The Mystery and History of Wishing

Whether you still make wishes every year when you blow out your birthday candles or you scoff at the idea of throwing pennies into a fountain to make a wish, the truth is: we’ve all done it. We’ve all closed our eyes, looked deep inside ourselves and wished for something. And let’s face it, there are plenty of different theories and ways to wishing. This year, one of the most talked about beliefs is the 11:11 theory. Since its 2011, it’s taken hold of many a mind that this year will mark the one day each century that has nearly more 11’s than one can keep track of. So what would happen if you made a wish on perhaps the luckiest of lucky days, 11/11/11 at 11:11?  Well, the possibility is enough to make people plan weddings, cesarean births and keep people continually looking at the clocks all day long. This belief in 11:11 wishing is one of those things that just seem to spring up in childhood and take hold of us. If you look at a clock and it happens to read 11:11, you’re supposed to make a wish.  But why? The legend and lore behind this wishing tradition is not widely established. Much of it is owed to and supported by numerologists who believe that the events and seemingly coincidental glance at the clock at 11:11 is much more than just chance, something more akin to synchronicity. But there are other methods of wishing that are rooted in legend and history. (And hey, if you’re looking for a wish to come true, this is sure to give you some ideas of how to make it happen!) So to honor 11/11/11, we wanted to spotlight the magic, mystery and history of wishing. Shooting Stars: A star is a magical thing, but a shooting star? Well, those are practically revered.  
  The wishing on a shooting star is believed to have originated around AD 127 – 151 by Greek astronomer Ptolemy when he wrote that the Gods will, out of both curiosity and boredom, occasionally peer down at the earth from between the spheres where stars could sometimes slip out of this gap, becoming visible as shooting or falling stars. The Gods, it’s believed, tend to be more receptive to wishes made during these times. But many other cultures also revered the shooting star, such as the Jews and Christians believing them to be fallen angels or demons and the Greeks thinking them the rising or falling of human souls. In other instances, like when a shooting star is seen in Chile, it’s believed one must pick up a stone when someone sees the star or in the Philippines where one must tie a knot in a handkerchief before the star’s light is extinguished. There is also the legend of wishing on the first star you see at night, which we all know, if from nothing else, this little rhyme: “Star light, Star bright, the first star I see tonight, I wish I may, I wish I might, have the wish I wish tonight.” Wishing Wells: While we may not see wishing wells all over the place today, it’s still a common belief that if you speak a wish over a wishing well, then it will be granted. This belief stems back to the Germanic and Celtic peoples who considered wells and springs sacred places due to the idea that water housed deities and had been placed there as a gift from the gods. Germanic people would also through armor and trinkets of defeated enemies into these waters, too, as well as throwing coins in the wells to show appreciation to the deity. When coins that were traditionally made of copper or silver and had certain properties that would keep the water from going sour would be thrown into the well, it was thus believed lucky.  This is where the tradition of dropping pennies into fountains comes from. Wishing wells, most common in Europe, are known to garner just under 3 million pounds a year – just from people throwing the coins in! But if you look in any fountain across America, you’ll likely find a nice sum at the floor of those as well. It’s hard to resist the magic of making a wish just for the cost of tossing in a spare penny!   Wishbones: Some people will only use the wishbone theory on Thanksgiving and others may find it fair game every time you cook a chicken or turkey, but there is the belief that if you make a wish while (or after) pulling at a dried wishbone with one other person and you end up with the longer half, you’re wish will come true. Even the name plays on this concept of wishing, so why? Well, one idea is that it stemmed from the ancient Italians who would remove the birds’ entrails and read the future in them. They would lay the collarbone out to dry in the sun and people seeking special knowledge from the gods could then make a wish upon this bone. The Etruscans also believed that fowl were fortune tellers: the hen could announce the laying of an egg with a squawk and the rooster could tell the coming of a new day with an early morning crow. With this in mind, the people would draw a circle in the dirt, split in wedges to represent different letters of their alphabet and have the hen peck at the grain within the circle, listing the letters in order of the pecking for the high priests to interpret as answers to questions. The Romans rook many Etruscan customs and the English took many of the Roman customs, so when the Pilgrims arrived in the New World, they brought along the wishbone and changed it from a chicken bone to a turkey bone considering the then-plethora of turkey in the woods.


But perhaps some of the most interesting and mysterious of wishing tactics are those that have no literal history because they are based on magic, on belief and on imagination. These are often the types of wishing tropes that we find in the likes of books and movies. So whether you’re looking to wish upon a star, a well, a wishbone or a clock of your own or watch the magic come alive for others in film, we wanted to make sure you had both options. Sadly, we may not all be able to have a fairy godmother of our own (not even our own Wanda and Cosmo!) or a genie’s lamp, but we can still have fun and enjoy the wonder of wishing by watching movies like these: Aladdin (1992) Big (1988) Freaky Friday (1976, 2003) A Simple Wish (1997) The Little Mermaid (1989) A Christmas Wish (1950) Bedazzled (2000) When in Rome (2010) The Change-Up (2011) 13 Going on 30 (2004) Aquamarine (2006) Kazaam (1996) Wish Upon a Star (1996) 16 Wishes (2010) You Wish! (2003) A Fairly Odd Movie: Grow Up, Timmy Turner! (2011) Wizards of Waverly Place: The Movie (2009) … and many more! But with the power of wishes comes a certain danger. We’d be remiss not to say: be careful what you wish for. If you want to see this notion come to life even more, we recommend checking out Wishmaster (1997).