This article appeared in Oak Leaves issue no. 35 - Winter 2006
A Druidic Baptism?
--- By Rev. Kirk Thomas
Last May, at the Desert Magic Festival, I was privileged to receive a tarot reading from Meredith McDonald, the Chief of the Seers Guild. I have had readings from her before, using tarot, runes and ogham, and they have usually turned out to be quite prescient. This time would be no exception.
But first, let me mention a series of postings I and others made on our religion e-list at ADF-RELIGION@LISTS.ADF.ORG . It had occurred to me that I had been baptized in a Christian church as a baby, and that the result of this baptism could be that I had been magically marked as a Christian, functioning in that paradigm whether I wanted to or not. Now, I don't know if this is true or not, but the thought did bother me, and so I posted to that list, asking for opinions on how this magical marking might be removed. There were a number of interesting ideas that came out of that conversation, and I decided that I would write a ritual one day to see it done.
And promptly forgot all about it.
Meredith knew that I would soon be heading off to Wales for a two-week intensive course in Welsh, and that I would have some free time while there. During the reading, she suddenly got an odd look on her face and said, “Kirk, I see water; water in Wales . There's something to do with water.” “Really?” I said. “What do you mean?” She replied, “I see you in water while you're there. You need to get into water.” “Get into water?” I said. “Do you mean, like, splash my face in some water?” “No!” she insisted. “You need to actually get into water while you're there. Immerse yourself.” “Immerse myself! Do you mean total immersion?” “Yes,” she replied, “total immersion.”
The only image I had in my head was taking off my clothes in front of the Gods and everybody and wading into the river Towy; into the cold river Towy. Fat chance!
And so I pushed the idea out of my mind. Later, while driving around Wales just before my course was to begin, I remembered her vision. “Well,” I thought, “I'm almost out of time to get wet!” I do trust Meredith's visions, though, so I kept my eyes open, hoping to spot an opportunity to jump into water, but nothing appeared. I hate to admit it, but I was actually relieved.
Towards the end of the first week of my Welsh course, however, one of the other students showed me a new translation of the Mabinogi by John Bollard. This edition was full of photos of many places mentioned in the tales. This student drew my attention to a photo of the Ffynone falls and pool on the river Dulas in Pembrokeshire. According to the book, these falls were locally reputed to be an entrance to the Underworld.
I felt like I'd just been hit by lightning. This was the place where I was supposed to go and get wet! If I could find it.
That Saturday was a day off, so one of my classmates, Evy, and I drove off to find wonderful sites to visit, with Ffynone burning in the back of my mind. After visiting castles and chapels and holy wells, it came time to try and find the falls. I had found the river Dulas on the map and we drove all around it, on both sides, but found nothing and were ready to give up. Just then, Evy said that she had found another river Dulas on the map some miles away. I glanced over to see her finger on the map, and there, to the right of her finger was the place name, Ffynone.
Eureka ! So we retraced our steps and finally drove into the woods near to where this waterfall had to be. “Now what”, we wondered. An elderly couple walking on the road told us of a path that seemed to go in the right direction, so we parked and took the path. I could hear a waterfall! We hurried along only to discover that the falls were part of a very modern dam. There was a small lake and a house beyond the dam.
I was very dejected. It was getting late, and it seemed like we had come to a dead end. Then Evy suggested that we go back to a pub we had passed on the way there and ask someone.
Heck, I'm a man , for heaven sakes. Men don't ask for directions! But that was the only way I'd ever find the place.
There was an old Welshman sitting at the bar in the pub. He was obviously three sheets to the wind (and probably always was, from the look of his nose) but he was happy to talk. With some prodding, we found out that the falls and pool were just past that house on the lake we had seen!
And sure enough, they were. It was getting on to eight o'clock and the light was beginning to dim. And there was no one else around. So I stripped off my clothes and waded into the pool.
Yikes! That water was cold ! Going in deeper than my crotch was especially shocking. I got in as deep as my waist, held my breath, and submerged. Aaarrrgggghhh! When I surfaced, Evy told me that her camera hadn't worked. I wanted a picture of me emerging from under the water, to prove to Meredith that I had actually done this, so when Evy was ready, I submerged once more. Again, Aaarrrgggghhh! I quickly climbed out of the water and got dressed.
But Evy looked grim. Apparently the flash on her camera had failed, or something. So off came my clothes and back into the water I went. Though I was getting numb from the waist down, things were also starting to ache. I submerged for the third and final time.
Just as I surfaced, Evy pointed up at a tree and shouted, “Look at that!” There, carved into the surface of the tree was a Green Man face that looked as though He were watching over us. Modern Pagans used this place!
And that's when it hit me. In my surprise I no longer felt my aching whatevers, or even noticed the cold.
This was my Pagan baptism. This three-fold immersion was what my soul had been wanting all this time. I felt joyful and completely at peace. With tears streaming down my face, I launched into a lusty rendition of “Hail All the Gods” as I drank in the sanctity of this place.
In some profound way, I felt that I had come home.
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