Yule Blessings!

At the Nattie Fonten Well

Perchtenmaske, in "Haus der Natur", Salzburg Austria Date23 January 2005, 10:48:08 Source	Own work Author	MatthiasKabel, wiki commons

Perchtenmaske, in “Haus der Natur”, Salzburg Austria
Date 23 January 2005, 10:48:08
Source Own work
Author MatthiasKabel, wiki commons

Today is Yule, the second day of the 12 days of Yule.  Darkness has dropped its hold and light returns, one sliver at a time. Tonight is the Wild Hunt, where Father Odin and Frau Holle (sometimes called Berchta, Perchten or Bertha) lead their raucous company of the dead and the forgotten spirits through the sky.  Goddess help you if you should witness them!  you may very well hear them howling outside through this night.

Yesterday was Mother Night in the Heathen tradition and I was busy making preparations for the longest night of the year.

Mother Night or Mōdraniht was recorded by Bede as a heathen feast corresponding with the 12 days of Christmas, and of course this celebration is much older than this record.  Traditionally this night is celebrated the night before the Winter Solstice and honours female ancestors and spirits of the land.

Old Wives Well, aka Nattie Fonten. The Rag Well of the North York Moors

Old Wives Well, aka Nattie Fonten. The Rag Well of the North York Moors

We traveled to Nattie Fonten, the sacred well in the North York Moors. I was heartened to see someone before us had cleaned the well, but was discouraged to see myriad plastic twine “offerings” on the branches of the guardian tree there.  Rag Wells, or sacred “wishing” wells are often honoured in this way- a small cloth or item of clothing is left as a gift to the well, usually in exchange for healing.  IMG_5044Whoever left the rope obviously didn’t understand the tradition, and it felt to me to be a desecration of the site. If the plastic ropes are still there on my next visit I will take them down. I cleared away an empty local honey jar and left my own gifts before filling my flasks with the holy wild water for my work that evening.

The offerings of the overzealous. Plastic ropes on the sacred tree overwhelm the genuine "rag" offerings.

The offerings of the overzealous. Plastic ropes on the sacred tree overwhelm the genuine “rag” offerings.

I have written about Nattie Fonten on the blog before:

 According to Whelan and Taylor, there is historical evidence that Wade’s Causeway, the old Roman road on the moors, ran by this spring.  Wade’s Causeway is one of my favourite places on the moor, and perhaps the earth. Some say this road is not Roman at all but prehistoric, or perhaps Medieval, and that it has also been called the Old Wife’s Way. The giant Wade had a wife named Bell, and he built the road for her so she could go milk her giant cow in Pickering, or so the legend goes.  So maybe she is the old wife and this is her well. And maybe she is many other things, as the old wife is always the ancient Pagan Earth mother, but I digress.

Crystals charged with sacred well water and the moon of the longest night.

Crystals charged with sacred well water and the moon of the longest night.

Last night we burnt the old mistletoe posy that has guarded us since Yule of last year and laid out all my crystals, not only my personal ones but many that will be made into jewellery and tucked into parcels in the coming year. They were smudged with herb smoke and bathed in the water of Nattie Fonten and left for the bright waxing moon to bless.

Now Yule has come, most of my orders have been sent out, things are slowing down and we get to enjoy the season with twelve days of rest, as our ancestors have done. What will you be doing in the long nights of Yule?

At Nattie Fonten, sacred well, North York Moors

At Nattie Fonten, sacred well, North York Moors

Slavering Sal of East Witton

Slaverin' Sal, the gargoyle head on Diana's Well, East Witton.

Slaverin’ Sal, the gargoyle head on Diana’s Well, East Witton.

Me at Diana's Well

Me at Diana’s Well

Diana’s Well in East Witton is a long ramble up from the village, into a forest ride called “Castaway Ride” which is actually gated with a “Private: Do Not Enter” sign. The well is about a half mile deep into the woods, but easy to find because it’s enclosed in a 19th century well house. According to Edna Whelan and Ian Taylor in my much-referred-to copy of Yorkshire Holy Wells and Sacred Springs, the well house was built by the Earl of Aylesbury, and the inscription on the entrance marks the date as 1821. They propose the stonework came from the ruins of Jervaulx Abbey, not far away.  Before the dissolution, the monks there were famous for horse breeding and they introduced cheese making to the region, now famous for its Wensleydale.

