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How Ancient Peoples Divined Using Fountains and Rivers


Water fountains provide a romantic accent to any urban environment. And if today we see them as a beautiful element of the landscape, this was not the case many years ago.

Centuries ago our ancestors believed that water fountains possessed an extraordinary power and that they could be used for divination. As a result, some cultures peered intensely into their waters, hoping to find answers to the questions on their mind.

There are many beliefs worldwide related to water fountains. One of these tells us the story of the Sicilian miracle of Palichorus. During the time of the Roman Empire it was claimed that it would drown criminals that allowed themselves to commit a crime in front of it.


The ancient Greek city of Epidaurus was also renowned for having an extraordinary fountain, devoted to the goddess Ino. Citizens would try to earn her blessing by placing specially prepared food in its waters. It was said that if the food sank they could expect good luck and happiness, while if it remained on the surface they would suffer disasters.

It was not only fountain waters that gave people answers in the past. Centuries ago, the Germans practiced a terrifying tradition, where if they suspected a given baby to have been conceived outside of marriage, they would place the baby in the Rhine river.


If the waters swallowed the child it was a sign for them that it was born of adultery. But if it managed to float on the surface they rushed to save it because it meant it was born to a wed couple.

During the 17th century, they would conduct a similar ritual to check the sanctity of women accused of witchcraft. If the accused drowned immediately she was thought to have been an evil witch.