Wednesday, May 16, 2018

The Psychology behind putting coins in Wishing Wells



In dreams, the presence of an expanse of water - sometimes even the presence of the color blue - signifies the fantasy of rebirth. All living creatures have emerged from the water, and, even, though, for hundreds of millions of years we have been land-based, our intrauterine existence for nine months still occurs in water, where we float in our mother's womb. This long association between water and birth has left an indelible genetic imprint in our mind and the former often - in dreams regularly - symbolizes the latter. Because of this close association, seeing water provokes the wish/fantasy to be born again.
Water also has an amorous draw. Life process is drawn into water reaching its maximum density in the rainforests. In India, the months of monsoon, with its bountiful greenery is celebrated in songs as the time for romance and making love. The songs usually go as to how in the month of Sawan (the month when the monsoon is at its zenith) a kind of fire begins to burn in one's heart. The fire being an allusion to romantic passion. Now we know the antithesis of water is fire. Burning passion of the man can ultimately be doused only by the wetness of woman's genital passage.
In dream interpretation, rescuing someone out of the water, or, it's opposite, getting rescued out of the water by someone, is treated as a "symbol" of wishing a child by that someone. For we are rescued from mortality by being born again through childbirth (by procreating with another person). The other person is rescued from death too. So the act of procreation is symbolized equally well by rescuing somebody or getting rescued out of the water. For it is through birthing that we achieve a modicum of immortality.
The close connection between water and the wish for rebirth is also strongly supported by the fact that religious rituals like baptism in Christianity and similar rituals in other faiths, and as to how conversion into Christianity from other faiths, is celebrated through the ritual of dipping/immersing the person in water.
Now this association between water and impulse to procreate and be born again is not limited to its appearance in dreams and religious rituals but it seems to influence human behavior in many other contexts which at first glance seem to have nothing to do with sex and rebirth.
When a man begins to find others, his rivals, doing better than him in life, to avoid facing the humiliation and narcissistic injury of finding one is not at the top of the pyramid, if of a jealous and phobic disposition, he begins to avoid situations and places like roads, malls grocery stores, churches, where he is likely to meet his rival, preferring to stay around his home, where he  still is the king of his castle. Congregations and public venues, where the combined presence of others makes him realize his inferiority even more acutely, trigger panic attacks. As Freud put it 'behind agoraphobia lies failed ambitions'. The home becomes the mother's womb, where the agoraphobic wants to retreat to avoid facing those who have bested him in life.
The phobia of water appears to have similar roots. Here the overwhelming wish is not to retreat to the home, but jump in the (purifying) water, and be reborn, to do a better job next time, after washing off and getting rid of all the 'baggages' of this life. However since rebirth also means the end of one's current life, the person develops the phobia of water to avoid fulfillment of the wish. As if in the two contrary wishes to die and be born again and to avoid death, the latter wish triumphs through the formation of the phobia.
The phobia of crossing bridge, especially over a river or other expanse of water, arises to avoid the temptation to jump over and submerge oneself in water (to be born again). Higher the bridge greater is the temptation - for it assures certain death. Often temptation to have sex with somebody, which will be dangerous, is shown in dreams as trying to cross a bridge unsuccessfully. Being caught precariously trying to climb up ledges, or climbing up, or coming down the steps, or from the height of a building with great dread of falling down, or slipping, or not being able to hold on to the supporting structures, arises from the same complex.
 One of my patients, a married man, who was tempted to make love to a young girl, but who was of loose morals and black (he was white), he was plagued with a recurrent dream in which he saw himself wanting to jump off a bridge but horrified to do so by the fact that the water below was dirty and dark.
The phobia of crossing bridges also symbolizes fear of intercourse, afraid one will not be able to reach the other side. The two sides symbolizing the two sexes, with the bridge being the penis which bridges the separation between the mates.
It is interesting that in Zoroastrian religion, and Islam, after death the soul supposedly crosses a bridge to reach the afterlife. In Islam, this bridge is conceptualized to be as thin and sharp as a razor blade. Its symbolism appears to be conveying the message that to be reborn one has to traverse through a very sharp and dangerous bridge. The innate fear present in mankind of not being able to perform sex successfully the religious ideologies exploit it by preaching if one does not live a righteous life one will not be able to traverse the bridge from this life to the next.
Now, how all this relate to throwing coins in wishing wells?
To go into that we must first examine the interesting phenomenon which growing up in India I  observed while traveling on trains. Whenever the train crossed a river, especially a holy river, and India being a very ancient civilization with every river having become holy over time, people, especially the devout ones, would take out coins from their pockets and toss into the water.. They believe it brings good luck. Rivers are anthropomorphized as Goddesses and the hope/wish that the goddess would return the favor by giving a million coins back for getting offered one.
Doesn't the ritual/process sound quite like what we do when we throw coins in a wishing well?
The process of being born again by entering into water is replaced by just throwing a valuable part of oneself (the coin, precious metal, money) into the water. But isn't that nothing more than a substitute for having sex with the river goddess?
Wishing wells are not quite rivers but a man-made expanse of water, placed there by some clever entrepreneur. He makes money by giving outlet to this primal impulse of mankind to be aroused into a wish to have intercourse and be born again on seeing water. The greatest wish of mankind: to have intercourse/be born/and thus attain immortality over time has spread to lesser wishes, chief among them being the wish for all kinds of material gain. And thus when we throw a coin in wishing well, it is not just for the satisfaction of that great libidinal wish but also for lesser wishes.
Over time a wishing well garners the same aura of holiness as Indian rivers have done, strengthened by the collective piety and wishes of the believers that putting in the coin there makes one's wish come true. The circulation of stories of some wishes have come true - whether imagined or in reality, for occasional wish does come true -  becomes proof that there does exist some miraculous property in that wishing well.


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