I Hear Water Dreaming …

by Melusine Draco

I love the sound of water – whether it’s rainfall; the soft gurgle of a woodland stream tripping over the stones in its bed; or the thunderous roar of a waterfall crashing onto rocks – the sensation is an assault on the senses.  The first two are the soothing, dreamy caress of Nature’s whispering; the third the dynamic power of Nature screaming out loud for the sheer hell of it, especially after a recent downpour.  Lakes, of course, aren’t known for their ‘voices’ but for those who stop and listen there is always the sound of  water lapping on the inland lake shore and the gentle wind blowing across the surface that periodically builds and then dies away, causes the reeds to rustle in its wake.  This sacred landscape is never silent.

Ovid’s Fasti, ‘There is a lake, girt with the dark wood of the valley of Aricia, sanctified by an ancient feeling of awe … There was a grove below the Aventine dark with the shade of holm-oaks, and when you saw it, you might say ‘there is a spirit there’ …

H C Hart [Climbing in the British Isles 1895] was much impressed by my local Lough Muskry, the largest freshwater lake in the Galtees, waxing lyrical and valedictory “… Still grander, however, are the cliffs above Lough Muskry. These tower to a height of about 1,200 ft in great terraces and vegetated walls above the north and north-east ends of the lake …  Lough Curra is the highest lake in the range that ‘frequently and inoffensively burps, giggling at its edges, where the lower, naked slopes of the Galtimoor have plunged their extremities … Things jump in the lake. Indiscernible. Could be fish, could be joy …’  And last but not least, there’s Muskry’s hidden little sister-lough of Farbreaga, that has been described by a hill-walker as ‘like having an out-of-body experience, especially when you add the dramatic conglomerate rock formations and the dizzying views down the shaded cliffs of the cwm to the frozen lake below’. On the flanks of these hills and on the mist-shrouded summits of the mountains, we find megalithic tombs, dolmens and stone forts that take us back to the dawn of pre-history.  And we might also still say: ‘There is a spirit here …’

Water was sacred in all primal cultures and every pool and spring was believed to have its own resident spirit.  Water, however, is rarely still and is ‘created’ by the global water cycle that draws moisture from the freshwater lakes and salty oceans in the form of evaporation.  It circulates on air currents as water vapour and condenses to form clouds. Most of this water precipitates back into the oceans, but some of it falls on the land as rain or snow and from there makes its way downhill to the sea.  It moves as rivers and glaciers, and it sinks into the soil and rocks in a great recirculation. Around and around the water has cycled for four-billion years, in trickle and torrent, all the while eroding and shaping the land.

In the 2008 UNESCO lecture – Water: Religion, Mythology, Art and Beauty – we are reminded that water plays a central role in many religions and beliefs around the world.  It is the source of life; represents rebirth and cleanses and purifies the body with these two qualities conferring a highly symbolic – even sacred – status to water.  Water is a key element in ceremonies and religious rites and often seen as a divine agency since ‘sacred’ water is never passive – because it is considered to have powers that can transform the world.  Rivers, rain, ponds, lakes and glaciers are some of the forms water may take when interpreted and incorporated into cultural and religious spheres.  It is seen as a living and spiritual matter, working as mediator between human and gods – and often represents the border between this and Otherworld.

The relationship of water to millions of humans is guided by tradition and belief rather than scientific learning because it unceasingly changes shape and transforms itself, therefore becoming the symbol of fertility that can be found in all myths and beliefs. Water is also seen as possessing medicinal virtues since some are credited as having miraculous healing powers.

A sacred spring, or holy well, is a small body of water emerging from underground and revered either in a religious or superstitious context, sometimes both. Sacred wells and springs are usually depicted as originating in the Otherworld – that parallel dimension whose inhabitants have the power to control the natural forces of this world. Such sacred water sources are also often linked to the fruit of certain trees, such as the hazel and alder, and groves of these trees would have created a nature temple around the spring.

