Tossing coins in a fountain forms a deeper spiritual connection, writes Mysterious Ways assistant editor Dan Hoffman.
Posted in , Mar 20, 2017
Think about ways we human beings seek to experience the awe and the wonder of spiritual life—gathering in a place of worship, exploring the beauty and majesty of nature, or visiting sacred destinations like the “Secret Spaces” we feature in each issue of Mysterious Ways. But what about something as simple as tossing coins in a fountain?
Whether it’s the famous Trevi Fountain in Rome or the fountain inside your local mall, you’ll find the water filled with loose change left by visitors. Some people think it brings good luck or believe (or hope) their wishes will come true.
Others simply do it out of habit or superstition. Ancient Germanic and Celtic peoples are believed to have begun the practice, leaving the coins as offerings to deities they believed protected their sacred water sources. Such beliefs may seem quaint or even sacrilegious today—but as it turns out, there is something special that happens when we toss in that coin.
In his article, “Why Do We Throw Coins in Fountains?” anthropologist Peter Wogan suggests that, in fact, the simple gesture of tossing a coin into a public fountain is a scaled down version of other experiences that give us a sense of awe.
Our coins, he says, are bonded to us by a principle known as “contagious magic”–the idea that the objects people own can take on special significance beyond the object’s value or use alone. If you hold onto things for “sentimental value,” because they remind you of someone or some time in your life, you know what I mean.
So what happens when we toss our coin into the water? Wogan writes that we give up control over the object we hold and put it in the hands of something greater. “We let go of our avatar, and suddenly it looks tiny in the water, much smaller than it did in our fingers a second ago. Often we can’t even be sure which coin is ours, lying there among all the others. Our individual coin is now just one of many.”
We lose “ourselves” in the vastness of all the other coins, Wogan says. All that loose change represents the totality of everyone who ever tossed their change into that same fountain—along with their hopes, dreams and prayers. Our coin represents our interconnection with them. “It infuses cold money with a sense of love and communal belonging,” Wogan writes.
Wogan uses the word “awe” to describe the feeling we get, and it’s easy for us to go a step further and draw the spiritual connection. What could be more spiritual than “letting go” of a part of ourselves and connecting with the incomprehensible vastness of life? I know that next time I walk past a fountain, I’ll toss in a penny and give that some thought.
What day-to-day experiences make you feel connected with something greater than yourself? Share your stories with us.