Well, I hope that title and image got your attention in the middle of June (in the Northern Hemisphere)! I looked at my calendar last night and saw that today's new moon marks the beginning of the Holly month in the Beth-Luis-Nion system. I have been enjoying working with that system this year. Even though I know that is is a modern construction it seems to suit me very well right now.
As I have shared before, I am a lover of winter, and no great fan of hot weather. So, even though He is also a construct, I have a special place in my heart for the Holly King. At Midsummer I do my best to comfort myself with the thought things are turning toward the time of year when I am more able to be active outdoors, as well as looking forward to those wonderful late mornings and long evenings. I suppose you could say that I endure summer in the same way that many people put up with winter. Ah, well! To each their own.
Things are out of balance, though. These days I can't help but feel that the Oak King is winning the war, rather than just one half of the cyclical battle. Although every year is different, many of us can perceive the increasing warmth of the weather all year 'round. And if we can't, there is always NASA, or some other batch of scientists calling our attention to the indisputable facts of global warming, already happening. These are no longer warnings, now they are just reports. Like many, I am sad and angry about this, and the worst aspect is my inability to change it. I am sad to see the combination of our carbon addiction, and our unbridled population growth destroying wholesale that which I think of as Nature.
My own belief is that my gods arose from Nature, and what is happening now is as inexplicable to me as it must be for a small child to see their city bombed, their home burned down and their mother violated. I find myself thankful that I am sixty years old. Thankful that I don't have children and grandchildren. These are tough times. I find myself looking to the past for some kind of map. What answers did Lailoken find after the battle of Arfderydd? How did the people of "Doggerland" cope when their world was drowning? Sadly, the devastated often fail to leave much in the way of inspirational memes for us to grasp onto. We must draw the map as we go.
Wren Day traditions: The Bodhrán Makers
It's St. Stephen's Day, and today my facebook feed was full of references to wren boys and their songs - from Ireland, Wales and the Isle of Man. It's a widespread traditions all over the British Isles, and some parts of mainland Europe, too, to carry a wren, or an effigy of one, in a mumming procession or similar, perhaps in costume, usually collecting money. There's a lot going on here. Maybe I'll research it for a year and then write a proper piece about it!
'Line up boys!' the order came from a stern-faced, middle-aged man on the outskirts of the party. Of all the wrenboys he alone had an unblackened face. Instead of the customary straw headgear he wore an unusually tall hat bedecked with sprigs of tendrils of ivy. On his hands were white gloves, immaculately clean. He wore an ancient swallowtail coat which in its heyday had been black as ebony but now bore a definite tinge of venerable green on its fringes which seemed set to impose itself all over.
The Green Knight, witchcraft, poetic language, and lots and lots of bad weather.
I have been wanting to share these books with my readers for awhile, but as you may have noticed, I haven't been blogging. I have no idea whether my current enthusiasm for writing here will last, but if it doesn't, at least you'll have some ideas for other things to read, and both these books relate to one of my favourite things -- winter!
The first, Simon Armitage's wonderful translation of the classic Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a real Christmas tale. If you are not familiar with this story, it begins with a Christmas feast in the court of King Arthur. The monstrous Green Knight arrives, and Gawain finds himself locked into a promise to find him one year hence, for the interesting prospect of allowing this ogre to behead him. While I have barely begun to scratch the surface when it comes to the symbolism surrounding this story of an aging king, a foolish knight, a "green man" and of beheading game myths, I am captivated by other aspects of this book, which make it instantly accessible.
Simon Armitage has a wonderful irreverent approach to medieval texts, and the Anglo-Saxon tradition of alliteration suits his sense of humour very well. Not all old texts are serious and dry, and anyone who likes poetry and a good yarn will love this book. The fact that the dialect of the "Gawain poet" (we don't know the name of the author of the original) is very close to Armitage's own really adds to the fun here, and lends an immediacy and authenticity to this translation.
