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Clootie or Rag Wells - What Are They?
Clootie Wells are wells or springs which are traditionally associated with healing rituals. They get their name from the 'cloots' (pieces of cloth) which are hung on the trees around the well. In pre-Christian times, a goddess or nature spirit was believed to inhabit the well, giving it special powers of healing. Once Christianity had been established in the Celtic nations where clootie wells are found, they became associated instead with saints.
There are different practices associated with these wells. Some people believe that if a sick person washes the afflicted part of their body with a rag, dipped in water from the well and then hang the rag on the branch of a nearby tree, their illness will fade as the rag disintegrates. Others believe that you also need to throw a coin into the well as an offering. It is also common practice to dip a piece of cloth into the water and then hang it on the tree whilst offering a prayer for someone who is sick.
Removing a rag from the tree is believed to be extremely bad luck and that anyone who removes a piece of cloth, will become afflicted by the illness of the cloth's original owner.
The Clootie Well, Munlochy
Near Munlochy, on the Black Isle, about 7 miles north of Inverness, is one of the largest clootie wells in Scotland. The well is dedicated to St Boniface and it's still visited regularly by people who leave offerings of rags in the hopes of finding release from an illness, whether something tangible, or even stress or anger.
The well is mentioned by 18th century writer, Thomas Pennant, who wrote about his tour of the Highlands and saw many wells 'tapestried about with rags', but there are relatively few left now.
The most popular time for pilgrimages to these wells are on the old Gaelic festival days of Imbolc (Feb 1st), Beltane (May 1st), Lughnasadh (August 1st) and Samhain (Oct 31st-Nov 1st).
St Mary's Well, Culloden
Also known as Tobar na Coille (Well of the Wood), this well is located deep within Culloden Woods, near to the famous battlefield. Close to the well is the Prisoner's Stone, where several Jacobites were executed after the Battle of Culloden in 1746. The area is said to be haunted and there is an eeriness about this location.
As with the well at Munlochy, people still use St Mary's Well to try to cure ailments by dipping a piece of cloth in the waters and tying it to a tree.
Books About Wells
Other Clootie Wells
At one time there were clootie wells throughout Celtic Europe. Some are still in existence, notable at Madron in Cornwall, England and Loughcrew, Ireland, which is an important historic site due to the megalithic burial grounds which are located there.
The proliferation of rags hanging on the branches of the trees around these wells is testament to the belief in the spirituality of these sites.