sacred grove

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Sacred Grove of Bomarzo, Viterbo, Italy. Vicino (Prince of Orsini) and Pirro Ligorio, 1552

Vicino created the “Grove of Monsters” as a strange love poem to his deceased wife, Giulia. The shapes of the enormous boulders in his garden reminded him of monsters, and he transformed these boulders into dragons, nymphs, and other fantastic creatures.

“Whoever does not walk through this place with eyebrows raised and lips pressed tight, will also be incapable of understanding the Seven Wonders of the World.”

- Inscription at the entrance to the sacred grove, near a statue of Giulia with the body of a female Sphinx

For #mousemonday, another piece from my show with Nico Delort at Gallery Nucleus in LA – the show is up until March 5th, and prints are available at gallerynucleus.com.

This piece is called “Tremble & Fret, Bough & Pyre”. I was reading a lot about Celtic druid sacrifice in preparation for this body of work, and I read eerie accounts of sacred groves of oak trees where only druid priests could enter, and where countless sacrificed human and animal bodies hung from the boughs of trees, all jumbled together.

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Sacred Grove.

Got some Lost Woods/Skull Kid lore going on here. This is one of those interesting stories that just gets glossed over quickly in Ocarina of Time, where Navi says something to the effect of “if a kid gets lost in the Lost Woods, they will remain there forever, trapped as a Skull Kid.” And then, we’re just supposed to be cool with that? Who’s kids are these? Why are there so many of them roaming the woods?! Why is this never explored in more detail? I want more Skull Kid lore!

The way we see the world shapes the way we treat it. If a mountain is a deity, not a pile of ore; if a river is one of the veins of the land, not potential irrigation water; if a forest is a sacred grove, not timber; if other species are biological kin, not resources; or if the planet is our mother, not an opportunity - then we will treat each other with greater respect. Thus is the challenge, to look at the world from a different perspective.
—  David Suzuki
Osun Oshogbo Sacred Grove

The dense forest of the Osun Sacred Grove, on the outskirts of the city of Osogbo, is one of the last remnants of primary high forest in southern Nigeria. Regarded as the abode of the goddess of fertility Osun, one of the pantheon of Yoruba gods, the landscape of the grove and its meandering river is dotted with sanctuaries and shrines, sculptures and art works in honour of Osun and other deities. The sacred grove, which is now seen as a symbol of identity for all Yoruba people, is probably the last in Yoruba culture. It testifies to the once widespread practice of establishing sacred groves outside all settlements.

The Osun Sacred Grove is the largest and perhaps the only remaining example of a once widespread phenomenon that used to characterise every Yoruba settlement. It now represents Yoruba sacred groves and their reflection of Yoruba cosmology. It is a tangible expression of Yoruba divinatory and cosmological systems; its annual festival is a living thriving and evolving response to Yoruba beliefs in the bond between people, their ruler and the Osun goddess.

The grove covers 75 ha of ring-fenced forest alongside the Osun River on the outskirts of Osogbo town, Western Nigeria. About 2 million people live in Osogbo. The grove in Yoruba cosmology is the domicile of Osun, the goddess of fertility. Ritual paths lead devotees to 40 shrines, dedicated to Osun and other Yoruba deities, and to nine specific worship points beside the river. Osun is the Yoruba personification of the ‘waters of life’ and the spiritual mother of the Osogbo township. It also symbolizes a pact between Larooye, the founder of Osogbo, and Osun: the goddess gave prosperity and protection to her people if they built a shrine to her and respected the sprit of the forest. Unlike other Yoruba towns whose sacred groves have atrophied, or disappeared, the Osogbo Grove has, over the past 40 years, been re-established as a central, living focus of the town. The Osogbo Grove is now seen as a symbol of identity for all Yoruba people, including those of the African diaspora, many of whom make pilgrimages to the annual festival.

