Grove - Places: A witch’s Travel Guide

The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: The Complete A-Z for the Entire Magical World - Judika Illes 2005

Places: A witch’s Travel Guide

The notion of the “sacred grove” is familiar to many people, if only because of the many complaints about them in the Bible. Groves are clusters of sacred trees: they may stand alone as an isolated group of trees, or sometimes as a designated cluster of trees within a larger, encompassing forest. Some groves might consist of no more than a small clump of trees; others, like the one dedicated to the oracular spirit Daphne in what is now Turkey, were large, imposing complexes and might be understood as a small forest. Sacred groves were once also located near lake shrines, such as that dedicated to the goddess Angitia. (See DIVINE WITCH: Angitia.)

The crucial difference between “grove” and “forest” isn’t size; historically some groves were quite extensive. Forests, however, are theoretically wild, untouched, natural places filled with magical energy; grove implies that the area has been consecrated.

Tree-centered spirituality is among the most primordial forms of religion. Among the earliest sacred images was that of a tree entwined by a snake or the combined features of a tree and woman. Some of the most ancient goddesses, like Artemis, Lady Asherah, and Hathor, were worshipped in the forms of trees. These fertile tree-goddesses were the original trees of life. (See BOTANICALS: Trees; DIVINE WITCH: Artemis; HORNED ONE: Hathor.)

Groves were associated with Pagan spiritual traditions in general and women’s spiritual traditions specifically. The Bible repeatedly complains of women journeying to “high places” to worship Asherah in her groves.

Sacred groves existed throughout Europe and the British Isles, and also in the Middle East, Anatolia, North Africa, throughout India, the Himalayas, the Caucasus Mountains, Indonesia, and East and West Africa. The city of Vienna arose around a sacred grove.

Groves were a very specific group of trees and so were extremely vulnerable to being cut down. Powerfully associated with Paganism, many were destroyed in the often-violent transition between Paganism and Christianity. The Roman Emperor Theodosius II (April 401—July 28, 450) issued an edict directing that all surviving groves be cut down except those already appropriated for purposes compatible with Christianity. (A few became monastery gardens and churchyards.)