Crossing the Circle at the Holy Wells of Ireland

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9780813915487: Crossing the Circle at the Holy Wells of Ireland
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Even before the time of the Celts, Ireland was believed to be a land of power that "welled up" from the earth in the form of bubbling springs and healing waters. The myths and rituals surrounding these holy wells have been modified through the centuries as pre-Celtic and Celtic rituals blended with Christian traditions to form the combination of rites performed at these sites today. Drawing on fifteen years of fieldwork and archival research, conversations with local informants, and scrutiny of dozens of maps ancient and modern, the Brennemans have written the first study of these wells that offers an in-depth interpretation of their symbolism and their mythological and ritual origins.
More than two dozen photographs and a map of the wells cited in the text portray the authors' journey throughout Ireland to recover the archaic patterns that link past and present, pagan and Christian. Some of the wells photographed in the early years of their research have become inactive, and some Celtic practices have disappeared, leaving these photographs, in some instances, the only remaining record. Enhancing the photographs and research are numerous tales about trees at the wells that when cut will not burn, stones associated with the wells that when removed always return, and trout living in the wells that when caught cannot be cooked.
Drawing largely on the work of historian of religions Mircea Eliade in interpreting these phenomena, the Brennemans have developed an original concept, the "loric," that is used to identify a particular form of power tied to and arising from a specific locality. They then contrast the loric with the "sacred," a universalizing and world-creating power. Complementing this theoretical treatment are insights into the influence of St. Patrick and the Christian symbolism at the wells.

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About the Author:

Walter L. Brenneman, Jr., is Associate Professor of Religion at the University of Vermont.

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