Sunday, November 18, 2007

In the embrace of the serpent – Challis Well Gardens, Glastonbury

Friday November 9, 2007:

The cheerful song of an unknown bird interrupted my dreams and called me to the garden. I leapt from my narrow bed and stumbled towards the kettle. My companion sleeping in the room above had obviously not heard her alarm clock. It was past dawn. It was my birthday. We were at the Little St Michael’s Retreat House in Challis Well Gardens, Glastonbury, and we had a day and a new year to greet.

The cool morning air caressed still sleep-warmed cheeks as we moved in silence across the garden. At the well head, we sat in quiet prayer.

I moved through my life, reviewing its significant events, acknowledging and accepting who I was and letting go of the negative emotions.

There I was, the quiet new-born, caring for nothing, doing nothing, surrounded by a knot of worried doctors and family, puzzling over what was “wrong” with me. Labels diligently presented by the medics were robustly rejected by my fiercely proud mother.

Now, the cheerful little girl was dancing down the stairs playing her recorder happily, tumbling down head over heels, landing with a thump at the bottom, climbing to her feet and doing it all over again. There she was, on a dull day in the garden, face set with concentration, patting into shape carefully rounded mud-pies, making ready to throw at anything that stood still long enough.

In the dark, a bewildered child in red pyjamas cowered, peering anxiously for the light she could not see. Later an older girl wriggled away from unwanted touch, morosely filling her mouth with food. Still later, sullen and surly, the teenager retreated into her bedroom, finding solace dancing alone to the radio. Later still, she laughed with friends as she gyrated around a dark room, not caring who she smacked as she moved.

Scenes shifting and moving one upon the other showed the teenager peering at a world gone grey and misty, daunted for a moment then determinedly striding on. And the years rolled on and she pushed into places where she was not welcome and made them welcome her, took up causes, argued and sometimes won but never gave up except when her views changed.

Spinning now, the incidents became indistinct as themes flashed through my mind, politics, work, friends, lovers, and the goddess. And all the time, growing ever more insistent, the well called to me to “come down here, come down here!”

I could resist no longer. I climbed down into the cold, cold water. I could see nothing as I struck out into the darkness. Soon, I could hardly feel my limbs, but I swam doggedly along down tunnels almost filled with water so that my head grazed the ceiling. In time, my hands touched dry cool rock. I pulled myself out onto its flat top and sat, shivering in the darkness, for I was naked.

Moving round to make myself more comfortable, my feet touched something soft. A thick rough old blanket was folded neatly on the rock. I unfurled it and wrapped myself in its scratchy warmth.

Water dripped from the ceiling, a sharp breeze blew in from the right. I knew where I was but this time; I could not see the smiling face of Kwan Yin carved into the rock in front of me. Neither could I see the sharp outline of the curiously ancient-looking watching crane and the grey sea behind him. I sat hugging myself waiting.

Something moved across the rock. My flesh crept and I shrunk into the blankets. A heavy weight slid across my knees. Cautiously, I reached out and tentatively touched it. Warm and dry against my hand, the huge snake moved peaceably around me till I was enfolded in the circle of its length, with it draped about my shoulders, waist and hips in a gentle but firm embrace.

It was still. I was still, held in its courteous embrace, for it sought not to impose itself upon me in anyway other than to be there, disinterested but present. At any point, I could push it off and it would go.

And into my mind came the words:

“Serpent of heeling,
Bring what is hidden,
Into the light of a bright new day.”

The song echoed around the chamber. The serpent leaned heavily upon me as though to reinforce the sentiment. I felt held and safe.

I turned the kaleidoscope of my life and a quiet truth slipped in, almost unnoticed as I sat musing. I do not need to accept other people’s limiting beliefs about my capacities, no matter how they try to impose them upon me. This is their “stuff” not mine! If I apply this to the most difficult parts of my life, the parts that have driven the compulsions and self-loathing, I would find release.

Outside above the well head, a lone bird began to sing a mellifluous morning song. Gradually, she was joined by others until the whole garden above was alive. I didn’t want to move. I wanted to stay there in the dark, wrapped in my blanket, the water flowing about me, the serpent holding me. But the birds were insistent.

Carefully I began to remove the blanket. The serpent slid from my shoulders and down onto the rock. Then he was gone and I plunged into the icy water, striking hastily for the well shaft and the freshness of the morning.

I got up and walked slowly around the well head. The early morning breeze ruffled my hair. Silently I thanked the well and the serpent and the birds for their presence and made to move off.

We climbed to the highest point of the garden where the early November sun touched us gently with it’s warmth. The garden fell away beneath us and amongst the traffic hum in the distance a pneumatic drill shouldered it’s way into the day.

But my morning ceremony was not yet complete. The well bubbled down a series of channels into pools below us. WE climbed down and found the nearly empty healing pool. Undeterred we stripped off and climbed in for the spring water poured into it enough for us to wet our bodies, if not be totally immersed. WE rolled like puppies in it’s freezing flow, yelping and gasping at it’s coldness.

“Morning!” it shouted at our warm bodies, “wakey-wakey!”

Shivering, we climbed out and dressed hurriedly, scurried damply through the garden to long-promised warm showers and breakfast.


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