Another fragment from the abbey is the distinctive face  on the outside of the well house. Water is piped in from the basin inside, out to this stone countenance, dripping through the mouth which is now covered with a thick beard of moss– so that its face resembles a green man or woman.  No doubt it’s this face that earned the well’s local name “Slaverin’ Sal” which Whelan and Taylor argue is a “folk echo of Sul or Sulis, the Celtic Water Goddess.”  Sul was worshipped in Bath by the Romans as Sulis-Minerva. Linguistically, sul may stem from the word for “eye or gap” in Old Irish.  Michael Graves has argued for a symbolic parallel in neolithic earthworks where the shape of the eye rhymes with the shape of the vulva.  You see it up close in the winking eye of Sal here at the well, and the gap at the mouth, now upholstered in luxuriant moss, is unmistakably a font of fertility. Though the growth of moss and lichen has obscured the eye carving, it’s clear that in previous illustrations of the font, Sal has two eyes.  It seems that perhaps the other has been chipped away, blinded by vandals.

Diana's Well, Well House, East Witton

Diana’s Well, Well House, East Witton

Named after the Roman Goddess of the moon, childbirth and the hunt, I wonder when it began to be called Diana’s Well. Is this a 19th century folly of a name? A pastoral whimsy? Regardless, it was never Christianized, though it was the original water supply for the village of East Witton.

The Well House, Diana's Well

The Well House, Diana’s Well

According to Gary R. Varner in Sacred Wells: A Study in the History, Meaning and Mythology of Holy Wells and Waters, many holy wells sprang up where the head of a decapitated saint had fallen. The beautiful St. Winifred’s Well in Wales is one such place. (Her head was actually reattached and she lived, so the story goes.) St. Winifred’s well in Shropshire has the same legend attached to it. In fact, Varner summarizes many 6-7th century legends which begin the same way– an attempted rape– and end with a decapitation and creation of a sacred spring. For some wells the healing was said to be amplified if the water could be drunk from a skull– the skull of a suicide in particular.  Varner argues these are remnants of the Celtic “head cult” surviving through ancestral memory and folk fragments. Edna Whelan goes into some depth on the Celtic head cult and wells in Yorkshire here.

The basin of Diana's Well-- cold clear water flowing

The basin of Diana’s Well– cold clear water flowing

This well has a history of a wishing well, where pins were thrown as an offering to the genus locii. Another name for this well is the “Castaway Well” and according to OutofOblivion.org, the name derives from this practice of throwing an offering into the water.  This well has been taken care of– there’s even a new roof on the well house. Watching the rivulets catch the sun as they trickled down the moss-laden sides of the dark house, the light glimmered and flickered, like a fairy fireworks display– it was mesmerising– staring at it I felt that I was indeed in a sacred place– away with the fairies.

The Mother Fountains of Stape and Keldy

I shot this short video of the Roman well in the wood at Cawthorne last weekend.  I will never be a cinematographer, but at least you can hear it! The sound of its vibrant flow was what struck me most about it.

I am in the unconquerable North, where the invaders have marked this place most vividly with ruins and linguistic remains, but perhaps what outlives the Roman Occupation and the Viking Age is the Wyrd, the soul of the land full of stories which now only come to us as fragments. Perhaps they must be re-imagined. Rob Wildwood is doing some of this, and this blog post is worth a visit.

A clear path meanders through an ancient, intimate woodland and a gigantic choir of rhododendrons marks the spot of the Roman Well. The well itself is a dark hole in an earthen bank which flows into a brick trough beneath the rhododendrons. According to Edna Whelan and Ian Taylor in Yorkshire Holy Wells and Sacred Springs, this spring was used for drinking water until recently (perhaps the 1980s?)

The Roman Well in the Keldy Wood

The Roman Well in the Keldy Wood

Perhaps it is the forest seclusion or the clear flowing cool water that suggests both sacredness and the practical. At one time these were one in the same. What sustained life was also divine.

