Oh holy crap! If those are it’s patrons, then that must be the worst wishing well ever!
But....I’m a sucker for wishing, so.......*fumbles for coins*........I wish my vacation wasn’t over today and I was still at home being a bum!
Damn. Those things never work.
Yep. Today is Tuesday, and as become my habit, that makes it the day for my weekly oddities post. As I’m sure you all realize, I don’t actually write these on Tuesday morning. Sometimes they get done as early as the Friday before, but mostly come into being about Sunday or Monday. nd as some of you may have known, I was on vacation from Wednesday of last week until Monday, today as I write, yesterday as you read. So technically, I’m still on vacation.
If I’m technically on vacation when I write this, that means Tuesday, when you read this, you will be reading the words of a person who is still on vacation. Which means the wishing well worked. Because you read about me wishing to still be on vacation. And I am, as I write this. My wish came true because, as I write this, I am a bum, sitting at home!
Ok. Just stop trying to figure it out. My logic is impeccable.
It* actually considered not doing a post today. Vacations means laziness is acceptable, but........wishing wells, y’know?
No. You probably don’t. And that’s why I’m here. I’m sure everyone has, at some point, tossed coins into either a wishing well or a fountain. Probably both. And I’m sure most of you have experienced the slight disappointment of not having the wish come true. And then the slightly larger disappointment of discovering you threw your lunch money into the well.
But have you ever wondered why we throw our change into wells and fountains?
It’s actually a continuation of a ritual started long, long ago.....in the before times.
Water is one of the most precious substances on the planet. Without it we would not be here. A human can live for only a week without it. That’s why most large cities were founded on, and remain by, large springs, rivers, or some other reliable source of fresh water. But back when humans were nomadic they were well aware of the need to have fresh water. And if you’ve ever tried surviving in the woods or mountains you know fresh water isn’t all that easy to find.
Oh wait. Let me qualify that. Fresh water that’s safe to drink is hard to find.
Back for our nomad ancestors it was easier. Barring some external contamination source, like a rotting animal carcass just upstream, if they found fresh water, it was probably safe to drink. They didn’t have to worry about pollutants and other crap.
Anyway, once a source of water was found, early people did what they normally did when they found something beneficial: they left sacrifices to it. If you were in a group of early humans, and you were going from point A to point B, and you stumbled on a nice spring or stream just when you needed to stop for the night, you’d want to thank the water god. So you’d leave a sacrifice to the water. Typically you would share your food by leaving some next to the water. If you couldn’t spare the food, you might leave a personal item.
As people started to settle down they continued to thank the water for being there. They found that leaving piles of food by the water tended to have adverse effects. Like attracting wild creatures of nasty temperament. Or rotting away and smelling like, you know, smelly, rotten food. And that attracts flies. And flies carry disease. Not that our early ancestors necessarily knew that. I’m just throwing it out there.
So they started leaving valuable items as tribute. This had the added benefit of not getting eaten or rotting away, so the items lasted longer. No need to sacrifice as often. People still had to sacrifice though. You see, as towns started being built, industry sprouted up. So the things people left as sacrifice were things of personal value. In the start they were personal items. But as people started becoming more industrious they decided to keep the personal items and instead sacrificed items of tradable value.
Which the members of another new industry began to take an interest in: thieves. After all, why buy a bronze cup when you can just go take the water gods bronze cup? They aren’t using it........
This led to the items being thrown in the water instead of being left next to it. At least the thieves would have to work for their loot if they wanted it.
As settlements grew, more sources of water had to be found. As the town expanded, people began living further and further from the river or spring. People use a lot of water every day. And if you have to carry the water, you understand why only the rich can live near the water.
To help it’s citizens, many towns that were on rivers used the flowing water to channel it to collection spots located conveniently for the towns people. To keep the water from becoming stagnant, they devised a method of keeping the water in constant motion by pumping it up in a stream. Voila! Fountains.
But fountains weren’t always feasible. Wells were dug down to the water table to allow the collection of water. And for safety reasons, a stone wall would be built around the well opening. And if it was a deep well, a derrick was erected to make dragging the water up easier. And since people mostly lived where it was really sunny, a roof would sometimes be erected as well. (The roof also helped protect the water supply from outside contamination. Contrary to what you see in the movies, most wells weren’t left open. They had covers.)
People being people, they continued to sacrifice to the new methods of water gathering. The problem was, all that stuff in a fountain looked really bad and it tended to pile up. And in a well, it could make collecting water hard if the pile grew high enough. Plus, as more and more people started living in towns it became easier to just sacrifice a few coins instead of an actual item.
Coins in the fountain were popular with the rulers of towns because they could occasionally collect them. This helped keep the water clean, made the city some spare cash, and also meant more money would be tossed in to ensure the pleasure of the water god, or whatever reason they had always thrown money into the fountain for. As people began forming civilizations, the old beliefs were put aside for new religions. Soon people began to forget why they tossed money into the water, so they stopped doing it.
And that, according to the town leaders, wasn’t cool! That was their money, man! So, what were the leaders to do?
Back then the leader of the city was also the leader of the local religion. And if there was a separate religious leader, you can bet they were related, or working together. So the loss of coin affected the powerful.
One day one of these religious leaders had a brilliant idea. Instead of sacrificing the coin to the water god, what if they told the citizenry that while the gods always have the best interests of everyone in mind, they weren’t above a few bribes. I mean, you can’t actually pay the gods to do something for you, but.....you know, if you were to just ask the gods for a favor, and then casually toss some change into a fountain, well....that’s not really paying the gods for a favor, is it?
Well, that was a good idea, but a priest with a conscience pointed out that the gods wouldn’t actually be granting any favors for money and people would figure that out pretty quickly. They put their heads together and decided that the gods only favored the people whose coins fell heads up. If your request was denied, then that mischievous imp known as Chance caused your coin to land tails up.
Now the only problem was how to keep people from tossing their cash down a well, where the rulers couldn’t get their grubby little paws on it.
Someone, maybe the same one who came up with the whole ‘wishing’ idea**, figured that if they built a replica well that stayed above ground, they could collect the coins with ease. But how to justify it? Honestly, we have no idea. But it was most likely some lame excuse like, “When you throw your coin down the well, it goes a long way down, and it’s really dark, so the gods can’t see how it landed. If you toss it into this ‘Wishing Well’, the gods will be able to see the coin and grant your desires.”
And so, time passed. We find ourselves in the present. We no longer believe in the same gods as the original civilizations, so we no longer try to bribe the gods into granting our desires. Instead we toss money into fountains because we’ve been conditioned into believing it will bring us luck, or because we hold onto some primal instinct that makes us, if not believe in wishes, then hope they will come true.
Speaking as someone who has had to drain a public fountain and collect the coins, be thankful they don’t toss coins into your drinking water. They get all crusty and slimy. Some of it is the minerals from the water, but other stuff grows from the crap on people hands. Like actual crap. Because people are gross and touch their money after pooping without washing their hands. Seriously.....money is some of the dirtiest stuff you encounter every day. Don’t believe me? Then grab a handful of coins and rub them in between your hands for 1 minute. Then look at your hands. Were they that dirty before you started? If so, take a shower you slob. If not, gross.
* That is the correct spelling. I wrote this paragraph in the third person. I then decided it was stupid, so I stopped. I consciously used ‘It’ as a pronoun to refer to myself.
** No. It wasn’t the same person.