In too deep: A goddess ritual in the Forest of Dean took a strange turn
I got lost underground in the Forest of Dean
We lit candles to honour the Goddess
D escending deep into the earth, stumbling on the uneven floor, I was conscious of the thousands of tons of soil and rock above my head.
‘It’ll be OK,’ I muttered to myself, taking a deep breath. I’m not keen on being underground, but as a Wiccan High Priestess, I’m used to putting my trust in the Goddess. She’ll keep me safe, I thought to myself.
It was 4 February 2018 and I was attending a druid Candlemas ritual in Clearwell Caves, an old iron mine that’s open to the public, deep in the historic Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire. Candlemas is a Christian celebration but it is also a much older pagan festival. Its Celtic name is Imbolc, which means ‘in the belly’, because now in the belly of the Earth Mother, life begins to stir. Lambing starts, snowdrops bloom and light grows. A ritual within the caves seemed right, lighting underground flames.
Pagans devote Candlemas to the Divine Feminine. At this time we revere the Goddess in her aspect of Brigantia – healer, inspirer and keeper of the sacred flame. It’s traditional to light candles in her honour, and also to ask for healing. I was especially glad of this because I’d had a heavy head cold for what seemed like weeks.
There were about 50 of us present. We entered the main cavern beneath an archway formed by two staffs held by druids. Pledging, ‘perfect love and perfect trust,’ we joined the circle.
‘We’re 100 feet underground,’ The Chief Druid informed us. I tried not to think of the weight of earth above me as the rite to Brigantia began.
We invoked the magical energies of East, West, North and South; Air, Wind, Fire and Water. As we did so, the atmosphere changed, and there was a sense of power.
To the west of the circle stood a cauldron around which a spiral was drawn. The cauldron represents the womb of the Goddess and the spiral is a spiritual journey. Each of us who wanted to make a change, or to give or receive healing, took a lit candle around the spiral, to place near the cauldron.
When it was my turn, I lit my candle and asked my nasty head cold to be healed. After this part of the ritual, the Talking Stick was passed round and people spoke of their own experiences of healing.
When the ritual ended, I hurried through the arch first, keen to get back outside. I followed what I thought was the correct path, through a doorway. I couldn’t remember this door but it was the
only way out, out so I pushed it open and headed heade up the path. Suddenly, a as I rounded a bend, the lights went out. Determined not to panic, I asked Brigantia for guidance. I ascended slowly, my fingers trailing on the cold stone of the walls, to keep my balance. Several times I called out, but all I heard was the rebounding echo of my own voice. Was there anybody behind me? I couldn’t tell. My heart was beating fast. I thought of turning back, but it seemed safest to continue onwards.
My phone dimly lit the way. Several times I was sure I was touched by cold fingers, an icy breath on my cheek and the brush of spider webs – although spiders rarely like caves. Occasionally I heard strange knocking, and was reminded of stories of fairy beings called Knockers who sounded warnings to miners.
On the point of panic, I stumbled around a corner to be confronted by another door. Fumbling blindly with the knob I managed to push it open – and almost fell into the original, candle-lit chamber! Just in time – the Chief Druid was leaving and all the lights were being turned off.
Relieved not to be alone any more, I wended my way back to the surface, gratefully taking gulps of fresh air and feeling blessed by the light. No-one could understand how I’d gone missing, or where I’d been. My solitary journey was a complete mystery! However, once I’d recovered, I felt renewed. Could it be the Earth Mother gave me a special journey to confront myself and my fears? I certainly felt empowered and changed in a way hard to explain. Since then my energy levels have been high, my career has flourished and – most dramatic of all – my persistent cold immediately disappeared! The Cotswold Order of Druids has been performing the Imbolc ritual in Clearwell Caves for 15 years. Find out more at twistedtree.org.uk
Protected High Priestess: Natural caves Clearwell: Ritual Druids: Healing space Beautiful: