Each year, at the end of January, we remove the hazel bower that nestles in a chamber inside The White Spring and go about building a new one for the coming year. This is necessary because, after a year in the damp and darkness, the bower has deteriorated. It is clear it will not last very much longer, small branches snap off and it begins to smell, earthy and mouldy. A fresh bower, to house the perpetual flame and the Brigid shrine, is re-built ready for our Imbolc celebrations. It brings a vibrancy into the temple, a feeling as fresh and crisp as the very first snowdrops.
Yet there is another reason we renew the bower, and that is to maintain a living temple in this spot. To bring our awareness to the seasons of death and life and consciously take part in this constant flow of nature. Witnessing entropy giving way to life, and life giving way to entropy, one following the other through the year in perfect harmony.
Usually I have a small team working together to remove the Brigid bower and clean the chamber ready for the new structure, but this year it took me by surprise. I went to the White Spring, intending to take an hour to just sit and soak up the atmosphere, to gather my thoughts about the upcoming ceremony and to take some time for myself. I lit just a few candles and sat in the bower. I tried to be still, to contemplate where we are in the year and to ponder on the relevance of the seasonal tides and their reflections in my own life.
Of course, although I could sit still for a short while, my eyes wandered; drawn to the little things that visitors may not notice, but as a keeper, I cannot fail to. The little drips of candle wax down the wall, the few rotten leaves fallen from last weeks flower offerings, the picture needing a wipe down, dull candlesticks, and on and on. The inevitable list of jobs to be done in the next few days unfurled in my mind.
Sometimes I wonder about my attachment to duty or service, it can give me little room to just receive. I am always seeing the next thing that needs to be done, the next project that is unfolding, the tasks needed to care for this place. It is a skill to put all that aside and simply ‘dwell in the house of the waters’. Nevertheless, I do have moments of pure peace and sanctuary there, it brings me many blessings and it is always there for me in times of need. Clearly, my need on this day was to be physical.
Suddenly I was compelled to ‘Get it done!’ It was as if the words and the compulsion had come from outside of me. Just get it done. So I did. I carefully carried the lantern holding the bright flame over to the seasonal alter in the south-west of the building, moved the rocks that secured the arched doorway to the shrine and took out the wooden benches so that the chamber was empty apart from the whale like structure.
Then I spied a whole host of delicate long-stemmed mushrooms that had grown from the brick work under the benches. I looked closer to see that they had marched right along the floor and were growing from the stone walls. Deep in entropy, life was thriving. I got down on my hands and knees and traced the pattern of mushrooms, delighted by their wanderings, evoking a feeling of fairy magic, so often present here.
With that magic singing inside me I started to respectfully take the ribbons, prayers and offerings that had been tied to the bower. I put them all together in a bowl and sat them on the wall in front of the large central pool with a blessing.
Then, by candlelight, I began to take down the structure – I pulled at the door frame and the whole thing collapsed onto one side of the chamber. As I took out the central spine it dragged all the branches together into a neat pile. All I needed to do was to break the branches into manageable lengths and take them outside. I had thought that I would be only making a start, that I would break it down into a pile of wood and then take it out with help later in the day. However, the task was effortless and I managed to get much farther into it than I could have imagined. In fact in less than two hours I managed to remove the whole structure, taking bundle after bundle of broken hazel branches outside into the courtyard. I swept up all of the twigs and washed down the whole area, taking care to leave a few of the delicate mushrooms still growing on the wall.
Work done I stood back in amazement. There is no doubt in my mind that I must have had otherworldly helpers. It was remarkable that the branches fell into a tidy pile instead of a messy tangle, that it seemed effortless to take it all outside, and even more remarkable, that there were no visitors expecting a chat, no-one came in to tell their story or to ask me about the story of the White Spring or what I was doing.
I stood there in the now empty chamber and it evoked a feeling of the bareness of the land, the stillness embracing me and making me ready to receive the new. Reflecting nature, the first stirrings of life ready to push forth. Nothingness awaiting manifestation.
I put out the candles and stayed in the darkness with the doors closed; my private moment of sanctuary, and I sang. ‘I rise, like the morning star, eager to begin the new day … I shine, with the golden light from the sun.’
There are many ways to pray, many ways to find your centre and feel the wonder of life and to realise peace and harmony within oneself. Some of the most potent prayers I have found are those combined with physical activity. Sweeping the floors, cleaning the wax drippings, lighting the candles, breaking down the old making way for the new – so very powerful when undertaken prayerfully with clear intent.