Cover art by Steven Kenny
“Hail to my Lady of the twilight, of stillness and sanctuary, who calls and welcomes me into her cool embrace, offering shelter, comfort, stillness and the freedom to simply be. You of the sacred grove, of the temple, of a quiet room, of calm in chaos. I honour you with all that I am.“Joanna van der Hoeven
Little is known of Nemetona, a goddess whose veneration was once widespread around the area of Trier, Germany by the people known as the Nemetes. An altar to her was also found at Bath, England. She may have been known to the Gaulish people, as at her altar in Bath states, the maker of which had completed his vow (he or she being of the Treveri tribe). The word Nemeton is translated, for the most part, into “sacred groves”. There are many place names in France that contain this word, and even one in Spain. Three place names can be traced to this word in Britain as well, though they are now known as Willoughby, North Tawton and near Strathclyde.
Nemetona, for me, is a goddess of sanctuary. She is present within the home, within our sacred groves and rites, in all the spaces that we hold dear to our hearts. She also lies within, allowing us to feel at ease wherever we are in the world, though it’s not an easy task. She holds the stillness and quiet of a perfect day, she is the stillness at the end of it, when the blackbird sings to the dusk. She is the spirit of a home, a place, an idea. Without her I would go mad.
She waits for me as I come home after a long day at work. Pulling into the drive, turning off the headlights, I feel her call, see her at the door with welcoming arms. As I put my keys in the lock I breathe a deep breath, and feel the weight of the day slipping from my shoulders as I step across the threshold and into Her space. She can equally be found in a back bedroom, away from the household noise, and indeed, in the office loos – when you need to get away from everything and everyone and know that you won’t be disturbed there! A soft prayer upon entering the home honours all that she is. A few words to her upon going to bed, or rising in the morning, deepen our connection with her. She holds us while we sleep, she greets us when we wake. Within the walls of our home, she offers us shelter from the elements, comfort with the aid of fireplaces and central heating, nourishment from food and simply her presence. She is the sound of the breeze through an open window, the creak of shifting floorboards and the electric hum of the refridgerator. We all need a safe space to retreat, to retire to. For most of us, our homes are that space. A house is not a home unless we feel this connection to both it and the land. A house that is filled with the spirit of sanctuary greets guests and residents alike with a warm, soft feeling of comfort.
This feeling, this sanctuary, extends to our outside spaces too. For me, my garden is also my sanctuary. I miss her desperately at times when I cannot go and find that sanctuary in the back garden anymore. For brief moments outside, when all is quiet and still, I honour her in the garden. The trees that offer shade in the hot summer sun, the shadow of the house slowly moving about the lawn, the quiet of an autumn morning in the mist – these are all Her.
She is a liminal creature, who is at her most powerful at dawn and at dusk. She holds the space, usually a circle, when in ritual or simply sitting out. She is that which lies between – she is both of this world and another. The blackbird if often her messenger, singing to her in the still softness of dusk. She is both peaceful and powerful, slight of built yet shining with a deep strength that can hold at bay that which you seek respite from. She has long, shining black hair that falls straight as shadow along her back, her skin a luminous white. To me, she appears young and lithe, with black eyes that hold the wisdom of thousands of years.
When we feel safe, our souls can expand to almost nothingness, as we become entwined with the world around us. I feel myself melting into my home when I am most happy, or sinking slowly into the moss by the pond in my backyard, becoming one with Her. I can physically feel my soul shrinking back into my own nemeton everytime I step outside my front door, for here sanctuary is not guaranteed. Little shrines to Nemetona help me to connect to her – I have an altar in my back room, and also one outside in the back garden (right by the damned neighbour’s trampoline now). I also have one on my desk at work, to remind me of the relaxing feeling that she brings when I walk outside during lunchtimes in the forest.
She is a very important goddess to me, and I honour her with all that I am. I encourage you to find her as well, both within and without.
Joanna van der Hoeven is a Druid, Witch and a best-selling author. She has been working in Pagan traditions for over 20 years. She is the Director of Druid College UK, helping to re-weave the connection to the land and teaching a modern interpretation of the ancient Celtic religion. She has published many renowned books on Druidry including The Awen Alone: Walking the Path of the Solitary Druid and Zen Druidry: Living a Natural Life, With Full Awareness.