Wells are in occult lore, portals for spirits and the dead to enter the world, or the residences of guardian spirits. The water of certain wells is held to have magical or healing power.
Since pre-Roman times, wells have been associated with supernatural powers, used by diviners, healers, witches, and ordinary folk in the quest for various desires. In Bronze and Iron Age Europe, wells played an important role in water Rituals and the worship of deities who were thought to live in or guard the well waters. Water, as a life source, was closely allied with fertility and healing. The Celts revered wells and erected shrines and altars at them. The Christian church absorbed many pagan beliefs about wells and replaced the deities and spirits with saints. Supernaturally endowed wells became “holy” wells.
Such wells acquired reputations for specialized powers. Some were strictly for healing, while others were for Magic, such as cursing (see Curses), wishing, Divination, or baptism. Some were multipurpose. Some wells were believed to be guarded by eels, DRAGONS, SerpentS, monster fish, or vindictive spirits who had to be placated and protected, lest disaster or epidemic sweep the local population.
To invoke the powers of a well, rituals were necessary. The pilgrim usually tossed in coins, the idols of deities, pins, or other offerings while reciting PRAYERS, Incantations, or WISHES. In Ireland, it was common practice to decorate supernatural wells with yarn and ribbons, especially on certain holidays. Some magical rituals were elaborate, involving bathing in the well waters at certain hours, sacrificing animals, and circling the well a certain number of times.
One of the most renowned cursing wells was located at St. Elian’s Church in Llanelian-yn-Rhos, Clwyd, Wales. Pilgrims from all over the British Isles frequented this popular well until the late 19th century. The victim’s name was written on a piece of paper, which was pierced with a crooked pin. Then the victim’s initials were scratched onto a stone, which the well custodian—for a fee—tossed into the water. As long as the stone remained in the water, the curse was in effect, causing anything from aches and pains to illness to death. Victims could remove the curse by going to the well and paying the custodian a higher fee than was paid by the curser. The well was so popular that the church rector had it destroyed in the late 1800s to discourage “malicious superstition.”
Methods of divination varied by well. For example, if a stone was tossed into the water, the appearance and quantity of bubbles that arose determined whether or not something would come to pass. At St. Gybi’s Well in Llangybi, Gwynedd, Wales, maidens threw rags into the water to determine whether their lovers were faithful: If the rag floated south, the answer was yes; to the north, no. Other powers associated with wells are revealing the names of theives and granting WISHES.
Supernatural wells acquired their reputations by either natural properties or by myth. Healing waters are rich in minerals, chemicals, and metals. In Celtic lore, Diancecht, the Irish god of leechcraft, treated a certain well with magical herbs that healed warriors of their wounds after they submerged themselves in the water overnight.
Other magic wells rise and fall in accordance—or in contradiction to—the tides. Some are said to be the sites where saints or kings were slain.
Witches were said to use supernatural well water in some of their charms, especially those for inflicting and curing disease. In 1622 in Eastwood, Scotland, one accused witch was said on Halloween to draw water from a well “which brides and burials passed over” for her Spells.
Mineral-rich wells and springs renowned for their curative powers, such as Our Lady of Lourdes in France, are still visited by thousands of hopeful pilgrims. The practice of tossing coins into fountains and making a wish is related to the ancient pagan beliefs of supernatural wells.