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In the case of the dozen or more wells that are yet adored in Scotland, the pagan element is clearly traceable. The well of St. Maelrubha, in Loch Maree, Ross-shire, was, perhaps, next to the pool of St. Fillan, the most famous resort of the kind in the country. This well, whose healing virtues are still believed in, was credited with possessing wonderful powers of curing the insane. Some years ago, many hundreds of people, from all quarters, were brought to it before sunrise at stated seasons, but especially on Belteine and Hallowe'en. The patient* were made to kneel before the sacred tree which guarded the well ; to present to it an offering of some kind ; then to drink of the holy water ; and afterwards to dip thrice in the lake. This last part of the ceremony was sometimes performed by towing the t)alient at the end of a boat three times round the island, deasuil, or with the course of the sun. Traces of the offerings left on the oak tree can still be seen in the countless nails with which it is studded — to all of which, there was formerly attached a piece of garment or ribbon— and the numbers of pennies and half -pennies which are driven edgeways into every available space. An Edinburgh professor, on recently visiting the spot,

noticed what he took to be a silver coin embedded in the tree, but which proved when extracted to be a counterfeit shilling ! The worshipper — in whom a good deal of the modern pagan must have dwelt — finding that he could not get any value for his coin in the natural world, was no doubt led, as a last resource, to try 'what effect it might have in the spiritual. Close to Garth Castle in Perthshire there is a well which has a great reputation in the district on account of its virtues in removing infantile trotibles, such as measles and whooping cough. Whenever these diseases make their appearance the children are taken, before sunrise, to the well, and made to drink its healing water. This, however, is not done at the fountain head, but at a large "boulder near at hand, which kas got a natural cavity hollowed out on the east side. To this cavity water is carried from the well, and the patients have then to sip it with a spoon made from the horn of a living cow. This mountain spring has for ages been used in this manner, and there are few, within miles of it, who have not, at some time or other, made trial of its sanative virtues. It is reported that as late as 1882, when an epidemic of whooping cough prevailed, all the children in the district were taken to the well, and made to drink of its mystical waters.

The well and the loch of Mo-Naire in Strathnaver, in Sutherlandshire, continue to be visited regularly on the first Monday of each season, and are, perhaps, more frequented at the present time than any of the kind existing in Scotland. The writer, within a recent date, has seen as many as 20 or 30 people wending their way to them over the hills on a still Sabbath evening. There is a tradition that a woman possessing some pebbles which effected miraculous cures, was pursued by one of the Clan Gordon, who wished to secure them for himself ; and that, when she found escape was impossible, she threw them into the lake, crying out in Gaelic, "Mo naire I " (shame !) and declaring that its waters would heal all who bathed in them with the exception of such as bore the name of Gordon. But it is much likelier that the true reference is to nather — a serpent ; and that the health-giving properties of the loch and the well were primarily attributed to the clachan natharaiche, or glain nan Druidh, the "adder stones," or crystal beads of healing, supposed to be worn by the Druids, and which are frequently found in sepulchral mounds. This is rendered all the more probable because of the heathen practices performed at the loch and well, and also at the stone circles and long cairns in the vicinity. — Robert Munro, in " Good Words " for May.

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Bibliographic details

WELL-WORSHIP IN SCOTLAND,, Otago Witness, Issue 1967, 1 August 1889

Word Count

WELL-WORSHIP IN SCOTLAND, Otago Witness, Issue 1967, 1 August 1889