El Polin: a Potent Spring

An integral part of any earth-based spirituality is learning about your local landscape, coming to know your place, orienting, if you will. Well, that’s probably an important factor in just about any religious system, but as pagans that means with our Land, among other things. Knowing one’s watershed is an ecological principle. I find looking for water sources like springs to be a good basic way to orient. In Classical tradition springs were associated with nymphs, in Celtic traditions often with local goddesses and sometimes gods; in other parts of the world the association may be male.

Recently my partner and I visited El Polin, a spring that lies near the first European settlement in San Francisco, namely the Presidio. I was so heartened to see the extensive progress of the restoration project that had taken place since my last visit. Although I once was skeptical o how the Presidio Trust would handle its mission, I am inspired by the overall restoration projects within the Presidio, which is a unique urban national park (part of Golden Gate NRA).

El Polin can be reached by trail from Inspiration Point, or from the Tennessee Hollow area. A large area has been stripped of exotic species and native plants set in. The tiny creek is running freely downhill and bunched up into several pools as well, down to the end of a street of former military housing. The air was full of birdsong, and the music of falling water. The old well has been cleaned up; it’s where people in the old Spanish/Mexican fort got their drinking water. A few golden poppies were already in bloom.

The water was believed during Spanish/Mexican times, and perhaps Native American (an Ohlone village had used the water for long ages) to bestow fertility. Indeed it was said that women who drank of it would bear twins, and men would get quite a boost to their virility. General Vallejo is his “Discorso Historica” of 1876 claimed that garrison wives bore evidence to this and gave number of children of various wives as being from 13 to 22. Hmm, such different tines—probably best not to drink from it now for those of child-bearing tendencies. Polin was the name for a type of huge wooden roller that was used for loading cannon and other cargo onto Spanish galleons. The appearance was phallic and was a slang word for penis. So El Polin could be thought of as a phallic spring!

Benches hewn from logs have been set near the huge willow tree; the Park Service says the goal is for this site to be a place of outdoor education. It is also a great place for prayer and to listen to the voice of the waters for inspiration.