Water has been my gateway between the worlds for as long as I have known about worlds. Water travels through the smallest parts of our human body, it makes sense it winds its way through every aspect of our psyche as well.
The Water Well
We drink from the collective. You and I, together. Every day. Water, the depth of which reflects the depth of soul. The depth of which we measure the depth of the unconscious. The depth of which all the earth waters rise from. We all drink from the waters. The waters in the Spirit World are filled with the memories, lessons, teachings, and countless other parts, of the Ancestors who left their trace to. As much as we can travel into the collective, we can travel into our personal source waters. Examine there what has been left, not only on the shores of your unconscious but dive deep to find what is hidden in the cold and murky waters of Self.
What if those waters are Poisoned? Sick? Murky? Clean? Filled by our Ancestors waters, informing the water we collectively drink. The Well we continue to meet at. Does an unhealthy community psyche affect the water I drink? As one who travels through the deep waters of soul, I say without equivocation, yes.
I wonder about the health of the water I drink. I respect the depths, and heights, don’t forget the water which flows from the tallest mountains, water begins and reaches, fed by the deepest darkest water heads. The influence of the well on my perception of the world around me. Is my perception one of safety? Or one of threat?
There is a sickness in the water when the color of a person’s skin is perceived as threatening, but the person with color experiences the world as threatening. The poisoned water flowing through the well I draw from allows a person’s skin to determine more than any clean water ever would. The water one receives is determined by where their well resides. Imagine drinking water from the side of the well where you are one who is actually in danger, threatening no one… under threat, but seen as a threat. Water winds and informs our world in the most nefarious and devious ways.
In my prayers to West I call upon the Great Waters, the deep mysteries, the unconscious, the land of Magic and Unseen. The deeper I dive into the waters of my psyche, just like the deep waters anywhere, it gets darker and colder. I am well used to the cold, it is the unseen I am seeking. The cold can only chill me, the water can only compress me but does not have the will to kill me. I have no skills of light in this dark place, separate from the Light, I can only dive by intuitions. I dive to the part of myself less and less informed by the waters of others. I dive until I reach deep into the waters closer to Source. What hidden treasures are there? What hidden secret beliefs reside there? I travel through time the further I dive. When did the poison begin in my waters? What waters have I cleansed, just by bringing awareness?
I journey to my own well, what poison did I feed into the whole? What has been the health of the water I pour into The Well? Do I have the ability to filter what I receive and return it clean?
The primacy of existence to utilize and maximize the power of consciousness is necessary to be understood. The first is reality. Second is knowledge from perception. Third, are symbols of that knowledge from reality. Fourth are questions about reality from the basics of understanding reality. The meaning and purpose is an extrapolation from the power of abstraction, imagination, induction, intuition and phantasmal imagery
The beginning of symbolism starts with reality. There is the basic daily sun cycle and the 4 elemental cycles that underlies much of other symbolism. They are symbols referencing processes in reality through observation of reality. Further understanding of reality and ourselves can also be based on symbolism and be described.
The 4 elements are the basis for the Quaternity and Cross symbolism. The 4 points are used instead of the 3 point Trinity of Consciousness symbolism, for processing, generating, and creating into reality. The top 3 parts of the quaternity of 4 elements are essentially the triangle of the trinity of consciousness of thought, emotions, and actions, represented as desires/cares, thoughts, deeds/actions. The Quaternity symbolism is also found in Quartering, the Cross, Arms crossed, the Crucified one, squaring the circle, etc. As the divine crucified one is resurrected, we can resurrect ourselves, rebirth, renew, recycle, “reincarnate” into a new version of ourselves in the quartering quaternity elemental process of self-transformation of our desires, cares and thoughts, that result in different deeds and actions, and as a result in different consequences and rewards.
The sun symbolism, life, sky, air, wings, feather, all symbolize higher consciousness usually, along with many other associated symbols, such as the snake. In early cultural engravings, the Birds, Wings, Feathers (Vulture, Eagle), Air was personified as a great feminine goddess, with wings or outstretched arms. As Gerald Massey calls the Genetrix, the symbolism of the great mother bird goddess is associated with space, sky, heaven, void, womb, etc. There is also a dark side to the Genetrix, such as Kali Ma (Maat), the dark side related to the vulture, death, left-hand reciprocity, and also death to falsity symbolism. The bull-cow and horn symbolism also have feathers sometimes in depictions of sun symbolism.
Different aspects of reality are represented through symbols. Anthropomorphizing, personification, and projection all occur to represent concepts in relation to ourselves, hence gods and goddesses that share aspects we project onto them. There are masculine and feminine components we define as such, and these components are found in the gods as well as goddesses, personified in reference to ourselves and the dual nature of gender. Many ancient cultures had animal and nature deification symbolism.
Thus, there is growing evidence supporting the idea that early humans showed an early and sophisticated dependence on the sky for information. In fact, Krupp notes that it was inevitable that humans would look to the stars and constellations, for they provided, “practical services: timekeeping, season marking, calendrics, weather signs, concentrations of supernatural power, and symbolic containment of important cultural data” – Foundation of Myth, pg. 3
From a fascination with the sky to understanding star positions and movement, to projecting meaning and symbols into the stars and planets. First, it seems reality was understood as astronomy, then the projection of ourselves onto stars as astrology symbolism.
