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Wishing Wells: An Uncommon History of Coin Tossing, Water, and Hope for Divine Intervention

With a degree in biochemistry, Leah works for a small biotechnology company and enjoys writing about science.

The Trevi Fountain in Rome

The Trevi Fountain in Rome

The Wishing Well: Ancient European Beliefs

The Celtic and Germanic peoples of Europe regarded water as sacred, and often marked pools with a wooden statue or other idol commemorating the god believed to control the water source. Ancient Nordic myth described a "well of wisdom," which would give knowledge and discernment to anyone who sacrificed a precious object to its depths. The Norse god Odin sacrificed an eye to the well, gaining the gift of foresight and endless wisdom, in addition to an understanding of the reasons behind the mysterious workings of the universe.

Germanic tribes would often throw the armor of conquered enemies into bogs and other water sources, as offerings to their gods. Over time, the practice of tossing coins into wells as a price for the deity in the well to grant a wish. The wish would be granted, depending on how the coin landed in the bottom of the well.

Coventina's Well

The Trevi Fountain in Rome

Famous Ancient Wishing Wells

Coventina's Well: Ancient Celts worshipped Coventina, and threw coins to the goddess in a pool in Northumberland, England. Over 16,000 coins have been found in this well, ranging from the 1st-5th century. Despite the great number of coins offered there, the actual value of the coins was not very great: the equivalent of throwing pennies in today's wishing wells.

The Well of Pen Rhys: In Oxford, people of the 1800's would sojourn to a well famed for its healing powers. Visitors would tie their clothing to a nearby tree and toss a coin, button, or pin into the well in exchange for divine healing. A specific divinity is not associated with the well of Pen Rhys, unlike Coventina's well (devoted to a specific goddess).

Trevi Fountain: The Trevi Fountain was formed at the junction of three roads in Rome. In the 15th century, a fountain was commissioned for the ending of the Roman Aqueduct, and the fountain was created. The fountain's current look was finished in 1729 by Giuseppe Pannini. The Trevi Fountain currently receives over €3,000 per day, and the proceeds assist with funding a market for Rome's poor.

Chinatown Wishing Well

A (waterless) wishing well in Chinatown, Los Angeles

A (waterless) wishing well in Chinatown, Los Angeles

Disneyland's Wishing Well

The Modern Wishing Well

Wishing wells are still in use around the world. The ancient Trevi Fountain receives many visitors, though an exact tally is not calculated. The faithful visit holy wells in Lourdes, France, and St. Winifred's well in Holywell, Wales.

In the United States, wishing wells have taken a decidedly commercial turn. Charities use "spiral wishing wells" which funnel coins into a receptacle, for later collection. These "wells" contain no water, but offer the entertainment value of watching a coin spinning at greater rates of speed until it disappears into the container below.

Wedding wishing wells are taking stage as an alternative to gift-giving, and guests throw cash into a wishing well container at the reception. These wishing wells are generally modified garden ornaments, and many question the etiquette of a bride and groom simply asking for money. Many experts advise couples to come up with a cute poem, to make asking for money a little less blunt. Wedding wishing well poems run along the lines of:

"A wishing well,
I thought would be great,
But only if,
you wish to participate,
A gift of money,
is deposited into a well,
Then make a wish...
But shhh don't tell!
Once I've replaced,
the old with the new,
I can look back,
and say it was thanks to you!"

Theme parks often have wishing wells or wishing fountains throughout the park grounds, even if the water areas are not designated as such. The Disneyland theme park has several wishing wells, including a well in Snow White's Grotto. The money thrown into wishing wells at the Disney parks is given various children's charities.

Wishing Wells as Garden Ornaments

Wishing wells have a charming appeal to landscapers, and they are often found in gardens. These wishing wells are filled with flowers rather than water, and serve as an ornamental planter. Filled with potting soil and bright flowers, a garden wishing well makes a nice focal point in any garden. The wishing well design has also been used for bird feeders, garden fountains, and even composting receptacles!

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© 2011 Leah Lefler


Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on May 28, 2013:

I hope your wishes come true, vivienne pereira!

vivienne pereira on May 17, 2013:

I hope and wish all my family members keep good health are active protected are rich have good strength and energy get a lumpsum salary and are rich Thanks vivienne pereira

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on August 15, 2012:

Redhead47, maybe you could place a saucer among some plants in containers with the pennies on the saucer. Or use a bird bath (without water) and inscribe a quote about making wishes on the bird bath. Wishing wells are a great deal of fun!

Redhead47 on August 10, 2012:

My husband has built a stone fountain, I am going to put a container of pennies near it, for people to throw in and make a wish. Does anyone have an idea for an outdoor container?

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on February 03, 2012:

Oh, Bra===, sorry your dreams didn't come true! Maybe it would be a good idea to try another wishing well! ;)

Bra======= on February 03, 2012:

a beautiful scolpture,I love wishing wells but it did not make my dream come through

Mishael Austin Witty from Kentucky, USA on February 20, 2011:

I laughed when I read the part about the wedding wishing well. Can you imagine how much (little) money you'd get if everyone only threw in a penny? ;-) Gift cards are so much better, although it is a cute idea!

Mohan Kumar from UK on February 19, 2011:

Brilliantly compiled history of the wishing well. I am glad I joined the hubmob weekly crew this week to write my own. I have never learnt so much in a single day! Thank you.

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on February 16, 2011:

We actually thought about installing an ornamental wishing well over our real (capped) well, to keep the kids from standing on the cover. We didn't want to install anything that was difficult to remove, however, so we ended up putting a container with flowers on top of the well cap. If we need to, we can remove the flowers and dirt, then haul the container off the (real) well. I liked the idea of a wishing well there, though!

suziecat7 from Asheville, NC on February 16, 2011:

Love this Hub. I've never really thought about wishing wells before. I'm a fan.

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on February 15, 2011:

You know, I have never seen The Goonies - I feel so culturally ignorant! Time to get it on Netflix, I suppose :-) I had always wondered where the tradition of throwing money into fountains had come from, so I researched it and was surprised to find it was due to people appeasing deities!

Cristina Cakes from Virginia on February 15, 2011:

I love wishing wells, they always remind me of The Goonies! Very interesting info!

pjwrites from Florida on February 15, 2011:

Interesting stuff! Thanks for sharing.

Patty Inglish MS from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on February 14, 2011:

Another fun and informative Hub - voted and rated.

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