Yes, I did use the word fun. This book reminded me what a great story the green knight is, and introduced me to what an amazing and talented guy Simon Armitage is. I first read this over the holiday period, so naturally there were many interruptions. I found myself using these as an excuse to go back three or four pages from where I had stopped reading, each time I picked the book up, simply because I enjoyed re-reading passages and it made the experience last longer!
The following excerpt is a fine description of the changing seasons, as Gawain watches the year slip by, after accepting the Green Knight's challenge at Christmas, and finds the time to face his fate drawing near. The heavy use of alliteration is typical of Anglo Saxon poetry.
So the festival finishes and a new year follows
The BBC made a documentary about Simon and this story, which will give you an idea of what the book is like. It's also a fun-filled adventure in itself, as Armitage traces Gawain's journey through the real landscape described in the poem, in the weather of the season. Watching this, and reading the book, are becoming something of a midwinter tradition for me.
The other book I want to share with you is Corrag, by Susan Fletcher. (This novel has also appeared under the titles "Highland Witch" and "Witch Light", for reasons best understood by book publishers.) Although this novel has two dark events at its core (The Massacre of Glencoe and the impending execution of the protagonist) it is anything but dark. It is a shining light of beauty and the love of both nature and humanity.
I was riveted from the first words of Corrag's narrative. Such descriptions of nature, and of winter weather in particular, are rare to find in modern fiction, and much of the prose here borders on poetry. Although the story itself is an engaging one, for me, the obsession with nature was by far the best thing about the book. Description can be tedious, but here it is never so.
The subject of witch trials and burnings is a controversial one among Pagans. Many of us know that "the burning times" have been greatly exaggerated in some circles, while at the same time historical "witches" have been made into whatever modern self-styled witches wish they had been. I waited for this book to stumble over these issues, and perhaps to fall in my estimation because of it, but for the most part it neatly side-steps these problems in favour of good story telling and remaining true to its characters. In the first excerpt, the main character, Corrag, is describing her childhood with her mother, Cora.
Still. Winters were best.
And they were hard ones in Thorneyburnbank. A duck froze on the burn -- it squawked until a fox came, and left its webbed feet in the ice. There were icicles we sucked, Cora and I. The millpond could be walked on, and once, a tree broke from all its snow and buried a cow -- they had to dig for it with spades and hands. All night long they dug, and the cow lowed so crossly that they did not hear the Mossmen taking horses from the forge. Also, one winter, there was a wooden box -- put beneath the yew tree, and not buried, for the ground was too dark, iron-hard. The box was broken by dogs and crows who knew meat when they neared it. Poor Widow Finton. But she was dead and never felt it. All things must eat.
Here, she is describing a long journey on horseback, from Northumbria to Glencoe:
That winter. That long, blue-lit winter that we moved through, her and I. She broke ice with her hooves. She crunched out over frosty fields and kicked snow up, and was very startled when a bough dropped its load on her back. She whinnied, charged away. I fell from her, into a drift, but the mare came back and sniffed about for me. I think she was sorry, for her ears were forwards. She always put her ears forwards when she was glad to see a thing.
I sucked icicles. I saw some eerie, moonlit nights. Sometimes the sky was so clear that I put my cloak across her back as she slept -- for she felt the cold more than I. She was foaled in the summer, long ago.
We rode through old reiver valleys.
Drank from moats of castles.
And we moved mostly at night, for these are the emptier times. I said north-and-west, in her ears, and we set out under the stars. We trod carefully in dank places. We held our breath in them -- for what else lurks in such dankness? Not much that's good, I thought. But we galloped, too -- out over the open, snow-covered wastes, and the drifty valleys, and under bare trees. She liked it.
Of her first experience of Rannoch Moor:
Cora had promised me that beauty was in differences, in the sights that most folk did not like, or were fearful of -- she'd said for are not all other things very dull?
