At the Nine Fold Festival last year, I had the pleasure of presenting my lecture “Cult of the Sacred Springs and Holy Wells”. After the class I spoke with Gaia Woolf-Nightingall. She excitedly told me a story about how many years before she had found a well. I knew that this story was full of magic and synchronicity and when I decided to start interviewing other Well Maiden and Water Priestess’, I knew that I wanted to interview Gaia and get her story out there. Below is the interview, a recounting of her story and how years ago she was a Girl that found a Sacred Well
Who are you and how do you practice?
My name is Gaia Woolf-Nightingall. I am an initiate of the Reclaiming Feri tradition and also a member of The Sisterhood of Avalon and I identify as a Priestess of the Elements. I trained for many years in the UK with my Feri and Reclaiming teachers and was an organizer of Avalon Reclaiming Witchcamp, which was held yearly near the old town of Glastonbury in Somerset County, Southern England.
Glastonbury is a region that holds deep spiritual significance to the people of the British Isles. It is a land of myth and legend, and is the location of the sacred Red spring known as Chalice well and the White spring.
What is your path? And how does it relate to your Water caretaking?
I have always been drawn to the elemental forces that have woven our world into being; Air, Fire, Water and Earth. These energetic elemental forces have been constant companions throughout my life, but for much of my younger life I was not aware of the practice of elemental magic. I would as a child often find myself asking the wind to guide me to where I needed to be, And then I would watch the trees, as they swayed in the rush of wind, that would accompany my request and follow the direction they moved in until I reached my destination.
It always felt natural to trust in the elements. Water called to me in a particularly strong manner. Perhaps it is because I was born under the auspices of a Piscean sun.
Or perhaps it is because it is an element that dares to bare its soul, and gives freely of its emotive voice and this I respect. Water is the lifeblood of the Earth, it carries with it a fertile hope that brings life and opportunity to every corner that it touches. Water is strong and wise, patiently water finds its course, creatively transforming the vessel that contains it. Compassion, understanding and imagination are its magical tools. Water can absorb energy and transform it, Water can cleanse our bodies and hearts. Water knows that there are many channels that it can take from its mountain source, and no matter how different each one is, each will lead to the same destination.
Please introduce us to your Sacred Body of Water.
My sacred body of water is a natural Spring located in a deeply wooded ancient river valley, which floods with fragrant wild garlic every Springtime. The spring is centered in the ruin of an old church yard which the woodland reclaimed as a temple to the Goddess long ago. The woodland is named Bishop’s Wood and is located near Caswell bay on the Gower approximately six miles from Swansea South Wales.
The tree canopy surrounding the natural spring floods the forest floor with dappled sunlight in the waking months after the winter and in the Summertime pointed shafts of white light pierce through a proud cathedral roof of beech leaves. In the depths of winter the silver bare branches of the trees stand guard over the wind swept sight. The Spring flows gently from the base of a small hill and at some point in its long history was lined with grey stone tablet pieces, which create a marked passageway leading to the water’s source above ground.
The water itself is clear and cold, having been filtered through the ancient limestone bedrock beneath, which was raised up from the ocean floor many millennia ago.
There is poetry in the cycle that brings rainwater to the land, where it falls and filters through rocks, that were once under the very same ocean, that the clouds sourced there rainwater from. A constant reciprocity between land and sea.
What Spirits dwell here?
The spirits that dwell at this sacred site, are very protective of the waters and of the woodland itself, and appear to call for acknowledgement from the people of the land. I believe that this is the reason I found the spring in the Winter of 1992.
What brought you to this sacred water place?
That Winter was my third in Swansea, South Wales, I had arrived there three seasons before as fresh faced eighteen year old, excited and terrified all at once to be beginning my University adventure. One of the first people I met there was a fellow student named Fionnuala. We became firm friends and it was she who called to my student house in the local fishing village of Mumbles one blustery winter’s night. The unusual element at the time was that I had, the night before, had a dream about her visit. In the dream she had asked me to come stay with her in her Chalet, a small wooden house in the woods build at the turn of the 20th century for Victorian ladies and gentlemen to holiday and sea bath in Caswell Bay during the Summer months. This was the fashion at the time as sea water was purported to be a cure for all ills.
I had never stayed with Fionnuala before, in my dream however I had seen the little wooden chalet in great detail. In my dreamtime I saw running next to the chalet winding off into the distance a small stream which led to a natural spring. At the head of the spring was a gnarly old tree and as I drew closer to the Spring suddenly from within the tree sprang a black figure which loomed out towards me. This startled me from my dream and I awoke perspiring and quite alarmed! As Fionnuala sat with me in my lounge I recounted the tale.
She thought this was very interesting, especially as she had actually come to ask me to stay with her in the woods for a few days. She was having issues with a male neighbour and needed some safe company and had thought of me. Intrigued and also wanting to help my friend, I packed some clothes and we headed off together to the woods.
When I arrived in the woodland chalet community which was named Owensfield, I was stunned to realise that the Chalet was the exact image of the one in my dream.Excitedly and with a little apprehension I inquired about the stream and Natural Spring. However according to Fionnuala’s knowledge of the area there was no stream or Spring there about.
