Sacred Waters : A Cross-Cultural Compendium of Hallowed Springs and Holy Wells book cover
1st Edition

Sacred Waters
A Cross-Cultural Compendium of Hallowed Springs and Holy Wells

Edited By

Celeste Ray

ISBN 9780367445133
Published March 3, 2020 by Routledge
416 Pages

FREE Standard Shipping
USD $48.95

Prices & shipping based on shipping country


Book Description

Describing sacred waters and their associated traditions in over thirty countries and across multiple time periods, this book identifies patterns in panhuman hydrolatry. Supplying life’s most basic daily need, freshwater sources were likely the earliest sacred sites, and the first protected and contested resource. Guarded by taboos, rites and supermundane forces, freshwater sources have also been considered thresholds to otherworlds. Often associated also with venerated stones, trees and healing flora, sacred water sources are sites of biocultural diversity. Addressing themes that will shape future water research, this volume examines cultural perceptions of water’s sacrality that can be employed to foster resilient human–environmental relationships in the growing water crises of the twenty-first century. The work combines perspectives from anthropology, archaeology, classics, folklore, geography, geology, history, literature and religious studies.

Table of Contents

Holy wells and sacred springs

Celeste Ray

PART I Ancient influences

1 Fons et Origo: observations on sacred springs in classical antiquity and tradition

Christopher M. McDonough

2 Water sources and the sacred in modern and ancient Greece

Evy Johanne Håland

3 Life and death from the watery underworld: ancient Maya interaction with caves and cenotes

Nicholas P. Dunning

PART II Stewarding curative waters and caring for pilgrims

4 "Go drink from the spring and wash there": the healing waters of Lourdes

Michael Agnew

5 The well of Zamzam: a pilgrimage site and curative water in Islam

Ahmad Ghabin

6 Sacrality and waterfront sacred places in India: myths and the making of place

Rana P.B. Singh

PART III Genii loci and ancestors

7 Freshwater sources and their relational contexts in Indigenous Australia: views from the past and present

Liam M. Brady

8 Inca shrines: deities in stone and water

Marco Curatola Petrocchi

9 Dragon wells and sacred springs in China

Jean DeBernardi, Yan Jie and Ma Junhong

10 Sacred springs of the Tewa Pueblos, New Mexico

Richard I. Ford

PART IV Temporal powers, social Identity and sacred geography

11 Divine waters in Ethiopia: the source from heaven and Indigenous water-worlds in the Lake Tana region

Terje Oestigaard and Gedef Abawa Firew

12 Ori Aiye: a holy well among the Ondo of Southeastern Yorubaland, Nigeria

Raheem Oluwafunminiyi and Victor Ajisola Omojeje

13 Sacred wells of Banaras: glorifications, ritual practices and healing

Vera Lazzaretti

14 Yaksutŏ: Korean sacred mineral spring water

Hong-key Yoon

15 Sacred hierarchy, festival cycles and water veneration at Chalma in Central Mexico

Ramiro Alfonso Gómez Arzapalo Dorantes

PART V Medieval Europe

16 Between Fons and foundation: managing a French holy well in the Miracula Sancti Theoderici

Kate M. Craig

17 Finnaun y Doudec Seint: a holy spring in early medieval Brycheiniog, Wales

Andy Seaman

18 Gvendarbrunnar of medieval Iceland

Margaret Jean Cormack

PART VI Contested and shared sites

19 A higher level of immersion: a contemporary freshwater mikvah pool in Israel

Robert Phillips

20 Waters at the edge: sacred springs and spatiality in Southwest Finnish village landscapes

John Björkman

21 Memory and martyrs: holy springs in Western Siberia

Jeanmarie Rouhier-Willoughby

22 Sacred and healing springs in the Republic of North Macedonia

Snežana Filipova

23 Water sanctuaries of Hatay, Turkey

Jens Kreinath

PART VII Sacred waterfalls

24 Sacred waters of Haitian Vodou: the pilgrimage of Sodo

Elizabeth McAlister

25 The Olympic Mountains and the sacrality of water in the Klallam world

Cailín E. Murray

26 Back into the light: water and the indigenous uncanny in northeastern Japan

Ellen Schattschneider

PART VIII Popular pieties

27 With sacred springs, without holy wells: the case of Estonia

Heiki Valk

28 The holy wells of Wychwood Forest, England

Martin Haigh

29 Holy wells and trees in Poland as an element of local and national identity

Wojciech Bedyński

30 Visiting holy wells in seventeenth-century Sweden: the case of St. Ingemo’s Well in Dala

Terese Zachrisson

31 The Buddha’s thumb, Nāga legends and blessings of health: sacred water and religious practice in Thailand

Rachelle M. Scott

PART IX Hydrology, stewardship and biocultural heritage

32 At the end of the field, a pot of Nemunai is boiling: a study of Lithuanian springs

Vykintas Vaitkevičius

33 Where does the water come from? A hydrogeological characterisation of Irish holy wells

Bruce Misstear, Laurence Gill, Cora McKenna and Ronan Foley

34 The holy springs of Russia’s Orel region: traditions of place and environmental care

Jane Costlow

35 Sentient springs and sources of life: water, climate change and world-making practices in the Andes

Astrid B. Stensrud

36 Flora, fauna and curative waters: Ireland’s holy wells as sites of biocultural diversity

Celeste Ray

View More



Celeste Ray is Professor of Environmental Arts and Humanities at the University of the South, USA. She is the author of The Origins of Ireland’s Holy Wells and Highland Heritage: Scottish Americans in the American South, and the editor of volumes considering ethnicity and historical ecology.


In describing the extraordinary ubiquity of sacred water places around the world, this comprehensive collection simultaneously celebrates the rich cultural and historical diversity in the beliefs and practices through which people engage with them, celebrating water‘s essential role in generating life, health and societal wellbeing. A veritable wellspring of ideas.

Professor Veronica Strang, Institute of Advanced Studies, Durham University