What’s the point of all the symbolism? Just to track stars and their information? Time? To invent or pretend of divine knowledge of origins and purpose in life? What about the knowledge of how to live life? Wouldn’t that be the overarching purpose of all discovery, in order to relate it to how to live life by understanding life? i.e. moral life, real life, true life, higher life, eternal life, afterlife.
If you know about the Tarot, Freemasonry, Rosicrucianism, Kabbalah, Hermeticism, Alchemy, Astrology, is all actually about psychology and consciousness? All the sacred wisdom is part of these traditions. Do you think they have knowledge of hidden technology, aliens, or supernatural powers? No, they have real knowledge about ourselves, about how to live life. Until everyone learns how to live life right, then we won’t be getting anywhere.
Honestly, what is the point of all of this information, about truth, justice, and rightness, if it’s only about getting into the afterlife and it’s only presented for the purpose of the afterlife? It makes more sense if we could understand the symbolism in ways that relate to our lives right now, and not about imagined beliefs and possibilities that might be actualities. Understanding of exoteric and esoteric knowledge, the growing of information over time, along with the other religious doctrines being based in mythology, metaphor, allegory, analogy, and symbolism, it makes more logical sense to take the symbolism in terms of the importance of here and now, and dealing with our current condition, rather than focus on the escapism of what happens after the fear of the unknown which is death.
Here is an example of how we externally reference our internal capacities through symbolism:
- consciousness > internal > mind > idea > ideal
- idea > ideal > potential
- potential > “spirit” > internal consciousness
- internal consciousness > imaginal realm > idea > ideal > potential > causal > creative
- subjective reality > multiverse > parallel processing to the objective reality of universe
- causal > internal > “spiritual” > “god”
- internal consciousness > imaginal creative > causal realm of generation > “god” generator/creator
- internal causal > “spiritual” potential > “god”/good potential” > “god”/good ideal > created into actual (from potential creative causal realm) through apotheosis of self-transformation, becoming the “higher self”
- christ consciousness, “god”/good consciousness, is “spiritual”/moral internal self-consciousness
Know thyself and know the universe and the gods? Know thyself, consciousness, how it works, as a creator and generator, of our experience and co-creation of aspects of reality we can alter and live in an artificially created human world, is to know “god” itself, right? We are the creators, we are the generators, all from within consciousness, the internal, unseen, immaterial, causal realm of consciousness, that then manifests actions through the external consciousness as the body mechanisms to act in the world. This is how we are “god” when you understand the power of metaphor and symbolism. We as consciousness-self-soul are internal and act in the external.
People think that if something comes from the conceptual realm, with the conceptual aura of “spirit” as the “unseen”, “immaterial”, “non-physical”, and doesn’t reflect objects in reality directly, then its “spiritual” knowledge because it deals with unseen things not directly contained in the world. People can view themselves as granted access to some divinely inspired knowledge, as if they are connected to “God”, receiving the nous-noesis-gnosis of pure knowledge. The fantasy imagination is turned into reality, unreality into reality, with the aura of “spirituality” or “divinity” being self-induced. Boom, magic spells cast on the mind, often self-cast self-delusion. We are our own worst enemies. Seriously. We fool ourselves all too willingly. The Power of Belief. Twist words around and twist concepts, and you can create beliefs that people want to believe in!
Ideas lead to action through the creation of new things. The creative causal internal realm of consciousness, the soul, the “spirit”, is the creator, the “god” we are as consciousness creators. Quantum mechanics is “unseen”, so people associate it with “spirit” and all a bunch of fantastic imaginary beliefs and concepts about consciousness as well. This all results from a lack of understanding of the power of imagination and of symbolic correspondence.
The “higher self” is the potential to actualize the potential ideal we envision in our “spirit” internal consciousness realm. It is higher because we are living as lower consciousness beings compared to the higher state we can become. We can better ourselves, and every betterment is reaching a “higher self” because we use a “higher will” derived from “higher care/desire” that aspires to the potential of the air, sky and heaven symbolism, which is higher, above the lower conditioning into physical worldly attachments. It is to alter our base pleasure carnal way of living through the “higher” realm of the air element, as higher-order thinking, leading to higher-order doing. It is a metaphor, as are the 4 elemental fundamentals, for understanding how to generate in reality, how we can better generate ourselves to generate into reality.
In Michael Tsarion’s Posthuman World, he says the “higher self” is more in the body than in some phantasmagoric belief that it is out there somewhere. This is accurate. Take my new concept about this, and compare it to my old one, and one is more grounded in reality based on ourselves as individual beings capable of becoming the higher self, as just a better version of ourselves that we envision as ideal potentials through our “spiritual” internal realm of consciousness, the unseen, immaterial, nonphysical realm of multiverse subjective reality that parallel processes alongside objective reality. The “spirit” is consciousness itself. The “higher self” is who we become if we want. The higher self is the potential which is the ideal from the ideas we envision and imagine in our “spiritual” domain of consciousness, internally, unseen. It all comes from us, here and now, in the physical reality though. It is all from our body, as the self.
