Wild Swimming as an Ancient Women's Rite
Under the Beltane full moon plunge naked into the loch with the druidic women of our story.
Today is a chapter draft I’m sharing (fully) with paid subscribers. I’ve just realized that as Beltane approaches I have written a fertility ritual for our druidic grave tending peoples! There are no coincidences LOL.
I was introduced to wild swimming a few years ago and seeing the euphoria and mental health benefits and community that arose specifically for the women who are drawn to it has always made me think of it as a remembering. There is something more expansive happening than just the clinical benefits of cold water swimming. Wild swimming. The word choice is important to me. Feeling incredibly ALIVE and EMBODIED isn’t a daily thing for most women. I loved the idea of this communion with nature being part of a sovereignty ritual for women in our story.
The beach in the story is a real one on Loch Fyne and so is the goddess depression in the rocks below tide. It all sits at the bottom of a hill named Carriag nam Ban (Women’s Rock).
Erna, our main character who will eventually be St Marnoch.
Fruin, a young woman of the druidic grave tending people Erna has come to know through her hermitages on their land.
Him, the unnamed one, a member of the grave tending people who will be Erna’s partner.
Various elders etc of the people.
“It is raining now, but I hope the skies clear for tonight.” Fruin can’t keep the excitement out of her voice. She and Erna are seated along the side of the roundhouse watching the older women take stock and prepare things for the night to come.
They have seen many more clear night full moons than she has and are not so worried about which way things will go.
One of the elder women smiles kindly at the young women. “It’s good that you would come tonight Erna. I know you seek the gods in different ways, but it is important to know there are many journeys.”
Fruin grabs Erna’s hand in excitement. “You must try to rest a bit. The night is long and morning comes very quickly. I hope it comes very slowly!” She sighs and smiles at Erna before laying back on the skins.
Erna quietly lays beside her, worried and excited about the night ahead and what it will bring.
As the sun sets Erna awakens to the drumming. Most of the elder women have gone outside and she and Fruin follow. Erna looks around for His face, and realises that all the men have already melted away. Some to stand guard while the women proceed, the rest just removing themselves until their moment much later in the night.
Erna and Fruin follow the elder women with their drum. The begin the walk from the village down the pathways toward their night’s destination. Fruin has told her they will gather on The Women’s Rock and prepare.
They walk quiet among themselves behind the drummer. The drum skin is of a pregnant red deer doe taken in the autumn just after the rut. It’s very old and Its surface is painted and repainted with the circle of the moon and a dark opening of water. Those shapes all surrounded with stars above and below. Some of the women carry their own pelts decorated over time with the history of their families and what has been gifted during these times with the Moon and water.
Fruin had shown Erna her hide and described each of the markings and colours as she told the tale of her family and her excitement of using it tonight and adding to the story herself some day.
Erna has been lent a hide that is empty of story. It’s for the best she thinks as she doesn’t yet know whether she will complete the ritual or just observe. But she feels a strange emptiness of not belonging at the same time as her gratitude for being included. She shakes away thoughts of what they would think about this on Iona and follows the disappearing trail of women between two leaning stones into a carved crevice passageway.
When she passes through she finds a chamber in the rock. A rock face of the hill behind them and the loch and the moon in front. The drum echoes against the rock and pushes the sound out over the water to the west. She remembers herself as a child listening to the drums from the other side and smiles finding herself here amongst them.
There is a fire lit and the elder women sprinkle herbs on it to give a special smoke that Erna doesn’t know. One of the women unpacks her pots of oil and puts them by the fire to warm. Each of the women are instructed to sit on their hides around the fire. A fiery drink is passed by the eldest woman to each of them. They look to the moon and whisper words asking for her blessing on them and their people. Erna follows Fruin as the elder places her hand softly on her head and turns her face to the moon before she drinks. The youngest girls are not offered a drink but watch in awe of those that can and wait for their time.
Once the round has been completed the women stand and begin to undress. Erna slides quietly out of her shift and shoes like all the others. The oil and paints are opened and the women use their hands to make shapes and colours on their bodies. Their animal spirits, their family, the moon and water. Fruin draws her animal, the cheerful woodpecker on Erna and puts Erna’s cross beside it. They laugh and enjoy it making lines and stars and pleasant shapes.
Fruin draws the stag on her inner thigh and laughs, smiling at Erna.
“I hide his animal someplace new each time.”
The drum stops and the women make their way out of the chamber. The young girls scramble and pick up their clothes and hides and follow behind them. In single file they walk down to the crystal beach. Erna has been here before and marvelled at the brilliant white rocks reflecting the sun until they reached the sparkly water of the loch. It was such a magical place.
Naked, the air on her painted skin, all the sparkle on the beach now comes from the light of the full moon. Erna feels like her spirit as well as her breath leaves her body for a moment and then return at her bidding with an inhale. She has never stood naked outside with so many people.
The women work their way to the right where the tide has revealed a carving in the rock that matches the painting on the drum. It is the shape of a woman’s vulva and the limpet covered pink rock looks like skin. Each of the shapes is formed by a depression still holding some small stones and loch water. Some of the women have brought gifts they leave in them for the water to take when the tide returns. Erna is encouraged just to dip her hand in the water and bring it to her face. She thinks it’s not so different than the baptism Colmcille has given her.
The women then make their way into the cold water of the loch. Giggling and gasping, toes gripping and wobbling on the rocks as they make their way to the gracefulness of the deeper water. Erna is shocked by the first touch of the water and worried she won’t be able to do it. But the elder, not Fruin comes and takes her hand.
Breathe, she says. Breathe with me. Moon. Water. Breathe. The magic is in all three.
Erna feels her breath and all the sensations of the water’s intimacy with her body. The cold water holding her floating breasts, the tide’s current reaching between her legs pulling or pushing the water back where the moon wants it. No part of her is left untouched. She has never felt so much! Never felt so in herself!
They linger until the first receding of sensation and make their way back to the shore. There is an anticipation building beside the euphoria now.
Erna leaves the water feeling her skin quickening again in the air, puckering and tingling in the night. The breeze makes trails of gooseflesh on her body like she’s a hide to be painted. The young girls wait on the shore with more hot drinks and the swimmers’ things.
When she was invited to participate Erna was told the swimming is not for the men. It doesn’t bring their bodies alive in the same way. They will wait on the other side of the slope at the foot of the women’s hill. Some are called to be companions to the tumescent women as they emerge. Their warm bodies ready to meet the euphoric needs of the retuning women.
Wrapped in her hide Erna follows the other women back to the foot of the hill and spots the men standing amongst the silvery birch trees in the moonlight. Some waiting for partners in previously agreed spots, some hoping to be chosen. Erna feels a deep pulsing as she watches the women disappear laughing and hungry with their lovers. Fruin smiles over her shoulder as she jumps on the back of her love, pressing her cold, wet body into his back, hurrying him to a private spot.
“You can go too!” Fruin mouths.
Erna looks to find Him watching her from the side. He doesn’t move forward or block her path to completing her ritual by returning to the village amongst the younger girls and the others who did not choose.
She hesitates a moment on the path, their eyes locked.
Her foot sinks into the soft moss on the side of the path and then she takes another and another step towards Him. He waits without moving, still. It must be her choice. She looks over her shoulder at the retreating others and pauses. Then she turns decisively towards him and holds out her hand.