In search of rag wells: Correspondent views on the subject of rag wells and votive offerings

In 2016 I was invited to do a symposium on ritual litter. Before this I had been running a survey on Surveymonkey on the use of wells as sites of votive offerings focusing on rag wells. Below are some of the comments made by the correspondents which I believe would be useful to share here. They have been made anonymous in most cases separated from the sites they describe. Please note the survey is still live and the author welcomes more entries and also note do not use this research without express permission of the author.

What is left at wells and what did people think of it?

Asked what they thought about the subject of rag wells and giving of votive objects. They were asked about what should be left at such sites:

“I am very pleased to see the right sort of offerings ie red rags or ribbons, natural objects, degradable objects, bits of clothing, prayers written on paper etc that will degrade, as they keep the site and tradition alive, but plastic/junk etc crystals etc are not welcome. I know this is not a popular point of view. Perhaps we should all agree to leave 1-2 items only in our lifetime.”

Another correspondent reported:

“The type of offering is important. Natural (crystals, small metal objects) or genuinely degradable materials should be used. walk softly! And don’t leave stuff in the water”

Referring to a specific site another recorded:

“the offerings at Goodmanham are very controversial as they have tended recently to be non-degradable items. My own feeling is that this isn’t too much of a problem provided they are regularly tidied, and while not visually very tasteful they show that people are using the site.”

Of such offerings another stated:

“Because it is non biodegradeable it piles up and blows around causing damage and danger to wildlife.”

Of another site a correspondent noted:

“The wiccans of my acquaintance have now left the area, there is also a high church anglican who collects water there, I have never asked him if he leaves a votive token. THE water of the well, incidentally, is taken for all purposes still. Also the water is in current use in a mediaeval ink preparation AND is used to write mss.”

It was good to see a number of correspondent noting that the offerings

‘should be biodegradeable’ Others noted that they ‘Do dislike plastic items, should be compostable’, ‘I don’t mind biodegradable stuff i.e. flowers but not non biodegradable stuff i.e synthetic fabric’; ‘I don’t mind flowers, sticks, straw or genuine pieces of clothing. Object to plastic nylon and tissues!’ Concern for the fabric and nature of the site was also raised ‘Increasingly the offerings are plastic and unnatural, carving in the stone of the well defaces it, someone tried to scrub it out then causing further damage.’ Or ‘Some people feel too many offerings on one tree. Others feel they must be left as its offerings from people.’

Finally interestingly, another notes: ‘it is not something we should have an expectation on’

Why did they leave rags (or other offerings)?

A number of correspondents identified the reason they gave they left votives as: “An offering to the saint/goddess as recognition of their healing and knowledge” or to give thanks in some fashion ‘To honour and feed the land and spirit of place, to give thanks’; ‘To say thanks, to leave beauty’  ‘for thanks to Gaia’ or more specifically ‘Thanking the goddess for her waters’. Some saw it as simply as an ‘Offering to deity’ or ‘As a wish/blessing’. Correspondents identified that they were ‘Following ancient, spiritual beliefs.’

Respect was evident that some did it as a ‘mark of respect, replacing energy’ or to ‘respect for the Spirit Of The Place’

Energy figured in some views with one stating they ‘believe in the transferrence of positive energy’

Connection was stressed by a number of correspondents. It being done as a ‘symbol of my connection to the place’ or to ‘Giving a little of myself to the spirit of the place.’

Tradition was mentioned by a few correspondents one more specifically saying ‘Traditional to leave an offering when you visit a well’ or ‘to show respect to tradition, the ‘spirit’ of that place and as an offering.’

Some correspondents were more specific in their reasons. One stated that they:

‘Left one for the improved health of my husband’ or for ‘For people and animals who have passed on. Or are/have been ill’ or ‘To show my respect, and thanks for the safe arrival of my granddaughter’ or ‘It was a symbol of my Intention to help friends through illness.’

One final long comment mentioned:

“To give thanks for being alive, for being able to visit, for arriving safely, for the health and safety of those I love, for my continuing health, as an offering to the Gods, in gratitude for my life. Once, a few days after my wedding, I passed a red ribbon through my wedding ring three times and tied it to the tree(ribbon not ring) at Madron to bless my marriage. Once, in a time of real need, I left an offering at Fairy Well St Ives because I really needed a wish to come true. which it did.”

What would be interesting is how these compare to more ‘traditional’ uses of the wells and the custom. We shall be exploring this in the final post of this series

About pixyledpublications

Currently researching calendar customs and folklore of Nottinghamshire

Posted on October 19, 2020, in Rag well. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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