Early the next morning, three strong men set off to gather the hazel for the new bower. Prayerfully, joyfully, and whilst holding sacred intent, they made their way to a local wood. Knowledgable woodsmen, prepared to work thoughtfully and with regard to the spirit of the land, carefully coppiced and thinned the hazel trees. They communed with the woodland, made appropriate offerings and took just enough wood to build the bower.
There is an excitement that goes along with gathering resources from nature to take to the White Spring. Whether it is daffodils or hazel branches, it seems to be a joyful sacrifice. Sometimes stones or flowers, ivy, old man’s beard or teasels seem to call out from the hedgerows, ‘Take me to the waters’; as an offering to the spirit of the place we bring them in.
Max, my partner in life and at the White Spring told me of the usual discussions and questions that come up with a new helper on board. Why do we use hazel? Why not a more sturdy wood that would withstand the damp better? What is the point of replacing it every year when you could build one that would last two or three? I had asked these same questions the first time I was involved in the building of the bower. Now, four years on, I understand.
The Hazel (Corylus avellana) is one of the very oldest British native trees. Traces of hazel nut shells and pollen have been discovered in cave settlements, dating from around 10,000 years ago. It is considered harvestable and, like willow, it often aids the trees health and the woodland to coppice it and it is a sustainable resource if harvested correctly.
This tree is associated with the Goddess Brigid, goddess of wisdom and divine inspiration and as such is particularly suitable for the creation of a shrine in her honour. The long golden male flowers; delicate catkins reveal one of the earliest signs of fertility in the new year. Often just showing themselves at the beginning of February, by March they are dusted with yellow pollen. As I said in Imbolc 2012 part I, we replace the bower with new hazel withies every year to bring our awareness to the living temple we hold and to the ever-changing cycles of nature.
After the hazel poles were delivered to the White Spring we started to make preparations for the building of it. That evening, my son came down with a fever and I needed to stay with him for most of the day, so I could not take part in the building of the bower this time. I started the day at the Spring with a prayer. I stood in circle in the empty space that was awaiting the bower with the three men who would be manifesting it. We took a moment of silence, to listen to the waters and get in tune with the sacred task at hand. Every step is taken prayerfully, every movement they would be holding that sacred intent.
I left to go home to be with my son. When I returned later in the afternoon they had already created the bare bones of the bower. It looked fantastic, a little off centre, but the weaving of the withies to strengthen the structure would pull it all into place. It would only take an hour or two of the next morning to complete it.
Again we seemed supported by the spirit of the Spring as the bower came into its final shape for the coming year. When complete, it was exquisite; the twisting branches all weaving around each other, like the roots of an ancient forest, to form a beautiful yet simple dome. Shadows danced across the walls, the network of branches made larger by the flickering candle light.
All complete, we put the perpetual flame back in place, hung the picture, brought in fresh flowers and sang … Bridget, our lady. Born as flaming arrows. Flame of divinity, guide us from the darkness. One final prayer, and offering to Our Lady, and the task was done. Now we were ready to prepare for the ceremony.
We gathered the keeper team together for a walkthrough and rehearsal on Monday night. Along with R, an 8-year-old girl, who would be taking the part of young Bridie to bring in the flame on the morning of February 1st.
As we gathered outside the building with the fading light, a man began to shout abuse at us from further up the road. I have had some difficulty with this individual before; I usually ignore him and go inside. This time I wasn’t happy to do that and although the man was drunk and there was a risk of further confrontation, I felt it was okay to go and ask him to stop shouting or go away.
There was further confrontation. I approached him alone and asked what he was upset about. He was very angry and ranting about our ceremonies and all manner of things. I know this man to be respectful sometimes, but when he has had a drink, not so. I let him express himself for a while – whilst holding my centre, then told him in no uncertain terms that it was not okay to stand there and shout at us. Eventually I matched his angry tone, shouted at him to go away, and then walked him up the hill, softening my tone as I went. When he was far enough from the White Spring for the sound to not reach us any more I turned and went back to the group. He shouted after me once more and I simply continued on my way. And he continued on his.
I have learnt the importance of asserting our boundaries at The White Spring and the art of being honest about what is disrespectful to the temple and to the keepers. It is a fine balance to maintain compassion and kindness whilst protecting the space and maintaining appropriate boundaries around people’s behaviour. I have been challenged like this on a few occasions, it is one of my least favourite parts of the job. I have decided to take care of this place and sometimes it means dealing with confrontational people. Sometimes it is frightening, and it is always empowering. (Later on in the week, this man apologised and told us he understood that it was not alright to shout at us.)
I shook off the energy of the confrontation and went into the temple with a fabulous group of keepers to walk through the ceremony that would take place on the next day. The Imbolc ceremony is a fine operation which involves perfect timing, the putting out and re-lighting of candles at just the right time, musicians and chants weaved into the celebration. We would all need to work in perfect synergy with each other.
Young Bridie was beautiful as ever, and she walked through with such grace that I had no doubt that she would be fine on the day. I know the young lady to be a wonderful spirited girl, and to see her take on the mantle of Bridie with such a graceful poise was beautiful to see.
After the walk-through, I went with young Bridie and her mum back to her home. We took the Brigid Flame that would be alight for the whole night, placed it in her room and said a prayer to Brigid. R and I prepared a small bed and we left the crown that she would wear the next day in the bed, so that Bridie may enter.
My own daughter had taken on the role of Young Bridie for three years, from the age of 8 through to 11. It was such an honour for her to connect with this ancient nurturing power and has been a potent rite of passage for her. She feels a strong connection to the bright spirit of Brigid, the Celtic Goddess, and that connection serves her well.