And as I rode out across Rannoch Moor, I thought of her. She would have danced in it. She'd have lain down and clutched the peat, pressed it to her face. She'd have plunged her red skirts into the lochs, and tugged up the reeds, and chased the deer with her arms stretched out -- for here was her soul's home. No people. For people said witch, and tied thumbs to toes. Here, there were pools so still that there was a second sky in them, and a lone bird skimmed the water so that there were two birds. When there was wind, it rattled the heather. It came about the boulders and the sides of hills like water -- shaking itself, shrill, almost white. It whistled through the cattle skulls, and my hair beat itself like a wing on my cheek, saying fly fly fly and when the wind moved away again, I heard bees. I heard the soft tread of deer, and their teeth on the grass, and I liked them. I liked their reddish, thick bodies, and their crowns on their heads like they were the true kings of the world -- not a wheezy Dutchman. Not a Stuart hiding in France.
I heard the lap lap of loch water, and the puck fish made with their mouths.
North-and-west, always. And I nudged the mare on. she felt the wind in her half-tail, and went.
And of Glencoe, itself:
Those winter nights. I'd look out at the huge sides of snowy rocks which grew about me, and I'd see their eerie colours -- grey, black, blue. Then I would go inside, where my fire spoke to itself. But still, I felt them looking down on me. I could feel their height, and darkness. I thought of their age, of what they had seen, and as I tucked up by my fire I thought they glow . . . Like living things. Their frost glinted on me, and their breath was icy-cold.
Some people hate such thoughts. They stay away from mountains like mountains mean them harm. But what I say to myself when I see a mountain or a starry sky, or any natural thing which feels too much to bear, is what made this, made me, too. I am as special. We are made by the same thing . . . Call it God, if you wish. Call it chance, or nature -- it does not matter. Both the mountains of Glencoe and me are real, and here. Both the moon which is full tonight and you, Mr. Leslie, are here, and shining.
This was winter then -- my season. My weather. And what a wild, Highland winter that one was. Ice creaked, and the flakes of proper snow did not fall, at first -- they hung, mid-air. They drifted about my head as I walked back from the glen, with peat in my arms. When I saw myself in darkened pools I saw my snowy hair.
Seeing it, I thought this is the start.
It was. These thin flurries did not last. Five days after Hogmanay, a wind blew in. It threw snow against the northern ridge, and howled up into my valley so that my roof shook. skies swelled and raced, like sea-skies do. And I wandered -- for wasn't winter always too magick to go unseen? I had never feared it. So I wandered where I knew there would be beauty -- to half-frozen water, or to the heights where deer were. They sat against rocks, blinked in the wind. I saw a white hare running -- so fast and snow-coloured it was like wind, or a flurry of flakes, and only its black eye and the pads of its feet showed it was not these things. A snow-hare . . . I had never seen one. I looked at its tracks when it was gone. I was spun in the wind when I crested peaks, and when I lay down I caught flakes on my tongue. These things. Small, and safe things.
But in time, there was less snow. Slowly, there became more water noises, and the falling burn in my valley grew loud, and strong. I drank from it -- not on my knees, or with cupped hands, but by clutching a rock, leaning in and opening my mouth. I smiled as I drank. I tasted old winter. I drank new spring.
Day by day, green shoots showed themselves. The snow grew dimpled and up they came -- comfrey, and motherwort. To see them was like seeing friends again. I crouched to them, thought who needs people? People aren't always like this -- by which I meant meek, and kind, and soft to touch. I gathered them, dried them. Or I powdered them up, or put them in salt. Or I let them grow on, in the earth.
The past couple of months I have been pursuing an interesting personal project, creating a calendar for 2016, just for use in the household. I found one of those printing companies which lets you upload whatever photos you like, both for the months and for individual days. I'm sure most people use them for family birthdays and anniversaries, but I used mine for both the eight major festivals, and for various obscure things which I either observe, or would like to be reminded of, like Plough Monday and Tynwald Day. I also marked the full moons with nice moon pictures and the new moons with the Faerie Faith Beth-Luis-Nion system of months. I'm perfectly aware that these have no real provenance in tradition, and are "just" a construction, but I felt like looking at them this year. Systems like this often have much to teach. Oh, yes, and I also marked the start of each traditional astrological sun sign, a system which has longstanding meaning for me. So, I think it will be quite a pretty calendar, and hopefully give me much to think about. I keep checking the post!
