Your browser does not support script
TWV Presents...



Articles/Essays From Pagans

[Show all]


Views: 20,551,600


December 25th. 2017 ...

Men and the Goddess

Pirates and Witches


November 15th. 2017 ...

Witch?

Pagan Artist Trading Cards


October 14th. 2017 ...

A Little Magickal History

An Open Fire: Healing from Within


September 30th. 2017 ...

Transitioning


August 31st. 2017 ...

The White Goddess: A Seminal Work in the Neo-Wiccan Movement.

Gudrun of the Victory Gods

The Goddess Asherah


July 31st. 2017 ...

Cernunnos: The Darkest Wood in the Moon's Light

Truth and Lies: Finding Wicca

Sin Eaters and Dream Walkers


July 2nd. 2017 ...

Back to Basics Witchcraft: Magical Creativity for Small Living Spaces

On Preconceived Pagan/Wiccan Political Affiliations

A Distant Thunder: Should You Care?

On Cursing: Politics and Ethos

Ares and Athena


July 1st. 2017 ...

Elements of Magic


June 1st. 2017 ...

Herbal Astrology

The Sacred Ego in Mediterranean Magical Traditions

La Santa Muerte... The Stigma and the Strength

The Lady on the Stairs

Nahualli: Traditional Aztec Witchcraft and Totems


April 30th. 2017 ...

Nazis Made Us Change Our Name

Why the Faeries?

The Wheel of the Year in Our Daily Lives

Tarot Talk: the Knight of Pentacles


March 30th. 2017 ...

Magic in Daily Life

The East and West of Wiccan Magick

Tarot Talk: the Ace of Swords


March 3rd. 2017 ...

Finding Balance: Discipline Wedded to Devotion


February 10th. 2017 ...

Understanding the Unseen

Kitchen Magic and Memories


January 10th. 2017 ...

The Gray of 'Tween

Becoming a Sacred Dancer

Little Dog, Big Love


December 9th. 2016 ...

A Child's First Yule


November 10th. 2016 ...

What Exactly Is Witchcraft?

A Witch in the Bible Belt: Questions are Opportunities

On Death and Passing: Compassion Burnout in Healers and Shamans

What I Get from Cooking (And How it’s Part of My Path)


October 10th. 2016 ...

Witchcraft from the Outside


September 11th. 2016 ...

Wild Mountain Woman: Landscape Goddess

How Did I Get Here? (My Pagan Journey)


September 3rd. 2016 ...

Rethinking Heaven: What Happens When We Die?

What is Happening in My Psychic Reading?

Nature’s Reward


August 12th. 2016 ...

When Reality Rattles your Idea of the Perfect Witch

Hungarian Belief in Fairies

Designing a Pagan Last Will and Testament

Past Midnight


July 13th. 2016 ...

What Every Pagan Should Know About Curses

Magic With A Flick of my Finger

Finding and Caring for Your Frame Drum

An Open Mind and Heart


June 13th. 2016 ...

Pollyanna Propaganda: The Distressing Trend of Victim-Blaming in Spirituality

Living a Magickal Life with Fibromyalgia

My Father, My First God

Life is Awesome... and the Flu


May 15th. 2016 ...

Wiccan Spirituality

Faery Guided Journey

How to Bond with the Elements through Magick

Magical Household Cleaning

Working with the Elements


April 2nd. 2016 ...

Becoming Wiccan: What I Never Expected

The Evolution of Thought Forms

The Fear of Witchcraft

Rebirth By Fire: A Love Letter to Mama Maui and Lady Pele

Magic in Sentences

Blowing Bubbles with the Goddess


March 28th. 2016 ...

Revisiting The Spiral

Still Practicing

Spring Has Sprung!


January 22nd. 2016 ...

Coming Out of the Broom Closet

Energy and Karma

Community and Perception


December 20th. 2015 ...

Magia y Wicca


October 24th. 2015 ...

The Dream Eater--A Practical Use of Summoning Talismans

Feeling the Pulse of Autumn


NOTE: For a complete list of articles related to this chapter... Visit the Main Index FOR this section.