Our existence as body and consciousness are linked and inseparable. The distinction with consciousness and mind/heart is made to validate the belief in concepts of consciousness pervading beyond the current life of the body into somewhere else after life or death. But mind/heart are only the internal unseen “spiritual” aspects to our body, in metaphor, while the actions are external in our body. The metaphors play tricks on people, as the metaphor loses its symbolism and becomes literal over time, and the consciousness is seen as literally some disembodied “spirit” or “soul”, while the mind is not. These are “spiritual” conceptions people invent and imagine. The emotions are also metaphorically linked to “spirit” and this is taken literally by some as the real “spirit”, our emotions, and we need to follow the emotions and feelings in life because these are the “spirit” connection. So people follow bliss, experience, enjoyment, pleasure, feel-good, resonance, etc. as blind ignorant fools wandering in darkness without being able to see it. We invoke our own experience in the subjective multiverse of phantasms and imagination, similarly to how “spiritual” psychedelic or meditative experiences occur, with intent, desire, wish, purpose, predetermination projected into the subjective realm/reality/multiverse.
We mind-mangle ourselves and have been for millennia, because symbols and metaphors get twisted into literal aspects of reality, here or elsewhere. And so you have the dark occultists, priests and sorcerer manipulators of imagery magic, who use concepts to fool us into believing things. This is how rituals and ceremonies were developed, as ways to ensure your good passage into the belief of the afterlife, rebirth, etc. This can all be seen in the history of the conceptual development of Buddhism/Hinduism for instance.
The concept of “spirit” and “God” is created in the imagination factory abstraction engine of higher-order consciousness that humans possess. We attribute symbols to concepts of the unseen and immaterial we envision. We anthropomorphize, personify, and project ourselves onto symbols as a comparative reference for understanding concepts in relation to existence in reality, which we are.
Do you know why it is called a “spiritual” journey on the Path and Way towards Greater Truth and Morality? Because spirituality’s goal is morality. It is a knowledge quest, a journey into knowledge, and this requires the “spiritual” internal realm of consciousness to discover metaphysical (hidden behind physical) aspects of reality through the mental “spiritual” inner vision of consciousness. Morality is not something you can touch, and neither is true. They are conceptual. Conscious awareness of reality is required to continue on the Path and Way towards the Wisdom of Right-Action. No subjective fantasy realities or induced inner states of altered consciousness are required. Other realities or planes of existence are not required to be known. Here and now is what matters, in the matter of reality.
Looking at the word fantasy and phantasms of the imagination, they are the same. Everything we imagine is not an automatic objective reality. We often produce unreality from the fantasy of the imagination factory of consciousness. Please note the importance of light in the root of the words:
- from http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/fantasy:
- phantasia (“imagination”)
- (phantázō, “to show at the eye or the mind”)
- (phaínō, “to show in light”)
- (ϕôs, “light”).
- from http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=phantasm (fantasy):
- From Greek phantasma “image, phantom, apparition; mere image, unreality,” from phantazein “to make visible, display,” from stem of phainein “to bring to light, make appear; come to light, be seen, appear; explain, expound, inform against; appear to be so,” from PIE root *bha- (1) “to shine”
With this, I can now see why so many people have an infatuation with the concept of the imagination, “right-brain” or collective unconscious or whatever, being the “superior” and “divine” aspect of consciousness. It ties into what I am talking about with regards to the symbolism of consciousness, internal, mind, idea, ideal, potential, “spirit”, the causal realm of generation, “god” generator/creator, etc. God, light, let there be light, make appear, etc. Our subjective multiverse can manifest anything from imagination, and create anything and bring it to the light of our mind, to shine upon it the light of the creator, god, our conscious awareness.
We run simulations in our subjective multiverse, and give it life, like a hologram in Star Trek, created from the light of imagination, phantasm, fantasy, hence everything I just talked about. Simulation is imitation, likeness, or similar. When you use metaphors and analogies, you run simulations of likeness to relate things to each other. These are images in consciousness, imagery, imagination. It is not simply false or pretense in a negative, but it is false and pretense in the sense that it is not the exact same identical thing being compared, like water to water, but it is the image of water in subjective multiverse reality and not real water in objective reality. In modern-day use of the word simulation, it is a model or mock-up.
There are positive fantasies that bring us the light of truth to live in our life, first to envision what is not actual, in order to create it. The negative part of the double-edged sword of consciousness is the fantasy of living in illusions and unreality as reality itself. Do you see where the “light” talkers in the New Age are living in a fantasy of the negative kind? Anything they envision becomes truth itself, becomes reality, simply because they saw it in their mind’s eye of fantasy. They “saw the light of truth”, but it was only the light of fantasy within their mind, images in their mind, yet they self-induce it as nous-noesis-gnosis. Imagination is required but can be a dangerous double-edged sword when not being mindful and careful to understand its power, and used improperly in reality. You can cut yourself and hurt yourself and others badly with beliefs, even without even being aware, as opposed to using imagination to cut through the false condition and create a better world in reality-based in imagination grounded in reality.
Once it is verified in reality, in experience, known through objective reality as demonstrable, then it can go from simply being a concept in subjective reality and become a fact in an objective reality that other people can also confirm through their own experience of understanding this aspect of reality for ourselves. We need to keep things in the belief of possibilities in our conscious awareness and not get confused and project our subjective unreality into objective reality as soon as we create, imagine or invent these beliefs, or when we have these beliefs from others influence us and accepted by us.
