a recording will be emailed to ticketholders after the event
Our blue planet is a watery world, yet only one percent of earth’s most abundant molecule is both accessible and fresh. Supplying life’s most basic daily need, freshwater sources were most 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. Internationally, holy “wells” are often sacred springs, but can be any natural source of fresh water that is a focus for ritual practice and engagement with the supernatural. Containing the majority of the earth’s liquid surface fresh water, lakes are sometimes called holy wells, as can be the spring sources of rivers, ponds and swamps. Often associated with also venerated stones, trees and healing flora, sacred water sources are sites of biocultural diversity.
Water sources were likely the first sites humans venerated and those that cross-culturally and cross-temporally have remained the most common category of sacred natural sites worldwide. Some water sources were selected as sacred because, across the generations, locals realized they seemed to alleviate or cure particular ailments (these actually contain magnesium, iron, sodium chloride or lithium, for example). Those water sources deemed a panacea for aches (of the back, throat, head or teeth) are often near trees with pain-relieving qualities in their bark such as willow trees (from the bark of which came aspirin). Explaining the who, what, where and why of existence, religions everywhere can be viewed as folk science. Important information about stewarding environmental resources and about healing was often enshrined in religious practices and ritual so that it would not be forgotten. Religious traditions that perpetuate biodiversity conservation deserve our attention. This talk identifies patterns in panhuman hydrolatry and asks how cultural perceptions of water’s sacrality can be employed to foster resilient human-environmental relationships in the growing water crises of the twenty-first century.
Celeste Ray is Professor of Environmental Arts and Humanities and Anthropology at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee. She is the author of The Origins of Ireland’s Holy Wells and Highland Heritage: Scottish Americans and the American South, and the editor of four other volumes considering Scottish Identities or ethnicity. Her passion for sacred springs and holy wells began as an undergraduate studying in Galway, Ireland in the 1980s and has been furthered in research trips to Italy, Scotland, Cornwall, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Austria and near her institution in Appalachia.
Hosted by Dr. Amy Hale is an Atlanta-based anthropologist and folklorist writing about esoteric history, art, culture, women and Cornwall in various combinations. Her biography of Ithell Colquhoun, Genius of the Fern Loved Gully, is available from Strange Attractor Press, and she is also the editor of the forthcoming collection Essays on Women in Western Esotericism: Beyond Seeresses and Sea Priestesses from Palgrave Macmillan. Other writings can be found at her Medium site https://medium.com/@amyhale93 and her website www.amyhale.me.