• PhD Christer Westerdahl




Thus, place-names are excellent sources on natural holy places of the past. At least they are guides to the location, but can never be used indiscriminately. There are many problems of denotation and language (e.g. Strid, 1993). Be- sides, the very spot itself was not supposed to be known in detail, only the area is pointed out by names. The social and the sacred are parallel meanings for holy places in nature. They cannot be separated. This view could also be formulated as saying that natural holy places express sanctity in both aspects. Neither can natural and other, more artificial sites easily be separated. They are both taboo, protected. They may serve as borders in themselves, but the borders between the profane and sacred seem to spread in more or less concentric rings around the centre. In fact the ring could be used as a metaphor and a symbol for them. The holi- ness of these spheres is often graded. Nature itself provides the simplest means of making borders to secluded space. Islands, or rather islets, are ideal in this sense. There is a certainly a cosmological quality in the meeting of land and sea on all sides. Another perfect border is provided by the coastline. But here the holy spots have to punctuate space at certain points along the line. If we had no burials or rock carvings, then these spots would be a priori uniden- tifiable. But we will never understand why precisely these spots were chosen. This is a secret, and was presumably a secret even in the past. Another observation, which may or may not be premature, is that the holy place itself may not be marked by a place-name or a sign, for example, a rock or tree carving or painting. It might be that these marks sometimes only point to the approach to a holy place. Any spatial centre must be discussed as just one component in a structure, the border zone being of utmost cognitive signifi- cance. Marking out the border to the surrounding area of the holy of holies, the centre of the denotation is a suitable alternative, comparable to the wider denotation of place-names. The very point of holiness (stone, tree etc.) could be considered as in-be- tween, a transitory place, ambiguous and a border between temporal space and the transcendent. It is reasonable, due to its specific function and its social con- text, that it was often kept as secret and inconspicuous as possible.


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