In too deep: A god­dess rit­ual in the For­est of Dean took a strange turn

I got lost un­der­ground in the For­est of Dean

Chat It's Fate - - Contents - Teresa Dell­bridge, 57, from the Cotswolds

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.

Ri­tu­alcham­ber

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.

Heal­ing ex­pe­ri­ence

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

Flames: Sym­bolic

Pro­tected High Priest­ess: Nat­u­ral caves Clear­well: Rit­ual Druids: Heal­ing space Beau­ti­ful:

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