The grove has a mature, reasonably undisturbed, forest canopy, which supports a rich and diverse flora and fauna - including the endangered white-throated monkey. Some parts were cleared in the colonial period, and teak plantations and agriculture introduced, but these are now being re-established. The grove is a highly sacred sanctuary where shrines, sculptures and artworks honour Osun and other Yoruba deities. It has five main sacred divisions associated with different gods and cults, located either side of a path transecting the grove from north-west to south-east.

The Osun River meanders through the whole grove and along its length are nine worship points. Throughout the grove the broad river is overhung with forest trees. Its waters signify a relationship between nature, the spirits and human beings, reflecting the place given to water in the Yoruba cosmology as symbolizing life. The river is believed to have healing, protective and fertility powers. The fish are said to have been used by the goddess Osun as messengers of peace, blessings and favour.

Traditionally, sacred trees and stones and metal objects, along with mud and wood sculptures, defined the deities in the grove. During the past 40 years, new sculptures have been erected in the place of old ones and giant, immovable ones created in threatened spaces in the grove by Suzanne Wenger working with a group of local artists called New Sacred Art. These sculptures are made from a variety of materials - stone, wood, iron and concrete. There are also wall paintings and decorative roofs made from palm fronds.

There are two palaces. The first is part of the main Osun-Osogbo shrine. The second palace is where Larooye moved to before the community established a new settlement outside the grove. Both buildings are constructed of mud walls with tin roofs supported variously by mud and carved wooden pillars. The three Ogboni buildings are constructed with sweeping roofs rising high over the entrances and supported on a cluster of slender carved wooden posts.

The Annual Osun-Osogbo festival is a 12-day event held once a year at the end of July and the beginning of August. The grove is seen as the repository of kingship, as well as the spiritual heart of the community. The festival invokes the spirits of the ancestor kings and rededicates the present Oba to Osun, as well as reaffirming and renewing the bonds between the deities represented in the Sacred Grove and the people of Osogbo. The finale of the festival is a procession of the whole population, led by the votary maid Arugba and headed by the Oba and priests, all accompanied by drumming, singing and dancing.

Rare Pre-Viking ‘Frey and Freyja’ Erotic Mount, 3rd-5th Century AD

A bronze mount in a form of a standing male and a female couple, each with a right hand holding a stretched left hand touching each others genitals, a female figure decorated with incised belt decoration; lower part of male legs missing.

Several scholars argue that this image represents the marriage of god Frey and giantess Gerd; however it may also represent a union of Frey with his sister Freyja. From later sources, it is known that the Vanir, an ancient race of gods, had a custom to marry or have intercourse with their siblings. Njord, the father of Frey and Freya was from this tribe, and sources suggest that they were conceived with his sister-wife. She might have been the mysterious Suebi goddess Nerthus, which Roman historian Tacitus wrote about in Germania. Her statue was kept in a sacred grove on an unknown island, drawn in a holy cart and only priests could touch her. Everywhere the goddess came she was met with celebration of peace and hospitality. After she returned to the temple, everything was washed by slaves, who were drowned short after. Her connection with fertility, peace, and water, definitely points to the Vanir race; and she shares several similarities with the later worshipping of Frey. This mount probably represents either Njord and Nerthus, or Frey and Freyja, and may had been used as a votive offering or worn as an amulet to invoke the fertile powers of those gods.

A parallel to the style and pose of this 'couple’ can be seen on several small bronzes inspired by Roman statuettes representing gods. However, similar bronze statues were already known in Scandinavia since the Bronze Age and were most likely of a ritual significance. The specific crossed hand on a chest is a puzzling symbol, possibly symbolising a gesture of a specific god, ritual act or blessing. Some facial similarities can be seen on the Broddenbjerg man, a wooden statue with a strong phallic symbolism, most likely pointing to fertility. Another similarity can be observed on rock art in Scandinavia, especially the long neck features and the image of a 'divine couple’, a strong motif found extensively in the late Iron Age on many golden sheets, known as guldgubbers.