I have said before how much comfort I find in winter, as opposed to summer, when I suffer with the heat and brightness and insects. As I continue my spiraling path through the seasons yet again, I seem to have reached an even deeper appreciation of winter, and that quarter which runs from Samhuinn to Imbolc, and maybe a little over at the edges.
Making the calendar really brought home to me how much I love the winter traditions, from souling plays and bonfire night, through Hogmanay and the wassailing of Twelfth Night and finally Plough Monday. All through the season, I feel the growing sense of the Cailleach, until she is defeated at Imbolc. I have never feared nor hated Her. We became friends long ago. It's nice to feel the contrast between being out in the cold and coming into the warmth, to have time to feast and drink with friends, and mumming and guising are such magical things.
Yet I now live on an empty Colorado plain, with few friends at hand and even less sense of community, so what does this mean for me? I still enjoy the long nights and cooler weather immensely. The special winter light has always been magical for me. These past few weeks I have seen so many birds, huge flocks of snow geese going over morning and evening, moving between some feeding ground and water. We are also being visited my many crows, something we don't see too often. They remind me so much of Scotland. They are shy and restless, though.
Most of all I enjoy the long nights and the quiet. Long lies in the morning. It's similar to the feeling I get at the time of the new moon. Silent, spacious and peaceful. I've been heartened to read two moving pieces of writing recently which echo my feelings about this time, and do so very poetically.
In a 2009 piece for the Guardian called "Why I Adore the Night", Jeanette Winterson wrote: "I have noticed that when all the lights are on, people tend to talk about what they are doing – their outer lives. Sitting round in candlelight or firelight, people start to talk about how they are feeling – their inner lives. They speak subjectively, they argue less, there are longer pauses." and "Making love in the afternoon is completely different in summer and winter. To begin as the afternoon light is fading, to wake up, warm and heavy, when it is completely dark, to kiss and stroke the shared invisible body, to leave the person you love half asleep while you go and open wine … then the moment of standing barefoot in the kitchen, just a candle and two glasses to take back to bed, and a feeling of content like no other." These are things I enthusiastically agree with.
Then the other day, in a blog post titled "Let Me Lie in the Cave of My Soul", Philip Carr-Gomm quoted from a poem by Joyce Rupp:
"Too much light has pulled me away from the chamber of gestation."
"Let me seek solace in the empty places of winter’s passage,
Those vast dark nights, that never fail to shelter me."
Enjoy the dark time while it's here. The wheel will turn before you know it.
Some of you will have noticed little signals in my writing - small but frequent mentions that I am not entirely happy where I am geographically. I'm homesick for Scotland in a number of different ways, and struggling to love the environment I'm living in. One of the things I have trouble with is car journeys, especially if I'm a passenger, because then I really have time on my hands to look around me and see all the things I don't like. A dry, rather colourless and windblown landscape which has suffered terrible environmental degradation, littered with the careless leavings of unsustainable and failing agricultural processes, with signs of poverty and hopeless ignorance everywhere. (Yeah, I fitted a lot of negativity into that last sentence, didn't I?) That's how I see it on a bad day, and it is one kind of truth.
The thing is, though, that since I live a long way from any amenities, I have to go places by car quite a bit, and I often find it quite distressing. Not fun. So much not fun, that I have probably been avoiding it more than I realise. However, I seem to have stumbled upon a really good remedy!
About a year ago, I signed up for a 21 day meditation challenge with Deva Premal and Mitten. Each day featured a mantra, one of which was the Moola Mantra. The words of that mantra are:
Sat Chit Ananda
Deva explains their meaning this way:
Sat - truth, Chit- consciousness, Ananda - bliss (this is also a mantra in its own right)
Parabramha - the unmanifest divine, the divine that is all around us, the air we breathe, the space that's all around us permeating everything.
