Friday, July 1, 2011

More on Sacred Wells

A follow-up to yesterday's post:  Possible Sacred Well Discovered in Wales.

In addition to the information/links contained in Robur's comments about the Gihon spring and Hobbs Well:

here is a prior post on sacred wells from Barbara G. Walker's The Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets that I made in 2009. 

Here's a post on (Saint) Dwyn or Dwynwen, who became a patron saint of the love lorn and also sick animals!  She is connected with a sacred well or spring in Wales.

Interestingly, "visiting sacred wells" used to be part of "pious practices" in the honoring of Saint Brigid of Ireland.  I posted about her in 2008 (emphasizing her connection to birds and as an aspect of the Mother Goddess who was often represented as a bird in various cultures and religions through the ages.)

Another interesting legend concerning a "witches' well" in Tuhala, Estonia, that I posted about in 2009.  In it, I wondered if there could be a connection to old Celtic legends of "water horses" that were often associated with springs, wells, rivers and - in the case of the "selkies" the ocean itself.

St. Winifrede's Well at Holywell, Flintshire, North Wales
Back to the post from yesterday about the discovery of a possible sacred well in Wales, three names were noted in the article in connection to an old Welsh legend about a sacred well:  St. Winefride, her suitor, Caradog and St. Winefride's uncle, said to be St. Beuno. 

Having refreshed my memory by reading over the prior posts, it seems there are similarities in at least some of the legends associated with sacred or holy wells in Ireland and Wales.

There is a lot of information online about the legend of St. Winefride (also Winefred, Winifred, Gwenfrewi) and Caradog (also Cardoc).  You can see representations of St. "Gwenfrewi" and St. Beuno in the stained glass window (last photo) at the website of  "St. Winifred's Well" by Jeffrey L. Thomas

Evidently Winefrede's holy "well" (a spring that was enclosed), has been a place of pilgrimage practically since the time of her death, allegedly in 660 CE.  Information at Wikipedia.  

I checked Walker's book and found no entry for St. Winefride but I found a very similar name to Gwenfrewi and Dwynwen - you may recognize it - Guinevere.  Guinevere, of course, was the famous lady of the triangle with King Arthur and his favorite young, handsome knight, Lancelot.  (Notice how "triangles" of people are also involved in many of the legends noted above: daughter/wife; father/uncle/saving or guardian angel/husband; and lover/rejected suitor.)

Here is what Walker has to say about Guinevere:

In Germany, Guinevere was Cunneware, "female wisdom"(1)  According to the Welsh Triads, she was the Triple Goddess, Gwenhwyfar, "the first lady of these islands," at times one queen, at times three queens, all named Gwenhwyfar, all of whom married King Arthur.(2) 

Arthur was born of the same Goddess when he was cast ashore on the ninth wave.  The Welsh called breaking waves the Sheep of the Mermaid, and the Mermaid was Gwenhidwy, or Gwenhwyfar.  The ninth wave represented the "god born of nine maidens," also known as The Ram.(3)  Nine maidens signified the triplicated Triple Goddess, like the nine Muses in Greek myth.

Guinevere embodied the sovereignty of Britain. No king could reign without her.  Thus, in story after story, she was abducted by would-be rulers.  Melwas, Melegant, Artur, Lancelot; and Mordred all took Guinevere away from the incumbent ruler when they wished to make themselves kings.  When a king lost Ginevere, he lost the kingship. [Emphasis added.]  Some myths suggest that she was a sacred statue, like the Fortuna Regia of Roman Caesars.(4)  Yet she was also a living woman, who impersonated the Destroyer when she gave the apple of death to Patrick, and was nearly burned at the stake when she was accused of witchcraft.  Early legends said she disappeared into the castle of Joyous Gard, the earthly paradise, where she reigned each spring as May Queen.


(1)  Campbell, C.M., 448.
(2)  Malory 1, xxiv.
(3)  Turville-Petrie, 152.
(4)  Encyc. Brit., "Guinevere."

Hmmmm, "when a king lost Guinevere, he lost the kingship" - a man might get very angry about such a turn of events, evoking the equivalent of the raging "IF I CAN'T HAVE YOU, NOBODY WILL."  We see this ethos at work in an unending epidemic of female spouses, ex-spouses and girlfriends being violently killed by former male intimates. 

1 comment:

John Webb said...

Morgana and Margaret are also connected with the word Megara. It's the Greek word for a hole in the earth, and The Megara were Grecian priestesses. The name Megara was popularised as the heroine of a Disney film a few years ago.

Guinevere is a fictional character. The real woman who was the model for her was Eleanor of Aquitaine, mother of 3 real historical kings and a very influential person, but her most enduring act was to inspire the creation of the Arthurian legends.

Joseph Campbell writes about wells: the dry well that the Biblical Joseph was thrown into, and he connects this with the well where Rachel was discovered, from whom the Jews are descended. The act of descending into the well is part of the idea.

Those various word plays - Hel, Helen, Hole, Whole etc, are interesting. Because we also have words like 'well' (healthy), and wealth, and weal.

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