The allegedly “divine” power is simply our consciousness itself which is contained within. The way to heal is with an evolution in consciousness whereby we realize the power of consciousness, which is divine, as a creator and generator, as a god, so to speak. We have anthropomorphized, personified, and projected ourselves onto something else. We have disempowered ourselves by not understanding the power we have. It seems that building a framework and model as a self-referential understanding is very difficult for people to envision and they require projecting aspects of consciousness as an “image of God”, outside of themselves, whereby they see the power of themselves as existing elsewhere other than within them. It seems many need an externalized object of reference in order to make sense of ourselves, and since we cannot find it in the reality of the objects we live in, we are forced to invent other realities and posit explanations from those far-fetched projections outside of ourselves.
Synopsis: Water is perhaps the most important element in Celtic mysticism. From it, life emerges. Through it, we pass from weakness to strength, from sickness to health and then from this world into the Otherworld. Springs were a primary symbol in Celtic consciousness for our connection with water, wells were another. The ancient Celts honored springs and wells through a host of spiritual practices. By recovering some of these practices and adapting them to our circumstances, we can come into deeper contact with the element Water and the powers associated with it. By sojourning at springs & wells we can reconnect with the natural poetics of these sites and gain deeper insight into our own ‘place’ in Nature.
The presence of water in Celtic consciousness is ubiquitous. The Celts gravitated to water, used water imagery in their tales, and treated water as sacred. While the earth was likewise revered, water seems to have been understood as the source of earth. In one sense, water comes out of the earth and returns to it. In another sense, “earth floats on water.” To live on an island is to experience the preeminence of water, while to live near great rivers – like the Seine, the Danube, and the Shannon – as the Celts did, is to experience the power of water; especially when it rises over banks and floods the land. Water can define our horizons. It can revive or drown us. It percolates up out of the Earth from mysterious, unseen realms.
For the Celts, water was a primeval source of everything living; it was mysterious and as such, it was the fount of many magical-mystical phenomena. Throughout Celtic myth & legend, worlds – both human & supernal – rise out of the water and later return to them. The world erupts from water (as when the Boann causes the birth of the River Boyne in Ireland). The world also returns to water, as when the city Ys is swallowed by the sea.
Faery Mistresses and heroes often come from water – from the ocean, from rivers and haunted springs – and then return to them, once their ‘task’ in our world is finished. Water gods (e.g., the Irish Manannán mac Lir) and river-goddesses (e.g., Danu in Europe) often seem more prominent in Celtic myths than earth-goddesses. All of the mythical ‘peoples’ to settle Ireland are portrayed as having come across the sea rather than from the sky or out of the earth itself. The earliest magic of the Tuatha Dé Danann (People of the Goddess Danu)1 is linked to the waves of the sea. They could not only command water to do their bidding but later lived down under the waves in enchanted castles and towns.
Because of its centrality in Celtic consciousness, water has long played a key role in Celtic mysticism and spirituality. Springs, lakes, and wells, rivers, and the ocean are important touchstones in the Celtic quest for Wisdom. Sojourning at springs & wells, awaiting encounters with spirits and divinities, is a discipline to which the Celts were prone. Going to sea is a pervasive Celtic motif, in both Pagan & Christian mysticism. Getting in a boat and traveling down-river, seeking nemetons of revelation on small isles in the midst of the flow, is another discipline typical of Celtic peoples.
Springs & wells are perhaps the most intense, localized places at which to get in touch with the mysticism of water. Thus, in the rest of this article, we will focus on a natural, symbolic and mythical understanding of these watery sources and what can be done at them – as well as what can ‘happen’ at them – as a key to understanding the spiritual fascination the Celts had with water and its sources.
What is a spring?
IN NATURALISTIC TERMS, it is a place where the water table breaks forth from underground, resulting in a pool, stream, or marshy area. It is one station in the ‘circulatory system’ of the Earth. Rain or snow falling from the sky moistens the earth. The water then seeps down into the earth, forming underground reservoirs that, when they reach a certain depth, break out through crevices or from between layers in the bedrock. Limestone ground makes for the best springs, sandstone, and shale springs being next in importance. The temperature of a spring depends on the heat-retaining nature of the rock within which it is stored underground as well as how close it is to the surface. Springs that arise from deep in the earth are often cold year-round, while springs that flow out of water tables closer to the surface may change temperature with the seasons and even freeze up in the winter.
Many springs contain mineral concentrations specific to the area in which they are found. These minerals are leached out of the rock by the subterranean waters flowing through them. The ancient Celts were well aware of the different kinds of minerals in springs and treated them appropriately. Sulfur springs were thought to be good for skin ailments. Springwater with a high salt content was thought to ease diseases of the respiratory system when used to anoint the body. To identify the mineral content of a spring’s waters is to prepare the way for a deeper spiritual engagement with the site.
Springs that created a pool where they erupted were thought of as good places to engage in a ritual of cleansing at important symbolic turnstiles of the year (e.g., Beltaine and Samhain). Springs that created marshy areas around them were thought to be good places in which to throw offerings (coins, etc.) when a woman was pregnant, as a marsh represents the intricate patterns of life’s fecundity. The Celts often left trinkets and other offerings at springs to (1) activate their powers, (2) propitiate the spring’s spirits and guardians, and (3) make restitution toward someone you had harmed or offended during life.
Celtic spirituality is grounded in Nature; in our relationship to the Earth and all living things. As such it is deepened and intensified by a scientific understanding of the way Nature works. To really comprehend springs & wells we must first appreciate their natural dimensions. Meditate on the ways of water; how it circulates through the biosphere, evaporating from the sea and from watery bodies in the land, falling as precipitation, soaking into the ground, and then bubbling up out of springs. Imagine that – as beings made up mostly of water – we are linked to this primeval environmental circulatory system. Life has evolved over 4 billion years or so on this planet, coming into existence as part of the earth’s watery environment. All life as we know it is fed by the presence of water in whatever ecological niche it inhabits.
