Sacred Water, Sacred Wells

I recently visited a local Sacred Well.  Unlike other Holy Wells in Connemara, this one is no longer visited for a ‘pattern’ or for a saint’s day.  It is largely forgotten and ignored and as far as I know, I am the only person who visits it.  I go to it for a number of reasons, not least because it is SO beautiful, so magical and so neglected.  I love opportunities to connect with the land in different ways and to connect with my ancestors and visiting a well like this enables me to do those things.

There are Holy Wells all over Ireland and the majority are associated with saints and their healing powers.  One holy well might relieve headaches and another holy well might relieve blindness or stomach aches or some other ailment.  Almost every well in Ireland has a tree close by, more often than not Hawthorn but you might also find Ash, Holly and Oak. If the well had a reputation of offering healing and was associated with a saint, people would perform a “pattern” – a ritual walk around the well saying prayers.  The people would walk deosil or sunwise as they prayed and made offerings, perhaps a coin or something else precious to them;  and if they had a problem with their health, they would wrap a rag or cloutie on to the tree close by.  This little rag symbolised the ailment they hoped would be healed and as it rotted away, so would their ailment go; or perhaps they might leave rosary beads or a holy medal tied to the tree as an offering.

It has saddened me very much when I have seen plastic tied to a tree.  Once in Meath, close to the Lough Crew monument, there was a stand of Hawthorn trees covered in clouties made from black bin bags!!!  Obviously a group of people used something handy – perhaps a black bin bag from a coach on tour – but to my mind this was totally disrespectful to the trees and to the spirit of the land as well as to the Goddess that the monument celebrates.

In Irish mythology there are several tales of magical wells.  One of the most well known is in the cycle of tales about the Fianna, a band of warriors led by Fionn Mac Cumhail.  The story tells us that a Hazel tree, (that was the first thing to exist in the universe and contained  all the knowledge within the universe), was growing close to a well known as an Tobar Segais – The Well of Knowledge.  This was because hazel nuts would fall into it.  A beautiful salmon lived at the bottom of the well and had eaten some of the nuts, consequently becoming the Salmon of Knowledge.  By accident or perhaps it was fate(?) Fionn tasted the salmon and was immediately filled with all of the  knowledge of the Salmon, the Well and the Hazel tree – you will have to read the story for yourself!

Another story tells of Bóann, a young goddess who wondered why she was not allowed to go to her husband Nechtan’s Well of Inspiration.  No one was permitted to visit this well apart from Nechtan, (it being the same well where the Salmon of Knowledge  had lived) as it could be dangerous to approach because the water would gush out and cause injury.   Bóann decided to break the taboo because she knew that this well was the Source of All Wisdom and contained the Mother River of all the rivers of the world.  She approached counterclockwise and the waters of the well rose up and burst out becoming the mighty Rover Boyne, washing Bóann down to the sea.  There are other endings to this story that you may like to search out.

There is a similar story about the River Shannon, the longest river in Ireland.  Another young goddess, Sionnan also went to visit the Well of Inspiration and when she lifted the lid of the well, the waters gushed out, flowing rapidly and drowning Sionnan.  The rapidly rushing water became the River Shannon. These young goddesses did not die though, they were transformed through the knowledge they obtained and became immortal.


For the ancient Irish, Water was a sacred element.  It flowed through rock and opened the earth and it was believed that it must have magical powers and the ability to connect this world with the Other World.  The people then, knew of course, that water was life and that water was healing.  After all, we began life swimming within the womb and without water our worlds, inner and outer, would not exist.  Water is the universal solvent so it can dissolve rock and metal, it can wear away large areas of land and can evaporate into steam or fog, seemingly to disappear.  Water can hold memories and perhaps that is why the Sacred Wells are so important, as they connect us to a past when we knew the Earth was alive and so were the trees and the plants and the stones and of course, Water itself.

Water has been used since antiquity to cleanse and to bless, to purify and renew, to wash away and release.  We can tell our problems to a stick or write them on a piece of paper our and let it go in the water.  As it is washed away to the sea, so is the problem washed away.  This is a very therapeutic ritual.  The element of Water is associated with the Moon and many of us can feel the pull of the moon, at certain times, affecting our emotions.  Perhaps this is because Water represents our emotional body which should be flowing freely rather than becoming stagnant and causing us harm. By tuning in to our watery side we can release negative emotions and restore flow to our psyche.  Speaking of the psyche,  Water connects us to our deep unconscious – the place where our souls know everything,  In ancient Ireland poets connected to the element of Water for creativity,

“…the place where poetry was revealed was upon the brink of water..” (John Matthews.)  Those liminal places, shorelines, river banks, by the side of a lake (or by the River Boyne – above) were the places where three elements came together – Air, Earth and Water – and created a magical place of otherworldliness and inspiration.

On the Celtic Wheel of the Year, Water is placed in the West at the Autumn Equinox.  According to Tom Cowan, “…water runs downward into the Earth, like the setting sun…(it) seeks its resting point as the sun seeks its evening rest below the horizon”.  The Equinoxes represent balance and at the  Autumn Equinox, Water represents balance as it finds its level in any container. The  Autumn Equinox is a time when we can experience balance as we take time to reconnect with our deep inner selves.

As Water is indeed a Sacred element I would encourage anyone to remember that and to bring that sacredness into the mundane.. Bless the water before drinking or using for cooking and contemplate gratitude because water IS life.  When you wash or bathe bless the Water with thanks for its cleansing and purifying, soothing and rejuvenating qualities.   Be mindful of how many times a day you use water and give thanks.  Can you show your appreciation by cleaning up a beach or riverside?  Spend time with a favourite body of water and see if you can sense the spirits that reside there.  Can Water tell you anything you need to know – after all it has been used for divination throughout history.  If you have access to a well or to a spring, revive the custom of decorating it with flowers and leaving votive offerings such as coins or a gift from Nature such as a pebble or shell.

