The week's word is temenos, coming from the Greek verb τέμνω, meaning "to cut". The earliest known form of the word occurs in the Mycenaean Greek te-me-no, written in Linear B syllabic script, and it signifies an area of earth or ground forbidden to mundane uses and dedicated to the sacred. The temenos was an important feature of the mythological landscape in early times - a shrine, temple or a sanctuary structure made by human hands, but most often an open air enclosure or sacred grove.
Such places abounded in ancient European cultures, and they can be found all around the Mediterranean: the Hellenic Dodonna, Delphi and Eleusis, Knossos (Crete), the Acropolis, Mount Olympus and the Sacred Valley of the Nile in Egypt (to name just a few). One of the most famous of all is the Italian Nemi (nemus Aricinum, or "grove of Ariccia"), an ancient grove of olive trees sacred to the goddess Diana Nemorensis (Diana of the Wood) and the focus of Sir James Frazer's Golden Bough.
There is something about a ring of trees which draws humanity like a magnet. Early Norse cultures had their hörgr, and the ancient Celts had their open air sacred places called nemetons after the Celtic Nemetes tribe of the Upper Rhine and their tutelary goddess, Nemetona. Nemeton, Both words are rooted in the Celtic nemeto, meaning "of sacred places".
Spending the amount of time that I do poking around in the woods and fields with a camera, I can't help but think that the earth and everything on it is sacred space, and a quotation from Awakening to the Sacred by Surya Das comes to mind. "Truth is the perfect circle. Its center is everywhere; its circumference stretches into infinite space. The land on which we stand is sacred, no matter where we stand." In other words, wherever we happen to be standing is consecrated ground.
Everyone needs special places, and this is one of mine at any time of year. Far from the hills in winter and craving a fine blue stillness, this is the image that comes to mind, a rock resting in a lavishly treed and sheltered highland hollow where harsh winds never seem to blow. I wish my photo did it justice, but alas, it does not.
In winter the hollow is in deep shadow and so still that one can hear snow falling and coming to rest in the trees nearby. In springtime and summer the place is green and shaded, all flickering leaf light, mosses, ferns and wildflowers. I can sit comfortably for hours with my back against the stone, watching the dance of light and shadow in the alcove. The flavor and fragrance of the experience are described perfectly in a gorgeous excerpt from Directions by Billy Collins.
Time spent by my wordless stone in the hollow is kairos time rather than sequential time, and it's always time well spent. Much as I long for springtime in late February, I cherish intervals here - even when icy north winds blow as they are blowing this morning.
February 15, 2013
resting easy in friday rambles