On the road between home and Dayton, we crossed a river whose green highway sign proclaimed its name to be Mad River. How very strange a name for a body of water! It didn't look the least bit mad, or even slightly perturbed. It flowed gently and placidly southwards-- probably a tributary of the Ohio. But why would such a calm and pastoral river be named the Mad River? My muse whispered this story spontaneously to me.
The Mad River is so named because in days of old, people who felt madness come upon them would go and pray to the spirit of that river. They would wash in the water, and the water would take their madness from them-- or at least enough of it that they could function. The creative part of the madness was left them, and the destructive part was taken away.
However, when the spring floods came, the Mad River would rage uncontrollably over its banks, all the madness in the water churned up and set loose, no longer held bound by winter’s ice, and vast was the damage that rushing water would cause.
At last a wise shaman was able to speak with the river god and cure him of his madness so that the river rages no more—yet she also angered the river god with her presumption in daring to speak with authority to an immortal spirit and work her healing arts upon him.
Because of this, the river god will wash the madness from the people no longer, and the people of the valley must bear their own ills as best they may.