Article Specs

Article ID: 11389

VoxAcct: 316220

Section: words

Age Group: Adult

Days Up: 4,000

Times Read: 4,636

RSS Views: 82,489
Another Pagan History -- What's Really Old, and What Likely Ain't PART 13

Author: A.C. Fisher Aldag
Posted: February 11th. 2007
Times Viewed: 4,636

In the last few installments, we explored a few God and Goddess forms that may have been truly old, who were revered in one form or another right up to present times. Others passed away into history. Yet others, I believe, were only sleeping, and have been awakened by worshippers in the revival of Pagan religions. These Gods and Goddesses included Herne, Cernunnos, Hecate, Holda, Danu and Brighid.

In this installment, we'll look at another form of Goddess worship, which is believed to be ancient and surviving in its original form to the current day. Goddesses associated with water can be found worldwide, but they had a special place in the British Isles.

The Goddess of the Sacred Wellsprings:

Water wells or natural springs have been revered as holy places in Europe for thousands of years. Many of these have survived into the present day. Several sacred wells are merely a pile of tumbledown rocks surrounding a trickle of stream, or exist in rather obscure locations, or have been lost all together. Yet there are hundreds of holy wells still in existence throughout the British Isles. Many of them are still used, not only for a source of water but as a place of religious reverence. Some have elaborate fountains or buildings placed over the pool. England alone has over 300 sites identified as free-flowing water springs, many of which were once dedicated to a goddess, spirit, fairy, water nymph or other magical entity. In the 1800s, Scotland boasted over 600 holy wells on a topical map. Hundreds of sacred springs can be found in Wales and Ireland. There are Queen’s Wells, Lady Wells, Maiden Wells, Mother Wells, Crone Wells and Granny Wells, which may have been named after a specific individual, or which might originally have been dedicated to aspects of the Goddess.

Some sacred wells are believed to have originated with a Christian religious figure, such as the Virgin Mary. Others may have initially been associated with a Pagan deity, then were rededicated in the name of a Catholic saint. Many of the holy wells currently bear the name of a male, such as St. Patrick or St. Nechtan. Others are attributed to the mother of an important male figure, such as St. Non’s Well. However, quite a few of the springs were named for a female saint or holy woman who was, at one time, likely worshipped as a goddess. Other sacred waters were, and remain, shamelessly Pagan.

Several of the holy wells of the U.K. are quite famous. Ireland’s font dedicated to St. Bridget at Kildare attracts thousands of tourists, pilgrims, and worshippers from around the world each year. As previously mentioned, this well has two breast-shaped fountains that distribute water. Objects of reverence, including prayer cards and Brighid’s crosses are frequently left at the site. An evergreen clootie tree stands sentinel nearby, its branches thick with ribbons and prayer rags. There are several other Bridget’s Wells, Brighid’s Wells and Brideswells found throughout the U.K., which at one time were believed to be dedicated to the Goddess Brighid or St. Bridget. Some of them fully acknowledge their pre-Christian history. Many of them are covered in votive offerings which may have both Christian and Pagan connotations. The well at Kildare also boasts a set of five small Neolithic standing stones believed to represent virtues, which exist right alongside the Stations of the Cross.

