Water Symbol – General Overview
Table of Contents
Water has often been associated in various cultures as a link to the afterlife, underground water as “prehistoric chaos”, falling water as a “blessed vitality”, whirlpools as difficulties in life, and the murmur of a quiet river – a quiet and peaceful life. Lakes and ponds are abodes of natural spirits – mermaids, water spirits, water demons with divination abilities.
Moderation in Tarot playing cards is represented by the ritual mixing of water and wine. Many myths about the creation of the world, water is central as a metaphor and source of life, but also the eraser of life, purification, punishment, drowning.
The flood as a symbol and expression of water is purification, a new beginning, punishment. Water is an ambivalent symbol (dual symbol) – it contains both good and evil; both life and death; and benefactor, and punishment. (Here is the Greek myth of the Flood)
In a symbolic sense, water had a purifying effect, among other things, in the late ancient cult of Isis.
In psychology, the ocean is a symbol of the deep subconscious, the unconscious, and in one of the Scandinavian runes we find Laguz, which literally means “lake” – a symbol of depth, water, invisible deep forces, the smoothness of life force. It is interesting to mention that the waters can flow inwards to the earth and thus acquire the meaning of the Underworld (Goll in Norse mythology, the river Styx in Greek mythology).
Thus water acquires the meaning of the inner self, the subconscious and the search for answers to questions that occupy the consciousness.
Holy Communion in the Christian dualistic system is performed with wine and water, with the addition of fire. This shows and emphasizes the God-man duality and their relationship between them. At the same time, in iconography, water is depicted as an element with the role of a purifying factor, and in baptism (more often of children), “washing away sin” (with a corresponding prayer to deny the influence of the Devil). In addition, it was used to subject witches to water trials, and if they failed and were guilty, they had to swim over the water; if they are innocent, sink them and pull them with a rope. The belief was that water will not take “chained witches”.
The water, strongest and purifying, was the blessed water. Dew was also considered God’s grace and God’s gifts. Water can be with ointment, they are not mixed, and the blessed on certain holidays (aqua benedicta), believers take to their homes, in some parts of the world; if there is a church to the spring, it is considered blessed and also applies ). The water is then poured into small cups near the doorstep. Serves for crossing/blessing with wet fingers. It is widely believed that the drops sprinkled on the ground “help the purifying flames” of the souls who go to Purgatory.
Baptism is performed with a bath of water and is like a sacrament that washes away all sins and previous deeds handed down by both the family and the person who will perform them. Like John the Baptist, who first washed Christ as a symbol of the new religion of Jesus’ salvation and purification.
Mandatory activities (fard) in Islam always begin with purification by water – washing the face, hands, head, feet. Recommended activities (mustahab) include: washing the ears, washing the hands to the elbows, mouth, nose at the top. The whole body must be washed, and only then are the other ritual activities performed. This washing is done with water, but provided that it is in an area with clean water. There is also “dry washing”, when the sand acquires the meaning of a purifier, if there is no water, or if the water is not suitable.
Before the obligatory prayer, the water is changed and should be in an accessible place.
Thermal waters, hot waters springing from the bowels of the earth, were considered healing and in connection with water deities and creatures. Available votive gifts testify to the veneration, from the ice age to antiquity, in the cult caves of the Pyrenees. The lands inhabited by the Celts are revered by sacred springs, believed to be a link and a gift from Mother Earth. The same can be seen in the lands inhabited by the Thracian tribes, some of them in Bulgaria. They found places, springs, around which they settled and had ritual floods. The Roman Empire later took advantage of and built thermal baths at the open Thracian springs.
Scandinavian people believed that groundwater was a link to the Underworld. They built wells as a symbol of control of the connection with these waters.
Throwing coins into the water comes precisely from these understandings of the connection with water deities and water beings, through which they consulted, blessed, left gifts or prayed. Also, throwing a gift (coin) into the water is a kind of connection in a figurative series of water-land-fertility-happiness and wealth. Some springs were worshiped by nymphs.
In European antiquity, symbolism led to the symbol of running water, which washes away all evil magic. Spring water was used to cast out underground gods and demons. The rainforest was used to summon celestial beings, and the goddess of the dawn, Eos (Myth of Eos here), “shed tears” and thus the dew was produced.
According to alchemical notions, “heavenly dew” represented the volatile element mercury, and “May dew” as a solvent.
In Indonesia, to bring the dancers which are in trance back to the real world, are sprayed with holy water. Similarly, in ancient Mexico, by washing, the removal of all evil from the child was done by the grandmother – praying for the water to purify the child. Ritual baths are also found in other ancient cultures.
In Hinduism, one of the most famous traditions of purification is immersion in the sacred waters of the Ganges, especially after the death of someone, maintaining the purity of the soul. Punyahavachanam is a ritual for purifying oneself and the home, by spraying water on the participants and on the objects they use. And in the abhisheka ritual, the image of the deity (murti) is sprayed with water, milk, honey and other compounds.
In Shinto, a common practice of ritual purification involves running water (mizoki), especially if it is from a waterfall. Women wore kimono and men wore Japanese silk robes.
For the Mayans in Central America (Yucatan), the idea of the afterlife passed through the allegory as a water kingdom. Numerous clay vessels with drawings have been found that confirm this view. Among the Aztecs, the god Tlaloc was the god of rain Tlalocan.
The sign of the ninth day in the Aztec calendar is water, and is considered a symbol of torrential rain. However, the omen is in the negative sense of bringing misfortune of “disease, fever”. This water sign is depicted as a bluish, branching stream of water with waves at the edges and is part of alt-tlachinolli – the Mexican hieroglyph for war, translated as “water-fire”.
The priests in the holy city of Tolan, ancient Mexico, had the ritual activity of midnight ritual ablutions, and in the city of Tenochtitlan there were three sacred baths. And in honor of the feast of the goddess Hochiketsal, who did not wash or bathe, skin and venereal diseases were the punishments.
The sauna can also be found among the practices of the American peoples. Sweating (the removal of water from the body), purified the body before other rituals. In the Cherokee tribe, at sunrise, purification was immersion in rivers and streams. In other villages of the same tribe, ritual washing was only before ceremonies and holidays.
Gods of Water
There are too many water gods (I found about 237 deities, creatures, avatars, monsters, water demons from around the world) that deserve their own articles. So here are just a few:
- Ezili, goddess of sweet water, beauty, and love. (Benin)
- Nommos, amphibious spirits that are worshiped as ancestors. (Dogon)
- Oshun, a river orisha. (Yoruba)
- Anuket, goddess of the Nile and nourisher of the fields.
- Hapi, god of the annual flooding of the Nile.
- Osiris, god of the dead and afterlife; originally a god of water and vegetation.
- Abzu, god of fresh water, father of all other gods.
- Enki, god of water and of the river Tigris.
- Tiamat, goddess of salt water and chaos, also mother of all gods.
- Rusalki, female ghosts, water nymphs, succubi or mermaid-like demons that dwell in waterways.
- Veles, god of earth, waters, and the underworld.
- Vodyanoi, water demon who lived in lakes and rivers.
- Fontus, god of wells and springs.
- Juturna, goddess of fountains, wells, and springs.
- Salacia, goddess of saltwater. Neptune’s consort.