Sacred Groves and Holy Trees

Carole Cusack

Abstract


In the worldviews of the ancient and medieval Celts and Germans the divine was accessed through natural phenomena. The trees and water sources venerated by these peoples were in general associated with specific divinities. Trees were sacred to male deities and water sources to female. The Roman poet Lucan's Pharsalia testifies to the sacredness of the oak groves of the Druids, and many of the rivers of Europe bear the names of Celtic goddesses. Christianity had a different attitude concerning access to the divine, and medieval saints such as Boniface felled holy trees like the oak dedicated to Donar (or Thor) at Geismar in an effort to stamp out pagan superstition. This paper explores the importance of trees in Celtic and Germanic religion and mythology, and suggests ways in which this was preserved after the conversion to Christianity.

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