Friday, May 21, 2021

Night Travels with a Celtic Gatekeeper


From my pre-pandemic travel journals

After more than twenty hours of travel by plane and coach, followed by dinner with conference staff, I was ready for bed when I got to my room in Pratt's hotel on South Parade in Bath. The room was charming, as is the Georgian city, but the night was very far from still. Raucous, sometimes feral, bands of drunken youths ranged the streets, howling and squalling, even in front of the seeimingly dormant police station a block away on Manvers street. The packs were often fifteen or twenty strong.-

The noise did not abate until 4 a.m. Some of the drunks were no doubt students who had not learned to hold their grog (or to kick it) since Bath is essentially a city of universities and retirees; others looked very lumpen, unlikely material for any academy. I wondered if there were some holes in the otherwise elegant city's sewers and drains through which unpleasant creatures of the Netherworld spewed forth after dark. 

Despite the racket, I drifted off for a time, then surfaced in that liminal hypnopompoic state that is a promising place for visions. At last Bath seemed to be blessedly quiet. In my second body, I drifted to the window and looked out. 

My window looked down on Duke Street. I was fascinated to observe, in this depth of night, that a semi-circle of figures were gathered on the pavement, looking up at my window. They were dressed in the garments of many different periods. There was a woman with flaming red tresses I knew to be a priestess from the time when a fierce ancient Celtic goddess, Sulis, was worshipped in association with the famous thermal waters of Bath, long before anyone thought of bathing in them in the way that became fashionable for Romans and Georgians in their contrasting modes. There were Romans in togas, and in the armor of a centurion. There was a Regency dandy in tailcoat, high collar and exorbitant stock and top hat. There were figures from the time of the Great War, and of World War II, and from quite recent times. And I knew that I was in the presence of the dead. 

Drawn by curiosity, I had drifted through the window and down among them. I realized it might not be a good idea to have unfiltered contact with these local spirits., especailly since some of them might have contributed to the disorder of the human rat-packs that had bothered me earlier. 

I felt the need for a guardian. He was there before I reached for him, standing at my left shoulder, a tall, strapping figure with a great mane of hair. He held a long-handled hammer, something like a croquet mallet, balanced against his left shoulder. I knew his name, because many years ago, in a time when I needed to re-set and maintain psychic boundaries, I had dreamed repeatedly of carrying a similar weapon as I parolled the borders of my property. The recurring dream symbol has prompted me to do some research, and I came up with images and inscriptions relating a Celtic god named Sucellos in Gaul. In Gaulish, "Su-cellos" means the "Good Striker". He seemed like the very image of the right gatekeeper in this environment, especially since he als has an association with beer and is sometimes depicted carrying what may be a beer pot. 

I now felt confident that I could safely engage with some of the ghostly figures on Duke Steet. The red haired priestess took me into a time long before the Roman baths, when the waters bubbled and steamed, unconfined, in a swampy landscape. I did not enter those waters; this, it seemed was not how they were used. 

This was the proscenium to some more dramatic episodes, in the hours before dawn, when I journeyed deeper into what lies beneath the stone and asphalt of Bath Spa. On such explorations, it is always a good idea to take along a friend with a big stick.

Bath Spa, Somerset  February 19, 2011



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