A wishing well is a term from European folklore to describe wells where it was thought that any spoken wish would be granted. The idea that a wish would be granted came from the notion that water housed deities or had been placed there as a gift from the gods. This practice is thought to have arisen because water is a source of life, and was often a scarce commodity.

Fleetwood Round Table wishing well, The Esplanade, Fleetwood, Lancashire, England
Video of a person making a wish at a wishing well
A wishing well in Barrmill, Scotland
A small ornamental garden wishing well, with coins to wish for

History edit

Germanic and Celtic traditions edit

The Germanic and Celtic peoples considered springs and wells sacred places.[1] Sometimes the places were marked with wooden statues possibly of the god associated with the pool. Germanic peoples were known to throw the armour and weapons of defeated enemies into bogs and other pools of water as offerings to their gods.[2][3] As water is necessary for life, wells became popular places not only to get life sustaining water, but also as a social area. This has now related to town centers having wells in the center of them. Water was also seen to have healing powers, and wells became popular, with many people drinking the water, bathing in it, or simply wishing over it. Some people believed that the guardians or dwellers of the well would grant them their wish if they paid a price. After uttering the wish, one would generally drop coins in the well. That wish would then be granted by the guardian or dweller, based upon how the coin would land at the bottom of the well. If the coin landed heads up, the guardian of the well would grant the wish, but the wish of a tails up coin would be ignored. It was thus potentially lucky to throw coins in the well, but it depended on how they landed.[4]

Since 2021, well excavation have been going on in Bavaria, Germany. Here, there have been 13,500 archeological finds and around seventy water wells in the area from the Bronze and Middle age. Most excitingly, there has been a 5m wood lined well found that was filled with ritual deposits from the Bronze Age around 3,000 years ago. All objects found here were found intact and seemed to be carefully placed. While the reason all of these objects were placed cannot be determined, it is possible that they were placed in this well for good luck. [5]

The Celtic Clootie Well tradition and the English well dressing tradition appear to be related to this kind of ancient well veneration.

The tradition of dropping pennies in ponds and fountains stems from this.[6] Coins would be placed there as gifts for the deity to show appreciation.

Nordic myths edit

The belief that deities inhabited wells in Germanic and Celtic traditions (explained above) may be a leftover from ancient mythology such as Mímir's Well from Nordic myths, also known as the "Well of Wisdom", a well that could grant you infinite wisdom provided you sacrificed something you held dear. Odin was asked to sacrifice his right eye which he threw into the well to receive not only the wisdom of seeing the future but the understanding of why things must be. Mímir is the Nordic god of wisdom, and his well sits at the roots of Yggdrasil, the World Tree which draws its water from the well.[7]

Oligodynamic effect edit

Another theory is that people may have unknowingly discovered the biocidal properties of both copper and silver;[4] the two metals traditionally used in coins. Throwing coins made of either of these metals could help make the water safer to drink. Wells that were frequented by those that threw coins in may have been less affected by a range of bacterial infections making them seem more fortunate and may have even appeared to have cured people suffering from repeated infections.

Extent edit

In November 2006 the "Fountain Money Mountain" reported that tourists throw just under 3 million pounds sterling per year into wishing wells.[8]

References edit

  1. ^ http://www.geocities.com/reginheim/bronzeage.html[dead link] Reginheim]
  2. ^ Teacher's Guide to the Viking Age
  3. ^ The Strongbow Saga Viking Site: Viking Use of Archery Archived 2007-08-23 at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ a b Shaw, Rebecca (2022-08-22). "The Origin of Wishing Wells". POOR YORICK. Retrieved 2023-08-08.
  5. ^ Nalewicki, Jennifer (January 12, 2023). "Wishing well used for Bronze Age 'cult rituals' discovered in Bavaria". Live Science.
  6. ^ "Why We Throw Coins Into Fountains". Today I Found Out. 2014-03-10. Retrieved 2023-08-08.
  7. ^ AncientPages.com (2018-04-11). "Giant Mimir And The Well Of Wisdom In Norse Beliefs". Ancient Pages. Retrieved 2023-08-08.
  8. ^ Hill, Jennifer (29 November 2006). "Wishing wells contain money mountain". Reuters. Retrieved 23 November 2022.

External links edit

Listen to this article (3 minutes)
This audio file was created from a revision of this article dated 12 May 2021 (2021-05-12), and does not reflect subsequent edits.