In the course of my research, I found that several of the other saints who had wells dedicated to them very likely pre-dated Christianity. Some were never actually beatified by the Catholic Church at all. Others were originally Pagan heroines, spirits, or Goddesses, who were later canonized. These figures are called “ahistorical saints”, or saints without a history in the Church. Among them is St. Domnu of Cornwall, whose holy well water is believed to cure rickets in children. It is debatable whether St. Domnu was actually male or female; however, there is an Irish deity called Domnu who was a goddess of the sea. The name is similar enough to Danu or Donn to conclude that St. Domnu might once have been a version of this goddess. St. Madron has no actual history within the Catholic Church, and often the saints Madron, Modron, Madrone or Mabyn are given both genders. Yet the name is similar to the Madron or “mother” in the Welsh Mabinogion. At St. Madron’s well in Penzance, Cornwall, women’s undergarments are sometimes left as clooties (prayer cloths) , and the water is said to enhance female fertility. St. Winifred of Wales has a holy well which was believed to have sprung up from the earth as a result of sacred powers (or as revenge for an assault) . This wellspring was actually named after a woman called Gwenfyd, said to have magical abilities, who later became a saint. St. Alkelda, Kelda or Kilde of Scotland never existed at all, even though she has her own holy well. The name Alkelda very likely comes from a Saxon word for water spring. St. Keyne or Kane was never formally canonized. Her name may have come from the Welsh Cain or Ceinwen, which means shining white in old Welsh. She has wells in Wales and Cornwall which honor her. The well dedicated to St. Vivian likely predated her beatification, and her name may come from the Arthurian legend about the Lady of the Lake. Wells named for St. Anne may be honoring the Goddess Anu or Danu, as two of these springs pre-date the onset of Christianity in Britain.

There is considerable folklore surrounding the sacred wells of Great Britain, including their magical attributes. Many waters are believed to have esoteric powers including healing, prophecy, purification, and even cursing an enemy. During certain nights of the year, including Beltane, Midsummer and Samhain, several of the wells are used for communication with the dead. Some of the springs are places of divination or vision-questing, as memorialized in the epic Piers Plowman. Other waters are said to have the capability to alleviate diseases such as infertility, epilepsy, women’s troubles, blindness and insanity. To be healed, it was often required to drink from a sacred pool, bathe in its waters, or use a rag to wash the afflicted area. According to legend, rags must be torn, not cut, from a garment worn by the individual, and no iron may be used. The cloth was then tied to a nearby clootie tree, cloutie tree or raggy bush. As the cloth rotted, the symptoms were believed to dissipate. While this ritual is still practiced today at holy wells dedicated to saints, it is believed to have originally been a pre-Christian custom. The trees were often yews or hawthorns, believed to have magical properties. Clootie trees can be found throughout Great Britain and on the European continent, and also in India, China and Tibet.

The modern practice of tossing a coin into a wishing well or fountain may have come from the belief in the magical powers of sacred water. Ritually throwing a votive offering into a body of water is an older custom, and may have originally served the purpose of honoring the spirit of a wellspring, river, lake or ocean. Objects discovered within sacred wells by archeologists include clay or metal effigies, tablets, buttons, beads and of course coins, especially those made of silver. Related lore states that silver offered to a water-spirit promotes healing or grants a wish. Some of the ritual objects found in the wells had been deliberately broken, perhaps as a sacrifice. Many holy springs were found to contain sewing pins, often bent into a V-shape, which according to legend are intended to avert evil. In other locations, bent pins symbolize casting an evil spell on an enemy. This may be where the saying “see a pin, pick it up, all the day you’ll have good luck” got its start.

Some of the votive customs related to water are genuinely ancient. Bronze-age figurines cast in lead were found in one English spring. The sacred pools at Bath contained objects judged to be at least 7, 000 years old. Archeologists also found lead “curse tablets” written in Latin, probably left by Roman soldiers. Coins discovered in wells or fonts range in age from the Roman era, to English sovereigns, to shillings and pence pieces, to modern currency. Coventina’s well is thought to have received some of its offerings over 10, 000 years ago. White stones, especially moonstones, were also used as votive objects, perhaps because of their association with lunar deities. A more recent Irish custom is leaving a moonstone at a sacred well for a period of time, possibly to absorb energy, then later mailing the stone to a relative who’d emigrated. In recent times, worshippers leave items at sacred wells such as crutches or bandages, as a sign of faith that the individual expects to be healed. Photographs of loved ones are also placed at a holy well for a blessing.