The clear water in the brick trough. Water Shrine at Keldy Wood

The clear water in the brick trough. Water Shrine at Keldy Wood

No doubt this well was used by the Romans and the people who were here before that invasion.  The well is named after the Roman camp which is not far away. But the wood– Keldy– is named after the spring.  Kelda is Old Norse for a spring or well.  Keld is a frequent place name in the North of England.

Mike walking on the old Roman camp near Keldy, North Yorkshire

Mike walking on the old Roman camp near Cropton, North Yorkshire

The Roman camp is well marked with many signs that correspond to a guide which can be had at the New Inn (which has pretty killer beer, it must be said). Though I haven’t had a look at the guide and prefer its current manifestation as a mysterious, fey landscape which suggests many sleeping giants or fairy portals that one could perhaps see the entrance to at twilight. The views from the camp are spectacular– you can see to the moors in the distance with their big skies above.  No doubt this was a strategic placement, but it is more interesting to think on the Roman ruins and their fantastical Dark Age meanings– I highly recommend The Real Middle Earth by Brian Bates which discusses this.

We also visited the roadside shrine of the Old Wives’ Well at Stape. The well-used road disguises this place– you must look out for a little clearing of a path amidst the wild thistle and nettle jungle that surrounds it. Though of all the wells we have visited in North Yorkshire, this seemed the most visited and loved.

The Old Wive's Well at Stape.

The Old Wives’ Well at Stape.

It is a Rag or “Clootie” well– meaning traditionally people leave bits of clothing belonging to the sick in need of healing.  Ribbons and a little angel trinket had been tied to the nearby tree, and a candle, long since exstinguished, lay submerged in the water.  A wooden rail marks the area, but seems out of place.  Still, it is a marker that the Forestry Commission have acknowledged this place.   The Yorkshire Holy Well site says this well was once  on open moorland before tree planting began– and it does have a feeling of seclusion and salvage amidst a big working forest.  According to Whelan and Taylor, there is historical evidence that Wade’s Causeway, the old Roman road on the moors, ran by this spring.  Wade’s Causeway is one of my favourite places on the moor, and perhaps the earth. Some say this road is not Roman at all but prehistoric, or perhaps Medieval, and that it has also been called the Old Wife’s Way. The giant Wade had a wife named Bell, and he built the road for her so she could go milk her giant cow in Pickering, or so the legend goes.  So maybe she is the old wife and this is her well. And maybe she is many other things, as the old wife is always the ancient Pagan Earth mother, but I digress.

"Fons Natalis" the mysterious inscription on this water shrine.

“NATTIE FONTEN” the mysterious inscription on this water shrine.

The mysterious inscription- I’ll admit I couldn’t read it and am going by Whelan and Taylor’s account– “NATTIE FONTEN” could mean many things.  By their account, it could be a corruption of “Fons Natalis” a Celtic water nymph.  The Yorkshire Holy Wells site proposes the inscription could read “MATTIE FONTEIN” perhaps meaning “Mother Fountain”, and this conjecture continues there as well as at the Modern Antiquarian site.  Words! Here is one such fragment of meaning left to us, and what to make of it? Part of me wonders if its the name, surviving even in its uncertain form, which has invited visitors, the offerings and even the wooden fence marking the spot as somehow important, something the other wells we’ve visited do not enjoy.

For jewellery inspired by water spirits and pagan places, like these Mermaid Lanterns, visit my  Etsy shop.

For jewellery inspired by water spirits and pagan places, like these Mermaid Lanterns, visit my Etsy shop.

The Druid’s Well

Beltane fires were burned upon the crags here in bygone centuries.

The Northern Antiquarian.

Last weekend M hiked to the Druid’s Well in Bingley and took many wonderful photos of this holy well.  The photos reveal a lush Seelie Court. It is a place of historic fairy sightings and where the destroying angel mushroom grows.

The Druid’s Spring, Bingley, West Yorkshire

The companion well, The Altar Well, seems now buried but the Druid’s Well still swells from the earth in a sandy bed, fern-draped and lush with lichen. Also called the Druid’s Spring or Hollin (Holy) Well.  M washed his face there.

Perhaps I can visit one day– though the way is quite steep and my dodgy foot often will not allow me such daring.

Beltane Bride Set, inspired by the lichen of the Druid’s Temple in Ilton, West Yorkshire. For more jewellery inspired by fairy landscapes, please visit my Etsy shop.