The lore and mythology of ancient Greece was rich with sacred springs, among the most important bring, the Corycian – located on the slopes of Mount Parnassus; the Pierian – sacred to the Muses; and the Castalian at Delphi all of which are still associated with their ancient deities. Another deity may be found at the healing springs at Buxton where the name Aquae Arnemetiae means ‘the waters of the goddess who lived in the sacred grove’ – a concept that united two sacred Celtic concepts.

In medieval Europe, holy wells were usually pagan sacred sites that later became Christianized and the term ‘holy well’ is commonly employed to refer to any water source of limited size (i.e. not a lake or river, but including pools and natural springs) that has some significance in local folklore. This can take the form of a particular name, an associated legend, or the attribution of healing qualities to the water through the numinous presence of its guardian spirit or saint, or a ceremony or ritual, focusing on the well’s siting. 

Each spring, therefore, has its own patron often with its own genius loci – a protective spirit of place – and every place has its own unique qualities, not only in terms of its physical makeup, but of how it is perceived by a visitor. And this is what can give a place its own ambiance – an atmosphere that can send a shiver of fear along our spine, or an inexplicable sense of peace and well-being.  It should also be stressed, however, that the genius loci is under no obligation to make us welcome just because we label ourselves ‘pagan’ and see ourselves as simpatico with the Old Ways. In contemporary usage, genius loci usually refers to a location’s distinctive atmosphere, or a ‘spirit of place’, rather than necessarily a guardian spirit.  Therefore if our intention is not ethical or virtuous, then the protective spirit is within its rights to make us feel unwelcome in this sacred place.

It is not uncommon for a student to ask why they’ve experienced feelings of rejection or even malevolence in what they thought would be a haven of pagan tranquility – and can’t wait to get away from the place.  It seems cruel to suggest that the guardian took against a member of their party but this could be the simple truth.  It’s not a personal thing but it could be that one of the visitors was manifesting a certain kind of negative energy that the guardian found unacceptable.  Many have reported the same type of rejection when visiting ancient woodland and there’s nothing to be done about it other than to leave with as little fuss as possible and accept the guardian’s dismissal with good grace!  Persist and we may receive a sharp slap in rebuke for our presumptuousness.

Other holy wells are located in areas of natural beauty, often in groves of trees, in hollows in the landscape, at the edge of waysides, or at points where borders and boundaries run or meet.

A certain ritual, known as a ‘round’ or ‘station’ is performed in order to receive a requested favour or cure of a particular ailment. This involves particular prayers being said while walking around the well an odd number of times in the direction of the sun, and drinking or bathing in the waters at specific intervals. To complete the round, a rag, symbolising the ailment, is tied to the sacred ‘rag tree’ – usually an ash, hawthorn, holly, or oak. If the round is completed in reverse in the name of a third party, a curse is placed on that person, but worse consequences are reputed to befall the person who performs such an act if it is not deserved.  It is generally reported that the water from a holy well cannot be brought to boil, and the wood from its sacred tree cannot be made to burn. [Old Moore’s Almanack]

Further, for many wells the appropriate or most efficacious time of day for the visit was specified, with dawn or just before sunrise being the most usual, as was the direction of approach to the well and the direction and number of times of circumnambulation. One of the commonest stipulations was the need for silence, if not for the entire duration of the ritual or visit to the well then at least for a substantial part of it. Thus to obtain the healing of a particular well the patient may have to visit at dawn on Beltane morning, approach from the east and walk three times deosil around the well in silence before speaking the required words of prayer, drinking the water from the specified vessel and finally making the specified offerings. At wells where the patient had to arrive before or at dawn, it was almost universal that he had to have finished his business and be out of sight of the well before actual sunrise. Sometimes the patient had to wipe the afflicted part of the body with a rag dipped in the water, or arrive at the site with a rag bound round the relevant part of the body and the rag was subsequently hung on a nearby tree to rot. [White Dragon Magazine]

These practices represent such an integral part of our pagan heritage that it would be morally wrong for us to ignore the customs associated with the place … Nevertheless, an over-enthusiastic application of this tradition in scattered sites around Scotland, England and Ireland, and other places where the pagan roots still show through the modern landscape, we may catch a glimpse of a spooky sight: trees weighed down with rotting clothing and rags clustered around a spring. Known as ‘clootie wells’, this ritual dates back to Celtic belief in the cures of water spirits, and continues as a source of spiritual healing.