Many ritualistic acts are associated with sacred wells, such as approaching a spring from the east, or timing a visit to coincide with dawn, dusk, or midnight. Some wells had to be approached at dark, and worshippers were required to leave before dawn, perhaps a remnant of the times of persecution. Circumnavigating a font, usually three times, usually deosil, was called “doing the rounds” in rural Derbyshire and Yorkshire, England. Healing wells, and springs used for divination or spirit communication, require visits only on certain days, including the holidays now known as the Wiccan sabbats. The waters’ magic is not believed to work at other times. Worshippers would often speak certain words, recite specific poems, or were bidden to keep totally silent. For prophecy or healing, the faithful would bathe a certain number of times, make a wish while facing away from the pool, or carry water away in a ceramic vessel. Dressing wells with rowan or hawthorn branches or flowers was a springtime custom, as was making lovely pictures from flowers pressed into clay tablets. Dancing around wells or lighting fires on nearby hilltops were rituals documented by numerous historians. These ceremonies were believed to activate the power of the well, or possibly to capture the water spirit’s attention. However, desecrating a holy spring would incite the wrath of the deity or fairy who lived in the water.

Some holy wells contain human-made symbols of the womb or female genitals, which I believe to be a clear association with the feminine divine. Many of the springs are enclosed in buildings which have doorways or grottoes that resemble a vulva or womb. Some were purposely designed to represent a woman’s genitalia. One shrine built over a sacred well has a Sheila-na-Gig carved over the entrance, her legs arched around the doorway. Visitors appear to be entering a vaginal opening. These pools often were believed to have the ability of helping to alleviate birth pain or to increase fertility. Other springs have natural features such as reddish water from iron deposits, and were thusly associated with menstruation or birth blood. One example is the famous Chalice Well of Glastonbury, whose rust-tinged water is sometimes called the Red Spring or Blood Spring. This sacred place, referred to in some modern Arthurian legends, has long held a place of magical significance. It later became the site of Christian worship, when a monastery was built nearby. Several other red springs exist in the British Islands, all of which have some history of being a site of reverence.

As was previously mentioned, one of the most famous “triple goddess” designs can be found at the Well of the Coventinas, which were re-discovered in 1876. The spring is near Hadrian’s Wall on the border of Scotland and England, not far from Chollerford. There is extensive evidence that this wellspring was used by Romans as a place to make votive offerings, including copper coins, altars, vases, rings and other jewelry. Inscribed tablets were also found within the pool, indicating that prayers were made to the goddess or spirit of the well called Coventina. She is not known to exist in any other pantheon, which leads scholars to believe she is a Latinizated version of a local entity. Her worship seems to have died out after the Roman occupations, although the well was used as a site of worship for over ten thousand years previous.

Another famous Romano-British water goddess was Sulis, or Sul Minerva, whose sacred pools are in Bath, Avon, England. Her name is only inscribed at this single location. Originally called Aquae Sulis, these hot springs average 120 degrees Fahrenheit, and were used as a communal bathing facility as well as a temple of worship. Objects found in the springs include lead “curse tablets” asking the deity for revenge against enemies. There are Latin inscriptions made by Roman and German soldiers on altar stones nearby and on pillars which originally supported the buildings. Historians speculate that Sulis may have originally been a Germanic goddess or water nymph, who was later equated with the Roman goddess Minerva. She may have been brought to Britain by German soldiers conscripted into the Roman armies. Artwork at the shrine shows both Celtic and Roman influences, including a monument to Sul Minerva with an elaborate coiffure, and statues representing the goddess Diana. The spring was believed to have been used for over 7, 000 years, although the buildings caved in after the Roman withdrawal.

Although the worship of Coventina and Sulis petered out after the Saxon invasions of England, the customs of reverence and the practice of magic at sacred wellsprings survived throughout western Europe. In the fifth century, Saint Augustine proscribed worshipping water or using sacred wells for healing and cleansing rituals. Some historians theorize that the custom was then transferred to the practice of Catholicism and the reverence for saints. During the Protestant Reformation, the use of holy wells was forbidden as a Papist religious practice, and thus many of the grottoes were pulled down and the wells were capped off. Some of the springs naturally dried out or became marsh land. Some were filled in as a precaution against typhoid fever. Others were co-opted as town fountains for a community source of drinking water. Modern Perrier and Evian bottled waters are named for these cities, where sacred wells were once revered. In Germany, the town of Baden-Baden, which means bath, was once called Aquae Aurelia for a Pagan deity. One wellspring survives in the middle of a London public building. Others have been paved over, yet still run underground. But many sacred waters still survive, intact.

