The Mermaid’s Pool, Kinder Scout in the Peak District, England

The Peak District is an area of England that has been shaped and carved by the forces of nature for millions of years.  It is place of stunning and rugged, natural beauty with many strange and unexpected landscapes and places to discover.   Its highest point is Kinder Scout, a moorland plateau some 2,088 feet (639 metres) above sea level.

File: Mermaid’s Pool – geograph.org.uk – 247324.jpg From Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository – Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license. Author: Dave Dunford

Humans have been active in the area for thousands of years and have also left their mark on the landscape.   Mesolithic flint artifacts have been found and Neolithic earthworks and burial mounds.  In the Bronze Age the area was believed to have maintained a fair sized population who made their living mainly through agriculture.    There are many sites of archaeological and historic interest and many legends and folk tales associated with the area.

The pool and the waterfall

One such place is a bleak, dark and rather forbidding pool of water that lies below Kinder Scout known as the Mermaid’s Pool.   Many people think the pool and the nearby waterfall of Kinder Downfall may have been places that were sacred to Celtic and earlier people who inhabited the area.

The waterfall is created where the river Kinder falls from the edge of the high moorland plain. On windy days the water sometimes appears as if it is flowing upwards.

File:Kinder upfall.jpg From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license. Attribution: Dave59 at en.wikipedia

The Mermaid’s Pool is peculiar because it is said to be slightly salinated.  It is said that fish cannot live in it or animals drink from it. According to local legend it is connected to the Atlantic Ocean by an underground tunnel.  It was also believed that the pool’s water possessed healing qualities for those who were courageous, or desperate enough to bathe in it.  For these reasons it was believed to have been a sacred place for Celtic and earlier people who often took natural springs and lakes as places of reverence as the dwelling places of spirits. Sometimes and in some places they would place offerings into the waters hoping that the spirit or god would grant a wish.

The mermaid

The Mermaid’s Pool is believed to be the dwelling place of an immortal water nymph, or mermaid, who has the power to grant immortality. For unknown reasons many mermaid legends are associated with Easter and so is this one.

The most favoured time of year for her to grant this is on Easter Eve.  But it is said she can generous or perilous on a whim.  If she takes a liking to someone she will give them eternal life but if she takes a disliking  she will drag them down into the depths of the pool, drowning them.

Local legend also says that by staring into the waters the mermaid may grant visions of future events, but may pull those who catch a glimpse of her to their death in the pool.

The nymph legend

There is a local legend in the nearby village of Hayfield that tells that a nymph lived inside Kinder Scout and would bathe daily in the pool.  One day a local man caught her bathing and became friends with her.  The nymph took him to a cavern where he is said to have stayed for some time.   The man apparently impressed her to such an extent that as a reward she gave him the gift of immortality.

Relics of older times

It may be that these stories are relics from much older times when ancient people held such places as sacred before Christianity became the dominant religion.

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The ancient pagan origins of Christmas – The festival of Saturnalia

Christmas in the modern world is a time of revelry, eating and overindulgence of drink, the giving of presents, carol singing and much more.  The Roman festival of Saturnalia is believed to have been a forerunner of the Christmas we know and celebrate today giving us many customs and traditions that we use and enjoy.

Dice players – Author: WolfgangRieger – Public Domain Image

The Roman Festival of Saturnalia

An early forerunner to Christmas was the ancient Roman festival of Saturnalia.  This festival was held in honour Saturn an agricultural deity who reigned during the Golden Age. This was a time of peace, when all was prosperous and plentiful.  A time when people’s needs were met with out having to work and every one lived in a state of social equality with one another.  The festival commenced on the 17th December to the 23rd of December. Saturnalia could be celebrated anywhere in the Roman Empire not just Rome.

Saturnalia was time of great feasting, making merry and revelry with copious amounts of drinking and over indulging in food. People went out in the streets singing from door to door.  It was a time for the giving and receiving of presents. The revelry was supposed to reflect the conditions of the Golden Age.

During Saturnalia leaves and branches of evergreens were fashioned into wreathes and carried by priests in processions.  Gambling and throwing dice, which in ancient Rome was discouraged became permitted for both masters and slaves over the duration of the festival.

Public buildings and squares were adorned with flowers and lit with candles. Candles may have represented the search for truth and knowledge and also the return of the sun after the winter solstice.  In later times the 25th of December by the Julian calendar, Romans celebrated Dies Natalis of Sol Invictus, or the “Birthday of the Unconquerable Sun.”

Role reversal during Saturnalia

During Saturnalia roles were reversed between master and slave, with slave becoming the master and the master, the slave.   Some reports from ancient sources say slaves and masters ate at the same table together.  Other reports say the slaves ate first and others say that the masters served the slaves their food.  No doubt it was the slaves who did the actual preparation and clearing up.

Slaves were also said to be allowed to show a certain amount of disrespect to their masters but in reality it was probably more of an act.  This is because the role reversal was temporary, only lasting through Saturnalia so slaves still needed to be wary of upsetting their master too much.

Dressing for Saturnalia

As can be expected during important festivals people like to dress up and wear their best clothes and Romans were no different.  During Saturnalia men set aside the toga, their usual garment, in favour of Greek styled clothing.  They also wore a conical cap of felt called the pilleus, which was a token of a freedman.  Even slaves were allowed to wear the pilleus during Saturnalia.

Giving presents during Saturnalia

December the 23rd was known as “The Sigillaria and on this day presents and gifts were given.  Against the spirit of the season the value of gifts given and received was a sign of social status.   These might be candles, items of pottery, wax figurines, writing tablets, combs, lamps and many other such articles. Sometimes bird or animals were given.  The rich sometimes gave a slave or an exotic animal of some kind.  Children were given toys.

The Lord of Misrule

The ruler of Saturnalia and the master of ceremonies was called Saturnalicius princeps and was chosen by lot.  A similar figure is seen in medieval times presiding over the Feast of Fools and was known as the Lord of Misrule.  He would issue absurd and whimsical commands which had to be obeyed, hence creating chaos and (mis)rule and an absurd world.

The influence of Saturnalia on Christmas today

Many historians and scholars see the festival of Saturnalia as being as one of the original sources of many of today’s Christmas practices.   The giving of presents, carol singing, the lighting of candles and the use of evergreen plants for decorations all continue to this day.   The practice of eating and drinking to excess and the carnival atmosphere that prevails over the season are reminiscent of the festival of Saturnalia.

References

BBC – Did the Romans invent Christmas? By Jayne Lutwyche  – BBC Religion and Ethics

Saturnalia – From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Public Domain Image – Dice players. Roman fresco from the Osteria della Via di Mercurio (VI 10,1.19, room b) in Pompeii.Author – WolfgangRieger