– some less known facts on well and water worship in Germany –
From all Pagan acts of worship the worship and honouring of wells, rivers and lakes had been most difficult to extinguish from the people’s tradition and has been still performed by the country folk of Teutoburger Forest long after Christian religion had been forced on them.
Wells, rivers, lakes and the watery folk still play an important role in German fairy tales and folklore.
How strong and long lasting this belief had been may be illustrated by the fact, that even in the 16th century AD the city council of Pyrmont – now Bad Pyrmont – thought it necessary to publish a decree, which informed the people that they should not execute any acts of “pagan superstition” related to the local well water’s healing qualities.
In 961 AD the abbess Marswidis of Schildesche near Bielefeld made a decree, that declared the yearly blessing of the fields in spring to be executed as a Christian rite.
The original rite seems to have been an old fertility rite during which a procession around the fields, including a blessing of them with water from one of the sacred wells of the region, had been performed.
The name of the place – “Schildesche” means “ash, in which the shields were hung”, which points to the fact, that the place had been of some significance for the people of the region before it has been occupied by the new religion.
In Northern mythology the ash is the world tree with the sacred well of the water of life bubbling between it’s roots.
One or more giant old trees grew occasionally beside a well, which was sacred to the people of the region. Such a combination has been reflecting the world tree and the well of life in the material realm.
Old names of rivers and wells often describe one or another of the water’s attributes or environment.
The river Lippe is in Latin Luppia. The Latin name may be derived from lupia – female wolf – as the river on it’s course through the wilderness may well have been frequented by the local wolves as their watering place; and the animals may have been seen by the roman soldiers during their raft patrols on the river.
Another theory derives Lippe / Luppia from the old German world “lipjoe”, in old Anglo-English “slipor” – smooth, unruffled, such referring to the river’s nature of calmly running in it’s bed as well as describing the river’s surface, being nearly never disturbed by waves.
Another river of the region is the Weser, in Latin “Visurgis”, in old German “Wisura”, containing the old indogermanic syllable “Ueis”- to flow, to run, which is also found in the name of the river Isar.
One of the Weser’s tributaries is the Werre. The name may be derived from the old German word “reren” – to shout, to roar; and according to old descriptions one of the river’s wells had been bursting with reasonable noises of gurgling and rushing from the ground.
The world had been a lot more quiet when the rivers have got their names. The air was filled with the songs of birds, and the tunes of rivers and wells were heard in the bubbling and rushing of rivers and streams.
Each river has an individual song: lovely songs of fragrant meadows enchant the walker along soft bubbling streams, which moisten fields, green land and forest valleys on their course.
The wild roaring song of the mountain stream, cascading down in it’s rocky bed tells of the journey from it’s ice covered home in the world of glaciers, so close to the sky, before nourishing the alpine pastures, rich of healing herbs and finally melting into one of the big rivers on their course to the ocean. In silence we may listen to perceive the voices of the watery spirits.
After Christianisation the country folk still prayed and offered to their deities along river banks and at wells; and a distant echo of that belief may be found in a reasonable number of german fairy tales about swan virgins and white ladies.
In the field of folklore Lady Loreley is one of the most famous ladies of Germany.
In the history of German literature she is presented as an invention of the poets in the era of romantic literature. Heinrich Heine has dedicated a beautiful poem to that lady, who was sitting on a huge rock above the Rhine, combing her beautiful long hair and singing with an enticing voice enchanting songs, such luring fishermen with their boats into the dangerous swirls, which upset the boats and made them be lost with all hands.
Long before Clemens von Brentano had written his novel and Heine made his poem the rock formation carried the name “Lorelei”, “Lurlei”.
In the name you may recognise the English verb “to lure”. “Lei” is old German and means rock – so – the luring rock.
Before the 19th century, when the river bed was broadened by controlled demolition of some of the Loreley rock’s formation underwater the passage along the rocks had been the most dangerous along the whole, long river.
Even in the 1890ties the whole crew and all passengers were asked to pray before their boat was to pass that spot.
The whirling swirls and bubbling drifts, the echo and the sound of the water gurgling and roaring between the rocks, the spur and sometimes the fog made the poor fisherman in his rowing boat completely loose orientation and made the unfortunate man be trapped as another victim to feed the merciless maelstrom between those rocks.
Folklore explained the thundering noises, which could be heard there as coming from the dwarves’ workshops and smithies in the caves along the riverbank.
The idea of dwarves and their workshops may be a hint to the Celtic tribes, who settled in the region and who had been genuine craftsmen, producing most beautiful metal artwork and weapons.
Nowadays the noise of motor boats on the river and cars on the road along the Rhine may drown out the song of the Loreley and the noise from the dwarves’ smithies….
But look – isn’t that majestic rock a fitting throne for a river goddess?! Brentano and Heine were visionary writers and may unconsciously have sensed that powerful genius loci – the spirit of the river – during their extensive walking tours in the Rhine valley.
The Celtic tribes, who had lived here, have worshipped the Matronae – a group of three goddesses often depicted on stone monuments from the era of the Roman Empire. Unfortunately no regional names for these ladies are documented.
Although the Rhine is related to many beautiful tales about sunken treasures and rising heroes, about mighty castles and even mightier kings, a lot more on water worship and healing lore is to be found in the folk tales and legends, customs and traditions of the german countryside with it’s wells, rivers, lakes and ponds, which are said to be portals into Mother Hulda’s land of plenty. These are scattered all over the countryside of Westphalia, Hesse and Lower Saxony.
Folklore says, that Mother Hulda lives at the bottom of the lake or pond, sitting on a beautiful meadow and being surrounded by the babies for whom she cares until it is time for them to enter a new cycle of life in the material realm.
Stark and heron are Mother Hulda’s messengers, who carry the baby to the parents, karma and the Norns, goddesses of fate, had chosen for it.
Such places are called “Mother Hulda’s pond” or “children’s well”. Women prayed there and drank of the water to become pregnant. Also the water was used during the seasonal festivals to sprinkle humans, cattle, fruit trees, bee hives and fields as a blessing for fertility.
The water was also used as a remedy for infertility, which was often thought to be caused by some envious neighbour or another person’s unfriendly act of magic.
The water used for blessing, healing and protection had to be ladled silently, when the first rays of the rising sun on the first day of spring touch the water’s surface. It had to be brought home in silence, too. It was ladled into a special container, that was hung under the ceiling, as the sacred water was not to touch the soil except when being used to sprinkle humans and animals in the seasonal rites of blessing and whenever healing and protection was required.
——————-End of part I ————————–
Part II : The magical wells of TeutoForest
to be published in March……..