaning somethins akin to “holy place” or “sanctuary”. Today, a group of Druids who meet and work together can be called a “grove” in the same way as a group of witches is a “coven”.
As Druidry considers all of nature to be sacred, all of nature is sacred space. Yet, for practical purposes as well as to enable greater connection to specific places and energies, Druids will often designate a particular space as sacred, or will work within the environs of a space that has become sacred over time, with people praying and enacting ritual there over possibly hundreds or thousands of years, as in the many great stone circles and holy hills that dot the landscapes of Britain.
These places are sacred not by virtue of being separate from the “mundane” world, but by acting as microcosms of the macrocosm, places where we can remember and re-enchant our connection with the world.
Altars can be created in nature, a tree stump or flat rock serving as the central point for ritual, offering and meditation. Or they can be more permanent, a home shrine with statues of deities, candles, natural objects found on nature walks, ritual tools and more. The altar, known in the Atheopagan tradition as the focus, is just that – a focus. A point of reference to direct attention and awareness to the sacred. Of course, there may be no need for a physical altar at all: the ground itself is an altar, and so are we.
Anywhere can be a Nemeton, and we each carry our own Nemeton with us at all times. Even those without a particular spiritual outlook are no doubt familiar with the concept of “personal space”, that invisible bubble of place and energy that is ours, not to be intruded in without our permission. In relaxed settings with friends, or intimate times with loved ones, it can soften, becoming permeable, allowing exchange and connection. Anyone who has dealt with a stranger standing too close to them on a crowded train, or been cornered by the office bore at a work function will know how unwanted intrusion into that personal space can feel awkward or prickly.
This personal space is our own Nemeton, and we can consciously work with it to delineate sacred space in Druidry, expanding our awareness outwards to the place we are in and are part of.
In the safe and enclosed space of a grove, or a Nemeton, we are able to soften ourselves, to put away for a little while the everyday worries of our lives, and to simply breathe in the presence of nature, of the sacred, whatever you consider it to be.
[Prompt from Alison Leigh Lilly’s 30 Days of Druidry]