Taking the Watersó An Essay on the Connections Between the Nature Spirits and the Ancestors
Since our inception in 1997, the 6th Night Grove has used the waters from the Yellow Spring, a local landmark in our area, as the waters for our Sacred Well. These waters are stored in an airtight container between our rites, and poured into our cauldron at the beginning of each ritual.
These waters are used for asperging during the purification of members during the rite, and it is to these waters that we offer silver, in honor of the World Below and to all the Mighty Dead.
The Yellow Spring was first "discovered" by the white settlers in this area around 1800. Within a short time, people were flocking to this spring for its curative powers, and a dam was created at the base of the gorge to collect its waters. People would bath in the waters collected, and also drink the waters. The village of Yellow Springs soon grew to accommodate this influx of visitors to the spring, and a hotel and tavern were built to serve the stagecoach line passing through the new village. Unfortunately, as has so often become the case in our modern world, the waters of the spring have become polluted by pesticides and herbicides entering the water table, to the point that no longer can the water be safely drank.
For those who have never had the opportunity to visit this site, the name given it is actually a misnomer. The waters flowing year round from the spring are high in iron oxides, and a more proper name would have been "Ochre Spring." The entire rock face from which the spring emerges is stained red, from the millennia of accumulated iron pigments. The first time I saw the spring, in the early 1970's, the one phrase that sprung immediately to my mind was "The blood of the Mother." Later, it was at the spring that I would attend my first Wiccan rite, held by a local coven in the area. As my spiritual path grew and changed over time, it was only natural that the spring would continue to be a place of power for me, and that our ADF Grove would come to consider it the Source and the Center of our connection to the Nature Spirits.
As our Grove began to grow, it soon became a rite of passage for new Grove members to visit the spring and make offerings there. Twice a year, at Samhain and Beltaine, we would go and collect new waters to be added to what remained of the waters collected before. The water within our Sacred Well has become highly charged, being used in every ritual for more than three years. The trove of silver and other precious gifts offered to our cauldron throughout the Sacred Year would be made to the waters in a natural cave half way down the cliff side, where the spring waters collect. From the womb/mouth of the Mother the waters are taken. To the mouth/womb of the Mother the gifts are returned.
In the fall of 1998 some of our Grove members were preparing to attend the Lughnassadh festival, hosted by Shining Lakes Grove, in Michigan. I thought it would be a grand idea to take some of the spring's waters to present to the Arch Druid, and to mix with the waters of their Grove. The waters were carefully collected in a glass bottle, and stored for transport in the chest we use to carry our Grove's ritual items. When the time came for me to present the water to the Arch Druid, I was distraught to discover that the bottle had shattered in transport. Not just broken, mind you, but shattered into tiny pieces!
At first, we didn't take much heed of this omen. We continued to take the waters of the spring for our Grove's use without further incident. Then, on an occasion when I had sent another member of the Grove alone to collect some of the water, the same type of incident occurred. She had carefully collected the water in a glass bottle, making proper offering at the spring as she did so, but had left the bottle in her car during the day while at work. When she returned to her car that afternoon, the bottle was once again shattered, where it had been wholly intact and safe that morning.
At this point, I was becoming rightly concerned. I made a trip alone to the spring, with the specific intent of asking the spirits there what offense we might have unintentionally made. I began my trek at the great white oak tree, over 300 years old, which stands above a waterfall in the nature preserve where the spring is now located. A poem of death is engraved on a stone at the oak tree's base, in memorial to the daughter of the man who had donated the land to the local college as a nature preserve. As I wandered down the shaded path to the spring, my mind kept going over the words of that poem, and my heart was filled with a great longing to better understand the nature of this sacred place, and the peoples who had first known its great power.
As I approached the place where stone steps lead down to the spring, the rush of the waters soft in my ears, I happened to glance to my left. There, off the side of the marked trail, a small Adena burial mound is located. No more than five feet high at its crest, unmarked, with no path leading to it, most people walk by this feature without ever knowing it is there, or else consider it a natural feature, and not one created by the hands of men.
I had known of this mound. I knew it was there, and I also knew it had never been excavated. I had considered myself to be well versed in the ancient Native American culture of this area, spending a good part of my youth reading every book I could get my hands on regarding the Mound Builder culture of the Ohio Valley. I had made a point of visiting all of the large conical mounds built by these ancient peoples, which dot the sacred landscape of this part of the country. Yet, how many times had I silently walked past this small, unassuming mound of earth, intent solely on my destination of the spring?
I stopped in my tracks, and silently asked myself, "Whose bones lie beneath this mound of earth, so close to such a place of power?" Certainly, the ancient Native Americans considered this spring to be as magical as we "moderns" do. They would have seen it not only as a place of free flowing fresh water when all others were frozen in the harsh winter, but also as a source of ochre for dyeing and body paint in magical workings. For one to have their bones interred here, so close to the spring that its waters music could always be heard in the ears, this person must be one of great importance and great power indeed!
I pushed my way through the brambles surrounding the mound. I placed my hands upon it, and I asked the spirit of the Ancestor within to know my heart, to know that I was on a quest of understanding. I asked that the spirit would grant our Grove access to the waters of the ochre spring, and help us to understand the true magic of it. I made a small offering of tobacco, all I had to give, and left the mound with a sense of awe at the unfolding sweep of time, the great history of this mystical place swirling about me.
I bathed that day in the waters of the spring, and left knowing that the magic there is well protected. As we modern Pagans seek to reconnect with the sacredness of our local lands, its springs and rivers, its mountains and valleys, we would be wise to remember that there was a culture here before us who knew the true power of these places. Long before our ancestors crossed these lands, a people dwelt here who practiced a strong magic of the Earth.
Our Grove now makes it a regular part of our Samhain and Beltaine water gathering to stop and make offerings to the Guardian of the Spring. We ask that we would be welcomed here in this land, and that the transgressions of our ancestors be slowly forgiven, as the scars of the Earth are slowly healed. We ask that we may be a part of that healing, and add our voices to the many that call for an end to the pollution of our natural resources. As the ancient Pagans of Europe made it a part of their religions to adopt the local deities of the new lands they moved into, so must we new Pagans now seek to understand the powers of those who were here in this land before us, and the spirits of the land who were ancient long before our peoples came to this place. We must respect the Earth, and keep it sacred in their honor. As we say in our Ancestor invocation "To all those whose bones lie in this land, whose hearts are tied to it, whose memory holds it."
I am happy to say we have had no more troubles in taking the waters of the spring. I believe that we have taken the first small step in a dialogue that will be ongoing. We have offered a pipe of peace, and it has, for the time being, been accepted. The eyes of the Ancestors are upon us. They ask if we will truly walk the Way of the Earth. The Guardian of the Spring asks if we will now guard it well, for all generations yet to come. As Our Druidry grows in this land, let us all take heed of what the Ancestors ask of us. The Mother's blood is our own life source. Will we take the waters with respect? Will we hold them sacred?