Purushothama - the divine that is manifest in human beings, as our spiritual teachers, gurus, avatars, enlightened masters.
Paramatma - the soul that's within every living thing, the divine essence that's within every living thing.
Sri Bhagavathi Sametha Sri Bhagavathe - the feminine principle together with the masculine principle.
Namaha - I offer salutations (to all of the above). So to the divine in its unmanifest form, then channelled into our teachers and gurus, then coming to the universal understanding of everything being divine, of everything being a reflection of the divine perfection and then the dance of the feminine and the masculine energy like a yin and yang at the end of the mantra.
It's so easy to acknowledge the divine in things we like, or people we like. In pretty things. Less easy to do so in the things we find ugly, in people or actions we find ill-intentioned. It's easy to forget that the unmanifest divine somehow permeates all. It's easy for me to feel that if I don't fight the things I don't like, then somehow they win and I have given up. But I think that just creates blocked energy rather than the flowing energy with which I am able to create and to manifest useful change. But back to the Moola Mantra...
I loved this mantra so much the way Deva explained it. To look around me, and remember that the divine is in everything is very good for me. I also loved her musical interpretation of this, and found out that there is an entire fifty minute version. I bought a copy. It seemed like good driving music, so I put it in my car. Well, maybe you can see where this is going ...
It has helped immensely. Whether that's because, as some believe, the Sanskrit words of mantras have some extra mystical power, or because I have connected with their meaning at a conscious level, or just something in the music - I feel better connected to the landscape, more lovingly connected, and much calmer. And I think that this effect has filtered out a bit into the rest of my time, as well.
These must be among the first verses I ever read from the Carmina Gadelica. They are two of many verses which have to do with Bride's Day, or Imbolc. If I'm honest, living here in Colorado is getting me down. Rather than looking forward to spring as I would wish to, I find myself merely dreading another summer that will be too hot and dry, and so I've been struggling to muster enthusiasm for the coming holiday of Imbolc. But a couple of hours ago, something quite small and wonderful happened. I found this:
He or she was neatly folded between two flakes of hay, in a bale I opened to feed the horses. It felt like a sign. If anybody ever needed a sign, it was me, so I'll take it as so. I already had the beginnings of a poem in my head, but it had been refusing to form. My little serpent muse did the trick, however. So here is my poem.
If Angus Would Come
If young Angus would come
We would drown the filthy plaid of winter
In the speckled cauldron of Jura.
We would search out my bright cloak,
My green cloak, my fair cloak,
My patchwork cloak of pastures and fields.
Oh, if only he would come!
When Angus comes
He will search for me
Guided by the light of a thousand candles.
He will know my abode
By the sark I have hung on the window sill.
It collects the snow, to be wrung as dew
To ease his wounds when he comes.
When Angus comes
The serpent will rise,
And I will rise up as a queen,
As a flaming arrow
Piercing the heart of a crone.
A merciful bolt, forged of silver.
If young Angus would only come!
But when will young Angus come?
Then I can lie down in a bed of ease
Attended by maidens.
It's then I can rise up again
To the sound of burns in spate.
Flowers will spring under our very feet.
If only young Angus would come!
- Kris Hughes 2014
This poem describes a dream I had maybe seven or eight years ago. It was so full of wonder that I've remembered it quite vividly, although I don't begin to understand its meaning. Recently, a friend who did a Shamanic journey on my behalf urged me to begin working with the goddess Rhiannon. In doing so, I've become convinced that this dream was a gift from Her.
I can't remember exactly when I first saw a bluebell wood - but I remember where. It was in the woods near Bridgend on Islay, which remains one of my favourite woods anywhere. I was on holiday there, and I remember booking for the same time the following year, but the spring had come earlier that year, and the bluebells were finished when we visited.
Bluebells - Peace comes unexpectedly. Pleasure and delight. Enchantment surrounds you.
