We were finally given our instructions to go to St. Catherine’s Hill to conclude the lessons of the Spring rites. I wondered why that day had been chosen, a week into the month of May, especially as the 1st of May has always been the traditional day for celebrating the Spring ritual. Perhaps it was because the sun was shining, or maybe it lay in the influence of the stars, or… who knows? I don’t question the instructions. I am simply the witness, the learner, the student.
On the drive there, having picked up a Freecycled chicken coop, I received messages about Mary Wollstonecraft, and the rise of Feminine power. I could feel this power. It was not the rise of women who used male power models as their own, but a true feminine power. However, I didn’t quite understand what this had to do with the Rites of May. I was still no clearer by the end of the day!
We parked along Five-Bridges Road and walked towards the River Itchen. It was important that we came from this direction, rather than the canal end, which was not only full of parked cars but also because the canal was man-made. But I knew, before we came, that we had to be close to the river. When we got to the bridge over the Itchen, it made sense. I had already been told to bring a bottle of water, for an essence, so when prompted, I opened the bottle.
As I stood watching the river flowing towards me, the clouds and blue skies reflected in the water, the fish symbol flowed into my centre (behind my navel). I saw a hand popping a young fish into the bottle I held in my hands. The fish is the symbol of male fertility as it flows through the water and on a previous earth-working with the river, Chris, Eartha and I had anchored that energy to the river from the Brooks centre in Winchester.
So, with bottle in hand, infused with the male energy of the river, we followed the path to St. Catherine’s Hill. It was a lovely sunny day and as we walked, I could smell nettles, Angelica, and May blossom. My sense of smell seemed more sensitive than usual, making the walk so much more pleasant. We stopped briefly at the canal lock where the water was rushing through it like a waterfall, creating a mist of cool moist air, then we made our way up the steps to St. Catherine’s Hill.
Chris had the remnants of a cold so he stayed beside the river while I headed upward to the summit. It isn’t a mountain, but it felt like one! My thigh muscles burned and my hip complained mightily, but I knew this had to be done if I wanted to understand the significance of the hill to our ancestors. I need to walk up hills more often!
As I reached the innermost bank, I saw the creative energy in the center of the hill, in the form of a dragon. I heard myself call the dragon awake and watched as it emerged from the ground beneath where the remains of St. Catherine’s Church lay. As the dragon pulled itself from the earth, it shook the soil from its great wings, surfacing eventually and taking flight above the hill. Its colour was a combination of gold and red, making it look nearly orange. I haven’t seen one this colour before, two colours combined in this way. It was beautiful. Once again, I heard myself call the dragons to awaken, to take flight, to soar in the air. This felt like a resurrection of sorts.
I walked towards the top of the hill, and into the beech tree copse which now had new Spring leaves open, creating shifting patterns on the floor below. I had an impulse to pour some of the Itchen water in my bottle onto the rise in the centre, bringing the fertile river, energetically, to the hill, connecting them both. I was told to infuse the water in my bottle with the energies of the hill and so I tuned in and watched to see the energies move into the water. Now, along with the fertility of the water, it also contained the heart of St, Catherine’s Hill.
An energy band came from the left of me, then another one came from the east. The western one was masculine and the eastern one, female. They flowed into me and then rose in twin columns high into the air, through my head, where they coiled upwards together like a candy-cane. I waited until that was stable and wandered around the top of the hill, but saw no more. Until, walking out of the clearing, I heard a woman’s voice say: ‘Join with us, sister.’
I turned to look back into the trees, and saw a circle of young women holding hands, and dancing in an anticlockwise direction around the centre of the hill. They were dressed in while linen and all had a circlet of May flowers around their heads.
Inside their circle, dancing in a clockwise direction, were the young men. Circles within circles, sunwise and widdershins. The pair who had been chosen to hold the creative energies for the year, and who represented the male and female energies of creation, appeared in the centre of the dancing circles. They did not participate in the dance but appeared to be ‘holding’ the energies that the dancers were building.
When they had completed their dance, both groups of dancers moved in a line and took their place behind each of the pair, the girls in one line, the boys in another. Then they moved forwards, following their leader in a procession, separating once they had reached the outer limit of the hilltop. The girls moved east, and the boys west, still in a line, moving to the eastern and western bottom of the hill where they encircled the base of the hill and re-joined, taking the energy down to the flood-plain.
The rites were complete and they would spend the night feasting and celebrating.
Once I had witnessed this, I walked back towards the outer boundary, but glanced back towards the summit and saw a huge flame burning, the same colour as the dragon, red and gold. I heard the words: ‘the flame burns for another year’.
Reaching the inner bank of the hill, the dragon appeared again. It was only visible from the bank, for some reason, as I had not been aware of it while I was inside the trees. But now, it was large and alive, and I was told to open the essence bottle. This large dragon then popped a miniature version of itself into the water and once it was inside, I replaced the cap.
I returned to the river, where Chris was waiting, and we walked back the way we had come. When we were crossing the river again, I was instructed to pour some of this essence back into the water, completing the circle of fertility.
The most important aspect of this entire season’s learning, from February through to May was the marriage of water and earth. The Hill, the pregnant mound of the Mother, marries the water energies of the River to maintain the fertility of the land, so that food was assured for the coming season. In the past, the Itchen overflowed at certain of the years, bringing fertile silt from up-river. This reminds me of the Nile flooding, when rituals like this were also carried out at the Temple below the great pyramid. Many sacred Mother sites, to do with fertility, were connected to a river. Stonehenge, Stanton Drew, and of course, Winchester, etc.
The observance of these rites kept the energy flowing, each element dancing together. There was no sense of male energy, or female energy, being more important than the other, but a recognition of the necessary interplay between the two. To our detriment, we have lost this understanding but perhaps it is time we resurrected it, like the dragon.