From the earth

We adore springs of hot water as divine, and consecrate certain pools because of their dark waters or their immeasurable depth. — Seneca (60 AD)

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.

Sacred spring at 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.

Chalice Well

Female energy

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,
End­less flow
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