The tradition of making offerings at wishing trees and wells dates back hundreds of years, and can be found all over the world in different forms. In Scotland, Ireland and England, it is common to see pieces of cloth or rag tied to branches of a tree that is often growing besides a well. These are known as “Clootie Wells” and the cloth tied to its branches are done so in the hope of having an illness cured.
“Clootie” comes from the Scots meaning “cloth”. It refers to pieces of cloth (a cloot) that is generally dipped in the water of the holy well and then tied to a branch while a prayer of supplication is said to the spirit of the well. As the rag disintegrates over time, the ailment is supposed to fade away as well.
This tradition dates far back into pre-Christian times, when it was believed a goddess or local nature spirit inhabited the well, with special powers of healing. With the arrival of Christianity, local churches began to associate themselves with the holy wells, and the ceremonies began to be overseen by the local priests or saints.
At one point in 1581, during the Protestant Reformation, making pilgrimage to holy wells was made illegal, but the practice has not stopped. The problem today is that many of the offerings being left by people are actually made from modern synthetic materials that will never rot away, and in turn impacts upon the environment.
Similar practices are found all around the world, such as the Buddhist tradition of prayer flags. Specific prayers and mantras are printed onto these colourful pieces of cloth which are then hung. Just like the Scottish clootie, the Buddhist prayer flags are left exposed to the elements (usually in a windy place), it is believed that the prayers and mantras will be blown by the wind to spread the good will and compassion into all pervading space.
Combining the beliefs behind both the clootie and Buddhist prayer flags, together with an assortment of esoteric, magical and even metaphysical techniques, I will be hosting a workshop on The Magick of Cloth Offerings on Sunday, 22 November 2020 where we will be making our own set of cloth offerings.
Bookings are essential and can be made here.