While the ritual varies around the different clootie wells – named for the Scottish word clootie referring to cloth – the principle is that by leaving a rag on the tree, before or after cleansing a tortured part of our body with it using water from the spring, we will receive some relief from illness or pain as the rag disintegrates in the forest. The sites were traditionally visited before sunrise, and on sacred festival days. The efficacy of such curing processes varied but might not be complete until the rags had completely deteriorated.

In some places, human hair, coins, whole items of children’s clothing, and other offerings join the ripped bits of fabric, sometimes marked with written messages. It’s considered very bad luck to take any of the offerings, although there’s been concern that the quantity of rags is hurting the trees and many have died as a result of the weight. Passing visitors, having no belief in the custom or of our pagan ways are despoiling these sacred sites by leaving their rubbish behind – and not in the spirit of offering!

Souterrain (from French sous terrain, meaning ‘under ground’) is a name given by archaeologists to a type of underground structure associated mainly with the European Atlantic Iron Age.  These structures appear to have been brought northwards from Gaul during the late Iron Age and played an important role in Elder Faith belief; often containing rude shallow stone basins that were believed to hold water.  The idea of the curative property of water contained in depressions in a rock was widespread – including that trapped in tree cavities or depressions where branches meet.

Generally speaking, however, it is well known that water has soothing effects and it is not surprising that meditation and water are considered a natural combination in the Buddhist tradition, where it is the symbol of serenity, purity, and clarity of thought. Calm, still, spring water becomes a mirror reflecting everything that surrounds it, and this helps as a guide to focus inward. Rippling lake water reflects on how moods affect actions and how those actions affect everything around; whereas a waterfall produces thunderous reverberations of an unrelenting force.

These images we can find in our own sacred landscapes – whether it be by the Chalice Well at Glastonbury, the glacial lakes of the Galtee Mountains, the Henrhyd woodland falls in the Brecon Beacons – or wherever we live in the world.  Take a moment to sit and listen and we, too, may hear the water dreaming in the sacred landscape … wherever kindred calls to kindred and blood calls to blood.

The belief in the sacredness of life-giving water and the sources of rivers, springs and wells extends from prehistory to the present day.  The sacred well or spring was an ancient concept firmly established long before the Celts and Christianity arrived in the British Isles and was so firmly entrenched in the indigenous mind that the Church felt it more provident to adopt the practice rather than make any attempt to suppress it. As a result the majority of those famous ‘holy wells’ in existence today were assigned an appropriate saint merely in order to strip away their earlier pagan associations.

We can chart the importance of water to our Ancestors simply by the incredible amount of precious artifacts that have been discovered in watery places.  Votive offerings are defined as ‘objects deposited, without the intention of recovery in a sacred place for broadly religious purposes in order to gain favour with supernatural forces’. These offerings have been described in historical Roman era and Greek sources, although similar acts continue into the present day, for example in traditional Catholic culture and, arguably, in the modern day practice of tossing coins into a wishing well or fountain. [The Deposition of Votive Offering in Watery Places]

In Europe votive deposits date to the Neolithic era, with polished axe hoards, reaching a peak in the late Bronze Age. High status artifacts such as swords and spearheads were more commonly cast into bodies of water or peat bogs, from where they could not possibly have been recovered. Often objects were broken, thereby ‘killing’ the objects to put them even further beyond utilitarian use before deposition, which is why the purposeful discarding of valuable items such as swords and spearheads is understood to have had ritual overtones. Numerous items have since been found in rivers, lakes and former wet-places by metal-detectorists, members of the public and archaeologists.

