Nemetona, Inspiration and the Breath of Life

'Sanctuary' - Mara Friedman

'Sanctuary' - Mara Friedman

The glorious weather has lured me away from the screen. Sometimes I wonder what is more important: experiencing nature or writing about experiencing it. I seem to be so strongly drawn to both; one like a wonderful opening that takes little effort but seems to bring so much joy, peace and connection; the other demanding an active, disciplined labouring. Within me (within all of us) the passive nature of being receptive, of listening, of being filled by the magic of something needs to be balanced by a striving to express – they are the Yin and Yang of creativity. I seem to have become overwhelmingly Yin, my Yang floundering and flat.

Recently, Laurie and I spent an incredibly lazy afternoon on our backs in the sun at the Ventnor Botanic Gardens. The gardens used to be the site of the old lung hospital. More accurately, the car park used to be the site of the building itself, a very impressive Victorian affair, built upon a terrace overlooking the gardens and the sea. Situated in the special micro-climate of the Undercliff, the conditions were believed to be conducive to the healing of illnesses of the lung – mostly TB. There are wonderful old photographs of patients in their beds on the open terraces, fresh air viewed as the key to successful treatment. Now the hospital is gone but the gardens remain. They are the site of a wonderful arboretum of trees from around the planet; plants from exotic continents thriving in the unusual warmth of the Undercliff.

Laid beneath a eucalyptus tree – basking like the garden’s wall lizards – we spent an inactive couple of hours soaking up the sun. Laurie snored; I pondered. The blissful singing of a blackbird in the neighbouring tree was soon replaced by the equally beautiful song of a robin above. I thought of how one’s lungs are so crucial to the act of singing, of speaking and expressing one’s own voice. It seemed so wonderfully apt that a place once dedicated to illnesses of the lungs was now home to so many trees, themselves the lungs of our planet, enabling each of us to breathe freely and thrive.

Trees are such a central part of my spirituality and, – as a modern pagan druid – I am particularly drawn to the Romano- British goddess Nemetona. Her name roughly translates as ‘Goddess of the Sacred Grove’. Very little is known of her but for many modern pagans she is the personification of the grove or sacred circle that we worship within. For some, this is extended to include our own personal aura, that subtle body that marks our boundaries in a deeper, more intangible way.

In building a relationship with her these last few years, she has become a powerful source of inspiration and comfort. I believe that her essence resides in the sacred space of our hearts; her presence shimmering in those special places where the sanctuary of our being widens to inhabit the sacredness of the earth. For me, she is very much about our relationship with nature, what happens when we engage with the earth in an intimate way. Every time I cast circle and open to all that is holy within and around me, I feel her peace and connectedness fill the space. In this way (for me) she is not just a goddess of the grove; she wears the changing colours of place and time and she has become the animating spirit at the core of my spiritual practices.

I first became aware of her whilst meditating in the woods. I had a very strong, clear vision of a dark haired woman dressed in green stood before me. She was wearing an extraordinary headdress that seemed to be made from the red, green and black feathers of a green woodpecker. She exuded a powerfully centred and serene energy. I had no idea who she was or what she represented but, over time, it became clear that in recalling that vision, I repeatedly felt a sense of grounding and clarity that helped me enormously. This was to prove especially vital as my life travelled deeper into crisis. The energy of that original vision never seemed to be far away. I began to recognise its presence each time I cast circle and also each time I settled into meditation. I would feel it out in nature often and began to consciously call upon it in both times of need and times of calm.

Connecting a name to that special energy later came whilst reading Emma Restall Orr’s book Spirits of the Sacred Grove. She writes of Nemetona as a goddess of sanctuary:

Her arms enfold us within the sacred circle. She holds the temple that we might find the release to be soul naked and true, and to focus effectively.

This beautiful description resonated very strongly with my experience, and from that moment I came to call my mysterious green lady by her name.

