I love this piece, it reminds me of the sacred well in the village where I grew up that was owned … guardianed … by my aunt and it’s the theme around which my first novel, Owl Woman, spins. Teri’s piece is lovely and I know Dupath Well of old, Dad first took me there when I was about four or five, when we still lived on south Dartmoor not far from the Tamar.


Into the Woods, 11: Water, Wild and Sacred by Teri Windling

On a bright, clear morning some years ago, during the long, lovely days leading up to summer solstice, Wendy Froud and I drove through the lanes to the village of Callington in Cornwall (the county just to the west of Devon). We parked at the edge of a farmyard and followed what was then an overgrown footpath to Dupath Well, a deeply magical place buried in the green of the Cornish countryside.

Lady of the Waters by Brian Froud 2Like other holy wells in Devon and Cornwall, the spring that runs through Dupath Well is believed to have been a sacred site to Celtic peoples in the distant past, its older use now overlaid with a gloss of Christian legendry. At one time, this spring may have sat in a woodland grove of oak, rowan and thorn — trees sacred to the island’s indigenous religions. In 1510, a group of Christian monks claimed the Dupath site for their own use, enclosing the sacred spring in a small well-house made out of rough-hewn granite. This was a common fate for many of the ancient sacred sites in the West Country. Unable to dissuade the local people from visiting their holy places, Christian authorities simply took them over, building churches where standing stones once stood and baptisteries over sacred springs, cutting down ceremonial groves and putting woodhenges to the torch. There are many, many wells like Dupath Well, scattered all over the West Country — some of them covered and some still in use — often named now for the Saints and associated with their miraculous lives. But scratch the surface of these legends and older stories emerge like a palimpsest: stories of faery creatures, the knights of Arthur, and the old spirits of the land.

Inside the tiny, chapel-like building erected over Dupath Well, the water pools in a shallow trough carved from a single granite slab. The air is thick, heavy with shadows, with with the ghosts, perhaps, of men and women drawn to this spot for hundreds, maybe thousands, of years. The stones are worn where they once knelt and prayed to the Virgin Mary, or to the spirit of the spring. That day, on the bottom of the trough lay a handful of copper coins, a modern custom of making wishes that is not so very different from the old practice of throwing pins into a well to ask for well spirit’s blessing. Wendy placed a small offering of wildflowers by the water — which, too, is an ancient practice, recalling a time when it was the land itself our ancestors thanked for the gift of water, and of life.

Dupath Well

Belstone Well

Saxon Well

Lady Well

Today, with clean water piped directly into our homes and largely taken for granted, it takes a leap of imagination to consider how precious water would have been to those who fetched it daily from the riverside or village well.  …

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