The pre-historian Richard Bradley makes a strong case in his book, A Passage of Arms, for seeing nearly all metal objects of this period found in lakes and rivers as being religious offerings, especially since many votive sites are associated with the remains of wooden platforms or causeways from which the offerings were thrown.  For example: several finds from the River Severn suggest that the river had a role in the prehistoric period as a place for votive offerings, since Bronze Age weapons have been dredged from the river at various locations near Worcester.  Not to mention …

‘The Sweet Track – an ancient causeway in the Somerset Levels that was constructed c.3807BC and is the second-oldest timber trackway discovered in the British Isles, dating to the Neolithic period. The track extended across the now largely drained marsh between what was then an island at and a ridge of high ground at Shapwick, a distance close to 1.2 miles. The track is one of a network that once crossed the Somerset Levels. Various artifacts and prehistoric finds, including a jadeitite ceremonial axe head, have been found in the peat bogs along its length.Wooden artefacts found at the site include paddles, a dish, arrow shafts, parts of four hazel bows, a throwing axe, yew pins, digging sticks, a mattock, a comb, toggles, and spoon fragment. Finds made from other materials, such as flint flakes, arrowheads, and a chipped flint axe (in mint condition) have also been made over time.’ [Water: A Spiritual Journey]

Similarly, at Flag Fen near Peterborough, Francis Pryor has excavated an extraordinary timber causeway and a massive quantity of Bronze Age and Iron Age weaponry. In the surrounding waters of Flag Fen votive offerings have been found, e.g., daggers broken in half placed on top of each other. This supports the theory that Flag Fen was a site involved in religious rites, as great wealth was being thrown into the water. One theory is that these were being given as votive offerings to the gods, to ask them to stop the environmental changes which were occurring around that time. Amongst the daggers and jewellery, there were a number of small, white beach pebbles. These were not natural to the local area which suggests that people travelled from afar to give offerings to their gods.

The Llyn Cerrig Bach excavation on Anglesey revealed a large votive hoard of Iron Age metalwork – swords, spears, chariot fittings, horse bridles, cauldrons, a trumpet, currency bars, animal bones and two sets of slave chains, all of which had been deposited over many years. Many of these items had also been deliberately broken. Some of the items appear to have been of local manufacture, but many originate from southern England, suggesting that the fame of Llyn Cerrig Bach as a holy site may have spread well beyond the immediate area; it is also possible that the items were traded, or plunder captured in warfare by the local tribes. Like Flag Fen, it is believed that there may have been a wooden causeway between a rock platform and a small island in the middle of the lake.

One of the most significant pieces of ancient Celtic military equipment found in Britain, the Battersea Shield is decorated in the typically La Tène style, consisting of circles and spirals. As a decorative piece it would not have been an effective shield in combat and, as it shows no signs of battle damage, it is believed that the shield was cast into the river as a votive offering (to stave off threat of Roman invasion perhaps?) and was never used in battle. The bronze shield inlaid with enamel dates from the beginning of the 1st c.AD, was discovered in the river Thames at Battersea (Middlesex).

In Ireland, many discoveries of this type have also been made in bogs. In the course of the 18th and 19th centuries, at least sixty-three types of swords, spearheads, gold bowls and gold dress-fasteners, dated 900-600 BC, were discovered in the Bog of Cullen. From the Bog of Dowris, an impressive 7th-century BC hoard of swords, chapes, spearheads, socketed axe-heads, knives and gouges, razors, buckets, cauldrons and horns, was dredged.

