It's 3 AM July 14th and I was on the road, heading up I-87 in New York, heading to the headwaters of my Grove. I was driving, drinking coffee, having had only two hours sleep, and listening to Beowulf on CD. I was psyched that I was finally heading back to the headwaters of Tear of the Cloud Grove, ADF, and my first time since the Grove was founded in 1999. The last time I was there, I was a Boy Scout, and leading a troop on a trek that eventually lead them to realize they were not backpackers. My intent for the day was to make the hike and do what I thought would be an important ritual to take waters for my Grove. It turned out though that the hike was more meaningful.
I arrived around 5 at the parking lot for the shortest distance to these headwaters, 9.5 map miles and 2000 foot elevation gain away. I scarf down some food, throw on my pack of about 40 pounds in heft, and hit the trail as the sun was rising. Before I knew it, I was 5 miles in, and eating snacks for breakfast, it was now 9. The hike had been good, and I was making great time, even with the heavy pack I had on my back. This was not to be the case soon though. I was at the base of the climb that would go on for the remaining of the hike. Even at that, I made it the next 3.5 miles (8.5 miles by now if you were keeping track) and have gained about 1000 feet in elevation. The easy part was done.
That last mile, and 1000 feet of elevation gain was not easy. Every 100 feet or so, I stopped and asked myself what I was doing. What was I doing? Why was I hiking to these headwaters? What was my purpose out here? Did I really need to be going through all this pain and suffering? These were some of the many thoughts that went through my head that last mile.
So, why was I here? I was on this trip to collect sacred waters for the Grove's well and our rituals. When the Grove was founded, we named ourselves after the headwaters of the biggest and most important water feature in our area, the Hudson River. While there are many streams and tributaries that can be called the headwaters, we called ourselves after the highest, Lake Tear of the Cloud. It was from this lake that we wanted our sacred waters, it was my task to get them this day.
What made this lake the source of our sacred waters? Well, that was the question I debated the whole way up. Why couldn't I just say that the first bridge I crossed that morning be the source of them? That is where the Hudson River is first named that, and it would be an easier trip by far. As I was to discover, there was something more to these waters I was after than just us declaring them our sacred waters. They were by far very special and sacred waters.
I climbed up this terrible final mile, walking over these boulders that were the trail. The trails out west are nice, I thought to myself, they are gentle in climb and have switchbacks. What masochistic person decided to start at point A, go to point B, and go in as straight a line as possible? This is how most of the trails here in the Adirondacks are though, straight up the mountain, following a stream, or some other difficult route that even at times includes ladders and ropes.
Along the way, I stopped so many times, I was wondering if I should just sit, turn, stand, sit again, and walk my way up that way. I didn't, but one stop, I did just sit and listen and see what was around me. To my surprise, I actually saw a mouse, and it didn't bother him that I sat there and watched him. I was coming to one of the many revelations of why I was there. I was there to get back in touch with nature, and nature got back in touch with me. This was a major outcome of the day, reconnecting with nature.
Eventually, 7 hours after I started, I reached the lake. I dropped my pack and got set up for the ritual I was to do. Once this was set up, I just sat and communed with the area. I got to know, on some level the spirit of the lake, and got the distinct impression it was female. I got in tune with the land there, the moss under foot, the evergreens that were above and next to me and my makeshift alter, the huge rock that shielded me from the trail. Little did I know what would happen when I started the ritual though.
The weather was cool, but not cold, breezy, but not chilly. I had been sitting for an hour, meditating, connecting, and getting myself mentally prepared. I turn on the video camera that was one of the major sources of weight in my pack, and light the tea candle that was my sacred fire. That is when it hit.
I was full of energy that was not there seconds before. I was visibly shaking. I was not sure if I was going to be able to do this. I have felt this kind of energy before, but only when I had sixty people sending it through me to open the gates, and I was burnt out and exhausted after that. I came all this way, I was not going to turn back without doing the ritual, so I started the ritual, and things go well. Then came the point where I make sacrifices to the lake, to request waters to take home. This was THE moment.
I came these nine miles so that I could ask to take waters from the lake. I had spent an hour communing with the land and the lake preparing to ask for the water. I burnt the rest of the incense I brought. I sacrificed the remainder of the grain I brought for offerings. I then took the silver knife I bought for the main sacrifice, and tried to break it. It did not break but instead it bent. It was broken though as it could not be used by humans again.
I then walked to the lake a few feet away and set up the camera to catch what was about to happen. I then made the sacrifice of the knife and the Grove's trove of silver to the lake. While I wish I could have thrown it into the lake, there were people around and was unable to. Instead I buried it in the muck and mud by the shore. I then took the water from the lake to bring back to the Grove.
So, I asked, what my omens were. I received Ehwaz, spiritual travel in reply to how the sacrifices were received. Good start I thought. I then asked what the Grove received and got Hagalz, hail and major changes. That was interesting. Then I asked what did I receive and I got Jera, the year and harvest. As I thought on it then, I thought that this was the lake telling me that I was doing the right thing, coming and getting these waters. The waters though, would be the start of some changes to the Grove in the future. Looking back now, many months later, this was surely the case, and it has been change for the better, both for the Grove, and me personally. While I found the ritual fulfilling, the hours of hiking and communing with the land and lake were by far more important to me.
Then came the time to clean up and hike back to the truck. The hike up was long and torturous. The hike home was just a little easier, but it resulted in me rushing, and pulling major muscles on the way. I thought of bivouacking for the night, but realized that the pain I was in would not result in a happy morning. I hobbled the last mile or two back to my truck and got in it at 9, about an hour after sunset, and was home by 11. When I woke up the following morning the full extent of the muscle pulls were discovered, as I couldn't even roll over due to the pain.
Was this trip worth it? It sure was. It has given me memories I will have for a lifetime. Are these waters I retrieved sacred? They definitely are. They were a gift from the spirit of the lake. How much more sacred can one get than the body of water giving part of themselves to you? The hours or communing with the lake and nature gave me lasting memories, and even more significance to the waters than I could have gotten any other way.
There were a few lessons learned though. Many of them were on a personal level, such as bring extra clothing to keep warm, carry a lighter pack, and watch your footing when going downhill. Others could be applied more generally through ADF though.
Go and visit the headwaters of your Grove. The journey there can be a pilgrimage like mine was, or it could be quick and easy. It will be well worth it though. Spend time at the headwaters. Connect to the spirits there, get to know them. If you can, do a ritual, make sacrifice to the spirits and bring some water back for yourself and your Grove. When you work with these waters again, your connection will grow stronger to the headwaters. You may also just find the spirits of the headwaters showing up at your rituals.
The video of the ritual performed is below.