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a resort for the cure of warts. The sacred character of the well may be inferred from the silence in which it is necessary to go and come, and from the prohibition to turn or look back. The wart is to be bathed in the well with a rag or clout which has grease on it.
The clout must then be carefully concealed beneath the stone at the mouth of the well.'
The association of a bush or tree with a holy well is so common as to be practically universal, and there is no need to dwell upon it.
Mr. Gomme, in his very suggestive little book, Ethnology in Folk-lore, traces the distribution of holy wells in the British Islands. Speaking in general terms, the traces of well-worship become more pronounced and more primitive in character as we pass from east to west in the British Islands.
In the east of England no distinct ritual remains, and only a tradition of the healing qualities of a particular well or spring, or even its bare name, remain; many are now quite nameless.
In the west and north of England it is very different, and here we find examples of garland-dressing and pin-offerings. In Cornwall and Wales, and towards the northern border, the sacred bush by the well is decked with rags. These rag-bushes were formerly abundant in Scotland, and they still occur in great profusion in Ireland.
To speak in terms of races: this well-cult is least observed in Teutonic England, but it is retained in Celtic England and in Celtic Scotland, Wales, and Ireland. It is less modified among the Goidelic Celts of Scotland and Ireland than among the Brythonic Celts of Wales and South-west England; the latter are regarded by Professor Rhys as belonging to a later wave of Celtic migration than the Irish and Scots.
E. Sydney Hartland, The Legend of Perseus, ii., 1895, p. 176 (quoting from Prof. Rhys).
It is, however, very probable that well-worship is older than the Celtic migration. The associated custom of the offerings of rags or parts of clothing upon bushes sacred to the well has been investigated with regard to its geographical distribution by Mr. Walhouse,' and it is certain that it occupies a much wider area than that inhabited by Aryan peoples. Thus, to quote a summary given by General Pitt-Rivers :
“ Burton says it extends throughout Northern Africa from west to east.
Burton found the same custom in Arabia during his pilgrimage to Mecca; in Persia Sir William Ouseley saw a tree close to a large monolith covered with these rags, and he describes it as a practice appertaining to a religion long since proscribed in that country; in the Deccan and Ceylon, Colonel Leslie says that the trees in the neighbourhood of wells may be seen covered with similar scraps of cotton; Dr. A. Campbell speaks of it as being practised by the Limboos near Darjeeling, in the Himalaya, where it is associated, as in Ireland, with large heaps of stones; and Huc in his travels mentions it among the Tartars."
“Here, as Gomme points out, “not only do we get evidence of the cult in an Aryan country like Persia being proscribed, but, as General Pitt-Rivers observes, 'It is impossible to believe that so singular a custom as this, invariably associated with cairns, megalithic monuments, holy wells, or some such early pagan institutions, could have arisen independently in all these countries.' That the area over which it is found is conterminous with the area of the megalithic monuments, that these monuments take us back to pre-Aryan people and suggest the spread of this people over the area covered by their remains, are argu
IM. J. Walhouse, Rag-bushes and Kindred Observances,” Journ. Anth. Inst., ix, 1879, pp. 97-106.
• Colonel A. Lane Fox, “The Distribution of Megalithic Structures” Journ. Ethnol. Soc. (V. S.), i., 1869, p. 64.
ments in favour of a megalithic date for well-worship and rag offerings.”
The persistence of this cult in the more Celtic portions of the British Islands is then probably not due to this being a religious practice of the Aryans,—who were more addicted to fire-worship,-but to the fact that in this part of the Empire we have distinct traces of that pre-Aryan race to which I have so often referred in the earlier portion of this book. The Celtic Aryans who invaded the British Islands could not uproot the old religion; indeed, the converse has usually been the case. It is known that in various parts of the world the conquerors of a country have been psychically conquered by the people they have beaten—thus does the spirit revenge itself on matter. I have an example of this in my mind from New Guinea, where the immigrant Motu pay tribute to the sorcerers of the Koitapu, whose territory they have invaded, in order that they may obtain propitious winds. For, after all, only the people of a country can be expected to know the local spirits; and new-comers, whether as traders or conquerors, are utterly ignorant of the correct way to entreat or appease the local divinities.