Nobody knows for certain how or why certain wellsprings or bodies of water came to become sacred in Europe. A reverence for water is more understandable in locations where it’s a scarce commodity, and thus more precious to humans. Although water is quite plentiful throughout the British Isles, it is still an object of veneration. Parallel customs include the religious rituals practiced at the River Ganges in India, the cleansing Mikvah bath practiced by Jews, and of course the Christian rite of baptism. All of these traditions may have arisen from a reverence for the water itself. Perhaps they came into being because the waters were the site of some miraculous event. Or they could have become sacred purely as a symbol of a particular deity.

Other holy water sites exist in Europe besides the sacred wells, including many rivers named for goddesses such as the Shannon, Marne, Don, Danube, Boyne, and Tyne Rivers. In the late Neolithic to Bronze Age, offerings were thrown into rivers and lakes, including weapons, helmets, coins, statues and the human remains. The Severn in Wales is believed to have represented the entity called Sabrina, while the Seinne in France was likely named after the goddess Sequana, for whom the Sequani calendar is also named. Considerable folklore also exists about various water deities or spirits. Breaking a bottle of wine over the helm of a boat was originally considered a sacrifice to Taltha, a Scots river goddess. Lakes and wells are often believed to be entrances to otherworld. Besides female spirits, well guardians include fish, snakes, birds and deer. In Ireland, the elderly “Washer at the Ford” was dangerous omen for warriors, including Cu Cullain. Seeing the Washer laundering her bloody linen was believed to foretell a death. Mermaids or morwen; fairies; water sprites or nixies; and selchies, roan, or seal-women are all mystical beings associated with water. The customs of throwing wreaths into the sea at Beltane, garlanding ships’ prows with flowers, calling boats “she” and giving them female figureheads, and the Scots tradition of making a bargain over running water such as a stream, all likely came from the religious veneration of sacred water or its related holy women and goddesses. Some of these practices endure into the present day.

Like the custom of hoodening links prehistoric hunt ceremonies to the modern Pagan worship of Cernnunos, my conclusion is that the sacred wellsprings also connect the past to the present. I believe that the practice of leaving tokens at a pool dedicated to a saint, goddess or spirit, and performing magical rites using holy water, is the “missing link” between ancient religious traditions and the contemporary worship of the Goddess. Although some water rites have a thin veneer of Christianity, I believe that many of these rituals survived intact, right up to the present day. Many of the holy wells of yesteryear are now being renovated, and their attendant rituals are undergoing a revival. Yet some of them were used continually from ancient times until today.

Next time, we'll take a look at Diana, her origins, her customs, and her (possible) surviving worship and revivals. After that, we'll check out the Green Man. Stay tuned!




Footnotes:
For more information and pictures on the topic of Goddess traditions worldwide, including those of the British Islands, I strongly encourage you to check out Max Dashu’s “Suppressed History Archives”. This feminist independent scholar and artist has compiled a fascinating look at women’s culture and history, goddess spirituality, the witch trials of Europe, and Pagan folk religions. Google everyything I've written; try "sacred well" and the names of the various goddesses mentioned above. Try looking up ahistorical saints, including those on Catholic websites. Look at many of the lovely pictures of Well-Dressing, still practiced in England. Some will be adamant that they're Pagan, others just insistant that the custom is Christian.

And if you want to commune with Goddess for yourself, She may have some interesting things to tell you!


Copyright: Copy Left 2006 A.C. Aldag. The nice people here at Witchvox request that you not reprint stuff til it's off their front page. Please give credit where credit is due.



ABOUT...

