Water Myths, Mysteries and Symbolism
Water is an intrinsic part of most spiritual beliefs. Its uses and symbolism in religion are many and varied; its spiritual and healing properties are seen in rites and rituals; and its representations are as numerous as they are diverse. These different religious and cultural aspects of water reflect the vast array of civilizations that have made water the central element in their practices. (Courtesy of UNESCO Water and World Views)
- The ancient Egyptian Heliopolitan story of creation narrates that the Sun God Atum (Re) reposed in the primordial ocean (Nun).
- Assyro-Babylonian mythology states that the gods, and subsequently all beings, arose from the fusion of salt water (Tiamat) and sweet water (Apsu). Apsu is the embodiment of the freshwater abyss that lies beneath the Earth. From Tiamat’s water came forth the clouds, and her tears became the source of the Tigris and the Euphratus.
- The holy books of the Hindus (the Vedas) explain that all the inhabitants of the earth emerged from the primordial sea.
- At the beginning of the Judeo-Christian story of creation, the spirit of God is described as “stirring above the waters,” and later, God creates “a firmament in the midst of the waters to divide the waters” (Genesis 1:1-6)
- In ancient Greece, the souls of the dead were ferried to rest across the dark waters of the River Styx. This river separates the world of the living from the world of the dead.
- Aphrodite, the ancient Greek goddess of love, was born of the sea. When Cronus castrated his father Uranus, he threw the severed genitals into the ocean, which began to foam. From the Aphros (“sea foam”) arose Aphrodite.
- Anahita, the ancient Persian water and fertility goddess, is associated with rivers and lakes, as the waters of birth.
- Purity and pollution are central to Zoroastrian belief. Pollution is considered evil, whereas clean water is sacred. It is forbidden to spit, urinate or wash one’s hands in rivers for fear of blemishing the water’s sacredness.
- The Koran cites the words “We have created every living thing from water”.
- In Christianity, baptism links the concept of the water of life with the water of purification.
- In [the Bible] God is called “the fountain of living waters” (Jeremiah 2.13)
- The ancient Mesopotamian people regarded the abyss of water as a symbol of the unfathomable, absolute Wisdom.
- In ancient China, the water of the fountain at Pon Lai was believed to confer a “thousand lives on those who drink it,” according to Wang Chia, writing in the Chin Dynasty (265-420 BCE)
- The Babylonian moon goddess, Ishtar, was associated with sacred springs, and her temples were often situated in natural grottoes from which springs emanated.
- In China, water is considered to be the source of all life and it is the specific den of the dragon.
- In India, the sacred River Ganges embodies the water of life for Hindus. Legend has it that the Ganges is the river that flows beyond its earthly bounds to Moksa, the realm of Nirvana.
- In Japan, water incarnates the purity and pliant simplicity of life. A spiritual connection with elements like water is a primary force in the life of a Shinto priest.
- In the New Testament, ‘living water’ or ‘water of life’ represents the spirit of God, or eternal life.
- The Roman philosopher Seneca declared that “Where a spring rises or a water flows there ought we to build altars and offer sacrifices”.
- In the Vedas, water is referred to as the “most maternal”.
- In Christianity, water is intrinsically linked to baptism, which in itself is a public declaration of faith and a sign of welcome into the church of God. In baptism, water symbolises purification and the cleansing of the original sin.
- The lotus-stream of the Buddha (Boddhisattva) rises up from the waters of the soul, in the same way the spirit, illumined by knowledge, frees itself from passive existence.
- “Miracle” or healing waters have been discovered throughout the world and have been responsible for thousands of otherwise-unexplainable healings.
- For Hindus, water aids spiritual purification. Morning ablutions with water are an everyday duty. All Hindu temples are located near a water source, as followers are under strict obligation to bathe before entering the temple.
- When the prophet Mohamed was asked what was the most praiseworthy deed, he answered, “To give water to drink..” Hadith – Koran
- The Bible refers to “the water of life,” and the Koran is filled with references to the value of water and its abundance in paradise.
- Dr Masaru Emoto believes that water initially held the conscientiousness of God, and that souls that don’t attain enlightenment transform into water.
- Jews use water for ritual cleansing to restore or maintain a state of purity. Hand washing before and after every meal is mandatory.
- In Shinto waterfalls are held sacred and standing under one is believed to purify the individual.
The act of providing drinking water is seen by many cultures and religions to be one of the most charitable human acts.