The Secret of Long Life? It’s All in the Water: Sacred Springs & Holy Wells
The belief in sacred springs and holy waters goes far back into the earliest religious myths of humankind, and is ubiquitous across every continent. An ancient primordial connection between water and spirituality has always existed in some form.
It’s thought that one of the earliest shrines ever built by human hands was probably a rock-cairn to mark the site of a bubbling spring. And even in our modern era, you would be hard-pressed to find a church or temple which does not have a water-shrine occupying a place of special reverence, whether it’s a fountain, a pool, a holy well, or a natural spring.
Ney Springs (Mount Shasta), photograph copyright Dustin Naef. “Ruins of an old spring hidden in the wilderness around Mount Shasta, California”.
Something in the Water
The traditions of ancient religions and water cults gave birth to a vast expression of folklore, spirits, deities, and occult beliefs which are intimately connected to bodies of water; it is still widely believed that occult forces are concentrated in places where waters bubble up from the depths of the earth, which become mirror-like windows and portals where one might glimpse something of another reality, separated from us by only the thinnest of barriers.
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The Sorceress, Jan van de Velde II (1626). “The imagery of a witch’s cauldron may relate back to ancient pagan beliefs surrounding springs as being repositories of occult power and conduits to another world”. ( CC BY 4.0 )
In the old countries throughout Europe, some sources of water have been venerated for untold generations, sometimes to the wonderment of modern people, as noted in the following quote by a nineteenth-century traveler:
“The unnoticeable smallness of many of these consecrated wells makes their very reminiscence and still semi-sacred character all the more remarkable. The stranger in Ireland, or the Highlands of Scotland, hears rumors of a distinguished well, miles on miles off. He thinks he will find an ancient edifice over it, or some other conspicuous adjunct. Nothing of the kind. He has been lured all that distance, over rock and bog, to see a tiny spring bubbling out of the rock, such as he may see hundreds of in a tolerable walk any day. Yet, if he searches in in old topographical authorities, he will find that the little well has ever been an important feature of the district; that century after century it has been unforgotten; and, with diligence he may perhaps trace it to some incident in the life of a Saint, dead more than 1200 years ago, whose name it bears.”
Castle Rock Well, photograph copyright Dustin Naef. “A bubbling mineral spring located along the Upper Sacramento River, south of Mount Shasta.”
The belief in supernatural powers latent in bodies of sacred waters—their curatives, rites, charms, and the lore of water-worship picked up from elders living near them—has been a preoccupation of wise men and women of every religious faith throughout history. Over the centuries, countless secret quests and lonely pilgrimages have been made in search of a lands legendary healing waters, and its redolent fountains of youth. Some of these ancient springs and wells are still in existence today, bubbling vigorously; while others have been destroyed through neglect and lay stagnant and barren, their naiads and magic depleted.
Woodcut: Hans Sebald Beham - Fountain of Youth and Bathhouse (1536). ( Public Domain )
The Fountain of Youth
The poet Y.B. Yeats famously said that an old man is but a paltry thing; a tattered coat hanging upon a stick. A recent article published in Business Insider revealed that many of the world’s leading tech-billionaires are generously funding life-extension technologies in a gambit to try to defeat death—or at least delay its onset for as long as possible. This should come as no surprise, because youth is the one thing that cannot be purchased with all the wealth in the world; and with each passing moment, a little bit more of it is taken away from us forever.
The yearning for immortality is nothing new in the annuls of history and exploration, the eternal quest for the fountain of youth has been an obsession of Kings, nobles, and Rulers for thousands of years, and many oceanic voyages have been launched in search of fabled lost Edens—most often ending with much bloodshed, and the further spreading of human misery.