Monday, August 11, 2008

Honouring Sulis

After the Glastonbury Goddess Conference I went to the Somerset town of Bath to honour the Goddess Sulis. Bath is famous for the only hot spring in Brighid's Isles. For thousands of years hot water has risen here. Today over a million litres rise every day at 46 degrees Centigrade. In ancient times the spring bubbled out of open marshes. It was sacred to the Goddess Sulis (Sul) a Goddess of healing, childbirth and lactation. The Romans drove oak piles into the mud to provide strong foundations for a lead lined stone pool to hold the water. They united the British love of Sulis with their own love of Minerva and erected a Temple to Sulis Minerva. Many came for healing, to give thanks and to seek justice from the Goddess. More than 12,000 Roman coins have been found in the Spring, the largest votive offering in the Isles. Many bronze and ivory models of breasts have also been found. These were possibly worn whilst breast feeding so the Goddess would provide a plentiful flow of milk, then offered to the Goddess in thanksgiving.

To this day there is a tangible sacred presence at the Spring which, for me, makes it a real place of pilgrimage. As I honoured Sulis and asked for her healing I tried to imagine what the Sacred Spring must have been like before any of the oak piles had been driven into the mud. A liminal place, the red waters of the Goddess rising hot in the marshes amidst the groves of trees. A healing gift from the very womb of the Earth.

Powers always want to flaunt their wealth and strength and ambition by building grand public religious structures. Roman Temples, mediaeval cathedrals, grand mosques all speak eloquently of the wealth and power men find in religion. Yet none of this can compare to the natural beauty and grace of a natural spring. The Goddess is truly to be found in little, seemingly powerless things.

Today the Sacred Spring is a World Heritage Site. It is always busy as tourists take bustle about, but some of us come just to bless each other with the water and stand in silent honour of the Goddess Sulis. To do this is to do something personal, small and powerless and yet of great significance.

Amidst all the displays of Roman engineering, power and wealth there are two displays that always move me to wonder and to tears. They are displays of small household goddesses honoured by ordinary people in the sacred space around their own hearth. the first is a small celtic carving of a triple Goddess. The second is a display of
Penates, the Goddesses of the Roman household larder and kitchen. It is these beautiful things that offer the gift of a link between my own practice and those who lived and honoured the Goddesses in this beautiful land so many years ago. I leave you with the photographs I took of these very special icons.

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