Sacred groves

This photo I made when I visited one of the last, but still existing sacred groves here in my country.

It is called Elka birzs or in English – Sacred grove. Elks in Latvian, Alka in Lithuanian or Alh in old Gothic language is a very ancient word and mean “sanctuary” or “protected place”. Elka grove is located in Kurzeme / Curland, near the village where Curonian chiefs (Kuršu ķonoņi) lived.

Such groves were chosen in old times as places of the pagan cult. They were scattered all around Baltic lands and most famous and legendary was Romuva or Rickoyoto in Prussia, where according by legends, big oak of three main gods stood and pagan archpriest Kriwe Kriwaito himself ruled.

These groves mostly were dedicated to female goddesses, like Zemes māte (Earth Mother) and spirits of the dead. It was forbidden to go into such groves to cut wood or do hunting there.  Those, who disobeyed rules, were seen struck by curses and various disasters for all their lifetime! Even breaking a branch in there was counted as offense to the gods. Exceptions were made only in special festivity days, like Summer or Winter solstice, when people were allowed to go inside and make rituals.

There are known stories how Prussians warned Christian preachers not to enter their sacred groves and how they killed them if Christians refused to obey these rules.

Here is description left by some traveler from Königsberg, Reinhold Lubenav, when he stopped at Curonian chief village in 1585:

“As Winter Solstice time was approaching, they went to hunt in their sacred forest, where otherwise they do not hunt or gather wood for the rest of the year. Everything they hunted: stags, deer and hares – they skinned, baked and placed on a long table. On a table they fastened a lot of candles for souls of their parents, children and relatives. After that they ate and drank and told us to do the same. Later, they brought an empty beer barrel and beat it with two sticks and the men and women and children danced around the table, which lasted through all the night.”

When crusaders from Central Europe arrived in our lands, they tried hard to exterminate sacred groves – cut down trees and destroyed altars; they forbade people to go there for pagan rituals. Though they little succeed, as our folks chose green sanctuaries over Christian churches for long, long time! In the 30’s of last century there were still talks about old women, who “feeds the spirits” in Elka grove.

And even nowadays, surrounding people takes sacred groves with the great awe and there exists weird stories about those who entered there without care and respect.

One thought on “Sacred groves

  1. Oh wow this was such a nice read, and I didn’t know that they still were place in Latvia ( I know that there is one, but the fact that there are others had flew over my ears)

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