To my experience, most people adopt a romantic disposition when travelling into a foreign country, including me. Even if seeing the same scene in a movie we would call it tacky, the cultural differences in local customs infuse the unknown meet-cutes with power, so we gladly perceive synchronicity as kismet and suspend our disbelief. In other words, we tend to accept blessings far more likely when they’re given by a local at the foot of Mount Everest. We accept that our penny tossed into a wishing well ought to make our heart’s desire become reality, so we hold the thought firmly in our mind and whisper our secrets under our breath, giving them wings.
Nowadays there’s probably no fountain or well in existence that doesn’t keep a few secrets that have been whispered into the night with a precious coin held over the water. People compulsively throw coins in any body of water, driven by the romantic notion of a granted wish. The idea of a wishing well, however, goes back to ancient times. Coins would be placed on altars as gifts for the gods since the beginning of time. Some believed the greater the offering, the more likely or greater was the favour granted. When clean water was considered a source of life and often a scarce commodity, Celtic people considered springs and wells sacred places. It was thought that water was a gift from the gods and therefore a conduit or even a home to certain deities. Water was believed to have healing powers and was thought to be linked to emotions. The ancient Nordic myth of Mímir’s Well at the roots of Yggdrasil, the World Tree tells a story of the promise of infinite wisdom, if the asker was brave enough to sacrifice something they held dear. Odin threw his right eye into the well to receive the sight into the future and the wisdom to understand why things must be. No wonder wells quickly became popular.
Arguably our practice today is a bastardized version, a remnant of an ancient religion that is no longer practiced, an empty gesture towards the gods that are no longer believed in. Small wishing wells are now featured at weddigs, raising many questions about the commercialization and the etiquette of the idea. This ornate fountain, located on Place de la Concorde, heavy with midday Paris traffic, appears to be a popular spot for “quiet” contemplation or more likely some drive-by wishing. Makes me wonder whatever happens to the money?
Do you believe in the power of a wishing well?
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