The three Wells

Viktor Rydberg's Investigations into Germanic Mythology

Volume II Part 1: Indo-European Mythology

Translated and Annotated by William P. Reaves © 2010 All Rights Reserved I.

Germanic Myths of Proto-Indo-European Origin - THE THREE WELLS -

13) In Norse mythology there are three well-known world-wells: Hvergelmir, the northerly; Mimir's well, the middlemost; and Urd's well, the southerly. The roots of the worldtree extend up out of these waters.32

All three contain juices necessary to the world-tree, but Mimir's well, the middlemost, has special properties: In its depths originates the wonderful mead that the gods covet, which grants them power to perform great works. The mead contains creative force, wisdom, and ecstasy.

In Rigveda, mead is partially designated by madhu (the same word as mead), partially, and most often, by soma (the same word as the Iranian homa mentioned above), and partially with the compound somamadhu, and once with amrita, which is thought to be the same word as ambrosia. Madhu carries the dual meanings of mead and honey, designating a drink made with or containing honey among the Rigveda-Aryans, as well as among the Teutons. This further elucidates the common concept among the Teutons and their Asiatic relatives of the world-tree as a mead-tree, a homa-tree, that bears fruit on which "honey-eating" birds feed and that causes morning dew, which is honey-dew, to "drop in dales."

The three world-wells are found again as the three soma-wells, "the Somas," as they are called in Rigv. IX, 46, 2. In Rigv. V, 29, 8, they are spoken of as three soma-pools. In Rigv. VIII, 7, 10, they are likened to cisterns and bear distinct names. The middlemost one, it says, is a wisdom well. In Rigv. IX, 108, 9, they are compared to casks of which one is "middle-lying." Their trinity is mentioned in many places; soma is the "threefold" (tridhátu); it has "three dwelling places," IX, 103, 233 and flows down from three high plains, VII, 37, 1.34

Two of the Somas contain "surging waters," which reminds us of the name of the northern world-well in Grímnismál 26: Hvergelmir, "roaring kettle." The statement appears in Rigv. X, 27, 23: "two of the three convey ‗surging water.‘" 35 The third is spoken of in Rigv. VII, 47 as the well Id, the "richest in mead," containing a "hundredfold cleansing," possessing "divine nature," and becoming a pleasure of the gods and goddesses.36 The similarity with Mimir's well here is striking. 14) These holy "waters" are gathering places for the Apsarases, the water-dises and swanmaidens of Iranian mythology.

In Urd's well swim the swans that are the parents of all swans.37 Rigv. IX, 46, 2 says that the somas are "as adorned as a bride possessed of a rich dowry." 

In Germanic mythology as well, at least two of the wells are described as beautiful: Mimir's and Urd's, and at least one of them is adorned with a sevenfold gold-trim (Investigations into Germanic Mythology, Vol. I, no. 49). 15) 

In Iranian mythology, likewise, the world-wells are three. Most often only Vourukasha is mentioned as the great subterranean water reservoir; but the name Vourukasha has a twofold meaning, designating one of the three wells —the central and foremost well— and again all three. 

Thus, in Vendidad, Fargard 5, Vourukasha is identified with "the three Hvápa," around which all the trees that Ahuramazda created were said to grow in the most luxurious kingdom. Bundehesh still knows that Vourukasha is connected with two other springs or wells. When it enumerates "the seas or lakes, that the holy writing (i.e. the Avesta) calls wells," it says that among them are found two that are "united with Vourukasha" (ch. 22).38

The myths about the world-tree and its three subterranean springs, as one learns from the above, have their origin in the Proto-Indo-European era, not only in their general features but also in their intriguing details. Myths that captivate the imagination are preserved best through the centuries. This simple truth has been overlooked, but it is a psychological axiom.

-Viktor Rydberg translated by William P Reeves

Foot notes:

32. Regarding the spatial relationship of these wells, see Investigations into Germanic Mythology, Vol. I, nos. 56, 65, and 93.

33. Rigv. IX, 103, 2: "three seats for rest", cp. VIII, 83, 5 "Of this, moreover, purified, set in three places, procreant, Drink Varuna, Mitra, Aryaman" [Ralph T. H. Griffith tr.]. 

34. The source of this is unclear. Alfred Ludwig uses the term den dreifach gemischten soma; Karl Geldner, dem dreirückigen Soma; and Griffith, "mighty Soma, thrice-mixed." 

35. Griffith, "Three warm the earth while holding stores of water, and two of these convey the murmuring moisture."; Ludwig, dreibrennen die erde dem waszer folgend, zwei [von disen] füren [auch] murmelndes waszer. 

36. Verse 1: Ludwig, Ihr Âpas, dise eure welle der Id, "You Âpas, this your wave of Id"; Griffith, "O waters, that wave of pure refreshment"; Geldner, Ihr gewässer, eure Woge, "You water, your wave"; Verse 3: Griffith, "allpurifying"; Ludwig, hundertfachereinigung, "a hundred-fold cleansing"; Geldner, Durch hundert Filter laufend, "run through one hundred filters."

37. Gylfaginning 17. 

38. In his translation of Bundahis-Bahman Yast, E. W. West notes that "the term farâkû-kard, 'wide-formed,' is a free Pahlavi translation of Avestan vouru-kasha, 'wide-shored,' or 'having wide abysses,' applied to the boundless ocean".