I came across this old well in the woods the other day. I stopped and looked at it for a long time, mesmerized by the dark water and the green mosses that have made their home along its rim. Our relationship with water is so primal.
This spring provided the water to a cabin that used to be on the land next door sixty years ago. It is not that easy to get to this well, so it must have taken some searching and ingenuity. For starters, they had to get the water from here across a mountain brook that is often just a trickle but can also be impassable at times. Finding a good water source dictated where you could live and build your home here in the country and was always the first order of business.
Water….finding it, keeping it clean, preserving it, has always been serious business. But it has also inspired a rich history of story telling.
Wells have inspired stories from the beginning of time. Many fairy tales use their dark depths to bring something of importance to the surface. From the Frog Prince:
In olden times, when wishing still did some good, there lived a king whose daughters were all beautiful, but the youngest was so beautiful that the sun itself, who, indeed, has seen so much, marveled every time it shone upon her face. In the vicinity of the king’s castle there was a large, dark forest, and in this forest, beneath an old linden tree, there was a well.
Don’t you just love the line, “In olden times when wishing still did some good…?”
In many fairy tales something that at first seems dark and sinister emerges from the well. In the above case, an ugly frog who offers to help the princess – but, of course, wants something in return.
One theory for wells always housing fearful beings in fairy tales is that parents in times gone by conjured up these dark forces living in wells to scare their children in order to keep them far away from the very real dangers that wells presented.
Wells were also revered. They were sought out for contemplation and for making wishes. (I am thinking that wishes in days gone by were more like prayers.) The idea that a wish could be granted came from the notion that water was the home of deities or had been placed there as a gift from the gods. And in many areas of the world where water is scarce or unclean it must have truly felt like a gift from the gods to come upon a well.
Maybe most importantly, wells were community gathering places. It was here that life unfolded, and stories were told, and life became meaningful because of the sharing.
My question is, how do we revive the tradition of the well as gathering place? In this time in the world when there is so much divisiveness it seems to me we could all use a well in our communities to come together and share what we have in common instead of what divides.