After seven days off sick, I’m finally feeling semi-human again.
I’ve been thinking about elements. During the trip to England we visited a number of places which were ruled by the old alchemical elements in quite clear ways:
At Glastonbury we climbed the tor to the empty and ruined church tower on top, where we were battered by winds so strong that we could lean out of the tower doorway at an angle, supported by the wind. At the bronze circular map placed at the end of the curiously shaped top of the tor I stood with my arms out, feeling almost as if I was on a hilltop ship cutting through the ocean of the English countryside.
At Men an Tol in Cornwall, after years wanting to visit this wonderful site, at last I climbed through the holed stone. Passing through stone has been associated with transformation for centuries. It’s my belief that our neolithic ancestors used the chambered cairns and barrows for liminal initiation rites, and that the ceremonies included remaining inside the earth among the ancestors through the night. Passing through the stone acknowledges our debt to the earth and our ancestors.
In Bath we went to the hot springs that the Romans named Aquae Sulis. The ruins of the Roman baths were excavated by the Edwardians then used until the middle of the twentieth century. The Celts had thought the hot springs were sacred to the goddess Sul, who the Romans equated with Minerva, and offerings to the goddess continued to be made well into the Roman period. In our time visitors to the Roman Baths throw their change into the pool and in the famous Assembly rooms drink the spring water continuing the traditions followed for thousands of years.
We didn’t have any direct experience of fire in its simple state during this trip, although this apparent absence caused me to think about what the element is really about. Fire is light: pure energy, the first thing. In his Utriesque Cosmi Historia the alchemist Fludd wrote “it is said that God is a consuming fire, so subtle, penetrating and effective that no mortal can behold it in its essence and live”. We can catch a glimpse of the purity of that divine fire in the light of the sun as it rises, or as light passes through stained glass, or in the rainbow. Perhaps when God breathes into the clay in the Genesis story to bring Adam into being, the divine breath is like fire; the spark of life. If so, we experience the element of fire every day, simply by living, by seeing what light reveals to us, feeling the heat of the sun.