Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Cross Bath and the Temple of Pansophia


In an anonymous work called The Compass of the Wise, published in Berlin in 1779, there is a diagram known as the Temple of Pansophia.

Upon a squared pavement two Pillars support the Royal Arch of the heavens. The right hand pillar, Boaz, carries the elemental symbols of Water and Earth and has the Moon at its top. The left hand pillar, Jachin, carries the elemental symbols of Fire and Air and is crowned with the Sun. The Superior World of the stars is above, the Inferior World of Primal Chaos is below, and in between is a circular temple of seven pillars.

            Each pillar represents one of the seven traditional planets: Sol, Luna, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn, and by extension the seven traditional metals: gold, silver, quicksilver, copper, iron, tin and lead. Above the flat circular roof of the temple, rays from their sigils converge in the conjoined symbols of alchemical mercury and alchemical sulphur, of which a fourteenth century alchemical manuscript attributed to Roger Bacon declares: "All metalls and minerals, whereof there be sundrie and diverse kinds, are begotten of these two." And seven descending rays also converge into this mediating symbol of the foundation of all metals.  

To the intellectual eye this Temple of Pansophia, which features on the front of the Skylight Press edition of my History of White Magic,  may seem just one more diagram from a plethora of similar glyphs depicting various outmoded pre-scientific theories. However, diagrams of this kind were not meant merely as allegories for intellectual speculation. Some of them are powerful magical images which invite us to walk within them; and in my experience this is certainly one of them. Indeed, I found that the diagram was actively seeking me out, rather than me going looking for it!  

This occurred in the first instance when I was conducting a series of workshops in 1991 at a very powerful site in the city of Bath in southern England close to the hot springs. Bath is a spa town to which people have gone for the healing waters, certainly since Roman times (when its name was Aquae Sulis) and probably long before that.

With a small group I commenced a spontaneous visualisation exercise based upon the site as it might originally have been, a marshy stream through a gorge, full of beech trees, where an ancient swine herd took his pigs to feed off their favourite food, the beech masts. No ordinary swine, I should say, for these creatures are sacred to the goddess, just as the swine herd is a figure for her priest, sometimes seen as Merlin, but in this location particularly associated with the ancient King Bladud, legendary guardian of the site, who had some reputation as a magician.

            However, to my surprise, no sooner had this ancient symbolism been evoked, than it kept on being overlaid with a more recent construct. This was a circular temple containing seven free standing pillars, each one dedicated to one of the Roman gods. So as this seemed to be the way the powers concerned wished to play, I went along with it.

            The site of this temple seemed to be centrally placed where a spring came up out of the ground, from whence it ran out of the doorway to form a stream. The gods, a sculptured head of whom was placed upon each pillar, were the conventional Roman ones associated with the seven traditional planets, Saturn, Mars, Jupiter, the Sun, Venus, Mercury and the Moon. There was also an overall awareness of the goddess of the Earth, whose priestess tended a fire upon a stand over the spring in the centre. The roof of the temple curved over in a dome but was open at the top, and within the open circle a number of doves disported. The experience for the group at this time was of approaching each pillar in turn whereupon the god or goddess in question would come alive and provide a very living contact.

            This was not too far distant from the intention of this particular workshop, which was upon dynamics of the Sephiroth of the Tree of Life, but a totally unexpected "earthing" of this intention came about. In the first instance this was the literal falling into my hands, from an overloaded shelf, of a newly published book by R.J.Stewart, The Way of Merlin. And in particular a chapter on "Spring and Tree" caught my eye. This claimed that trees, springs and caves are power points that tap into the energies of the land, and then into other dimensions altogether. In practical pursuit of this, advice was given on how to find a personal sacred tree and sacred spring.

            However, much as I respect the works of my friend Stewart, I had no immediate need of such advice, for the group synchronously came up with finds of their own. One was a massive chestnut tree that completely dominated a nearby urban square, and about which they all linked hands, somewhat to the intrigued amusement of the foreign tourists.  The other was a local well, a seventeenth century public bath, that after being closed for some years, had just been temporarily re-opened, and was watched over by a self appointed guardian, who had swum there as a child, and was protesting against plans for its destruction. By mutual acclaim we went as a party to visit it.

            To my surprise the well turned out to be a circular pool, surrounded by a circular wall, open at the top, with bases for pillars around its edge, reminiscent of the temple that had just been impinging upon my consciousness.

            It had a plaque on the outside saying it had been constructed to commemorate the birth of a son to Queen Mary in 1688. Later research revealed this to be the queen of King James II, who within months was ousted from the throne in what is still referred to as the Glorious Revolution. The child in question, James Francis Edward, became the Old Pretender, and father of Bonnie Prince Charlie, Roman Catholic claimants to the Protestant throne and figureheads for the Jacobite cause.

It is called the Cross Bath and is still standing, having been re-opened as part of a smart new spa. The current building is Georgian but it directly replaced an earlier building which had been built in 1688 to commemorate Queen Mary, since she gave birth exactly nine months after bathing there.

During the 20th century it was used as a public swimming pool until somebody died from water-borne meningitis in 1970 and the place was shut down. It then stood derelict and fell into disrepair, along with much of the surrounding area, and was so dilapidated it was under threat of complete redevelopment.  Thus our meeting  someone protesting against its demise.  Anyhow, the building was rescued and restored and has since been refurbished  on the inside with a new pool, but still with the open roof.

It is no wonder it has a buzz to it though, because it has a remarkable history. It takes its waters from one of the hot springs and has been in use from ancient times in one form or another. It was a fashionable place for socialites in Bath's heyday but in earlier times it belonged to the medieval St John's Hospital and was used as a healing spa, and the body of St Aldhelm is said to have rested there in 709 on its way to burial in Malmesbury.