We may regard it as pretty certain that the Celt (to use this somewhat vague term) absorbed many of the features of the religion of his Neolithic neighbours. In Ireland and Scotland the Goidels have long been in possession of the soil, but, as has previously been suggested, the Saxon invasion appears to have pushed the Brythons more and more to the west. We, however, find unmistakable relics of water-worship all over the British Isles, even in the east of England, which has, so to speak, been glaciated by the cold common sense of the Teutonic invasion.
1 Loc. cit., p. 106.
? " The Koitapu are much feared by the Motu because of their supposed wonderful power over sun, rain, heaven, and earth, north-west and south-east monsoons; specially do the winds belong to them. ... They are no doubt the real owners of the soil. ... By no conquest do the Motuans live here, but simply because the Koitapuans allow them, saying, “Yours is the sea, the canoes, and the nets; ours is the land and the wallaby. Give us fish for our flesh, and pottery for our yams and bananas.'” (J. Chalmers, Pioneering in New Guinea, 1887, p. 13; cf. also A. C. Haddon, The Decorative Art of British New Guinea : a Study in Papuan Ethnography,” Cunningham Memoir x., Roy. Irish Acad., 1894, pp. 156-164, 258–269.)
Apart from religious disposition or psychological idiosyncrasy, there are other reasons why well-worship should persist in the “ Celtic” parts of the British Islands. The early “ missionaries were obliged," as Mr. Gray points out, “ as a matter of policy to adopt a compromise, retaining such popular rites and customs as were considered innocent amusements, and engrafting upon them the introduced formalities of the Christian ritual.”! The teachers of the new doctrine were not of a very different stage of culture from those they sought to convert; they had not those material benefits and luxuries of a high civilisation which gave to the missionaries of last century such a tremendous advantage over the savages they evangelised. In the one case, Christianity had to be engrafted craftily and circumspectly on to paganism, as its visible benefits were not sufficiently apparent to appeal to the more materially minded mass of the people. In the other case, there was no point of contact between the two conditions, and, as a rule, savages do not realise a distinction between secular and sacred, between social duties and religious functions: so when these primitive folk came into contact with the mis. sionaries they were ready to embrace the religious tene and the higher culture of the white man-and the Protestant evangelists insisted only too well that the past should be completely erased. Thus the old culture (for they had culture), the old morality (for they had morality, though it may not have been the morality of the white man), and the old religion were slipped off like old garments, and life had virtually to begin afresh, clothed in the new garb of an alien civilisation and inspired by an exotic religion.
1 Proc. Belfast Nat. Field Club (2), iv., p. 92.
How different was the policy enforced by Pope Gregory, as embodied in a letter written about the year 601 A.D., and addressed “ To his most beloved son, the Abbot Mellitus," who was sent by the Pope to Augustine, first Bishop of Canterbury. Under the policy thus recommended the feasting and amusements that followed the old pagan rites were tolerated, “to the end that whilst some gratifications are outwardly permitted them, they may the more easily consent to the inward consolations of the grace of God.”.
“Unfortunately the 'gratifications' thus 'permitted' the early converts became afterwards the chief attraction on the day of dedication, and the religious observances on the patron's day degenerated into the pattern ' or 'fair' that subsequently became the fruitful source of riot and disorder down to our own day. This pattern or fair originated with the trade carried on in former times by those who provided refreshments for the people who assembled at the wells or places dedicated to some saint who became the patron of the place, and this annual gathering on the patron's day was called a 'pattern' [in Ireland). The original intention was for worship and religious festivities, but the festive soon absorbed the religious element, and all forms of abuses followed, and hence the gatherings were condemned by the Church. The early Christians strongly condemned the old pagan rites and ceremonies connected with wells, rivers, and fountains, mainly because of the riotous excesses in which the votaries indulged. Making offerings to wells, trees, and earthfast rocks is denounced in a Saxon homily preserved at Cambridge University Library.
1 Bede's Ecclesiastical History, book i., chap. xxx. 3 W. Gray, loc. cit., p. 92.