Springs, streams, creeks, and freshets are under the care of the goddess-saint Brigit. The Well of Brigit in Fouchart, Ireland, among others, is a place of eternal magic and ceremony, where folk hang rags and leave gifts.
Of the thousands of holy wells in Britain and Ireland, only a few survive, the ancestors of today’s wishing wells. Most have been plowed, planted, or neglected. Nevertheless, well worship is by no means extinct. There continue to be well-dressing ceremonies, where bowers of flowers, rushes and other greenery are proffered annually, as at Tissington (see Holy Wells #1). Offerings are often simple and spontaneous, single tokens from passersby. The joke’s on anyone who steals a well offering: the thief merely adopts the trials and tribulations of the one who left it.
Today, we “take the waters” hoping to discard our distresses, mental and physical. There have always been spas, but some were once holy wells, where curative miracles or an appearance by a saint-goddess may have occurred.
Among the most famous of the healing waters in Europe is the grotto at Lourdes, France. Saint Winefred’s Well at Holywell in Wales is much visited since she was beheaded in the Middle Ages by evil Prince Cardoc for refusing his advances. Where her head fell, waters gushed from the Earth.
The White Lady is still seen ascending from holy wells. The story of Winefred—whose name is related to Guenevere and apparently means White Goddess, White Shadow, or White Wave—may be a Christian mutation of an older tale.
In Christianized Arthurian tales, the Lady of the Lake is none other than a latter-day White Lady of Waters, perhaps Brigit herself. The Lady of the Lake guards Arthur’s mighty sword, Excalibur, just as Brigit was matron of blacksmiths and iron.
Water and smithing went together as well in ancient Greece, for it was under the water that the Greek smith god Hephaestus had his first forge, built for him by his foster mother, Amphitrite, goddess of the sea and storms.