For a moment I think I am looking at an old swimming pool with green, smelly water. But then I see a big bubble coming to the surface, and then another one. We are in Bath, a town in South West England, where a hot spring is the center of an ancient complex of Roman baths.
Just as in the time of the Romans, you can see the spring, but you can’t touch it. Through the openings in the wall, people were staring in awe at the bubbling water. They had been doing that long before the Romans invaded the British Isles and made this building. Unfortunately, hardly anything from that time has survived in Bath — the Celtic druids posed a threat to the power of Rome and their culture was practically eradicated by the Romans.
Sulfur and King Arthur
At the spot where the water falls into an overflow, the warm steam and the smell of sulfur hit you in the face. This place breathes danger, and in the past most visitors prayed to the goddess of the spring to repay injustice that was done to them. When we visit Glastonbury a few days later, we find another spring, but the atmosphere of this place is completely different. The water jumps around and meanders through a beautiful garden and is so cold that it hurts my feet. The place where we are is called Chalice Well. This spring contains iron and plays a role in ancient legends around Joseph of Arimathea and King Arthur.
Since time immemorial, people have experienced these amazing natural phenomena as a gateway to the spiritual world, a place where the visible and invisible reality touch each other. The earth is usually seen as the feminine aspect of nature, and the sky as the male element. Water that spontaneously rises from the earth is therefore a symbol of the womb, the source of life.
Tears in the desert
In the midst of the heat wave that is currently strangling the northern hemisphere, the cool water of Chalice Well is a promise. Babbling and splashing, it tells us about the generosity of the earth, the generosity of God, who gives and forgives, even now that we are destroying our climate and our planet. Thinking about the people who are the victims of drought, heat and other catastrophes, I am reminded of the story of Hagar (Genesis / Islamic tradition), where a well sprung up because of the cries of a child.
The Valley Spirit never dies.
It is called the Mysterious Female.
The entrance to the Mysterious Female
Is called the root of Heaven and Earth,
Of inexhaustible energy.
Tao Te Ching 6
Foto Roman Baths: Andrew Dunn, foto Chalice Well: Rob Purvis / Chalice Well Gardens / CC BY-SA 2.0