A.C. Fisher Aldag


Location: Bangor, Michigan

Author's Profile: To learn more about A.C. Fisher Aldag - Click HERE

Bio: A.C. and family live near beautiful Lake Michigan, one of the largest sacred bodies of water in the world. Ace is a co-founder of Caer na Donia y Llew, which is currently reviving and continuing Pagan practices in the current era.




Other Articles: A.C. Fisher Aldag has posted 16 additional articles- View them?

Other Listings: To view ALL of my listings: Click HERE




Email A.C. Fisher Aldag... (Yes! I have opted to receive invites to Pagan events, groups, and commercial sales)

To send a private message to A.C. Fisher Aldag ...



Pagan Essays
1996-2018





Pagan Web
8,000 Links





Pagan Groups
Local Covens etc.





Pagan/Witch
80,000 Profiles














Home - TWV Logos - Email US - Privacy
News and Information

Chapters: Pagan/Heathen Basics - Pagan BOOKS - Traditions, Paths & Religions - Popular Pagan Holidays - TV & Movies - Cats of the Craft - Festival Reviews - Festival Tips - White Pages (Resources) - Issues/Concerns - West Memphis 3 - Witch Hunts - Pagan Protection Tips - Healing Planet Earth

Your Voices: Adult Essays - Young Pagan Essays - Pagan Perspectives (On Hold) - WitchWars: Fire in the Craft - Gay Pagan - Pagan Parenting - Military - Pagan Passages

Pagan Music: Pagan Musicians - Bardic Circle at WitchVox - Free Music from TWV

Vox Central: About TWV - Wren: Words, Wrants and Wramblings - Guest Rants - Past Surveys - A Quest for Unity

Weekly Updates: Click HERE for an index of our weekly updates for the past 6 years

W.O.T.W. - World-Wide Networking

Your Town: A Link to YOUR Area Page (The largest listing of Witches, Pagans, Heathens and Wiccans on the Planet)

VoxLinks: The Pagan Web: 8,000 Listings

Your Witchvox Account: Log in Now - Create New Account - Request New Password - Log in Problems

Personal Listings: Pagan Clergy in Your Town - Adult Pagans - Young Pagans - Military Pagans

Events: Circles, Gatherings, Workshops & Festivals

Covens/Groups/Orgs: Local Groups Main Page

Other LOCAL Resources: Local Shops - Regional Sites - Local Notices - Global/National Notices - Local Skills & Services - Local Egroups - Political Freedom Fighters

Pagan Shopping: Online Shops Index - Original Crafters Sites - Auction Sites - Pagan Wholesalers - Pagan Local Shops



Web Site Content (including: text - graphics - html - look & feel)
Copyright 1997-2018 The Witches' Voice Inc. All rights reserved
Note: Authors & Artists retain the copyright for their work(s) on this website.
Unauthorized reproduction without prior permission is a violation of copyright laws.

Website structure, evolution and php coding by Fritz Jung on a Macintosh G5.

Any and all personal political opinions expressed in the public listing sections (including, but not restricted to, personals, events, groups, shops, Wren’s Nest, etc.) are solely those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinion of The Witches’ Voice, Inc. TWV is a nonprofit, nonpartisan educational organization.

Sponsorship: Visit the Witches' Voice Sponsor Page for info on how you
can help support this Community Resource. Donations ARE Tax Deductible.
The Witches' Voice carries a 501(c)(3) certificate and a Federal Tax ID.

Mail Us: The Witches' Voice Inc., P.O. Box 341018, Tampa, Florida 33694-1018 U.S.A.
Witches, Pagans
of The World




Search Articles
1996-2018










 Current Topic
 Editorial Guide


NOTE: The essay on this page contains the writings and opinions of the listed author(s) and is not necessarily shared or endorsed by the Witches' Voice inc.

The Witches' Voice does not verify or attest to the historical accuracy contained in the content of this essay.

All WitchVox essays contain a valid email address, feel free to send your comments, thoughts or concerns directly to the listed author(s).