By Bernie Bell
Prompted by an exchange with archaeoastronomer Douglas Scott https://www.luath.co.uk/douglas-scott , I’ve been thinking along the lines of how myths and legends can have their root in the reality of a very distant past, and how a ‘special’ object, or place, can still be seen as ‘special’ even when folk have forgotten why, and have even, maybe, put their own stories onto it.
In particular, I thought of the impulse folk still have to throw money into wishing wells.
People have been throwing things into watery places for millennia. Sometimes big things, such as the objects of the La Tène culture found in Lake Neuchâtel in Switzerland https://www.tf.uni-kiel.de/matwis/amat/iss/kap_b/advanced/tb_1_1d.html
And the Lough Gur shield, found in boggy land by the lake of that name, in County Limerick, Republic of Ireland. https://en-gb.facebook.com/LoughGur/photos/details-from-national-museum-of-ireland-bronze-shield-late-bronze-age-c700-bc-fo/654485461231989
Lough Gur is a magicy place – I’ve been visiting there for many years, it’s part of a sacred landscape – the lake, the hill, Grange stone circle, other stones with alignments – and the Lough Gur shield, placed in the lake.
I have a brooch – a very small reproduction of the Lough Gur shield, on my jacket …..
…which I’m not throwing anywhere – I like it too much!
Sometimes it was brooches, jewellery, amulets, and other small things, which were thrown into the water as offerings.
Sometimes offerings to appease the Gods – sometimes curses against enemies.
Think of all those curses written on pieces of carefully rolled up or folded lead – to keep the curse safely inside, and thereby intensify it? – and dropped into the springs at the Roman Baths in – Bath.
The following extract from https://www.romanbaths.co.uk/key-objects-collection#:~:text=The%20Roman%20curse%20tablets%20are,the%20goddess%20Sulis%20Minerva%20dwelt. describes these ‘curse tablets’…….
The Roman curse tablets are the personal and private prayers of 130 individuals inscribed on small sheets of lead or pewter. Believed to range in date from the 2nd to the late 4th century AD, the tablets were rolled up and thrown into the Spring where the spirit of the goddess Sulis Minerva dwelt. They are mostly from people who had suffered an injustice, asking for wrongs to be put right and for revenge. The prayers reveal the anger felt by ordinary people at the loss of what seem to us like modest everyday items, but which were very important to people who at the time had few personal possessions. In 2014, the curse tablets were inscribed on the UNESCO Memory of the World UK register. They are the only objects from Roman Britain to receive this accolade.
Sometimes objects were placed in the water as part of a big, communal ceremony, sometimes a very personal little wish.
And now, any bit of water in a public place, and folk throw money into it – even something like an ornamental wishing well at a Garden Centre, which isn’t actually anything to do with a natural water source, at all.
These are often people with no spiritual beliefs, no religion – no ‘Gods’. And yet, it’s something people still do, throwing a coin into the water.
And, these days, at the Trevi fountain, canny little lads jump in and fish the money out! Maybe in the past, even at sacred places, some were ready to risk it, and take the good things back out of the water.
It’s people, we don’t change much – even those without superstitions, have their own superstitions.
Very true Bernie but don’t forget that our ancient ancestors threw the odd body or two into the Loughs and Bogs as well. During school holidays with relations on the family farms in Donegal, Wexford and Cork I well remember the ‘oldies’ terrorising us with ancient legends and not to anger ‘The Little Folk’, etc, you’ve probably heard them all or variants.
Yes, indeed I have, Charlie! Here’s what I said to Dougie (Scott)….
“And…the cairns and ancient sites in Ireland weren’t desecrated, as they were seen as being Fairy Hills and Fairy Forts.
There’s a mound in a valley through the Ox Mountains, known as the Windy Gap, near where my family are from, which was always known as the Fairy Hill. I’m not sure if it’s ever been excavated – but it is definitely a cairn – no other explanation for that mound, in that place, with that association with the Fairies.
There’s even a little rougher bit on the side – the entrance?
The Burren is full of fairy sites – Ireland is full of fairy sites! They’re still there, because folk were frightened to mess with them.
Catholicism, in Ireland in particular, is very much akin to the Old Ways. This piece is about Orkney, but I include the tale of a Healing well in Ireland, and how the old beliefs, carried through to Catholicism.”