Have you ever come upon a spring in the woods? Water bubbles up out of a rocky crevice or perhaps flows out of a hillside, revealing hidden underground pathways. The first spring I ever experienced was at my grandmother’s house in central PA. It was a limestone spring enclosed in a springhouse that was always ‘cold,’ even in the summer. Once I began hiking in the woods (at about age 12) I soon found springs that I then visited on a more or less regular basis. At these sites, I learned to comprehend the mystical patterning of the landscape and get in touch with the earthen energies that facilitate renewal, inspiration, and healing; the three primaries ‘virtues’ of springs.
If you know of a spring, make a trek out to it and either sit or stand beside it. If you have never visited one, hike out to some local woods on a quest for one. If you cannot actually get to a spring, imagine one. If you have a picture of a spring, use it as an icon. Hold it in your hands during meditation and focus on it, imagining yourself ‘there.’
From a Celtic point of view, it is important to become familiar with the ‘pattern’ of natural sites – like springs & wells – in your area. Natural sites create an earthen matrix for shunnache2 and manred.3 To know where springs & wells and other sacred sites are located in your area is to possess a psychic or mystical ‘map’. Knowing the layout of sacred sites in one’s area ‘structures’ what is possible where you live, as in Celtic spirituality, everything is influenced by your locale. This is why choosing where to live is so important to Celtic practitioners. It also explains why certain areas become renown for the practice of draíocht (magic)4 or taghairm (divination),5 while other areas become famous for the healings that take place there or perhaps for the prevalence of mystical experiences, such as encounters with the Sluagh-Sídhe (i.e., the “Faeryfolk”).
Once you have meditated on springs in naturalistic terms, move on to the symbolic and mythical dimensions of springs.
IN SYMBOLIC TERMS, a spring stands for an origin, fecundity, the breaking-forth of life’s power, and the manifestation of the Earth’s mysterious inner life. Water is a primal feminine element in Celtic symbolism, as is Earth. Water flows from the Earth, thought of as a ‘goddess.’ The water that comes from a spring is seen primarily as a gift from the Earth to the people who live in that particular place. To drink the water from a spring is to connect with the various powers of the Earth in that specific area.
IN MYTHICAL TERMS-which are usually a ‘logical’ extension of the natural symbolism-springs are often thought of as ‘tended’ by a god or goddess. Some springs were the haunt of a goddess of healing, while at other springs a god – unseen to the visible eye but ‘apparent’ to the senses or perhaps the imagination – might riddle you toward wisdom’s threshold, calling to you in deer-walking visions.
The most famous spring in the Irish Celtic tradition is THE POOL OF SEGAIS, located at the source of the River Boyne. This haunted spring is tended by Nechtan6 and his wife; the Boann.7 Nine hazelnut trees stand along the banks of the fecund spring-pool. A salmon of wisdom lives in the fresh, clear waters.8 To eat the hazelnuts is to seek wisdom.9 To receive an oracle from the salmon is to discern one’s ‘destiny’ or ‘fate.’ To be drawn to this pool in dreams and waking visions or else while ‘traveling’ in the Otherworld is to be drawn to your own primeval spiritual source.
Having become familiar with springs as natural phenomena, now reflect on them in symbolic-mythic terms. A spring is a place where life first emerges from the Earth. Thus it symbolizes birth and also rebirth. The ancient Druids are said to have pathed upstreams to their spring sources, looking for the ‘birthplaces’ of gods & goddesses. Though the deity had long since gone downstream, it was said, the seeker could get in touch with them at their birth-spring. “Which deity was born here?” is a question to ask of the Earth Goddess (e.g., Tailtiu) at each spring you visit on a regular basis.
Most of these gods & goddesses have never been named before – as there are far more springs in the world than there have ever been known deities – so don’t be surprised if the ‘name’ you ‘hear’ at a spring is unfamiliar to you (or to anyone else for that matter). All of the traditional Celtic gods & goddesses will have been born from springs in Celtic lands, so, unless you are in one of those countries, the name of the deity born at a spring will never be that of an old Celtic deity. And even if you do live in Celtic lands, there are thousands of sacred springs and only a few hundred known deities.
Though the deity born at the spring has long since gone downstream, the waters are still thought to be enervated with spiritual presences. Just as microorganisms inhabit the physical water, so it is mystically infused with the presence of various spirits. If the spring is located in a wooded area, pixies and wood sprites may well frequent the water. If the spring is located on the side of a cliff, the water in the spring-pool may well be the home of a rock-dwelling spriggan or gnome. There are no absolute rules, though, for predicting what spirits inhabit the waters, so you will have to be imaginative and discern the denizens at each spring on the strength of your own magical wits.
Until you have identified the spirits that haunt a particular spring, you will not know what draíocht (magic), taghairm (divination), or corrguine (herbal arts)10 are likely to work there, or what spiritual practices are appropriate to the place. (A hint: the spirits of a spring will be related to the natural, physical characteristics of the site, such as the make-up of the rock, the composition of the soil, and the trees and other flora growing nearby. If you learn the natural phenomena of a place and come to understand its ecology, its mystical, magical, and otherworldly associations will become much clearer. In Celtic spirituality, mysticism, and magic are grounded in Nature.)
