Intro Programme Abstracts
Social Aspects of Hell: A cross-cultural approach


Pierre Bonnechere (University of Montreal):
The sacred grove in Greek manntic rituals: The example of Trophonios' Alsos at Lebadea (Beotia)

The "sacred grove" (also, pl. alse) is a particularly elusive concept in ancient Greece. We know of alse of all kinds and surfaces, planted with one or several spieces of trees or shrubs, in a regular or irregular way. Every divinity, even those who usually have nothing to do with fertility, has them. Thanks to the rituals celebrated here, however, one can see certain aspects of the grove's function: it is notably a place of contact between the divine and human worlds, so that markers of fecundity, death and sometimes renaissance in the mystery cults are often to be found there. They are the right place for interments, and are related to the idea of the Golden Age and its plenty. View as the communication of divine will to humans, divination is obviously at home in Greek groves.

The cult of the hero Trophonios, performes in one of the best described alse of ancient Greece, nicely illustrates these conceptions. The mythical personality of the hero fits quite well with divinatory rituals and the conception of the grove as a twilight zone between worlds. The consultation can be studied according to the model of Van Gennep, but it need further precision. The ritual is part of a horizontal and temporal process which leads the pilgrim to the oracle, from the less sacred to the more sacred, and also part of a vertical process for the consultant who was thought ot go down to Hell to get the revelation: a very long and harrowing preparation was needed to induce a fainting fit, considered the soul's departure for the netherworld. Even if the consultation itself occured outside the grove, this played at the same time a preliminary and metaphorical role in the ritual.

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2005: University of Thessaly - Dpt. of History, Archaeology and Social Anthropology