I was disappointed, but we decided that it would be interesting to ask some of the long term local residents of the chalets, about the geological history of the area. No one we asked seemed to know of any water features around the area except for Caswell Bay.
Fionnuala and I were about to give up on the idea and accept it as figment of my vivid imagination, when, a chalet resident that we were visiting named Rob, explained that actually a river did run through the valley, but it had retreated underground many moons ago into the limestone bedrock below. And it did indeed emerge at the somewhat neglected site of a ruined ancient church. He pointed us in the right direction and hurriedly we walked through the woods.
As we journeyed we walked into a large bowl shaped site crowned with a cathedral dome of living trees and as we did, we felt a palpable change in the atmosphere.
Growing at a myriad of strange angles around an old ruin where the guardians of the land. Tall stately Beech trees, with an undergrowth of twisted branching Hazel trees.
We searched the area for some time, until I trod in a patch of very wet ground. Following the flow of water on a slight upwards gradient we came across an opening in the ground, it was surrounded by grey stone tablets, which were partially hidden by thick bramble overgrowth.
At the head of this Natural Spring, curling up from the ground was an old and very distinguished looking Elder tree. I was taken aback! And could feel the energy of the Spring instantly. It felt like there was a pulse, radiating out from the water shead. I was a little scared, and unsure of what I was supposed to do.
I decided to do what felt right in the moment, and felt called to clear away the undergrowth around the Spring. As I did so, the energy lightened and I began to feel easy and relaxed. I decided to make an offering to the tree and so I ripped a piece of material from my clothing and tied it around one of its lower branches that was hanging directly over the Spring head and as I did I thanked the spirit of the tree for bringing me to this beautiful place.
Now as is the case with any tale, news of Fionnualas and my discovery spread.
The land itself was owned by a wonderful local man who had preserved the site as it was, but once news spread of how Fionnuala and I found the place, more and more people came, they began sampling the water and spreading the news.
Several years later when I returned for a pilgrimage to the Spring I discovered that the Elder tree was full of ribbons and the Spring was clear and flowing freely, the feeling around the Spring was joyful.
My belief is that the Feri spirit of the Elder tree was the guardian of the Spring. It owned a very ancient energy, with which it reached out to me in my dreams. The communication was difficult, as is always the case when those who speak different languages try to communicate for the first time. However once I opened myself up to the possibility that what I had experienced, was spirit from a different realm trying to reach out to me, and then gave myself over to trust, I intuitively knew what I was being asked to do, and I happily did so.
The Natural Spring is a sacred site, which was perhaps the reason that the church had been built around it years ago. The priests themselves may felt the call of the energy or perhaps one of them had a dream which led them to the Spring.
The Feri spirit of the Elder tree and Spring had waited for a long time after the church had waned and fallen for new people of the land, to find someone who could hear its call, asking for the spring to be tended and reconsecrated.
The site today is very well protected by the caretaker of the land and by local people who make pilgrimages to the Spring. There have in recent years been held there weddings and the water has been used to bless the couples future.
I believe I have achieved what was asked of me, by the spirit of the Spring. The waters are tended, local people make pilgrimages to collect the waters. And the land itself is energized. I do make a point of visiting the Spring alone, whenever I get the opportunity to visit the area. I always bring an offering for the Feri Spirit in the Elder tree and commune with the energy there. It always feels safe and content.
The current attack on water has many insidious layers to it. Firstly it is an attack on the fundamental human and nonhuman animal right to have safe clean drinking water, without which no human or non human animal can exist. Secondly the current attack on water as with the example of Standing rock is an expression of the racist agenda which has desecrated the very fabric of society from the very point when the notion of ‘race’ was invented. The simple fact is that the oil pipeline was rerouted through indigenous land because the white affluent neighbourhoods did not want the pipeline running through their land, possibly spilling and polluting their water supply. The truth is of course that beyond this fact, all water has the same source and will cycle through the planet the same way, If you pollute on waterway, sea, river, lake or well you are polluting them all. The waters of the world are one energetically and physically.
Thirdly the pollution of the water is a symptom of a general disregard for the sacred nature of the elements and the lack of a fundamental understanding that we as a species collectively rely on those elements working in balance with each other, unpolluted and clean to exist and thrive.
The corporate takeover of the US and the world has been given a supercharge with the Trump administration which is systematically reversing legislation which protects our waters. It is an assault on the basic principles of democracy, decency and on the planetary biosphere itself. This serves corporate interest in the short term, and no one and nothing in the long term. Many people will suffer, as will many different species and the great mother herself. All forms of magical work, with the intention of supporting the energetic vibration of water is vital at this time. As is ritual and Water magic that supports all the indigenous peoples of the world that work for water and social justice.
Water is a living breathing element that moves through our bodies, and as we contain water, water vibrationally contains us, and therefore every day we should strive to hold healing, positive intention for water. This will raise energy for the waters of the world and perhaps create more compassion towards our sacred world waters in all of us.
If you would like to learn more about Gaia Woolf-Nightingall visit her website by clicking here
Are you a Modern Water Priestess or Well Maiden? Would you like to be interviewed? Please visit www.waterwitchcraft.com and contact me!