Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Sacred Baths

Long before the tour buses arrived, excavations have revealed that the human use of the hot mineral springs at Bath, UK began at least 10,000 years ago. One can only imagine the shock of the first Neolithic hunter-gatherer tribes stumbling upon these hot mineral waters bubbling out of the ground. To them it was clearly un-earthly.

The Celts, who arrived in England around 700 BC, erected the first shrine structures at the springs, dedicated to Sulis, a goddess of water. What type of 'healing' the Celts received from gathering at this cauldron remains hidden, yet their attraction to such an unusual natural phenomenon is obvious.

Scientific study of the waters of Bath spring has identified 43 different minerals including iron, magnesium, potassium, copper and radium. The Celts and later the Roman and early Christian people using the springs did not know the nature of these minerals yet the springs have been venerated as a healing site for millenia.

The many bubbling mud pots, steam vents and geysers of Yellowstone Park set that land apart as sacred to the Native tribes of North America. It was so sacred that warring tribes visited the land with no enmity towards each other.

I learned the term "balneotherapy" as I was searching 'sacred baths' on Google. Bath therapy in English. Which neolithic person first put their finger into the waters at Bath and what was that feeling like? The answer is unknown, yet it must have been other-worldly. I have enjoyed balneotherapy at Baden Baden and Beuren, Swabische Alb, yet, because of the 21st century ambiance in those facilities, I failed to experience the 'sacred' there. I was physically refreshed and psychologically less stressed afterwards, as was to be expected [and advertised].

Sacred baths are now often commercialized such that the sacredness evaporates along with the steam. Yet how amazing these natural mineral springs must have been to those wandering neolithic travelers who stumbled upon them.

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