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Page:Folk-lore - A Quarterly Review. Volume 4, 1893.djvu/459

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PIN-WELLS AND RAG-BUSHES[1]




THE customs of throwing pins into sacred wells and of tying rags to bushes, especially to bushes growing about sacred wells, have exercised students of folk-lore ever since folk-lore came to be studied. They seem such odd, senseless practices that, until one has learned that most human practices, however odd and senseless they appear, have their reasons and are not mere caprices, it is not easy to suppose they ever had a reasonable basis. And even when one is assured that there is an underlying reason, the question, What is that reason? has been found a very perplexing one. During the last year or two it has been brought into prominence by the enquiries of Professor Dr. Rhys in Wales and the Isle of Man; and he has discussed it with the Folk-lore Society and elsewhere without arriving at any satisfactory conclusion. If I offer a suggestion for which I have looked in vain in the reported discussions, it is hardly in the hope of settling the matter, so much as of drawing attention to a habit of archaic thought running through many a habit of archaic practice, and possibly therefore affecting these customs.

Let us first endeavour to obtain a clear idea of the customs with which we are dealing. One or two examples will suffice for this purpose. I take them from Professor Rhys' paper, read before a joint meeting of the Cymmrodorion and Folk-lore Societies, on the 11th January 1893. He quotes a correspondent as saying of Ffynnon Cae Moch, about halfway between Coychurch and Bridgend in Glamorganshire: "People suffering from rheumatism go there.

  1. A paper read to the British Association (Section H) at its meeting at Nottingham, September 1893.