Wishing Wells: An Uncommon History of Coin Tossing, Water, and Hope for Divine Intervention
The Wishing Well: Ancient European Beliefs
The Celtic and Germanic peoples of Europe regarded water as sacred, and often marked pools with a wooden statue or other idol commemorating the god believed to control the water source. Ancient Nordic myth described a "well of wisdom," which would give knowledge and discernment to anyone who sacrificed a precious object to its depths. The Norse god Odin sacrificed an eye to the well, gaining the gift of foresight and endless wisdom, in addition to an understanding of the reasons behind the mysterious workings of the universe.
Germanic tribes would often throw the armor of conquered enemies into bogs and other water sources, as offerings to their gods. Over time, the practice of tossing coins into wells as a price for the deity in the well to grant a wish. The wish would be granted, depending on how the coin landed in the bottom of the well.
The Trevi Fountain in Rome
Famous Ancient Wishing Wells
Coventina's Well: Ancient Celts worshipped Coventina, and threw coins to the goddess in a pool in Northumberland, England. Over 16,000 coins have been found in this well, ranging from the 1st-5th century. Despite the great number of coins offered there, the actual value of the coins was not very great: the equivalent of throwing pennies in today's wishing wells.
The Well of Pen Rhys: In Oxford, people of the 1800's would sojourn to a well famed for its healing powers. Visitors would tie their clothing to a nearby tree and toss a coin, button, or pin into the well in exchange for divine healing. A specific divinity is not associated with the well of Pen Rhys, unlike Coventina's well (devoted to a specific goddess).
Trevi Fountain: The Trevi Fountain was formed at the junction of three roads in Rome. In the 15th century, a fountain was commissioned for the ending of the Roman Aqueduct, and the fountain was created. The fountain's current look was finished in 1729 by Giuseppe Pannini. The Trevi Fountain currently receives over €3,000 per day, and the proceeds assist with funding a market for Rome's poor.
Chinatown Wishing Well
Disneyland's Wishing Well
The Modern Wishing Well
Wishing wells are still in use around the world. The ancient Trevi Fountain receives many visitors, though an exact tally is not calculated. The faithful visit holy wells in Lourdes, France, and St. Winifred's well in Holywell, Wales.
In the United States, wishing wells have taken a decidedly commercial turn. Charities use "spiral wishing wells" which funnel coins into a receptacle, for later collection. These "wells" contain no water, but offer the entertainment value of watching a coin spinning at greater rates of speed until it disappears into the container below.
Wedding wishing wells are taking stage as an alternative to gift-giving, and guests throw cash into a wishing well container at the reception. These wishing wells are generally modified garden ornaments, and many question the etiquette of a bride and groom simply asking for money. Many experts advise couples to come up with a cute poem, to make asking for money a little less blunt. Wedding wishing well poems run along the lines of:
"A wishing well,
I thought would be great,
But only if,
you wish to participate,
A gift of money,
is deposited into a well,
Then make a wish...
But shhh don't tell!
Once I've replaced,
the old with the new,
I can look back,
and say it was thanks to you!"
Theme parks often have wishing wells or wishing fountains throughout the park grounds, even if the water areas are not designated as such. The Disneyland theme park has several wishing wells, including a well in Snow White's Grotto. The money thrown into wishing wells at the Disney parks is given various children's charities.
Wishing Wells as Garden Ornaments
Wishing wells have a charming appeal to landscapers, and they are often found in gardens. These wishing wells are filled with flowers rather than water, and serve as an ornamental planter. Filled with potting soil and bright flowers, a garden wishing well makes a nice focal point in any garden. The wishing well design has also been used for bird feeders, garden fountains, and even composting receptacles!
© 2011 Leah Lefler