Having discussed the spiritual nature of springs, we already have a number of clues as to the nature of wells as spiritual sites. WHAT IS A WELL? Like a spring, it is a place where mortals may get in touch with the water that is ever-flowing through the body of the Earth; our ‘mother,’ our source, and our end. Unlike a spring, however, this water does not come to the surface but is tapped by human design through a shaft put down into the Earth. This makes of a well a very different kind of psychic locus than a spring. These differences must be taken into account when visiting wells.
IN NATURALISTIC TERMS, a well is a human artifact; an interface between the earth and its human visitants. A well is usually dug where a diviner has sensed the presence of an underground source of water and those who dig wells should always pray and ask the anima loci (spirit of place) for permission. Creating a well is a time-consuming and labor-intensive act of communion with the earth and its mysteries. Going down into the mysterious dark, those who help in the process of creating wells often experience a strange sense of ‘nearness’ and of ‘intimacy’ with the Earth. Thus it is not unusual for those who dig wells to be mystics.
Well-diggers are often so connected with the wells they have dug that they volunteer to become its custodians. While most wells have practical, domestic uses, others are dug for specifically mystical, ritual purposes. While water may still be drawn from these wells for ordinary, everyday uses, they are also visited for a variety of magical and spiritual purposes. Local wells in Celtic lands often became the vortex of a community’s spiritual life. To understand the intent of those who go as pilgrims and mystics to wells, we must look into the symbolic and mythical dimensions of wells.
IN SYMBOLIC TERMS, a well is a communicative pathway between surfaces and depths. Thus it is a link between our conscious, daily existence and our subconscious life. As a ‘pipe’ linking daylight to darkness, it is an interface between the realm of Enlightenment and Illumination (wisdom connected with sunlight and moonlight, respectively) on the one hand and Endarkenment (wisdom generated through intimate dwelling with darkness) on the other. Sunlight and moonlight periodically descend into the well shaft, touching the inner darkness of the shaft and the pool of water at the bottom. Thus some mystics say that the well is the place of the sun at night, and of the moon during the day.
IN MYTHICAL TERMS, a well is a place haunted by many spirits. Earthy goddesses oft become manifest at wells in a peculiarly potent way, as the well is analogous with either her vagina or her throat, linking the internal world of her body-psyche with the external world where we live. Thus, throwing coins and other offerings into wells has long been seen as a primary way of insuring the fertility of the land and of those who make the offerings. Every year on Beltaine & Samhain, sacred wells throughout Celtic lands were decorated and offerings thrown into them as a way of asking the goddess of the well for either the renewal (in the Spring) or the preservation (in the Autumn) of fecundity.
Besides earthen goddesses, other spirits may haunt a well. Some well-spirits are connected with the ebbing & waning of the underground waters. Other spirits will be linked to any old trees (e.g., Oak, Ash, or Willows) that grow near the well. Oak and Ash are primary masculine symbols in Celtic spirituality, and as such may stand for the ‘lover’ or ‘husband’ of the goddess of a particular well. Sometimes these male consorts are named and may be local gods. At other wells they might be the human heroes of local folklore. Willows have feminine-female-goddess associations. At wells where a Willow grows, the guardian would have been a priestess, a female hero from legend or else a minor goddess. Saints of Christ later took on the role of guardian at various wells. When this happened, the old sacred tree would then become known as the saint’s “holy tree.”
If you know of a well, go to it and sit beside it for a few minutes. If you have regular access to it and it is not a public place, meditate there, immersing yourself in its anima loci (spirit of place). As a way of becoming conversant with the well, drop a small pebble or perhaps a penny into it, and – once you hear it hit bottom, acknowledge the local goddess saying, “Hail, Goddess of Earth, Mother of the Well.” If you can be seated near the well for a time, become quiet and listen for the sounds of nature that characterize this particular site. On other visits, try and identify the flowering plants and trees that grow near the well. As at a spring, seek a natural knowledge of the lay of the land, as this will become the basis for any mystical knowledge you may gain at the well. How old is the well? Are its walls made of stone or brick? All such questions lay the basis for a more deeply spiritual experience. As with springs, a natural knowledge of the site tells you what mystical arts will work best there.
The first well I ever came across was located out along the RR tracks north of the town where I grew up. There, on a long-abandoned property where only the crumbling foundations of a small house were still extant, was a well. Its walls were intact, and if you spoke into it you would hear a slight echo. It was about 2½ feet across at the top, and we guessed – by dropping a small pebble into it – that it was about 15 feet deep. There was a shallow depth of water at the bottom of the well, and when the wind blew across it, a strange, eerie sound emerged from the dark depths. It was easy – visiting that well over the course of several seasons – to understand how people came to think of wells as haunted places!
If you do not have any way to get to an actual well, imagine one. Create a sacred well in your mind’s inner landscapes, making it as fecund and as haunted as you like. If you can find an image of a well, use it as an icon in anal-duccaid (i.e., meditation), focusing on it and allowing it to become a poetic destination. Imagine your journey to the well, either walking to it or perhaps ‘flying’ a certain distance to get to it. An old abandoned well out in the woods is the best kind of site to imagine for this purpose. Going there, imagine where the foundations of old farm buildings used to be, and see the well itself as somewhat dilapidated and perhaps overgrown with ivy or other creeping vines. Clearing these away, imagine yourself gaining access to the long-dormant power of the well. Such an internal site may become a wellspring of inspiration in the spiritual life, symbolizing the Meath (i.e., “center”) of your world; the ‘place’ (in psychic terms) where you are grounded spiritually.
