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Page:Folk-lore - A Quarterly Review. Volume 4, 1893.djvu/477

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469
Pin-Wells and Rag-Bushes.

or fifty years ago, a number of ancient British pins for the clothes was found.[1] Whether or not the British pins are to be connected with the alleged custom in Wales, it is difficult to account for a collection of pins in such a situation except upon the supposition that they were purposely thrown into the well. At Gumfreyston, in Pembrokeshire, there is a holy well to which the villagers used to repair on Easter Day, when each of them would throw a crooked pin into the water. This was called "throwing Lent away"[2]—a name which has probably arisen since the original meaning of the ceremony has been forgotten. Both these Welsh practices (if the former be a genuine one) point to the interpretation I have placed upon the observances at pin-wells. For it will be observed that in neither case is there any disease to be got rid of, nor any prayer offered. If we could find the early shape of the former, we should probably recognise a solemn consecration of the one spouse to the domestic divinity of the other, a ritual reception into the kin. The analogy with the marriage custom of the Montbéliard Protestants is obvious, and may help to explain it. The Pembrokeshire custom may be conjectured to be a periodical renewal of union with the divinity, removed under Christian influences from the day of the pagan festival (perhaps May-day) to the nearest great feast-day of the Church.

I venture to submit, then, that the practices of throwing pins into wells, of tying rags on bushes and trees, of driving nails into trees and stocks, and the analogous practices throughout the Old World, are to be interpreted as acts of ceremonial union with the spirit identified with well, with tree, or stock. In course of time, as the real intention of the rite has been forgotten, it has been resorted to (notably in Christian countries) chiefly for the cure of diseases, and the meaning has been overlaid by the idea of the transfer of the disease. This idea belongs to the same category as

  1. Kolbe, Hessische Volks-Sitten, 163.
  2. Folk-Lore Journal, ii, 349.