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Page:Folk-lore - A Quarterly Review. Volume 4, 1893.djvu/82

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74
Sacred Wells in Wales.

Foulkes, s.v. Elian, in his Enwogion Cymru, published in 1870, expresses the opinion that the visits of the superstitious to the well had ceased for some time. The last man supposed to have had charge of the well was a certain John Evans ; but some of the most amusing stories of the shrewdness of the person looking after the well refer to a woman who had charge of it before Evans' time. A series of articles on Ffynnon Eilian appeared in 1861 in a Welsh periodical called Y Nofelydd, printed by Aubrey at Llanerch y Medd in Anglesey. The articles in question were afterwards published, I believe, as a shilling book, which I have not seen, and they dealt with the superstition, with the history of John Evans, and his confession and conversion. I have searched in vain for any account in Welsh of the ritual followed at the well.

Lewis calls the person who took the charge of the well the owner ; and I have always understood that, whether owner or not, the person in question received gifts of money, not only for placing in the well the names of men who were to be cursed, but also from those men for taking their names out again, so as to relieve them from the malediction. In fact, the trade in curses seems to have been a very thriving one : its influence was powerful and wide-spread.

Here there is, I think, very little doubt that the owner or guardian of the well was, so to say, the representative of an ancient priesthood of the well. His function as a pagan — for such we must reckon him, in spite of his employing in his ritual some verses from the Bible — was analogous to that of a parson or preacher who lets for rent the sittings in his church. We have, however, no sufficient data in this case to show how the right to the priesthood of a sacred well was acquired, whether by inheritance or otherwise ; but we know that a woman might have charge of St. Elian's Well.

Let me cite another instance, which I suddenly discovered last summer in the course of a ramble in quest