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Love And Will
Meditation And Recollection
The First Form Of Contemplation
The Mystical Life
The Preparation Of The Mystic
The Second Form Of Contemplation
The Third Form Of Contemplation
The World Of Reality
What Is Mysticism?
Anaximenes And The Air
Animism, Ancient And Modern
Brooks And Streams
Development And Discipline Of Intuition
Earth, Mountains, And Plains
Fire And The Sun
Heracleitus And The Cosmic Fire
Light And Darkness
Man And Nature
Mystic Intuition And Reason
Mystic Receptivity
Nature Mysticism And The Race
Nature Not Symbolic
Nature, And The Absolute
Poetry And Nature Mysticism
Rivers And Death
Rivers And Life
Seasons, Vegetation, Animals
Springs And Wells
Still Waters
The Beautiful And The Ugly
The Charge Of Anthropomorphism
The Expanse Of Heaven--colour
The Immanent Idea
The Moon--a Special Problem
The Ocean
The Waters Under The Earth
Will And Consciousness In Nature
Winds And Clouds

Springs And Wells

Milton, in his noble "Ode on the Nativity," sings that, with the
advent of the Saviour,

"From haunted spring and dale,
Edged with poplars pale,
The parting genius is with sighing sent."

Is this a statement of fact? Largely so, if the reference is to the
river gods, the Naiads, and water sprites, of classical
mythology. But not true if the vaguer belief in spirits who
preside over mossy wells and bubbling springs be taken into
account, or if the faith in the healing or other virtues of the
waters that issue from them be included in the underlying idea.
No, not even in the most Christian countries of to-day is such
faith extinct. One has but to remember the famous well at
Auray, or the sacred fountain in the crypt of the church at St.
Melars, to which whole crowds of pilgrims still resort, to realise
how far this is from being the case. Scotland herself, for all her
centuries of Puritanism, has not wiped her slate quite clean; still
less the countries like Ireland and Brittany, which are so
retentive of the past. Nay, the present age is not content with its
liberal supply of sacred springs, it must be adding new ones of
its own! Let Lourdes be witness. And who shall say how many
more are yet to come?

Very remarkable, both as illustrating Milton's Ode, and also the
persistency of this particular form of superstition, is the story of
the only real spring close to Jerusalem--Enrogel. It is identified
by high authorities with the Dragon's Well, mentioned in a
romantic passage of the book of the patriot, Nehemiah.
Assuming the validity of this identification, we have a glimpse
of times far earlier than the Hebrew occupation of the land.
Primitive peoples often associated serpents with springs and
wells, as incarnations of the spirit of the waters. A link is thus
supplied which carries back the history to the animistic and
mythological periods, in this case, prehistoric.

Retracing our course, we arrive at the time of the Hebrew
occupation of the country. A purer form of religion has rejected
most of the mythological material. But the old name of the
spring remains, and, what is still more pertinent, the old belief
in its healing power. We have evidence of this belief in St.
John's Gospel, which contains the peculiar story of the healing
at the pool of Bethesda, most probably connected with this same
spring. The popular view that at times an angel came to trouble
the water is perhaps an attempted explanation of its intermittent

Now should have come the time, according to Milton, for the
departure of the sighing genius--the dying out of the
superstition. But those who anticipate such a _denouement_
will be grievously disappointed. For the Jews still bathe in its
waters, at the times of overflow, for cure of various maladies.
And on the Christian side of the history, it has gained the name
of the Virgin's Pool!

Similar stories might be found in any part of the globe where
tradition is sufficiently continuous to preserve them, testifying
to the almost astounding persistency of belief in the power of
springing water. No doubt simple faith healing has played its
part--but that part is very subsidiary; the strongest influence has
been that exercised by the movement of the water itself,
suggesting as it does the idea of spontaneous life. Not less
surprising is the hold such springs retain upon the imagination
and affections. Pathetic proof of this meets the traveller at every
turn on the west coast of Ireland. As he tramps the byways and
unfrequented paths of County Clare, his eye is caught from time
to time by an artless array of shelves on the sloping banks of
some meadow spring. On the shelves are scanty votive offerings,
piteous to see. Piteous, not on the score of the superstition
which prompts them--that is a matter to be dealt with
in a spirit of broad sympathy, on its historic and social
merits--but because of the dire poverty they reveal. Even its of
broken crockery are held worthy of a place at these little
shrines; so bereft are the peasantry of the simplest
accompaniments of civilised life.

