Thursday, May 16, 2013

Down by the river

As today was the only day off I am going to get in a two week span, and seeing as the weather has decided to become May again, as opposed to the two day hit of January (complete with snow) we had in my area earlier in the week, it seemed like as good a time as any to head over to the Humber river and spend a little time there. I am fortunate enough to live in a city that while heavily urbanized, maintains a significant amount of green space, thanks in large part to the three large rivers which run down to the lake; the Rouge, The Don and the Humber.

I've always had a fascination, an inexplicable attraction even, to streams, creeks, rivers, pond, lakes and other bodies of water. Be it exploring the banks, fishing, swimming, canoeing, boating or a host of other activities, water and its surrounding geography holds a special, if nostalgic, place in my heart. Not surprisingly then I find that, beyond the altar found upon the hearth of my dwelling, rivers and their environs are the locus of my ritualistic activity. I have developed a mannerism that when ever crossing over a bridge, provided there is a river/stream beneath it, I give a short prayer. I have also written about my relationship with The Humber River before, and find that it is the first locale that springs to mind when I make offerings or prayers to the spirits of place.

The symbolic and ritualistic associations of water, again usually embodied by rivers, lakes and streams, found in Gaelic tradition is well attested to. This sacrality is based, in large part, by the liminal nature of the boundary between earth and sea, the shore (or bank). We find in the mythic literature that many of the interactions between the denizens of the sidhe and mortal folk occur on or near shorelines, beaches and river banks. Forming natural borders and in many cases barriers, rivers and fords also feature prominently in the narrative of the Tain bo Cuilagne, as the setting for the single combats upon which the story focuses. Archeological evidence also showcase waterways and their sacral nature as many ritual deposits (of coins, swords, jewelry, etc.) were found in these areas (both on the continent and some locations in Ireland).

Symbolically and metaphorically, rivers are most often associated with female deities, spirits or personages. Many of the dindshenchas which speak about the naming of rivers or lakes revolve around the activities of mythic women, such as Boann and Sionann, after whom the rivers Boyne and Shannon are held to be named. Rivers and streams have also traditionally been one of the locations of female labour, and many are familiar with the folklore surrounding the "washer woman at the ford" or bean nighe.

So I went to my usual ritual spot, just under a footbridge which cross over the river, and said a prayer followed by an offering of nine hazel nuts. Maybe I even got a little shade of imbas from the experience. While certainly not poetry by any means, it did inspire me to write this post.


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