The Sacred Grove Planting Programme
In ancient times, Sacred Groves were places of sanctuary and worship for the Druids. Like a temple or chapel set within the natural world, they were places of spiritual refuge: places to calm the mind, refresh the spirit, and give comfort in times of distress. Druids today continue this tradition of seeking tranquil clearings in woods and forests, in which to meditate and hold ceremonies. And in addition, many contemporary Druids are creating new sacred groves – in their gardens, on their farms or on public land.
In 1988 The Order began the Sacred Grove Planting Programme – offering support, advice, and financial aid to members of the Order and members of the public who wanted to create new sacred spaces across the world. As a result, thousands of trees, and hundreds of groves have been planted around the world. These groves form a network of woodland sanctuaries – that radiate peace, and offer refuge to both wildlife and humankind.
Many of these groves are small private sanctuaries in members’ gardens, using trees native to the land they are planted in, or – where appropriate – sacred trees from Celtic tradition. But there are other kinds of groves that can be planted too: as community projects, in schools, as ones that encourage endangered tree species, or that are woodland sanctuaries dedicated to Peace, or to those who have died.
We would like to invite you to join in this project. Even if you have no land, no time or money, there are many ways you can help to create this network of sanctuaries across the earth.
A Grove can be a natural clearing in a forest, or it can be created by planting at least five trees in an oval, circle, horseshoe or cauldron shape. If you would like to help with this project, by planting one or more groves, here is what we suggest:
1 Commit yourself to this project. If you join the Order we will send you a copy of The Sacred Grove– a booklet which gives practical instructions on tree-planting, ceremonies to use when planting trees, and much more. If you don’t want to join, but would still like to see the book email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
2 Read the Sacred Planting Programme booklet we send you in the first package of the Bardic course (or email the office and we'll mail you one), which tells you how to go about planting and caring for your grove.
3 Invite friends to help - make it a party! Together, decide where you want to plant the Grove. You don't have to own the land. You can offer to plant one in your local school or park, as members have already done. If you contact your council, they will be more than happy to help you plant trees, often helping towards the cost of purchasing the trees too.
4 If you feel you need expert advice on which trees to plant for your local environment, ask the experts at your local garden centre, or for this and any further support, contact one of the following groups who will be happy to help you:
UK: British Trust For Conservation Volunteers (BTCV), The Tree Council, The Royal Forestry Society
US: National Arbor Day Foundation (One of the benefits that comes with their membership is they will send 10 seedlings appropriate for planting in the member's geographic area. They also have tree care information available.)
5 Plant your trees. Create your own ceremony to welcome your trees and to help nurture them, or use the suggested ceremony in the book. The Grove is more than just a great environmental addition to your landscape - it becomes a new 'sacred site' that you have helped create.
6 Visit your Grove regularly. Planting your Grove is the beginning of a relationship of trust and care. Your trees will need lots of water, mulching, hand weeding and observation for squirrel, deer or human damage. And create ceremony there. This is your sacred space, one you have created, and it will need love and attention. You can add a stone circle to your grove, you can celebrate handfastings and namings there, and you can add trees later – perhaps to commemorate a loved one or to mark a special occasion.
See sacredgroves.com for an example of how such a place can become a focus for celebrations and ceremonies. And see another project to promote sacred groves with the Friends of the Trees.
In the Order's training, we learn how to work in an Inner Grove: we create a place of beauty and safety in the world of Soul and the Imagination that becomes our own personal sanctuary. The Grove, then, is the hallowed heart of the Druid, the place we create in the Otherworld - a place of learning and wisdom and peace. But the Grove also needs to exist in the Apparent world, for without it there can be no inner Grove. only the physical Grove can teach us the aromas, the sounds, textures, visions, flavours and ambience that we might find in our own inner Groves.
Ideas and inspiration
Members have planted sacred groves in Ireland and Britain, Holland, Bulgaria, America, Canada, and Australia. In New Zealand in 1998 two groves were inaugurated: one with the blessing of the Order’s Chief and a Maori Elder at a Permaculture community near Auckland on the North Island, and another, with help from the City Council, in a public park in Nelson, on the South Island.
In Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, members care for, and hold regular ceremonies, in the AIDS Memorial Grove. And in the Scottish Borders, near Carlisle, and in upstate New York, near Niagara Falls, members have begun planting Memorial Groves, where members and friends may have trees planted in memory of loved ones who have left this world for the Blessed Isles.
Druids have been known as peace-makers ever since Classical times, when Greek and Roman authors recounted the way in which Druids would often pacify warring factions. In the year 2001, The Order initiated the first in what we hope will become many Peace Groves, with the planting of Peace Groves in Northern Ireland and in Israel.
Endangered Species Groves
Your Grove can also help to protect endangered tree species. The World Conservation Monitoring Centre reports that about 9000 species are under threat, and 976 species are critically endangered and facing extinction unless urgent action is taken. A further 77 species of trees are already extinct, and virtually every country in the world has some tree species under threat. Malaysia has the highest number of critically endangered species at 197. Indonesia, after being ravaged by forest fires, has 121, India has 48, and Brazil, the most heavily forested country on the planet, has 38. Logging activities, the use of timber for fuel, uncontrolled forest fires and the expansion of human settlements are cited as the main reasons for the crisis. The situation is so bad in some countries, that there are several species with just one tree left, such as China's single remaining Carpinus Putoensis, which survives fenced off at the edge of a sparse forest.
Eleven tree species in Britain face extinction, all from the Sorbus group. They include Ley's Whitebeam - with only 16 individuals surviving in two sites in Breconshire. Another endangered species is Sorbus Wilmottiana, which has only 20 trees clinging on in the Avon Gorge. Most of the threatened Sorbus trees have a reproductive system unique in Britain, spreading seeds which are identical clones to the mother plant. It may take a little research to discover the endangered species which will grow well in your soil, and whose seeds you can obtain, by consulting local conservation organisations or the World Wide Web, but your effort will be amply rewarded if you can include them in your grove.
Sacred Groves are not unique to the Druid tradition. They are recorded in the Classical world, and in the Middle East. And all over Asia, in India, China, Thailand, Burma and many other parts of Indochina, for thousands of years sacred groves have existed, and continue to exist. They act as sacrosanct areas, which are at the same time temples, places for spiritual retreat and meditation, wildlife sanctuaries, and places where medicinal plants can grow in safety. As you plant and care for your grove, you can feel how you are continuing this ancient and powerful worldwide tradition.