Similarly, on the Continent, a large assemblage of weaponry, jewellery, tools and perishable organic materials (dating from the 3rd century BC onwards), was retrieved from Lake Neuchâtel in Switzerland.  In Duchcov (Czech Republic), a huge 4th-century BC bronze cauldron containing about 2,500 La Tène jewels was discovered in a thermal spring called Obří pramen – ‘The Giant’s Spring’. The archaeological discoveries of hoards in lakes are all evidence in support of the accounts of the Greek geographer Strabo and the Roman historian Justinus, who relate that the Volcae Tectosages had flung a huge treasure composed of silver and gold into the Lake of Toulouse to appease the gods’ wrath. It was said that the Roman consul Quintus Servilius Caepio, who seized and plundered the city in 106AD and fished up the gold in the sacred lake, was doomed to a tragic end.

The deposition of votive offerings is attested in other watery places, too, and archaeological discoveries have shown that hoards were generally dropped at specific areas, such as fords. The only difference between river and lake/bog deposits is, as Aidan O’Sullivan explains, that ‘weaponry is dominant in rivers, while ceremonial items (cauldron, horns, gold) tend to be mostly found in bogs’. In Gaul, a significant number of Late Bronze Age swords were discovered in the River Loire, and numerous Iron Age spearheads and swords were recovered from the River Saône, more specifically at fords. From the River Thames in Britain, spearheads, swords, pieces of armour and defensive weapons have been dredged since the 19th century. These include the two Wandsworth shield bosses, dating to the 3rd-1st century BC; the 1st-century BC horned helmet and the bronze Battersea shield inlaid with enamel. Similarly, in Ireland, swords, dirks and rapiers, dating from the Bronze and Iron Ages, were found in the beds of the Rivers Shannon, Bann, Barrow and Érne at particular sites.

Archaeological studies have revealed that the deposition of these artifacts in these ‘wet places’ was a particularly widespread custom in the Bronze and Iron Ages. Aidan O’Sullivan, speaking of Ireland and Britain, shows that the Ages can be differentiated with regard to the evolution of the practice. ‘In the Middle Bronze Age, it was mainly weapons and tools, such as dirks, rapiers and axes, which were deposited in rivers. From the Late Bronze Age, the ritual phenomenon developed considerably: hoards of weapons, tools, personal ornaments and musical instruments were placed in watery places. In the Iron Age, the deposition of swords, spearheads, spear-butts, jewels, bronze cauldron and horse trappings predominated.’

What emerges from the comprehensive analysis by Richard Bradley in Passage of Arms is that the deposition of weaponry and personal ornaments in rivers, lakes and bogs is not meaningless and insignificant. The large number of artifacts consistently deposited in specific areas of rivers, lakes and bogs, from the Bronze Age onwards, shows that those items were not accidentally dropped or lost. This is all the more probable since many of the metal materials had been previously damaged or destroyed before being deposited. Destroying the weapons before offering them to the gods was a practice known from prehistory and especially during Celtic times.

But to return to the subject in hand, as Ian Bradley reminds us, ‘wells, springs, pools, lakes and rivers have been regarded as especially sacred sites, the dwelling places of deities, gateways to the next world and sources of healing and rejuvenation’ … so let’s go out and reconnect with these spirits of the landscape …

Waterfalls are commonly formed in the upper course of a river in steep mountains. Because of their landscape position, many waterfalls occur over bedrock fed by a small contributing area, so may be ephemeral and flow only during rainstorms or significant snowmelt. The further downstream, the more perennial a waterfall can be. Waterfalls can have a wide range of widths and depths.  At the base of most waterfalls the waters erode a plunge pool, which is enlarged by the scouring action of the rock fragments from the cliff face.

My first encounter with a ‘real’ waterfall was at the Rhine Falls while on a school trip to Switzerland in the late 1950s. The Falls were formed in the last ice age, approximately 14,000 to 17,000 years ago, by erosion-resistant rocks narrowing the riverbed. In 1840, author Mary Shelley had visited them while on a tour of Europe with her son and described her visit in a travel narrative that she published in 1844, Rambles in Germany and Italy: “A portion of the cataract arches over the lowest platform, and the spray fell thickly on us, as standing on it and looking up, we saw wave, and rock, and cloud, and the clear heavens through its glittering ever-moving veil. This was a new sight, exceeding anything I had ever before seen; however, not to be wet through, I was obliged quickly to tear myself away.”

