Ascension Thursday

Ascension Thursday is one of the oldest festivals in the Catholic Church, having been celebrated since 68 AD. Water is the primary element of this holy day, celebrated on May 29 in 2014.

The Armenians believe that on Ascension Eve, stones, stars and other soulless objects are said to receive the gift of speech and to share each other’s secrets. And in Poland, “the dragon who guards hidden treasures throughout the night, exposes them to view on Ascension, when he sets them out to air.” The sun is said to dance on this day when it rises.

In Armenia, girls tell their fortunes from tokens thrown into a bowl of water drawn from seven springs. All brooks and springs are said to be filled with healing power at midnight. If you don’t want to visit your local body of water at midnight, you might just put out a container and hope it rains since any water that falls from the skies on this day can also heal. In a somewhat related vein, in Sweden, a person who fishes from dawn until night on the Ascension will learn the hour when the fish bite best and be lucky in her angling all year.

In Greece, Ascension Day is considered the start of the swimming season. In Venice, the Doge used to wed the sea on this day by throwing in a wedding ring and some holy water. In Tissington, Derbyshire, wells are decorated on this day. In Nantwich, they bless the Brine, a very old pit, which is visited and hung with garlands. These customs seem to hark back to an old rite propitiating the spirit of the well (or the ocean).

In the early 19th century, the Halliwell (Holy Well) Wake was held on this day in the hamlet of Rorrington on the Shropshire/Wales border. The local people met at the holy well on the hillside at Rorrington Green and decorated with well with green boughs, flowers and rushes. A maypole was erected. While a fife, drum and fiddle played, the people danced and frolicked around the hill, followed by feasting, drinking and more dancing.

In Italy, Ascension is called La Festa del Grillo, the outdoor festival of crickets. People spend the day outdoors, reclining under the shade of trees, feasting on picnic and BBQ foods. Kids look for crickets, true symbols of spring, poking a piece of grass into their holes to lure them into cages already prepared with a piece of lettuce at the bottom. Nowadays the crickets are sold in pretty painted cages.

According to Toor, the Etruscans called the cricket scarabeus and honored it. The Greeks and Romans connected its chirping to the muses and music. The Greeks and Etruscans believed that the longer the confined grillo lived, the longer the life of its owner. The murals of Pompei depict tiny grillo cages made of reed. In Florence, they say that a singing grillo brings good luck. Freeing them also brings good luck. Children sing a song to their caged grillos (which reminds me of the American lady bug song):

Grillo, mio Grillo                    Cricket, my Cricket,
Se tu vo’ moglie dillo!              If you want a wife say so!
Se poi t’un la voi,                     If later you repent
Abbada a’ fatti tuoi!                 Then hold your peace!

References

Field, Carol, Celebrating Italy, William Morrow 1990
Hole, Christina, A Dictionary of British Folk Customs, Paladin 1978
Spicer, Dorothy Gladys, The Book of Festivals, The Woman’s Press 1937
Toor, Frances, Festivals and Folkways of Italy, Crown 1953
First published on May 14, 2012
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Healing Waters

Hot Spring at Breitenbush

Hot Spring at Breitenbush

After two weeks of reflection, I don’t think the huge headache I developed after the Herbal Conference at Breitenbush was due solely to caffeine withdrawal (maybe I’m in denial here). It might have been part of a healing process sparked by some of the workshops I attended. I’ve come up with this theory because I started dreaming again, within days of returning from the conference, and I haven’t had a really remarkable dream for years.

These dreams have been both vivid and significant. In one, my father (who died over 25 years ago) was being healed. He was lying on a beach and healer was painting his face with reddish pigment. A huge green wave came and washed over his body as I watched. In another dream, I was with my family and we were trying to escape a tidal wave by jumping into and floating around in the large lake in back of our house. The water was warm and green in color.

Both of these dreams emphasized water. Breitenbush is famous for its healing hot springs. And at the conference, I attended a workshop on Spiritual Bathing led by Rosita Arvigo who was trained by a Mayan shaman in Belize. She spoke about some of the conditions that require healing in that culture, conditions we might consider emotionally based, like fright or envy or grief. Then she created a florecida (a floral water) by placing herbs and flowers in a bowl of water and squeezing them with her fingers, while reciting this prayer she learned from Don Elijio Panti, a Mayan shaman with whom she studied:

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, I give thanks to the spirit of this plant and I have faith with all my heart that you will help me to make a healing, purifying bath for [person].

She also called on the Blessed Virgin Mary and Ix Chel, the Mayan goddess of the moon, water and healing. She told us we could use any deity we wanted, though it was important to call on a deity as the power to heal came through this connection with the divine. We could use any flowers or herbs we liked in creating a bath for ourselves, but we should choose a significant number, for instance, 9 sprigs of each plant, and non-toxic plants or flowers, especially those that evoke certain qualities.

She worked the plants with her fingers until they had discharged their qualities into the water—it should be a greenish color, and, since she used some mallow family flowers, it was also slimy.Normally she would let this sit out in the sun for several hours but since we were doing a one-hour workshop, she walked around the room and asperged us, that is, sprinkled us with this special floral water, using a branch of cedar. I definitely felt the clearing energy of the water as she sprinkled it around my head, and I noticed the atmosphere of the room change as well, as she went around, asperging everyone.

But I don’t think I realized how profoundly this affected me until I began dreaming in the days that followed. After reading through Spiritual Bathing, the book of water rituals compiled by Rosita Arvigo and Nadine Epstein, I noticed that green water was mentioned in descriptions of certain rituals, including the preparation of agua de florida, used in Ayauasca ceremonies. Rosita also mentions the green color of the florecidas prepared by Julia Riveras during a workshop on the Amazon.

If you are looking for an overview of spiritual bathing traditions from all over the world, Spiritual Bathing is a good place to start. The book is beautiful, full of wonderful photographs but the coverage is a bit shallow. We get only the most general discussion, a page or two for each culture from Rome to India, Russia to Turkey, Japan to Peru. And the suggested rituals, though intriguing (I will try several of them), don’t seem traditional but rather adapted for modern American readers. I think this probably the nature of any glossy coffee-table book. One of the aspects of the book I enjoyed most were personal accounts of spiritual bath experiences from the two authors.

But if you want a really engaging, personal account of baths all over the world, I recommend Alexia Brue’s travel memoir: Cathedrals of the Flesh: My Search for the Perfect Bath, which details her trips around the world, searching for the perfect bath. However, she is more interested in the culture of the bath than the spiritual aspects of it.

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