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Sacred Wells: A Study in the History, Meaning, and Mythology of Holy Wells & Waters

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Sacred wells are recognized around the world, in nearly every culture and in every age. Long associated with feminine, divine power they are also seen as places of healing, magick,1 wisdom and sources to the Other World. Some believe that these wells were originally created to bring the moon and its powers to the earth, at least in its reflection. Water from these holy wells was believed to have the intrinsic value of fertility and life, and thereby love and sexuality. In many cultures, and for untold centuries, it has been believed that Holy wells are inhabited, or at least guarded, by nymphs and faeries. Holy wells are also contradictory. Traditions have held that they are life giving, they grant wishes, they heal, they foretell the future but also that they may take life, apply curses, and serve as residences for lost souls and supernatural mischief-makers.

Over the years, most holy wells have been renamed after Christian saints but
in many cases the ancient practices associated with them continue. Thousands of people still flock to Lourdes and other sacred sites for healing. Votive offerings are still left in secret at many out-of-the-way locations throughout Great Britain and Europe. Today some scholars are questioning the origin of these holy wells. Were they really venerated by our pagan ancestors? Are they purely the creation of the Christian era? Ronald Hutton noted in his work, The Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles, that “not a single structure, not even a basin or retaining wall, can be convincingly dated back to the early Middle Ages, let alone to pre-Christian times.
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