Waterfalls are a favourite subject of artists and photographers alike. Discussing painting and literature, Brian J. Hudson points out that ‘the popularity of waterfalls appears to have grown considerably between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries [in] the period of the Grand Tour.’  The force of the water has a sense of energy often missing from streams or even rivers. So it’s hardly surprising that legends might spring up about these wonderful sites. And people love to visit them because they have amazed, terrified and beguiled mankind since the dawn of time. They’ve attracted lovers, explorers and treasure hunters for centuries … some of whom never made it home.

As Ian Bradley points out, however: ‘The religions of the Far East often combine veneration of specific water sites with a more general emphasis on water’s spiritual symbolism and message.  The Japanese make pilgrimages to waterfalls and gaze for hours at the unruffled surface of a temple pond.  This is because waterfalls are seen as places of spiritual power. On some levels, most people can sense this to be true and for those who really feel, waterfalls provide not just a sense of wonder, but a way to expand our own spirits. For the animist, given to direct perception of the spiritual world just beyond our everyday sight, waterfalls provide both personal proof and further opportunity to sense the world of the spirit. After all, animism is not about belief so much as experience.  It is a truism of the animist world that liminality brings a glimpse of what lies beyond the everyday. This, then, would help explain why waterfalls have such awesome power.

In the Japanese Shinto tradition, waterfalls are held as sacred and standing under them is believed to purify, since they often relate to a great release of emotion, rejuvenation and renewal of spirit. Misogi is the practice of ritual purification by washing the entire body and in Kyoto, people douse themselves under Kiyomizu Temple’s Otowa no taki (Sound-of-Wings) waterfall, although the majority of visitors drink from the waters rather than plunging into them! Every year, people take pilgrimages to sacred waterfalls, lakes and rivers, either alone or in small groups, to perform misogi. Mount Ontake, the Kii mountain range and Mount Yoshino are but a few examples of ancient and well known areas for misogi in Japan.

Misogi is also used in some forms of martial arts, especially aikido, to prepare the mind for training and to learn how to develop one’s energy centre. The founder of aikido, Morihei Ueshiba, regularly used this form of meditation to complement his training and search for perfection.  Participants enter the waterfall while continuously chanting the phrase harai tamae kiyome tamae rokkon shōjō –  asking the kami to wash away the impurity from the six elements that make up the human being, the five senses and the mind. In the foothills of Mt Ontake there are waterfalls under which the faithful may stand. A huge network of streams and rivers crisscross Otaki’s rugged landscape, and there are numerous waterfalls around the village. Kiyotaki and Shintaki Falls are the best known, and have been sacred places of purification for centuries. The currents that feed them flow from Mt. Ontake itself.

Takigyo, or waterfall purification, consists of standing beneath the falling flow. Both Kiyotaki and Shintaki falls are around 30 meters high. Traditionally, takigyo involved cleansing the mind of extraneous thought to enhancing the clarity of meditation. It also held symbolic value as a kind of mountain ‘baptism’, joining the dusty village below to the pristine heights. In the old days pilgrims could only begin climbing Mt. Ontake after 100 days of austerities at the falls, accompanied by the appropriate rituals and long periods of meditation. These days, the practitioners of Ontake-san’s mountain faith still visit the falls for their rituals, if for shorter periods.

