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The Secret History of Wishing Wells

By Edited May 14, 2016 0 0
Credit: MorgueFile Image

We've all been there. You're down at the mall or walking through a park, and you come upon the sound of splashing water. You dig through your pocket change to see what coins you're willing to part with, and you smile as you throw good money into the water and make a wish. You head off on your way, musing that you could have just as easily put that coin in your savings, or taken a few of them and bought a cup of coffee. Why did you toss it into the well? The answer might seem obvious, but it goes a lot deeper than you might think.

How Do Wishing Wells Work?

Credit: MorgueFile Image

Wishing wells the world over operate on a very simple premise, which is that fresh water was divine in nature. Whether a spring or well was ruled over by a god or a more localized spirit the water had the power to give and sustain life. Some wells were supposed to have healing properties. The idea was that whatever spirit held dominion over a well would grant a wish if it was spoken aloud or focused on while some of the water was drunk. Because spirits don't give something for nothing though people would leave offerings to earn the favor of whatever oversaw the waters. While it may have been food or small sacrifices in the earliest years it wasn't too long before people would leave monetary offerings for the spirit's favor.

But even ancient people knew they were taking a risk, so they tended to leave a lot of copper and small silver coins in these wishing wells. They wanted their wishes to come true, but they weren't willing to drop their life savings into the water on the off chance that it did.

Is That All?

It sounds overly simple, but water is a powerful symbol throughout many different religions. The waters were created before land in the Bible, Excalibur came from a deep and powerful lake, and the ancient Vikings knew well to fear the oceans where things moved in the deep that were best not provoked. Water is the bringer of life, and it was considered one of the main elements in European and Asian alchemy. Even specific wells had important parts to play in many mythologies, such as the well of wisdom where Odin sacrificed his eye for visions of wisdom, or the wells in Ireland that were watched over by the goddess Brigid that were supposed to bring healing and relief to the sick if offerings were made.

It's not that much of a stretch, if you think about it. Ritual by its very nature comes from belief. And even though the old myths and religions were replaced with the newer myths and religions the customs and rituals often stayed the same, and were passed down from one generation to the next. So while it might seem silly to beg a well for some good luck, keep in mind that people just like you have been trying to buy good fortune with pocket change for hundreds if not thousands of years.



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  1. "What is a Wishing Well?." WiseGEEK. 29/01/2015 <Web >
  2. "Wishing Well Traditions, History, Origins, Mythology." Happy Wishing Well. 29/01/2015 <Web >
  3. "Brigid, Celtic Goddess of Fire." Goddess Gift. 29/01/2015 <Web >

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