Celtic Goddess: Nemetona – Goddess of the Sacred Grove
The experience of Her
Nematona is an elusive Celtic Goddess. Her rites have not been recorded nor do we know anything of her attributes, yet her name ‘She of the Sacred grove’ whispers to our heart of protection, safety, a connection with nature as divine ‘sanctuary’.
The sacred grove can be a physical space in the real world, a clearing in the oak woods, or a clearing in the busy mind, an invitation into the imagination. It can be an inner sanctuary of the heart, a sacred space for meditation and contemplation. A place to meet and commune with divinity.
Nemetona is the both the guardian and the Goddess of sacred liminal spaces in nature. The Celts did not construct or consecrate buildings to contain their deities. Knowing that all the earth is sacred, they conducted their devotional rites outside, as druids and wiccans do today.
Then, as now, there are places that have special significance, places that hold their own magic, places that call to the heart. Perhaps where a spring emerges, or a sun dappled glade in the forest, a deep moonlit pool, a narrow rocky valley leading down to the sea. Perhaps for you it is a wooded hilltop, a flat grassy bank beneath a waterfall, A power point on the land where oak and ash and thorn grow together, a sheltered cove, a cave… You know where I mean, you will have been called to places like that, A place that your senses alert you to. when you arrive, you feel it, and you are compelled to stop, a place where your soul becomes hushed and calm, you let it touch you. Let her, touch you. becoming one with Nature and the Goddess Nemetona.
In my experience she is an exquisitely intimate and embodied deity. When you meet you feel her viscerally, a felt sense of presence. A reverent wordless connection that we can create within our own heart, or stumble upon in nature. A place where the beauty that comes to us through our senses stops us in our tracks, where our sixth sense tells us, ‘here is the place’ and we feel compelled to stand to listen with our whole body, to soften our gaze and receive, to kneel and kiss the earth. She is a call to prayer, a song arising spontaneously in response to the sound of the river, the wind in the leaves of a tree, the fragrance of a flower. an invitation to come close and connect. She is a still and potent place between breathes, a pause in the chatter where surrender touches and quietens the mind. She soothes and stills, and whispers to us of belonging, of the innate holiness of all things.
To come into relationship with her is a healing for the heart, for the mind and the body.
Evidence of Nemetona association with water and woodland
There are indications that the worship of Nemetona originated in Europe. The ‘Nemetes’ (people of the Sacred grove) were an ancient tribe in Gaul, and inscriptions have been found to her at sacred sites in Altripp, trier, and Eisenburg in Germany. Nearer to home we know that she was honoured at the natural mineral rich geo-thermal springs at Bath in Somerset, and at Buxton in the Peak District.
Both British sites have been recognised as sacred places of healing by the Roman invaders, and still exist as health spas to this day. At Bath, in Somerset, her sacred grove was the original site of the Roman baths dedicated to sol and later the Roman Goddess Minerva.
At Buxton she is worshiped as ‘Aqua Arnematiae ‘she who dwells ‘beside the sacred grove’. the original pagan site of the sacred pool and woodland was drained in the18th century, but to this day the healing mineral waters gush unfailingly from St Annes fountain in the town. Local people partake of her healing elixir, freely given. To drink at the source, we imbibe water that fell on this site at the time in history when the site was an active place of worship of Goddess. It takes 5,000 years for the water to percolate one kilometre down through the rocks and arise again to the surface, enriched by the healing minerals from its long underground journey.
In the landscape of Glastonbury-Avalon, we can feel her presence in Bushy Combe, a beautiful sacred valley just above town, where we gather for sacred ceremony like the Goddess Conference’s Lammas Fire. This peaceful combe is surrounded by beautiful and some ancient trees, and it has a little life-giving stream running through it. Higher up and next to Bushy Combe, we can also find her within the held space of the sacred Beech grove on Chalice Hill, which in the contours of Avalon is often seen as the belly of the great Mother.
Nematona and her consort
Although we know Nematona is an ancient Goddess long predating the Roman invasion, surviving inscriptions that mention her by name are from this time. She has been variously linked with Mars and Mercury, not necessarily as consort, although the Romans made a point of ‘honouring’ local Goddesses by ‘pairing’ them to their own Gods.
As a choice, Mercury the God associated with healing, is a logical consort, but Mars, the Roman God of war is an unlikely partner. It has been suggested that the Celtic ‘Mars‘, in his association to Nematona morphed into a God of protection, healing and agriculture, turning his warrior qualities against disease, and complimenting Nemetona in protecting the land generally, and her sacred groves in particular.
Predating the overlay of Roman influence, her original consort was Rigonmentis ‘king of the sacred grove’. We have no reliable evidence but the association of the sacred Grove with Beltane as the setting for the sacred marriage links the two. Many local mayday customs relate to the flowering of Hawthorn and its association with love and healing of the heart. (the ‘bawming of the thorn’ in Appleton Cheshire, and the Castleton Garland in Derbyshire) might suggest that Nemetona and her consort are the original deities associated with the fertility festivities of Beltane.
Nemetona has also been associated with Mars-Loucetious the God of lightening, perhaps alluding to the powerful life initiating relationship between the Goddess and the God as the ‘bolt’ of the masculine sky God is ‘earthed’ by the feminine Goddess of the land bringing new life and fertility.
The invitation of Nemetona is to connect to the sacred.
To the sacred grove in your heart, in your imagination and to a sacred space on the land.
She is associated with the Hawthorn and the Oak tree and with the elements of earth and water. Bear this in mind when you look to discover a personal sacred space in nature or create one in your own garden. Perhaps you might plant a Hawthorn or an Oak or Ash sapling, sow some wildflowerseeds, and dedicate the space to her. Visit it often, see how she changes through the year. Use it to make a touchstone between your inner and outer sense of sanctuary. A sacred grove of inner peace, of healing and restoration.