Through my connection to Nemetona, I celebrate not only the beauty of the sacred circle but also the holy grove of my own heart and being. She is the sacred relationship that I strive to build with my environment and the many beings that inhabit it; she is the sacred relationship I strive to build with myself. My love of butterflies is strongly connected to her; the sacred circle is a richly layered Mandala of change, the spiralling cycles that brings us movement and transformation, not only in the physical world of the seasons but also in the cyclical natures of our emotions, minds, bodies and souls. Nemetona nurtures and supports that transformation, holding us in her peace, opening us to her wisdom that the changes might bring healing and flow to our lives. Her butterflies are the soul’s journey of freedom, movement and joy; they encourage us to recognise the quality of each season – whether of nature or life journey – that is working upon us at any one time. The letting go, the stasis, the waiting, the awakening, the blossoming, the fruiting – within Nemetona’s loving arms we can engage more fully with each, never losing sight of the eternal soul within.

As I listened to the birdsong, Nemetona’s connection to trees drew my thoughts to the link between these and the breath of life. Both are intimately interwoven with the drawing in of inspiration and the outward expression of our own unique voice – our own individual talent to create. This voice needs to be added to the multitude; our gifts expressed that the world might be further enriched by our contribution. It is a sad thing when our creative voices remain mute.

There is a strong tradition in Druidry between the sacred and our ability to create. When we each engage with the sacred, when we breathe it into out being, nourishing our cells and souls, we also feed our creativity, opening the channels for inspiration, and in doing so, transforming our creativity into an act of worship. There is an exchange that takes place – a breathing in of the one and an outpouring of the other – setting up a circuit as vital as the continuous exchange between the carbon dioxide and oxygen that we and the trees depend upon for life.

I often berate myself when I feel creatively stuck. More and more, I am coming to recognise that the key to moving through such moments is to open and receive in readiness for the moment that my voice sings out. Nemetona has taught me that the inhalation and exhalation of the breath of life – the acknowledgement of this as a sacred act – is the core of my inspiration. Sitting quietly, reaching for my still centre, letting her flood my heart, I feel that precious and true sense of belonging, peace and joy – I am fit to burst with it. Isn’t this why the bird sings? When we give our creativity to the world – responsibly and with love – we become a dawn chorus, a full throated celebration of the creative force of life that is daily reborn within us.

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14 Comments

  1. Gabriella said,

    June 7, 2009 at 7:36 pm

    Dear Maria,

    This touches me deeply. I feel so in sync with all you have shared and being a singer, your imagery sings and resounds at my very core!

    Gratitude and Love,

    xxx Gabriella

  2. luckyloom1 said,

    June 7, 2009 at 10:03 pm

    Hi Gabriella!

    Thank you! I sing so little these days – so strange when my whole life was once completely built around it. It hadn’t occured, until I read your lovely comment, just how much I had used singing imagery in a post about the process of writing – I guess I must still be a singer at heart!
    Much love
    Maria XXX

  3. Gabriella said,

    June 10, 2009 at 7:03 am

    Hi Maria,

    YES! You are still a singer and are still singing!
    You never stopped being and doing these.
    Your en-chanting voice and all the songs of your being now sing in and through your wonderful writing.

    I believe everything aspires to music -and what is more at the heart and soul and bone of music than singing.
    When I read your writing the fulfillment of this aspiration sings in my heart and all around me!

    Thank you for bringing your songs of wonder, beauty and truth into my life;
    for being the Musician – the SINGER – You Are!

    All Blessings of this approaching Season of Sun and Chalice
    With much love
    xxx Gabriella

  4. Tracey Jones said,

    June 12, 2009 at 9:28 pm

    Hello Maria,
    Really interesting reading about how you came to feel so close to nemetona, I’m going to do some looking up about Artemis again, Ian keeps calling me Artemis then he says is that the one with snakes for hair? and i say nooooo thats medusa ( he says this inthe mornings when the hairs standing on end) and we have this conversation so many times, he continues to think its Artemis! But maybe there is something in this?! i have felt a strong connection to Artemis in the past.
    Have really enjoyed reading your writings tonight
    lots of love
    Traceyxx

  5. luckyloom1 said,

    June 13, 2009 at 10:21 am

    Hello Lovely One!