My best bluebell memory, though, is years later. I was riding Iona, my Fell Pony, on an estate near Edinburgh. I was doing some off-path exploring, and I'm sure we were not where we were supposed to be, according to the estate rules. We had followed a sketchy path through the grass and worked our way down a rather steep bank. The sight that unfolded was totally unexpected as we came into a stand of trees. There was a sort of dell, and the bluebells were so thick and bright that at first I thought the burn had flooded and that I was looking at standing water. Both Iona and I found the view mesmerising. I always wonder what is really going through a pony's mind at a time like this.
We stood and looked for awhile, then made our way down into the midst of it. That cliche, a carpet of bluebells, couldn't have been more true. In among them, they were still just as thick, and their light scent hung in the air. Both of us seemed to relax and let go of some tension we had unthinkingly been carrying. Iona gave a big sigh, and I knew she just wanted to stay there. We did, for a long time, and then explored the area, which was thick with blue in every direction. I noticed how the colour was almost indigo in deep shade, but a bright sky blue in the sun. We must have stayed there for hours before we finally tore ourselves away.
Barley is vitally important in the history of mankind, especially in Britain and Ireland, right up to the present. The familiar seasonal cycle of ploughing, planting and harvesting is deeply imbedded in our culture. It is truly a collaboration between gods (or God, or nature) and men. Humans first began to cultivate grain, and then to become dependent on it, at a time when they had little back-up. Tribes or villages were so scattered that the hope of rescue or charity in the case of a failed crop was unlikely, so it's no wonder that an elaborate folklore grew up around the rituals of cultivating grain.
When farm work was done largely by hand and at a slower pace, and harvesting grain involved whole communities, there were many traditions associated with things like ploughing the first furrow, cutting the last sheaf of grain, harvest celebrations, etc. Sun Gods, harvest queens, corn dollies and many others have all figured in man's relationship with Barley cultivation. These customs originated at a time when a poor harvest could result in hardship, or even starvation, for a community.
Sowing and harvesting can also be a metaphor for any kind of creative activity, particularly collaborative work. Even with today's farm machinery, it is unusual for one man to produce a Barley crop alone from start to finish. It requires teamwork. Possibly the many archetypes and superstitions surrounding growing grain, and luck and fertility in general are all based on a fear of failure - at a time in history when this could mean starvation and even death. However, the news has always been mostly good! Remember - the gift is good, the collaboration is a fruitful one. Just like life itself.
In a reading, this card often relates to a project of some kind, or to our work and creative endeavours. It points to the need for sharing the effort of this creation with others and with the gods or universal powers that can assist us. It calls on us to consider the concept of sacrifice, too. What can we offer in return for assistance with a successful outcome? It also reminds us to use the fruits of our labours wisely, and to avoid superficial and dualistic value judgements.
Get in touch here, if you'd like a reading.
If you found this subject fascinating and would like to read more, you might find the following two books to be of interest:
The Corn King and The Spring Queen is a novel by Naomi Mitchison. (Quite a big read.)
Amazon UK Amazon US
The Ballad and the Plough is a non-fiction work by David Kerr Cameron, which looks at mostly 19th century Scottish farming customs through the filter of songs sung and created by the farm workers of the day.
Amazon UK Amazon US
In honour of the Autumn Equinox, my partner, Mark, and I took a trip to Manitou Springs. We have been there a few times, but typical of people who are (sort of) local, we hadn't given the place much thought. It's a small mountain resort with nice boutiques and a good vibe, a fun change from our daily lives. It was only toward the end of our last trip that I noticed the Cheyenne Spring font on the main street, tasted the water, and all the pieces of the puzzle fell into place in my head. "Oh, Manitou Springs!" So we decided to dedicate our next visit to finding and investigating the springs -- and bringing jars.
Although I remembered to take the jars, I forgot my camera, so the gallery of photos below are not mine. They are from other people's blogs and articles, or from the website of the local Mineral Springs Foundation, who produce a free brochure, including photos, a map, and an analysis of the mineral content or each spring. They have done good work in renovating and decorating many of the springs around the town, inviting a number of artists and sculptors to design fonts. The result is a great deal of variation in the ambiance of the different springs.