In these troubled times I will leave you with some words of wisdom from the Irish poet and philosopher, John O’Donohue,

“Water enjoys freedom.  It disperses itself evenly wherever it lies.  There are no entanglements or nets at the heart of water.  It does not know the conflict and contradiction of differentiation.  Sometimes the presence and effect of friendship and love is like the dissolution that water brings.  Love unties and dissolves whatever is caught, hardened or entangled.”



21 thoughts on “Sacred Water, Sacred Wells

  1. Joy says:

    Beautiful photos and stories. Sad to hear visitors using plastic as a cloutie. I learned, from a North American Native tradition, to leave behind some strands of my hair if nothing else was available as an offering.

    Really enjoyed this post, and the reminder to bless the water I use.

    Thank you Terri.

  2. Lynda Hill says:

    Very interesting, thank you. I have heard water, especially very ancient spring water, described as flowing from the arteries of the Goddess out into our world;a sacred lie fluid.

  3. Terri Conroy says:

    Thanks Joy. I have been taught to do that too, or use a song or a poem. Anything but plastic! Makes me wonder where people’s heads are at???

  4. Eli says:

    Thank you so much for this! Fire is my element and that’s probably why i long for water all the time, I feel quiet and balanced when I am close to the water, but specially to the sea water…
    I wonder why is that in many traditions and religions people would get punished if they get close to any source of knowledge? Adam and Eve…now these stories that you wonderfully wrote on your blog….
    From very far away, Argentina, with love ❤️

  5. Tacy West Wells says:

    Very inspiring which is needed. We all need more wells and those in Ireland are very fortunate to have these places of joy and worship. There is no running water or wells where I live for hundres of miles. Thank you so much for sharing so I can soak up the pictures of lush.

  6. Terri Conroy says:

    Thank you Eli. I suppose because the powers that be never want ordinary people to have access to knowledge so these stories serve as a warning to those who seek it. Will they ever learn??

  7. Valerie Boechler says:

    From the province of BC, Canada. I have recently been guided to your work and, am blessed and inspired by your words and presence. I look forward to the gleaning of knowledge that you make available…

  8. Brian Steere says:

    Water of Life is both a Matrix and an expression of life.
    Plasma – is also the ‘waters’ of what we now call Space – that is the ionised self-organising charge differentiation from which the counterspiralling unity of existence in motion. Its filamentary and cellular patterning is fractal at all scales.
    Plasma Cosmology adds a key to the understanding of the archetypes and matrices of our past and presence – such as brings the mythic into shared experience rendered as imaged symbol, and on which our thought, word and perceptions rest. This is also overlapping with Electric Universe – as uncovered in expansion from an object based force model, which is the Field of resonance along with resonant domains – such as are now found to in the social or memory structure of water. Victor Schauberger was a natural psychic visionary and scientist in his own naturally inspired curiosity. The vortexing of flowing water is not just an oxygenating cleanse but the releasing or destructuring to allow renewal and in a sense restructuring in terms of its living context. The charge separations of water are little known. Gerald Pollack is a clear communicator of what he called EZ (exclusion zone) water – which literally operates charged domains interacting with surfaces of proteins and other hydrophilic particles/surfaces.
    Sea water can be used as blood plasma. The body IS structured water. Our object model – for all its symbolic architecture – is a locked-down, distanced and masked over Separation Trauma. The restoration of the flow of Resonant Communication and coherence to our awareness is the shift from defence (attack!) to a balancing of receptive and projective (extension) of Life.
    Approaching the Well as a mind set for getting, will find what it does not expect – and may well be washed away from the world it thought to know before. The Well for giving is known by sharing. Giving and receiving as one.
    I started writing to connect in Spirit (after appreciating your YT on plantain and clicking to your site. But offered some sketch to prompt a curiosity for there is so much more to ‘water’ than the ‘mainstreamed mind’ pipes to a socially reinforced dissociation.

  9. Lara Cooper says:

    Ive recently found your Youtube channel and now your blog. Im really enjoying visiting your house and garden and wandering around your local area. I have ancestry in Ireland, but our family have been in Australia for many generations now. But I often wonder what life is like there…was like there. And to know the stories and myths that made people who they were. We are (generally) so disconnected from any sense of long history/wisdom in this country, and are really only starting to appreciate the rich indigenous cultural wisdom. Appreciate the time and knowledge that goes into your sharing. Id never even heard of a cloutie!

  10. Terri Conroy says:

    Lovely to hear from you Lara. Our rich indigenous culture is fading fast and we desperately need people like yourself to ask questions, come searching and make enquiry. Thank you for your comment. xx

  11. Terri Conroy says:

    Thank you so much for in depth comment Brian. I think you are right and I agree with you. I watched a fascinating documentary about water and Russian research. It was fascinating and the outcome of the documentary was that water is elusive – it is impossible to categorise it scientifically which just proves to me that Water is a spiritual element. The way you have described it is the way I think our ancestors understood it.

  12. Brenna Corbit says:

    What is the difference between a well and a spring? Here in America I only know of natural springs.

  13. Terri Conroy says:

    A spring is a natural output of water through the rock and a well is man made. In Ireland, the Sacred Wells are springs that have been recognised as sacred and often there is a wall put around them so that they create a pool.

  14. Brenna Corbit says:

    Thank you. It’s a little confusing, though, that a sacred well is a spring.

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