After our first day’s information about the Female Mysteries of Spring, we went back the following week to learn about the Male Mysteries.
This time we stood on the second largest barrow, where we had seen the Elder the previous week. As soon as we tuned in, he appeared and he instructed us to sit.
I felt as though I was in a class, as it would have been held centuries ago, but I was male. There were five or six of us being trained. The elder explained about our role in the Spring festival. We were a new cohort, and this was the start of our training. The Elder would instruct us on how to serve the Mother, both in what we did, as priests in training, and for the rest of our lives. What we were being shown was male priest training, rather than simply something for the festival rituals.
He explained that male fertility was connected to the waterways: the rivers and to the sea. I saw the Itchen river in my mind, running around he base of St. Catherine’s hill. As we were being shown the connection between the river and the hill, an image of Silbury Hill, near Avebury, with the water all around the base, popped into my head. I wondered if, in ancient times, the waters also rose at certain times of the year and flooded around the base of St. Catherine’s; the mound a pregnant belly that emerged from the waters of life.
Water carries fertility, like seminal fluid carries sperm. This is how they understood it. Because many female fertility sites were connected with waterways i.e., Stonehenge, Stanton Drew, etc., it fell to men to hold the energy of water-fertility. They were the active principle and the female was the receptive.
The Elder, having explained about the importance of water to these young men, then went on in a more serious tone. He handed each one a rounded, river pebble. He told them that the water had shaped these stones, tumbled and smoothed them over many years. The water had the power to shape the hardest material, BUT, the stone was of the earth and the river ran THROUGH the earth. The water, on its own, was simply water. The Mother, Earth, was the channel/river-bed through which the water ran, it ran through her body. She was the foundation of all.
This teaching was to curb feelings of power the young men might harbour, believing that because they held the power to fertilise, this meant they were more powerful than the earth itself.
At that point, to continue the lesson, the Elder told us all that we would now go to the other side of the hill, but to bring our stone with us. This was a couple of miles across the land for them, but necessitated a car-ride for us. From last week, we knew the men had their training by the river and that by the time of the Spring rites, they would proceed from there to the top of St. Catherine’s.
We drove around to the other side of Winchester, and tried to find a car-parking space close to the river. That proved tricky, as now everyone goes for coffee and a walk beside the canal! Because we could not find a space, we went to the water-meadows at. St Cross Hospital, where we had access to the river. This was better as it was the more natural part of the river; the part currently flowing alongside St. Catherine’s Hill is the navigation canal built in the late 17th Century.
We stood by the river bank and waited for the Elder to tell us what to do. We still held the stone. Because the Elder was not physically real, the stone he gave us wasn’t either. But, I had one in my pocket I had picked up somewhere. I’m always picking up stones! It didn’t have to be physical, of course, but it made it feel more real.
Standing by the river’s edge, the Elder told us that we had to throw this stone into the water. But, in throwing it in, we were handing over our ego, or sense of power and personal Will to the Mother. We were acknowledging that we, as men, served her. We were not master over her. In order to serve, we had to let go of all our attachments to power over others, over the tribe, over the land. We were making a commitment to serve her as she wished to be served.
It was a very solemn, and thought-provoking exercise. If we, as young priests were unable to let go of our male ego, our need for control, then we would be unable to serve in a fertility capacity and therefore would not be able to officiate at the Sacred Fertility Rituals, such as the Spring rites.
Because I was, effectively, a young man in this experience, I felt the seriousness of what I was doing and when I felt I was ready to give up my need for control and power, I threw my stone into the water, giving it back to the Mother, from whence it came. I accepted that she was more important than me and that I willingly sacrificed my need for power and control.
I was aware of the other young men in my group. Some were reluctant to let go, not fully understanding how it would impact on their lives. They were not ready. Some might never be and would go on to do other work within the tribes. But, for those, who were not quite ready, they would be given the chance to continue their training and repeat the exercise the following year. But that also meant, they could not be chosen to be a candidate in the current year’s Spring Festival. There was no judgement around this from the Elder, as they were only human and he understood the challenge of the sacrifice.
This experience, and the previous week’s one, was an amazing glimpse into how our ancestors worked with the very potent Spring fertility rites. The exercise, by the river and on the barrows, was quite a powerful one for the young men; the fear of letting go of personal power was palpable.
By contrast, the women’s rites felt free and joyful. There was such excitement and light-heartedness as they began the rites. But the men’s seemed quite serious, as if they had more to learn, more to let go of. But all were young. From late teens to early twenties. An appropriate age for Spring.
Next week, we’ll be up on St. Catherine’s Hill. It’s the culmination of the Spring festivities, the joining of the male and female energies, the festival that ensures fertility for the coming year. I am looking forward to seeing what we experience then. All we have to do is avoid the coffee-crowds.