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

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.

History

Germanic and Celtic traditions

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. The 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, excavation of an ancient wooden wishing well has been underway in what is now the town of Germering, Bavaria, Germany. More than 13,500 artifacts have been found, dating from the Bronze Age to the early Middle Ages.[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 also stems from this.[6] Coins would be placed there as gifts for the deity to show appreciation.

Nordic myths

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 the wisher infinite wisdom provided they sacrificed something they 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

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

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

References

  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.