Whether you visit a well in your own internal landscapes or else out in the external world, seek to become acquainted with the well’s custodian. If there is an Oak or Ash tree growing nearby, the guardian will be male, whereas, if there is a Willow growing nearby, the guardian will be a woman-either a goddess or a priestess. If there is an Apple or perhaps a Crabapple tree growing near the well, the guardian could either be Habondia, the Mistress of Apples,11 or else Cernunnos,12 the Celtic Stag God. To see deer at a well is a symbol of a god’s presence, while to see rabbits is a sure sign that a goddess is presencing somewhere nearby. A friend of mine used to leave a bowl of water and an apple at the well he used to frequent for the benefit of small animals, hoping to draw deer and rabbits, thus facilitating potential encounters with the divine.
Wells have long been places where Celtic people went to (1) make offerings, (2) seek an oracle of wisdom, and to (3) communicate with the Sluagh-Sídhe or else with friends, lovers, relatives and ancestors now living on the Otherside. Whether you visit a well in your own internal landscapes or else out in the external world, consider the reason for your visit and what kinds of activities you might want to engage in there.
Offerings thrown into wells must be small and infrequent. They must not be organic, as such materials can rot and pollute the water. Coins or really small pebbles are the best offerings. You might also pour water into the well from a chalice as a libation; such an act is thought to ‘nourish’ the spirits of the well as well as ‘compliment’ the local goddess, thus helping ensure aid in attaining whatever you seek. Offerings at wells are made for a number of purposes. First, beyond the desire for fertility (either sexual or spiritual), a person might want something from the spirits of the well. You might want healing for some ailment, either physical or emotional, psychic, or mystical. You might desire to make restitution toward someone you have hurt, and need the courage to do so. Making a small offering at a well can be a ‘first fruit;’ a gesture that you intend to make the needed restitution toward another person.
Wells are also visited by those seeking wisdom. Wisdom is the kind of knowledge about life and the world that enables us to live life well; that is – to make the best possible choices in our particular circumstances. We may hope to approach the thresholds of wisdom by sitting near a well, meditating in the patterns of the landscape. Once we are in communion with the anima loci, we can ask for insight into a problem or for a deepening of our general understanding of life and the world. Wisdom is the culmination of our experience and our desire to understand life-in-the-world.
A devoted spiritual practitioner (i.e., not just a ‘Sabbat Saint’ or a ‘Friday Night Witch’) is always growing toward wisdom. There are times, however, when the path we have walked will bring us to forks in the road as well as to strange side-roads and fog-veiled wood paths. At such times we may need some way of discerning which way to go, or perhaps we just need to discern where our path is leading us. Such moments of choice are opportune for making a pilgrimage to a sacred well – either inwardly or out in the external world – there seeking insight from the god or goddess of the well and its other spirits.
Because a well is a break in the natural landscape; a place where the surface and the ‘underworld‘ are now linked by a shaft-it is an auspicious place to engage in communications with the Sluagh-Sídhe (“People of the Sídhe”; i.e., Faeryfolk) and ghosts. Like a sídhe,13 a well is a doorway; a passage opened up between this world and the Otherworld. Thus all kinds of spirits & ghosts are known to appear at wells and congregate around them. Some of these spirits are elementals who are being held in existence and ‘charged’ with shunnache by the opening between the surface and the ‘underground’ reality. Others will be there, basking in the aura of otherworldly energies. Ghosts may be attracted to a well by the energy generated by the movement of water (for this reason ghosts also sometimes appear at fecund woodland springs). The Sluagh-Sídhe (pronounced “sloo-ah-shay”) come to wells as places where the water sings to them, enchanting them with dreams of Tír na nÓg (pronounced “Cheer-na-noog”); the “Land of Youth” where they go, every thousand years or so, to be ‘regenerated.’
The Sluagh-Sídhe has long been accredited with wonderful yet terrible powers. They are immortal and may have lived in Celtic lands long before the Celts themselves arrived. They are great magicians, diviners of the future, and crafty herbalists who can whip you up a cure from the plants growing wherever you are. But watch out! If you are healed by a Faery, you will be indebted to them. If you do a favor for one of the Sluagh-Sídhe, however, they will be indebted to you. Either way, this can be a beneficial relationship for both of you, if you treat the Faery with respect.
Mortals may engage in communications with the Sluagh-Sídhe at wells (1) in order to learn their magical arts and philosophy, (2) in the hope of learning more about ancient Celtic worlds (which the Faery remember, being immortal; at least by our standards) and (3) as a way of deepening one’s knowledge of folklore and thereby increasing one’s “store of ancient verse.” Contrary to later Christianized ideas about them, the Sluagh-Sídhe are not generally malicious or vindictive; nor are they ‘demons.’ While they like their privacy and do not usually appreciate being ordered around or interrupted (especially when they are sleeping or singing), they don’t generally object to being asked serious questions about the past, about magic and myths or about how to deepen one’s mystical communion with Earth & Cosmos. Approached with caution and a certain politeness, they may become devoted allies.
