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per amica silentia lunae

or, across the ferny brae with the evil voodoo celt

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sacred springs
There's been an awful lot about sacred wells, springs, the Grail, the Cauldron of Ceridwen, etc. in the campaign LARP I've been casting for during the past three years (yes, it's the same one that BadKitty is in… along with many others that we talk about). It's gotten me to thinking about sacred springs in general.

I've always found something magical about running water in general. In particular, I've been enthralled by springs- there is something deeply mysterious about the way water wells up from the ground, crystal-clear from the depths of the earth. I have no problem seeing how springs were seen as the dwellings of deities, or entrances to the mystery of the underworld. I'd love to have custody of property with a spring on it… so far, the most I've been able to manage is a small stream at Oak Hollow- the Vortex and I have tried to track it back to its source (which isn't on the land, but so what?), but have been thwarted so far by thorn-brakes and poison ivy. Even when our basement flooded this February (during the Great Post-Blizzard Deluge), I was fascinated by the unmuddied water coming up through the floor…

Two springs in particular have a special place in my life. One is Berkeley Springs, in the town by that name (also called Bath), in West Virginia. I was first brought there by Ariana, my pagan teacher at the time (and still a great friend), and it has remained a spiritual second home for me ever since. It's a beautiful little arts town, very friendly and full of fascinating shops and lovely Victorian homes. The Springs themselves are in an old-fashioned park at the center of town, and have this generous sense of peace to them; they're right at the foot of an impressive ridge (an outlier of Appalachia), and there's even a castle on the the slope above… Small wonder that, when the Vortex and I wanted to buy a vacation retreat, we chose to look in that area- and found the magical hideaway that is Oak Hollow.

The other spring is in a town also called Bath- this time, in England. The springs at Aquae Sulis had been sacred to the Celts before the Romans came, and almost certainly to the pre-Celtic folk before that. The visitor center is top-notch, and they keep finding more and more of the Roman ruins. The place where the actual water wells up is larger and somewhat less dramatic than at Berkeley Springs, but there is more of a sense of mystery there, and the overall feel is somewhat darker- very impressive. The city itself is a lovely Regency relic, laid out apparently on geomantic principles. I've been twice, and I'd very much like to return.

Both places have healing associations with me. On my first visit to Aquae Sulis, I was feeling decidedly ill- some kind of bug had taken advantage of my insomnia etc. and was making me nauseous and miserable. So I made sacrifice to the Spring (note- against the rules so be careful if you ever want to emulate me)- I threw in a pound coin and my earring, which was either the very first one I'd ever owned or its mate. I felt better almost immediately, and was able to eat and enjoy lunch by the time we finished the tour.

It's harder to pick out a specific incident with Berkeley Springs. I've bathed and "taken the waters" there many times (note: water there is wonderful, and tastes much better than at Aquae Sulis), and always felt the better for it. Just this weekend, I was in town, and feeling under the weather, so I tanked up on Spring water from the fountain kindly provided by the town. On my way back to my car, I said "Duh!", and promptly addressed a heartfelt prayer to the Springs to ease my troubles. The aches and pains I was feeling started to slide away, draining away through my feet. Not as dramatic as at Sulis, but deeply appreciated nonetheless.

In tribute to the spirits of these places, I close with two poems I've written, one for each of them:

Aquae Sulis

Beneath the reach of surface sound, the water pools
And waits in sandstone halls; earthblood close below
Simmers the ancient rain 'til it is bidden above.
Up the fracture planes, through silent layers of stone,
Leaching bloodtaste from secret ores, gathering more
Subtle savors that shimmer, mysterious, within;
Past memories of songs, of invocations chanted soft
Down the thousand years before the legions came.
Further rising, trickling 'round fallen stone, carved once
With names that came from Rome, and beyond; and charms-
A myriad leaden sheets, word-scratched and folded;
Praises, prayers, thanks, and dreams, and petty curses;
Thrown down, in to the open door to underearth, the realm
Of the power that dwelt here- and dwells here still.
The spring seethes gently, coils of vapor flow; Bladud
Mulls his legend from his niche; I, too, am deep immersed
In wonder. What alchemy, deep-struck in the land
Brewed and birthed Goddess from water, fire and stone?
Her healing hand lies on this sunken, cherished place-
Millenia of loss and war, downfall, revival can but dim
The numen roiling, rooted in dark depths, calm and vast
Just under the surface. Two shining coins, a ferry-fee
For murmured, heartborn paeans and prayers, mark lines,
Are marked by sweat in my fist. A kiss, a gentle toss
A whisper to the splash and ripple-rings; I stand, my
Eyes gone to blur and welcome sting at the soft reply.

At the Springs

The sand churns, boils; cool in slow-motion,
Veiling the mouth of liquid crystal flow.
A ceaseless, gentle pouring; gift unasked,
Freely granted- driving away the hot dust
Of centuries, leaching aches from limbs,
Soothing, removing stains (from body
And heart as from hand), now as in ages past,
Now as always enduring. Spread, lavish
Along the ridge-foot; guarded by castle folly,
The pools, each with countless fonts, brim
Their grace; a different, distinct feel presented,
Though in essence the same. The sandy lagoon
Invites, enfolds the tired feet. Another sprawls,
A shallow haven for silent crayfish antics.
Beside the spurious bathtub dwells mystery-
Cauldron, scrying-bowl; a holy well and grail,
Bedecked by jewels in strings that rise, ephemeral
From green-shaded, blue-shadowed crevice hoards.
With care and respect, we pilgrims fit our forms
To the cupping hand of the rocks, trail reverent hands
Through the limpid depth. From bubble to finger
Passes some spark of the spirit here indwelling.
The power dwelling here is patient, subtle; seems
Humble and slow. Yet I have raced to refuge here
Against the hurricane, and watched the deluge
Do battle with the welling force from below.
The cyclonic eye hovered past, filling and flooding
Masking and murking the precincts, forcing
An angry brown god from the stream-bed.
Storm passed, rain faded- as clouds gave way
To sunset colors above, so below the wind-clear
Water cleansed its place; calm, unhurried gallons
In their thousands rippled the turbid wash away,
Returned the springs, unmarked, to upwelling peace.

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Beautiful words. Thank you for sharing them.

The times I've been to Aquae Sulis have been mixed. Didn't get enough time sit and ponder either time. Tried the water, a little apprehensively. Couldn't tell if feeling better was a placebo effect, or there was really something to it. But we know I have trouble with that difference. :/

Would love to go on a retreat to a hot springs-type resort set up in the Roman tradition. (will put that on the list of things to do if I win the lottery. like buying Geo a pony...) *wink*

Seriously, though, I have very much felt the same sorts of things in places of that nature. Shivers, in the good way.

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