    I always think of you as an Artemis gal too! There is a rather nice Medusa mosaic here on the Island at the Brading Roman Villa -must try and get a photo of it for Ian (bless him)! I think its important to follow that sense of connection. I love the idea that aspects of the Divine are infinite, that we can each potentially respond to a different expression and in doing so connect to both something vital in ourselves and that greater, mysterious whole. Go where you’re called -I think that when we answer, we are brought to the place we need to be.

    Thanks so much for reading Poppet – so pleased you like.
    Love and big hugs
    Maria XXX

  6. executivepagan said,

    June 13, 2009 at 6:53 pm

    Tracey,
    Did you know that Medusa and her offspring are featured on the west pediment of the Archaic-period Temple of Artemis on Corfu?
    http://sasgreekart.pbworks.com/Temple-of-Artemis-at-Corfu

    You might be interested to explore and see if there are any other links,

  7. Christine Croft said,

    June 19, 2009 at 11:51 am

    You are still singing to me too.

  8. trish said,

    July 11, 2009 at 10:21 am

    oh Maria,
    Ths is so beautiful and it isso good to be reading you again and hearing your beautiful singing as your other readers put it. I didn’t know that you had this vivid image of Nemetona, the lay of the Sacred Grove. Your readers comments are so encouraging and beautiful too. I feel like its time to come back out of the darkness again.
    xxx

  9. luckyloom1 said,

    July 11, 2009 at 12:59 pm

    Hi Sweet Cheeks!

    Thank you so much! I am so pleased that you feel it is time to come back to yourself again – it can be so hard when things are so tough to feel that core strength and peace in ourselves, to feel nurtured by it, but it is always there for us to find again, we never really lose it no matter how cut off we feel from it. We are all vulnerble beings and life can be difficult sometimes but our capacity to be resilient and our potential for healing change is immense. Don’t lose hope my lovely one. Hope to see you soon -it’s been ages since we have had a proper catch up. Take Care, M XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

  10. Fiamma said,

    August 18, 2009 at 6:32 am

    I just wanted to thank you for writing this about Nemetona. I have recently begun searching for a goddess that I attune with, and I had almost the exact same experience as you did with the Green Lady. Her “powerfully centered and serene” energy were the first things I noticed about Her, too. 🙂

    Blessed be!

  11. luckyloom1 said,

    August 18, 2009 at 10:10 am

    Thank you Fiamma! Yes, Nemetona very much feels like my spiritual foundation, the place from which I can move out from and return too, no matter what is happening in my life. I have many others Goddesses and Gods that feel special to me but Nemetona seems to hold and contain my experience of those, giving me context and a firmer ground from which I can explore. I am so pleased that She has found you too.

    Thanks so much for reading
    love and blessings!

  12. Vyktiir said,

    June 14, 2010 at 6:03 am

    I just wanted to comment on you description of Nemetona. I got a chill when I read that as it is exactly as I saw her. She is pure warmth and love albeit with a dangerous side to her as well.
    Nice to see someone appreciate her as much as I do.

  13. luckyloom1 said,

    June 14, 2010 at 9:15 pm

    Thank you Vyktiir!

  14. May 28, 2011 at 8:35 pm

    Hi there Maria-

    My name is Sonoran Green, host of a Pagan in Portland podcast. I was hoping to do a Mythological Masters segment covering Nemetona in June and discovered your article about her. It’s beautifully written and instead of me reading the information for my listeners, I was hoping hoping hoping that you would be willing to vocally record a 4 or 5-minute introduction about her, her history and your experience with her?

    Let me know as soon as possible if you are or are not interested. Thank you friend!
    -SG
    paganinportland@gmail.com


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