Saturday, July 30, 2011

Thoughts on the Placement of Temples

Regarding the shrine of Nehalennia on the Island of Walcheren.

“About the third century A.D., we know that a goddess had a shrine in the island of Walcheren on the Dutch coast.  This was afterwards engulfed by the sand, and many inscribed stones have been found there, some showing the goddess and giving her name as Nehalennia.  There is no doubt of her kinship with the Mothers, since she is shown holding fruit and a horn of plenty, and a ship is frequently shown beside her. These stones where probably raised in her honor by travelers who hoped for a safe voyage over to Britain, since her shrine stood at one of the points where passengers embarked to cross the North Sea.”

- Gods and Myths of the Viking Age, H.R.E. Davidson, p. 137

The passage brings to mind the placement of temples and shrines in a World.  In this case, to world weave this a bit, the temple is placed on the location where travelers will disembark on a long and perilous sea journey to another land.  The ancient goddess is usually invoked with prayers before the travelers disembark.  Her Shrine is possibly overlooking the sea from the top of one of the hills.  After the ceremony or prayer the travelers walk down the well worn dirt pathway to the port and board the ship, spiritually prepared for the far journey, and hopefully protected from doom upon the sea, having left some gift at the alter.  Thus the temple was placed at a location where it had direct usage related to the duty or domain of the deity, which is in Nehalennia’s case was to protect travelers, especially sea faring ones.

A Teutonic goddess, probably of navigation, commerce, and fertility. She was locally worshipped in the area of Domburg (Walcheren), where a temple of her was discovered. She is represented in a sitting position, or standing with one foot on the bow of a ship. Her attributes are a basket with fruits and a dog. She is associated with the Belgae, Frisians, and Morini.

Based on this I think it interesting to consider that Shrines and Temples may have special considerations in terms of placement.  It may not be merely that they belong on the heights of some convenient acropolis, but that they may belong wherever they are most fitting according to their function.  If we were to consider some World Weaving guidelines I would say that the placement, as in the case of the temple at Walcheren, would be toward a specific purpose so that the people who do homage to the deity do so at that location for actual some reason.

Another example might be the temple of war, located in the direction of a pass through the mountains over which the Warrior Army most often marches to wage war on their enemies.   As they approach the pass they stop at a hill upon which the temple sits in order to pray for victory before departure on their desperate venture, and stop again and give thanks and sacrifices (or otherwise) upon their return.   Another example might be the temple of the goddess of the Earth which might be located at the entrance of a cave into which votives enter for rituals related to the fertility of the womb, leaving perhaps some small treasure as an offering on a stalagmite, and after which they get married in the temple.  Consider these examples as World Weaving exercises that illustrate what I mean.   It is this sort of consideration that may help in the placement of Temples and Shrines in a World.   I would not over do it by making it a rigid rule that demands that every Temple and Shrine must conform to this pattern as then it might become too burdensome and obvious.  Yet, done in the right proportion it could lend a certain beauty and depth to a world, which would not be easily discerned, and yet would be ever present via the placement of these sacred architectures.

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