How thoroughly natural is the growth of such sentiments and
beliefs! Jefferies felt the charm. "There was a secluded spring"
(he writes) "to which I sometimes went to drink the pure water,
lifting it in the hollow of my hand. Drinking the lucid water,
clear as light itself in solution, I absorbed the beauty and the
purity of it. I drank the thought of the element; I desired
soul-nature pure and limpid."

Nor has the charm ceased to be potent for the new man in the
new world. Walt Whitman knew it. Here is a delightful
paragraph from his notes of "Specimen Days": "So, still
sauntering on, to the spring under the willows--musical and soft
as clinking glasses--pouring a sizeable stream, thick as my neck,
pure and clear, out from its vent where the bank arches over like
a great brown shaggy eyebrow or mouth roof--gurgling,
gurgling ceaselessly--meaning, saying something of course (if
one could only translate it)--always gurgling there, the whole
year through--never going out--oceans of mint, blackberries in
summer--choice of light and shade--just the place for my July
sun-baths and water-baths too--but mainly the inimitable soft
sound-gurgles of it, as I sit there hot afternoons. How they and
all grow into me, day after day--everything in keeping--the
wild, just palpable, perfume, and the dapple of leaf-shadows,
and all the natural-medicinal, elemental-moral influences of the

If these two passages be taken together, there will be few
elements of mystic influence left unnoted. And how deeply
significant the fact that each author instinctively and
spontaneously associates with the limpid flow of the water the
ideas of life and health! Were the old mythologists so very far
from the truth? Is it so very hard to understand why wells and
springs have had their thousands of years of trust and affection?
Was it mere caprice that led our Teutonic fathers to place under
the roots of the world-tree the three wells of force and life and

A fine example of a more definitely mystic use of the ideas
prompted by the sight of springing water, is found in Dante's
"Earthly Paradise"--an example the more interesting because of
its retention of what may be called the "nature-elements" in the

"The water, thou behold'st, springs not from vein,
Restored by vapour, that the cold converts;
As stream that intermittently repairs
And spends his pulse of life; but issues forth
From fountain, solid, undecaying, sure:
And, by the will omnific, full supply
Feeds whatsoe'er on either side it pours;
On this, devolved with power to take away
Remembrance of offence; on that, to bring
Remembrance back of every good deed done.
From whence its name of Lethe on this part;
On the other, Eunoe: both of which must first
Be tasted, ere it work; the last exceeding
All flavours else."

This passage, say the authorities, is linked on to the old
Proserpine mystery, and is parallel to the Teutonic conceptions
described in the last chapter. Of quite exceptional character, yet
best treated in the present connection, are the "wells" of eastern
lands. Where the sources of springing water are rare and far
distant from one another, the supply of water has to be
supplemented by that from artificial pits, sunk with hard toil,
often into the solid rock, and valued accordingly. Such "wells,"
in the stricter sense, are too directly associated with human
labour in historic times, to allow much mythical material to
accumulate around them. Still, from the simple fact of their
dispensing water in arid and thirsty lands, they possess not
unfrequently a rich store of family and tribal legends. And
further, by reason of their very freedom from the cruder
superstitions, the intuitions they prompted were from the first
transparent and spiritual. Under such conditions the water is
literally "life." And as the conception of life deepened, so did
intuition become more delicate.

We have the early freshness of the feeling stimulated in an
ancient strain, delightful in its naive spontaneity.

"Then sang Israel this song:
Spring up, O well, sing ye unto it:
The well which the princes digged,
Which the nobles of the people delved,
With the sceptre and with their staves."

The deepening of the feeling came rapidly, and took exquisite
form in the prophet's assurance that his people should "draw
water out of the wells of salvation." But here mysticism was
beginning to blend with symbolism, and the later developments
of the idea pass over almost wholly into the sphere of reflective

So far as the nature-mystic is concerned, he emphasises the
continuity of the feeling, from the earliest ages to the present,
that in the phenomena of water gushing from a source we have
a manifestation of self-activity, as immanent Idea and concrete
will. And convinced of the validity of his contention, he is not
surprised, as some may be, at the influence which wells and
springs have wielded, and still do wield, over the human soul.

Next: Brooks And Streams

Previous: The Waters Under The Earth

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