Back home in Scotland the "places of interest" seem to be so thick on the ground that you are tripping over them. Lots of wells and springs, ancient monuments and places of natural beauty. To me, it feels very easy to find places that help me to feel close to the gods, to the spirits of nature or people of the past. Yes, the trees and rocks and soil are sacred everywhere, but I feel less resonance here. I hoped that these springs might be a good place to feel something like that, but I'm not sure.
The town of Manitou happened to be rather busy when we visited, with some sort of festival going on. There was a very friendly and slightly crowded atmosphere, which I enjoyed, but it wasn't conducive to quiet moments of spirituality. At each spring we visited we ended up chatting to people. A few were locals, getting water from their favourite spring, and happy to tell us about its benefits. Most were other people "doing the tour", but hardly anyone liked the taste of the water. Except me. I thought some of it was excellent. Each spring varies quite a bit in its mineral make up, but most of them are naturally carbonated, and have a high mineral content, which I enjoyed. One or two would take some getting used to. Iron Spring, for example is rather salty tasting and with its high iron content, reminded me of the taste of blood. I particularly liked the taste of the water from Wheeler Spring, which was fizzy and refreshing, and has a more traditional style of font, too.
It must be the Druid in me, but I found people's jokes and face pulling about the taste of the water a bit frustrating. I find the stuff that comes out of many a household tap completely disgusting. I don't like many mainstream commercial beverages, either. What the earth was offering, via these springs, tasted so much better to me, but people seem to me to have lost their discernment. Too much soda-pop and Miller Lite, I guess. Visiting the springs was just a box to tick, and a funny story about how bad it tasted to be told later.
I haven't delved too deeply into the history of Manitou Springs. Manitou means "spirit" in the Algonquin languages. Spirit both in the sense of what we might call gods and of the spirits that inhabit all things in the animistic sense. Several local plains tribes, such as the Cheyenne and Arapahoe peoples, held the area as particularly sacred and knew that the waters had healing powers. Because of the high mineral content of the water, some of the springs had formed natural mineral basins which were ideal for bathing. When European explorers found the area they quickly began to develop it as a spa, with great emphasis put on its healing potential and romantic associations with the local tribes. These settlers, too, valued the water, and the beauty of the area, but had rather different ideas about what was sacred.
Over the course of the 20th century the "spa" concept gradually gave way to a more general type of commercial tourism. The area has many tourist attractions, including Pikes Peak and the Garden of the Gods, and the springs at Manitou became a minor sideline which I don't even remember hearing mentioned. Manitou Springs became known for its enormous amusement arcade, cog railway and vast selection of motels.
Looking at the photos of Soda Spring, below, in 1870 and the present, I know which I prefer. However, I'm glad that perhaps something of the dignity and original reverence for the springs has been revived by the Mineral Springs Foundation. Water in Colorado is rarely a source of peace. It is generally seen as a scarce commodity, bought and sold for unsustainable agriculture, use by growing cities and for sporting and recreation. The saying "Whisky's for drinking, water's for fighting" refers to the legal wrangling that is almost always ongoing over water, somewhere in the state. Yet holy wells and holy water have gone unnoticed...
Because the town was built around the springs, most of them are along the main street or along major traffic arteries. The atmosphere when we visited this time, while pleasant, wasn't great for, say, a few moments of meditation. I would like to go back on a weekday in the off season, and see how it is then.
If you enjoyed this article, you might also like The Divine Connection of Water and Mother Nepesta.
These photos can all be clicked to enlarge, and the captions link to their original sources, which are often quite interesting in themselves.
Do you blog about nature, herbs, spirituality, intuition, meditation, divination, folklore, mythology? I'm looking to do some guest-blog trades with other bloggers, so get in touch if you're interested! ♥ Kris
Kris Hughes - writer, musician, horsewoman, cartomancer, cat whisperer.