St.Brannoc’s Holy Well, Braunton, north Devon
Here’s most of an article in the Spectator, 5 January, by Peter Jones. It quotes a letter by Seneca the Younger (AD 1-65) describing the pagan idea of religious feeling. Given the disposition of most Britons towards matters of faith, you’ll possibly reckon this amazingly contemporary.
After discussing the divine spirit ‘which guards us and watches us in the evil and good we do‘, [Seneca] turns to nature: ‘Imagine you come across a dense wood of exceptionally tall, ancient trees that shut out all sight of the sky with thick screens of overlaying branches. Its loftiness, its seclusion and your wonderment at finding so deep and unbroken a gloom out in the open, will prove the presence of a deity. Likewise, an impressive cave hollowed out deep into a mountain, produced not by the labours of men but the processes of nature, will strike into your soul some kind of inkling of the divine. We venerate the sources of important streams; places where a mighty river bursts suddenly from hiding are provided with altars; hot springs are objects of worship; the darkness or unfathomable depth of a pool has made their waters sacred.‘ It is the singularities of nature that create and demonstrate the presence of the numinous. So if you meet a man ‘never terrified by dangers, never touched by desires, happy in adversity, calm in the midst of storm … will not a feeling of veneration for him come over you?‘
Jones concludes (my bold):
However that may be, we see here no creeds, no centrally controlled political structure; just manifestations of ‘the divine’ for all to appreciate. Ancient religions were very good at providing channels to the divine while also promoting the general social cohesion … without demanding any particular set of beliefs.