Okay, Okay, we get it: Even though one side of the 34 acres of the grounds that the Abbey owns runs right next to Chalice Hill, we cannot exit that way. That would be admitting that there is a connection between the sublime primal energy of the Red and White Springs and the Churches ham-handed attempt to deny/sublimate/appropriate/distort it.
Better just to herd all the good Christians out through the gift shop and back onto safely chaste Magdalene Street.
Except……directly across that street from the Abbey is the Covenstead, our
witchcraft themed B+B, and also every shop along High Street, the entire top of the square that the Abbey grounds describes, is one pagan shop after another.
|Lower part of the Garden, with the Tor photobombing|
Photo by Catherine Blackadar Nelson
I do believe your Jesus-come-lately religion is losing the war for the country folks’ hearts and minds. The older, purer, more Natural Craft, wafting on the breeze, tempered in the eternal beltane fires, washed in the waters of Spring, river and sea and grounded in the ground, always, quietly wins in the end.
Your magnificent Abbey is as dead as your God, but just over your grumpy wall, Her waters flow eternal. Amen.
|Photo by Catherine Blackadar Nelson|
Undaunted, we just walked all the way around the square, and around the edge of Chalice Hill, to the hushed and understated portal to the Chalice Well. The entrance to the gardens had changed, as had the price to get in. Back in 1996 it was a single pound to get in, now it 4 pounds and 95 pence-shilling-farthing-penny-dreadfuls or something.
In a sense this was the first time I had seen the gardens. 20 years ago I had been spiritually abducted just inside the gate, and after an extensive, roundabout, labyrinthian journey I emerged at the top of garden, looking down at the open Well lid.
|Photo by Catherine Blackadar Nelson|
I can barely recall anything of that journey, and once in direct contact with the presence there I lost conscious completely for about 45 minutes, only waking up when I had somehow transported my zombie carcass across the main highway into town and collapsed backwards over our luggage in front of our B+B.
In retrospect I don’t regret missing the gardens, but now I see that I really did miss something special. The waters of the Spring cascade down through a series of moods and settings, each level accompanied by a wide variety of trees, bushes and flowers. Obvious care is on display here, but also an intense consideration. This is a place of focused intention.
Admiral Karen and I slowly walked up the path, stopping frequently, looking in different directions. She would be gazing at whatever device or piece of art was there to catch this part of the waters path - and I would find myself looking at the low wall behind the ferns off to the side.
In the next alcove she oohed and aahed over the Victorian foot baths, and I was tracing the narrow dirt path that ran behind them.
So maybe somewhere in my jumbled memory hive of this place 20 years ago I had been been taking notes. The hidden labyrinth path is still there, if you know where to look. And I guess I still knew where to look. Wild.
We circled up above the small nest that holds the open well, just as I had done BEFORE. We stopped where I had stopped. Back then I was so full of Her presence that I simply collapsed here, but now I was simply smiling. She was still here, and she was welcoming me back.
No, this time it was my bride who began vibrating and hyper-ventilating. Oh. Hadn’t counted on that. Reflexedly I turned to her, touching her arm to comfort - but Karen pulled away and literally hissed at me.
Message sent. Enjoy the ride, Honey.
I left her to freak as she desired and sat on the top step of the little stone staircase. Finally, I was back, back to where I all began. Where I had walked in as an agnostic tourist and staggered out a Fookin’ Loony.
|Top is the two chambers, built 800 years ago.|
Bottom is the sediment build up behind those
The same ZAP was still exploding out of the well mouth, but now it was an old friend, whose folds and contours I knew by heart.
I also knew that where I was sitting (and where Karen was tottering about), just uphill from the famous well lid, is where the actual Spring emerges, some 12 feet below.
Eons ago, when it was a surface spring it gushed forth from the roots of a glorious yew tree, whose taproot is still encase and enshrined below. A pentagonal chamber was created in the early 1,200s from local, worked stone.
Odds are 100% that this room was built from the ruins of the original Abbey after it burned up, which is Justice of the most poetic. Next to this room was built a smaller, narrower shaft structure. But what happens when you try to build a permanent building on top of a shifting landscape?
Well if you are making a gigantic monastery on top of the Tor you watch in tight-
fisted agony as the eroding hillside sends every part of the church tumbling down the slopes, except for the tower, which straddles the center line and so clings to life to this day. It was as if the king of the Faeries objected to this interloper on top of his house and simply shrugged it off like a bad dream.
|Sorry about your monastery falling down.|
Photo by Catherine Blackadar Nelson
On Chalice Hill, the Spring simply laughed at its containment and continued to flow regardless. But the pentagonal chamber stopped the stream from carrying any sediment away with it, and so it built up around the chamber and eventually swallowed it, leaving only the top of the neighboring shaft. What we see as a well now is actually a roof. As above, so below.
I thoroughly enjoyed sitting on top of the actual well spring. Rather like a spiritual enema.
I also took great delight in watching others encounter the shady little roost that held the well opening and its famous, carved lid.
Some people walked right up, sat down on the low wall around the well and communed with the Goddess. Others walked right up - and then turned left and continued on the path that curved up and then back to the left. In most of these cases I sensed it was a subconscious decision to pass by this power source. Too much, too unfamiliar, too unclassifiable. Move along now.
Sometimes it was mixed doubles: In one of these cases a couple entered and sat down, and the man got that 1000 yard stare that I knew so well. He gazed with wide-eyed wonder until tears rolled down his cheeks. His partner, however, was looking around at the trees and flowers and discreetly checking her phone. I’m here for ya honey, but lunchtime IS coming up……
One woman marched right up, took stock of the then empty station, and proceeded to lie right on top of the grate, face down, reaching both her arms as far into the well as she could. Whoa!
And then Karen was ready for her communion. She lightly stepped down the steps and knelt beside the well and reconnected with Herself.
Me, I was awash in Goddess love again and all I could manage to say was: “I’m back.”
And I instantly heard that 1,000 voiced choir again and She said: “You never left.”
|Karen has a private audience|
And before I could digest that the choir finished me off with: “And We have been with you.”
I spent about an hour in meditation at the Well, and if I had just come to England and did nothing else but that, I would have counted it a great trip.
Eventually Karen came back to herself and I got her to take some pictures of me next to the Well. On our way out she steered me over to a series of alcoves set in a brick wall. These alcoves contained all manner of offerings and leavings, but she picked up a single rock and shoved it in my hand. “This. What is this?” She said, with Capricorn directness.
|Been waiting a long time to line these two designs up.|
“Sarsen”, I said, recognizing the subtle texture. It’s ancient sandstone that has been so compressed by time that it is now harder than granite. Great for building temples, and because it is sandstone it absorbs and radiates energy spectacularly.
“Have we seen this before?” She continued sternly.
“Yes. Yesterday - at Stonehenge. We couldn’t touch it there though.”
“Where can we see more of it?”
“At Avebury, tomorrow. And there we can climb all over the sarsen standing stones.”
“Good.” and with that returned the stone to its place and we descended placidly down to the gift shop, my head moving involuntarily from side to side, showing me the alternate paths that I have almost no conscious memory of.
And that was, is, will be the Red Spring.
BUT. Over across the alley, at the WHITE SPRING…..
Note: Special thanks to Cath for letting me use some of her pro-quality Garden photos from 2003. She was part of the original England crew in 1996, and she and I once flew to the Tor just by HOLDING HANDS.