Three Hares, a Cathedral, Woden and 200 Sacred Wells

– The Spiritual Landscape of Paderborn, germany –

image of Woden on modern fountain in Paderborn

Once upon the time Woden was banqueting and drinking mead, when he overturned his drinking horn and spilled all the mead. As the god wanted to hide his misfortune from his wife, he drew a bearskin over the spilled liquid. Now the bearskin soaked up all the mead. The absorbed mead dropped down and formed the 200 wells of the river Pader.

Doesn’t this little tale hint to the function of the spot as a sacred place, long before Charlemagne ordered a cathedral to be built here in 777 AD during his campaign against the pagan Saxons, who were living in that region?

Archaeological research unearthed traces of a Saxon settlement, which had existed long before any church had been built on the spot. Isn’t it at least conceivable, that once a pagan priesthood resided here to care for the place and the visiting pilgrims, who were searching comfort, healing or an advice at the sacred wells?

The first wooden church, that was built directly above the wells of the river Pader has been dedicated to the Irish St. Brighidh and Christ as “Salvador mundi”.

That early wooden churches had been destroyed repeatedly by the pagan Saxons, lead by Widukind, who rejected to subdue to Charlemagne and his Christian religion for a long time.

When the first stone mansion was raised and the church got the status of a cathedral, the Holy Virgin and St. Kilian were added to the christian pantheon, to whom the church had been dedicated.

heavenvirginxsEntering the cathedral through the Portal of the Paradise nowadays the visitor may feel and see the presence of the Divine Feminine everywhere. A beautiful statue of the Holy Virgin, hanging from the ceiling of the nave vault and giving the impression of swanning towards the visitor welcomes the pilgrim.

Many of the private chapels, which have become part of the cathedral during the past, and which had once belonged to members of the regional nobility, families, who have died out centuries ago, are beautifully decorated with images of the Holy Virgin. The same is true for the decorations of the foregone clerical leaders’ tombs.

And in the famous “Hasenfenster” – the hare’s window – the goddess makes her appearance, not missing out her threefold nature even in her animal shape of a hare.


Children of the region learn a rhyme about that famous window in the Kindergarden:”

der Hasen und der Ohren drei, und doch hat jeder Hase zwei…”

Crudely translated:” three ears and three hares, but each hare has one pair (of ears)”.

Walking down the steps, which lead from the central aisle downwards to the burial crypt of St. Liborius, whose golden sarcophagus is presented here, one has reached the central point of this sacred building, and also a main point of energy of the location itself.

A medieval legend about that crypt may raise our interest, if we investigate the place’s relation to the goddess:

mary1xsA bishop had heard rumours about a statue of the Holy Virgin and a rich treasure hidden in the deep well under the cathedral. He ordered a man, who was known for his magical skills to lower the water’s surface until a stairway, leading down into the depth became visible. The magician went down the steps and returned with the statue. Behind him the well’s water was rising again. He showed the statue to the bishop and told him about the rich treasure he had seen. Now the bishop wanted to visit the place, too. So the spell was repeated in his presence. The water’s surface was lowered by the magic words, and the stairway appeared again. Both men went down to the hidden vault…and disappeared and never were seen again.

Taking the theory of the place as a pre-christian well sanctuary as a basis and knowing that the offering of precious things at and into wells had been part of pagan worship at well sanctuaries all over Europe, we may interpret the tale as another hint to the population’s original perception of the place as a sacred well sanctuary.

Several Christian myths on miraculous healing which were said to have happened here suggest the character of the place as a sanctuary, which had been visited for healing purposes.

As the myth of the origin of the wells of the Pader mentions both, goddess and god, the original pagan sanctuary at the location may have been dedicated to the goddess and her consort.

pond of wells of river Pader

The path on which the visitor converges towards the cathedral from the direction of Charlemagne’s imperial stronghold goes along the pond, in which one may see a lot of the smaller wells bubbling. The wells of Dielenpader and Rothobornpader come from down from the cathedral’s hill. In 1036 AD they were blessed by the bishop. I dare to say, that the church now accepted their status as healing wells, a fame, which the had anyway for the population.

The smallest of the more than 200 wells is called the “Augenquelle” – well of the eye – and local folklore says, that this well once may have been the well of the eye of Woden.

reflection of tower of Paderborn Cathedral in well pond of river Pader

The visitor, who stands facing the cathedral on the little bridge, which is stretching over the pond of the Dielenpader well and her smaller sisters may make an interesting discovery, when looking on the pond’s softly bubbling surface: the pond acts as a mirror for the cathedral’s tower.

Before my inner eye there is no Tower of stone….I see a mighty old tree, the huge leafy crown reflected on the watery surface. And it comes to my mind, that I had found a location of the Irminsul …

Historical science hasn’t yet clarified completely the Irminsul’s appearance. Some say, it had been a mighty pillar, but most modern scientists agree on it as a giant tree.

History reports that Charlemagne had ordered the “Irminsul “, hold most sacred by the Saxons to be destroyed.Some theories thought it’ s location at the nearby natural giant rock formation of the Externsteine. But not one of the several archaeological researches in the area had unearthed any find that hinted to any religious use of the place by the Saxons.

But… Somewhere in the region that act of destruction had been executed. And it had happened about the time, when Charlemagne ordered the church to be built above the wells of the Pader.

Perhaps the Irminsul might have been an earthly reflection of the mythic tree Yggdrasil, holy wells rising between it’s roots, guarded by the Norns.

I dare to say that the original shape of the slightly sloping terrain at the Pader’s wells with mighty trees and uncountable bubbling wells, two main wells forming a pond, the watery surface of which being the mirror of the mighty tree, once had matched exactly the idea of the World Tree that many of the tribes had in common, who in the course of history inhabited the region.

And even if we leave the idea of the place as a material reflection of Yggdrasil out of consideration, it makes perfect sense to speculate about the place’s function as a sanctuary, where goddess and god were honoured.

The tale of the origin of the Pader’s wells mention both: goddess and god…

We also know, that our pagan ancestors perceived the Divine in the phenomena of nature: in trees and wells, thunder and rain. The crown of a tree reflected on a sacred well’s surface – can you imagine a more perfect reflection of the powers of life …the tree and the well..

As the wand is the symbol of the god, and the chalice is the symbol of the goddess…in union they create the universe… Eternally… Nothing is forgotten…the sacred waters of healing are still bubbling and sacred trees are still granting shadow and refuge with their mighty trunks and giant crowns…in the spirit landscape of TeutoForest, Herne’s and Hulda’s land of Heart’s Desire.hulda2xs


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