Sacred Wells and their Magical Rites

I remember the first time I read about a ritual for enchanting a sacred well when going through my handed down materials and learning how this could be done.  This idea seemed very curious to me, for being an American Wiccan, we do not have the long history here of customs and magical rites associated with sacred wells.

The only thing in our popular American culture that might help me understand the question of “Why would I do this?” is the popularity of wishing wells, fountains, etc., that at least was still popular to build well into the 1990s, though we see far less of them today.  We also see beautifully built water fountains at government buildings that they sometimes will light up for particular important occasions.

Even though we cannot replicate the long and beautiful history of Sacred Wells in America due to the fact of not having many to really consider, we can potentially learn to adapt these old customs to modern times.

Though not a sacred well - this is still a beautiful spot that I love this see at Spoutwood Farms during the Fairie Festival. This land and space is one I consider sacred. Photo from 2008 visit during May Day.
Though not a sacred well – this is still a beautiful spot that I love this see at Spoutwood Farms during the Fairie Festival. This land and space is one I consider sacred. Photo from 2008 visit during May Day.

It makes total sense to me now why as part of the religion and tradition that I was brought into that we would have such a curious ritual for a sacred well since in the British Isles and in Gaul you can find much lore and history behind them – possibly even throughout Europe or maybe in other parts of the world too!

It wasn’t difficult to find information about Sacred Wells in all actuality once I started looking in order to understand and master the rites, and I learned a great deal of folklore from many sources.  One of these sources is The Golden Bough by J. Frazer where in one of the volumes he connected a well to St. Brigid and to her much older incarnation of the fertility goddess that we all know and are well acquainted with in witchcraft circles.

Another wonderful source I learned a great deal of information from on this subject is from J. A. MacCulloch’s wonderful book published in 1911 called The Religion of the Ancient Celts.  MacCulloch says,

“Sanctuaries were erected as these springs by grateful worshippers, and at some of them festivals were held, or they were the resort of pilgrims.  As sources of fertility they had a place in the ritual of the great festivals and sacred wells were visited on Midsummer day……” (1)

I have attended rituals before where on Midsummer a large cauldron was utilized, which may with some imagination, be a form of sacred well even though this one I am referencing was connected with another popular Welsh goddess.

I have also attended rituals and gatherings where ribbons were tied on to trees and these represented offerings and wishes.  Traditionally, this type of practice might be even more common in England where many Sacred Wells have a sacred tree nearby where ribbons and offerings are left.  In America, part of this custom was carried on here with the tree and ribbons, but without the nearby well.

Many old sources that I read about talked about how offerings were tossed down these Sacred Wells as a form of petition to the terrestrial spirit, god or goddess that is said to be connected to the well.  This reminded me most of the wishing fountains that were at least common in the U.S. for many years, and particularly in the 1980s when American shopping malls were at the height of popularity, even though you rarely see new fountains built today.  So in this altered form, the custom was still practiced in the U.S. in a new way, even though these artificial structures had been built more recently than some of the wells in the old world that are centuries old.

Children and even adults who are very young at heart almost are compelled to engage in the practice of tossing a copper penny into the wishing fountains while making a wish or even in quiet contemplation. When you think of the correspondences behind this, the metal copper is connected to the planet of Venus and to the archangel Anael. This particular archangel, who rules the day of Friday, is said to rule over all spirits of nature – such as the elementals connected with the four elements of air, fire, water and earth.  The symbol of the angel Anael is the septagram  – or the seven-pointed star.  It comes as no surprise today to have seen this symbol now called by some the “fairy star” since Anael rules over the spirits of nature.  (Though, I am not sure where or why it got the name “fairy star” from.  If anyone knows, please let me know as I have only heart it called that in passing!)

It comes as no surprise to those of us in Wicca that children and adults even would be drawn to this because many old rituals we practice are conducted in a “young at heart” way such as our simple folk round-dances, jumping the baalfire, tossing petitions into the flames of a bonfire, making wreaths and chaplets to wear and tossing them into the water or fire, etc.  Don’t you think it is peculiar that children creatively engage in this until they feel the pressure that they must not because they have reached a “certain age” where this is considered too childish?   Why is it silly to dress up in costumes resembling nature spirits or other things when our ancient ancestors did this all the time?  Who told us it was foolish and why? (and aren’t you maybe secretly jealous of the carefree fun they may be having that you are missing out on?)

One practice in particular that I was surprised by was that of cursing wells. This was not something that you typically would find replicated here in America, but in MacCulloch’s book he says that this is so:

“The malevolent aspect of the spirit of the well is seen in the “cursing wells” of which it was thought that when some article with an enemy’s name was thrown into them with the accompaniment of a curse…..” (1)

Upon contemplation of this, what MacCulloch says does not surprise me at this point because when thinking of all the various gods, spirits and undines that are said to rule over the various sacred wells, we know that most of them would most likely be elemental spirits in nature, and since the elementals themselves are neither good, nor evil; the thoughts that are impressed at a location have an effect.  If enough people conducted terrible curses at a well, it can necessarily change good elementals into destructive elementals.  It is a shame that people would even entertain violating a sacred place like one of these old wells with black magic, but most likely those sites were changed over by people very long ago.

When visiting sacred places that are not of your own property, I like to follow a few simple rules such as:

  1. Don’t leave trash behind
  2. Don’t light bonfires without permission
  3. Leave only good thought-forms behind so that those who visit after you can enjoy the space too.

We talk a great deal about not littering a place up with garbage – I might extend that to not leaving our own mental garbage their as well.  Instead, allow the space to change you and not impress you own will upon it.  These places make great places for meditation where we choose to listen instead of always talking at something.

Blessed Be!

Bibliography:

  1. MacCulloch, J.A., The Religion of the Ancient Celts. T. & T. Clark, 1911. Print
  2. Frazer, J. G., The Golden Bough – the 12 multi-volume set. Macmillian, 1890-1935. Print.
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