Despite being raised Catholic, I don’t remember ever celebrating Ascension, the day when Jesus Christ ascended into Heaven, which falls on the 39th day after Easter Sunday (May 14 this year). Yet it’s one of the oldest ecumenical holidays, as it has been celebrated since 68 CE. And the folklore that surrounds it seems even more ancient.
In Armenia, Ascension is a time for girls to tell their fortunes from tokens thrown into a bowl of water drawn from seven springs. All brooks and springs are said to be filled with healing power at midnight. If you don’t want to visit your local body of water at midnight, you might just put out a container and hope it rains since any water that falls from the skies on this day can also heal. Apparently this is because the earth is open to heaven on this day to allow for Christ to ascend.
In Greece, Ascension Day is considered the start of the swimming season. In Venice, the doge used to wed the sea on this day by throwing in a wedding ring and some holy water. In Tissington, Derbyshire, wells are decorated on this day. In Nantwich, Cheshire, they perform the Blessing of the Brine on Ascension Day, gathering and dancing and singing around an old saline spring , which is hung with garlands. These customs seem to hark back to an old rite propitiating the spirit of the waters. It seems like a good day to honor the water in your life, even if all you do is tie a ribbon around your faucets.
Waverly Fitzgerald is a writer, teacher, and calendar priestess who has studied the lore of holidays and the secrets of time for decades. She shares her research and her thoughts on her Living in Season website and in her book, Slow Time. She is currently working on a series of essays about looking for nature in the city and blogs for the Seattle PI as the “Urban Naturalist.”