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[sl] Grottoes

From: catherine yronwode 
Subject: [sl] Grottoes (was: Making Sacredness in SL Topics (was What makes...)
Date: Tue, 05 Nov 2002 12:47:49 -0800

From: Seyfert-1 


> #       garden follies, grottoes, and other forms of
> #       symbolic landscaping;
> I'm not aware of how these may create sacred space, though
> 'grotto' is the name of a subgrouping (compare 'sinod' 'camp',
> or 'church') amongst some Taoists and some Satanists.

The word grotto has nothing to do with Taoists or Satanists except
insofar as they have adapted an "exotic" word from another culture. 

Grotto is an ancient Italian/Sicilian/Latin/Etruscan -- whatever -- word
that means a natural sea-cave of a kind that is common around the
Mediterranean and along the Pacific Coast. Grottos often have highly
unusual tidally-activated landscape features -- blow-holes, internally
fine sand, limited accessibility due to tidal fluctuations, internal
fresh-water springs, natural bridges -- that set them apart from the
common bluffy shoreline. I know you know what i mean, siva -- they are
all around us. 

Anyway, in the ancient Medierranean world, the better grottoes were
considered to be the sacred homes of spirtual entities such as
water-goddesses, Neptune, and the like. Those grottoes that featured
fresh water springs or a daily period of isolation due to tidal cut-offs
got high marks for sacrality. 

Reverence for grottoes persisted in Italy long after the accession of
Christianity. You've seen those tear-drop shaped blue glass bottles of
water from Italy they sell at upscale markets around here -- those are
from an ancient spring-in-a-grotto that was revered by the Romans as the
home of a water-spirit and later was re-consecrated to the Virgin Mary.

In the wake of the Italian Renaissance, when wealthy tourists from
central and Northwestern Europe took to travelling through the Italian
countryside in search of ruins and beauty, there was a renewed interest
in the sacrality of grottoes. But unlike portable trove such as
sculpture, paintings, jewelry, and cloth, the Norhterners could not take
those wonderful grottoes home with them to land-locked Germany or
France. So they hired architects to build faux-grottoes on their
estates. If the landscape favoured it, these inland garden grottoes were
carved out of a convenient bluff or cliff, but in many instances where
they were erected on pastoral land, they took the form of a mound with a
hollow center and one open side. Thus the word "grotto" spread to
include both shallow land-caves wth water features and also completely
artificial grottoes. 

In central Europe there was a tendency to retain the Italiante or
classical notion of the seaside sacred grotto by using the garden grotto
as a place in which to erect sculptures of Neptune or Poseidon and/or
mermaids, carved of marble in a neo-classical or baroque style. A water
feature was usually installed as well, often a simple fountain, but
sometimes an elaborate hydraulic system including pools and falling
water. Some of the baroque grottoes had an over-the-top theme-park
aspect to them, especially when the designers went so far as to import
tons of Italian sea-shells and ocean rocks to glue to them. 

In the United States, which was largely colonized after the fad for
garden grottoes in Europe had passed, the grotto did not became a common
feature of landscaping, either a sacred one or an expression of
wealth-driven faux-sacrality -- until the Virgin Mary appeared to a girl
named Bernadette. The site of this apparition was a shallow cave-niche
with a fresh-water spring located in Lourdes, France, and it was
immediately labelled a "grotto" by local ecclesiastical authorities. As
with the earlier Italian fresh-water sea-grottoes that had become
associated with Mary over the centuries, the waters of Lourdes were
thought to be healing. A huge industry in religious tourism thus sprang
up in Lourdes, to accodate vistors to the "grotto."

In the late 19th centuy a Catholic priest from Wisconsin travelled to
Lourdes and was impressed with the grotto there. On his return home he
realized that a relatively new building material, bagged concrete, was
ideal for the purpose of recreating the Lourdes grotto in the upper
Midwest for people who could not make the trek there themselves. Thus he
created the famed (and justly so!) Dickeyville Grotto in Dickeyvile,

Now, the Dickeyville Grotto is both a sacred site (dedicated to the
Virgin Mary as portrayed at Lourdes) and it is a supreme garden folly.
It was erected during a time of technological progress, which the priest
welcomed wholeheartedly. In short order there was not just one grotto on
the site, but half a dozen grottoes and arches connected with pathways
beset with benches, fountains, flower-beds, and other features built of
concrete, embedded in which were millions of seashells and special
pebbles from all around the world, contributed by enthusiastic visitors.
Pageants were held there, and floral parades. And then the priest added
strings of colourful light hulbs! And Amercian flags and patriotic
slogans! Words like "Liberty" and "Freedom" were spelled out in
seashells and light bulbs and ... well, you get the picture. 

The Dickeyville Grotto is the model upon which the most extravagant
front-yard Christmas displays in America were based -- but it is there
all year. It became a tourist destination for farmers and small-town
folks who could not go to Lourdes. Healings took place. Special bus and
train schedules were arranged. And among the multitudes who saw the
grotto, a few guys stood quietly in the throng and scratched their heads
and said, "Concrete, eh? Why, they sell that down at the feed-store. All
a fella'd need to is to get some rebar and a few old planks to knock
together some wooden forms. I'll bet i could do that." 

And thus was born what landscape historians now call the Concrete Grotto
Envirnonment Movement of the Upper Midwest -- which includes
rebar-and-concrete morality-theaters like The Garden of Eden in Lucas,
Kansas, and others, large and small. 

Not all of the early 20th century Midwestern Concrete Grotto
Envirnonments take the literal form of seaside grottos or hearken back
to classical pagan or neo-classical faux-pagan imagery. Not all of them
are even religious in tone -- one famous example, for instance, consists
in part of a very, very large concrete scale model of the S. S. Bremen
built on the front lawn area of a family farm by immigrants who wanted
to memorialize the ship that brought them to America. (This site also
features a humble roadside grotto complete with a spring of running
water, for the comfort of travellers. Its unusual location, at the very
edge of the property, was explained in later years by the daughter of
the builders, who said, "We didn't have a spring up by the house; it was
down at the road, so that's where we built it." ) 

As you pointed out, Anton LaVey did call his Satanic church
orgnization-units "grottoes" -- but i cannot fathom why. His Church of
Satan did not honour Mediterranean sea-gods, he did not build garden
follies, he did not worship the Virgin Mary, and fresh spring water was
not a feature he valued highly. Perhaps he just liked the word grotto
because using it sounded to him like a poke in the face of Catholicism
as he knew of it through Lourdes. If that is so, it is yet another in a
long list of examples of how his poor education and bragadocio led him
into foolishness.

Yours for more home-made theme parks, 

cat (the littlest mermaid) yronwode 

The Sacred Landscape -------

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