Extracts from the A to Z read:
Ireland does not ever appear to have been short of water. However, whether in surplus or not, water is perceived as the source of life and as such enjoys veneration and inspires mystery and awe in all societies. Modern man reacts particularly strongly to the pollution of water, of sea, or lake, or river. We put up with filthy air and desecrated landscape... what really offends is contaminated water. We will kill for clean water. Eventually, of course, we will have to kill off our present society to obtain clean water... but that lies a little in the future.
In the distant past the cultural roots of Ireland lay in countries where water was not in abundance. In those areas water has been given even more importance in the sense that the actual locations of water take on added significance. From this culture developed the notion that rivers are sacred to the point of being divine beings, lakes are personages, and wells are 'holy'. Not for along time have we regarded our rivers and lakes as anything special, but the wells remain 'holy' to this day. Christian pilgrimages take place to the wells on particular days, usually associated with a saint, but these pilgrimages are merely successors or continuations of ancient customs. Apart from pilgrimages, wells are visited throughout the year for purposes asso¬ciated with healing, some wells being good for particular ailments, and others associated with others. What all this means is ... well. . .
A ritual performed by ancients was carried out thus. A ring of bare backed people sat, forming themselves into a circle. One person wandered around on the outside with a whip. The sitting people passed secretly, one to the other, a small stone or bead. The person outside the circle would suddenly ask an individual to say who had the pebble. A wrong answer brought a whipping but the whipped would then take over the role of the inquirer who would sit down with the rest. This went on until every individual had been whipped by every other. In more modern times variations on this custom persist in mystical flaggelation rituals.
Modern poultry eaters practise a little custom with this particular part of the bird; the origins of this lie in the habit of the ancients in examining the skeletons of birds for portents.
A woman wishing to acquire the basic powers of witchcraft should perform the following ritual. Gather five oval and two flat stones, somewhat the size of a fist. Travel, with a selected companion (and the stones) to one of certain specified places around Ireland. Remove one's clothes. At midnight turn three times 'against the sun'. Essentially this means revolving anti-clockwise, a method of stirring up certain classes of spiritual entities. Lie on the ground, face up, head to the north, arms and legs out like the spokes of a wheel. An oval stone is placed, by the companion, at each foot, each hand, and between the legs. One of the flat stones is placed over the heart, tucked beneath the breast. The other flat stone is placed over the right breast. Thus read¬ied, the witch-to-be will call upon the spirit of the place to give her power - in return she pledges herself to that particular spirit. She rises by rolling onto all fours to the left. Like this she travels animal-like in three circles, returning then to the scattered seven stones. She casts one of these away. Then three more animal-like circles, all anti¬clockwise, back to the stones, casts another away. She repeats this until all stones are dispersed and then rises to her feet, puts on her clothes, and goes about her business. Though apparently farcial, none of this should be taken lightly. (To avoid a plague of witches this writer has omitted the `certain specified places'). The interesting thing about this ritual, which is of late date, is the connection it draws between stone, woman, and particular place. These are three of the fundamentals of the ancient psychic system.