It is said that if you go to a well on either a Full Moon night or on the day before a New Moon is born, you increase your chances of encountering a ghost (Gaelic: tais; pronounced “tash”). The Full Moon’s light is said to make ghosts ‘shine’ subtly. Like fog, moonlight becomes a medium in which ghosts and other spirits can be ‘seen’ as movements in the swirls. The New Moon symbolizes the point at which souls in the otherworld can be born again into the flesh, and thus it is also a time when they can cross + back and forth through sídhe and at wells to visit with the living.
Ghosts (Gaelic: taidhbhse; pronounced “thev-shee”), in the Celtic worldview, are not ‘trapped here,’ nor are they necessarily ‘frightening’ (unless you did something to them in this life), though they are to be respected and revered, as they represent our ancestors generally. You might go to a well-seeking communion with the ghost of a loved one or friend who has died, or perhaps to encounter an ancestor of your clan. To leave flowers (perhaps of Dame’s Violet, Vervain or Wild Aster) at a well is a sign that you want to have an audience with a particular spirit or ghost. To further facilitate the intended meeting, legends say, you should scratch the name of the spirit or ghost you wish to meet within the dirt – usually to the west of the well, as this is the direction from which spirits are generally said to come to visit wells.
As you become more familiar with springs & wells, you will come to understand the mystical properties of water and what can happen where water is present. From springs you can venture down along streams to rivers, thus following the natural course of water in the earth, perhaps learning some of its mystic secrets. From wells, you can imagine flowing under the earth to all manner of strange and always haunted worlds. Imaginatively journeying out from a spring or down through a well is a great way to draw near to the horizons of the ever-present Otherworld where all of those alternate landscapes exist in which so much of Celtic myth, legend and folklore has taken place. Once you become intimate with a spring or well and have spent quality time there over a period of seasons or years, other, more profound, experiences may become possible, of which it would be presumptuous of me to try and speak within the space of this introductory article.
1 The Tuatha Dé Danann – “The People of the Goddess Danu,” they were the next to the last ‘invaders’ of pre-historic Ireland. They brought to Ireland Four Treasures: the Stone of Fál, the Spear of Lugh, the Sword of Nuada, and the Cauldron of the Daghda.
2 Shunnache – An Old Faery name for the most basic energy underlying all life and presence. It is the “energy” tapped into by the practice of draíocht.
3 Manred – A Welsh concept referring to structures and patterns lying immediately behind the surface of our experienced reality.
4 Draíocht – One of the three primary arts, the word is used to refer to what we would now called “magick” (in both the simple and the ritual sense). It means “the use of powers to effect ends.” Spell-casting, the use of evocations and invocations, the practice of chanting, circle dancing (intended to bring about a particular end) and other arts are all considered disciplines of draíocht.
5 Taghairm – A primary art of the wise, it refers to all the arts of ‘determining the nature of events and places.’ It involves the use of oracles or the interpretation of natural events in an attempt to figure out “what’s going on” and “what a mortal should do.” Taghairm has to do with discerning the way we should go.
6 Nechtan – the god and guardian of the Pool of Segais and the consort of the Boann. He is the one who knows where the source of Inspiration is, and he goes there. He does not have to go questing for Inspiration. He receives those seeking Inspiration, often offering them a sacred Hazelnut or perhaps suggesting to them how they might catch one of the elusive Salmon in the Pool.
7 The Boann – the All-Mother of the Irish Celts, the ‘wife’ of the Daghda and the mother of Angus mac Óg; the Irish love-god. One of the Tuatha Dé Danann, she is said to have dwelt at Brug na Bóinne and was primarily known as the Mistress of the Pool of Segais. There she tends the salmon of wisdom and the nine sacred hazelnut trees. She is thus a “mother of inspiration.” Along with Brighid and Ceridwen, she is invoked by Celtic Poets as the Muse.
8 Salmon – were sacred to the ancient Celts. If you caught one with your hands and held it up to your ear, it would whisper wise ranns to you. Salmon leaping from a river were symbolic of self-transcendence.
9 Hazelnuts – were symbolic of wisdom throughout the Celtic world. If you collect Hazelnuts in the light of a Full Moon, it is said, they will be charged with lunar power and thus eating them will help facilitate poetic inspiration. To hold a hazelnut in the palms of ones hands while meditating was though to put one in touch with one’s Muse.
10 Corrguine – One of the three primary arts of the wise, this word refers to what we would now think of as “herbalism.” It is connected with the word for “heron” in Gaelic, and thus with all of the magic and mystery associated with that bird in Celtic mythology.
11 Habondia – A Goddess of Gardening and Horticulture and thus a sister of Brighid, she was revered among the Celtic Britons. She was later adopted by the Anglo-Saxons in England. She is sometimes known by the title, “Lady of Flowers and Delight.”
12 Cernunnos – The Celtic God of the Wildwood and Lord of wild animals, he often appeared to people in the form of a huge Stag with thirteen points on its antler rack. He is often imaged as standing nine feet high at the crown of his head. He was sometimes said to be an albino with red eyes, though an ordinary looking Stag in the woods might just as easily turn out to be Cernunnos.
13 Sídhe – (pronounced “side”) is primarily a name for the stone barrows and long-burial mounds that are found everywhere in Britain, Ireland, Wales and Scotland. At these megalithic structures, spirits, deities and the Sluagh-Sídhe are thought to cross + back and forth between the worlds. Thus a “sídhe” is a doorway. Later the word sídhe (pronounced “shay”) became a name the Faeryfolk themselves.