Shintaki drops down from a height in a concentrated jet, in front of a dark cave full of inscribed stones.  The force of the water on the bare head of the believer is stunning.  Three Heart Sutras, I was told, is the longest anyone may stand it … Every season has its own draw.  In spring the falls thunder with melt-water from the mountain. Particularly in the summertime, don’t be surprised if you encounter groups of white-clad pilgrims performing austerities. You’ll hear them chanting their incantations as you approach.  Autumn is gorgeous with the colours of the changing leaves, and in the winter, enormous ice pillars form. Visit the waterfalls at night during this time to see them lit up in their ice-palace splendor. [The Catalpa Bow]

Lakes with a more magical nature are often those with a more immediate mystique that are deeply engrained in the culture and folklore of a local people rather than a national psyche.  One instance immediately springs to mind.  The road to reach Llyn y Fan Fach may be bumpy, and the walk up to the ridge slightly steep, but what a view over this magnificent body of water, overlooked by the majestic Black Mountain, once we reach the summit of Picws Du in the Brecon Beacons! The glacial lake is the subject of a myth told in the medieval Mabinogion collection. An enchanted lady is said to have arisen from the lake and gone on to marry a local farmer, only for their marriage to be thwarted by magic and misunderstanding. The heroine fled back to her lake and the farmer had to bring up his three sons alone; the trio went on to become great healers known today as the Physicians of Myddfai …

In all truthfulness, water spirits are not the most ‘people friendly’ of entities and although encounters with them can be highly enriching, they can also be downright dangerous. A water spirit is a kind of supernatural being found in the myth and folklore of many cultures: and water is the greatest shape-shifter known in this dimension; many use its magical properties to perform miraculous effects.  In Welsh folklore the Gwragedd Annwn are beautiful female faerie who live beneath lakes and rivers and are counted among the Tylwyth Teg or Welsh faere folk.  The legend of Llyn y Fan demonstrates the beneficial elements of dealing with such creatures – providing the rules are observed!

Archetypically for late medieval narrative, while out hunting in the forests (typically sites for magical encounters in faerie stories), Raymond, Count of Poitou, meets Mélusine sitting beside a fountain.  In discovering her by a water-source, should have suggested a connection between her and Otherworld but Raymond is so taken by her beauty and her amiable manners, he falls totally in love. Mélusine agrees to marry him, but on the condition he vows not to attempt to see her on Saturday when she goes into seclusion.   

With such ambivalence about Mélusine’s background and her activities on a Saturday tensions arose, possibly suspicions of infidelity were planted in Raymond’s mind. Ultimately he was overcome with curiosity and, spying through the keyhole, witnesses his wife’s metamorphosis as her lower body took on serpentine qualities.  Another bone of contention with the Count’s kinsmen focused on the fact that she attended church infrequently, and always left before the Mass. One day he had four of his men forcibly restrain her as she rose to leave the church. Mélusine evaded the men and clasping the two youngest of her sons and in full view of the congregation, carried them up into the air and out of the church through its highest window.

The chronicler Gerald of Wales reported that Richard I of England was fond of telling this tale – according to which he was a descendant of Mélusine. The Angevin legend told that the Count had not troubled to find out about her origins but after bearing him four sons, his wife’s behaviour began to trouble him. Mélusine and her younger sons were never seen again but one of the remaining was the ancestor, it was claimed, of the later Counts of Anjou and the Plantagenet Kings of England. Referring to this story, St Bernard once said of Henry Plantagenet and his race: ‘From the devil they came, to the devil they will go’.

It’s probably a human’s capability of drowning itself in two inches of water (enough to cover the mouth and nostrils) that had led to claims of supernatural deaths around natural expanses of water – particularly when it comes to children.  In Greek mythology, the Naiads are a type of female spirit, or nymph, presiding over fountains, wells, springs, streams, brooks and other bodies of fresh water.  The water nymph, associated with particular springs, was known all through Europe in places with no direct connection with Greece and surviving in the Celtic wells of northwest Europe that have since been rededicated to saints.

This is an extract from the limited title currently in preparation – Inner Court Witchcraft – by Melusine Draco as a companion volume to Round About the Cauldron Go … by Phillip Wright and Carrie West.

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