Marking Sacred Space

(Originally published in Druid's Progress 10)

This article deals with sacred space in two ways. The first is the concept of the Center. The other, equally important aspect of space, is the Edges. The concept of the Center is important to ADF ritual. By being at the Center of the Three Worlds, we can travel to any of the Three Worlds, Land, Sea or Sky, or to any other Center. ADF has left the outer boundaries very open, and undefined. By loosely defining the Edges of our sacred space, we are allowing late comers to join into the ritual by just walking in.

The Center

In the July 1990 (V3N2) issue of News from the Mother Grove, Ian Corrigan had an interesting article on physically representing the Gods. He suggested using carvings, which could be placed on poles . The carvings could then be lifted over the alter or sacred fire. Ian mentioned how this was common to all European religions.

Ian's images of the Deities is very useful for defining the Center of the sacred space. A similar custom of using carvings existed in the Balkan states with regards to the Center.

In the Balkans, the markers that designate the Center, are called zapis (South Slavic). The marker is usually "a holy communal or ancestral tree, usually a linden", into which was carved a cross. The zapis was not the geographical center, but the sacral center. As implied in Eliade and Stoianovich, the zapis connected to the Otherworlds. Sacrifices were offered at the tree. This partially ties in with the Norse concept of Yggdrasill, or World Tree. For ADF, the Sigil or, as Ian mentioned, the carving of a deity, instead of a cross, would be the appropriate decoration. Multiple posts would also be appropriate, one for each deity desired to be represented. In areas where the Grove owns the land, the poles could be left up to permanently define the Center.

The Edge

Another concept important to defining sacred space, is that of the Edges. The early European terms for towns and cities generally have as part of their connotation, that of circle or stakes around the town. To mark the outer boundaries, the Balkan people used wreaths attached or carved to posts. The posts could be found near the side of the roads leading into the village. The markers designating the outer boundaries are known as potka (South Slav), omphalos (Greek), or mundus (Roman). These outer markers, effectively said to pre-literate people:

I am the ancestral demon of this community or family. If you are not of my community or family, do not go and do not allow your animals to go beyond the point where I stand because I have the magical power to inflict evil and harm upon those who do not heed the sacred taboo. The community in turn will impose a penalty or fine upon anyone who offends me or disregards my inviolate instructions.

(from A Study in Balkan Civilization by Traian Stoianovich,)

Non-villagers could pass, but if they meant harm, they would be punished. The potka acted also to "procure abundance and fertility and to ward off alien and evil spirits". Children were shown the markers as part of a religious ceremony every year, on "Summer's Day".

ADF could use the potka symbol in a number of ways. A number of people have insisted that they will not worship in a Grove without erecting "wards", or other protective entities such as "Lords of the Watchtowers", totem animals or similar exclusive boundary markers in the four directions. The potka, or similar items can be carried into the Grove area, and then placed at each of the NATURAL entrances. They would not be placed in the four directions, as they are not directional markers, and have no theological relationship to the "Lords of the Watchtowers" or similar directional spirits. If you have one entrance to the Grove, you would have one marker, twenty entrances (for very large spaces) you would have twenty markers. In a permanent working area, the markers would be permanent also.


All quotes are from A Study in Balkan Civilization by Traian Stoianovich, published by Alfred Knopf, New York, 1967; especially pages 38 to 45 in the chapter on Earth Culture.

Also read The Sacred and Profane by Mircea Eliade, published by Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, New York, 1957

-Pete Gold

Author Information

Peter Gold

Articles by Peter Gold

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