May the blessings of water be upon you,
The soft sweet rain to wash you tenderly and nourish you,
A rushing river to carry you forward,
The vast depths of the sea to bring you wisdom.
- blessing from a Pagan handfasting ceremony
(via The Blessing Files)
Water is the element of flow*. Of ebb and tide, of stormy seas and gently meandering streams, of deep still pools and majestic rushing rivers, of awe-inspiring waterfalls and the splash of small children through puddles after rain or dew drops strung on a morning spider web like pearls. The magic of water is that it flows, that it shapes itself into the landscape and in turn–patiently over aeons or swiftly in an instant–reshapes the landscape. Water is the blood of the earth, soaking into the body of the earth, giving life (along with the kiss of the sun and the breath of the winds). But it can also be a wall of destruction, obliterating whatever (and whomever) is in its path.
*I completely and utterly swear that I did not steal this phrase from Diane Sylvan (at least not intentionally!)–I had 2/3 of this post written when I happened to unpack the boxes of books that Hubby brought home from the storage unit and discovered my copy of The Circle Within, and (thinking there was a bath/shower ritual in it that would be good to include) cracked it open, only to discover this very sentence in her opening description for Mabon and Samhain being holidays of water…lol!
Scientifically speaking*, water is a wonderfully simple molecule whose unique properties make life possible on our planet. Just three atoms–two of hydrogen and one oxygen, covalently bonded in such a way that it forms a ~105 degree angle**. And yet, it is this simplicity that allows water to float in solid form (ice) when nearly all other substances sink, to stick together (cohesion and surface tension) and to stick to other substances (adhesion) in a way that lets it travel though the vessels of plants and animals (capillary action), to dissolve more substances than any other liquid (universal solvent), and more–all which makes it part of the basic cycles and processes of life.
*For me, knowing the scientific particulars of something is just as important to its spiritual importance as understanding its classical symbolism and mythology in building new understandings, as well as new ideas of how to relate to it and how to use it. Plus I’m just a science geek
**Some estimates put the angle of the water molecule around 105 point something-or-other closer to 106 degrees. Considering I recently read an article on some new observations in the hydrogen bonding of water molecules that changes how they interact, all that really suggests to me is that we are still figuring stuff out!.
Colors–green, also oceanic colors
Astrological signs–Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces
Other symbolism–cup/chalice, undine (and other water spirits), Autumn, the cardinal direction of West
Deities–actually Wikipedia has a pretty comprehensive list of sea and river deities, though they left out La Sirene (a favorite of mine) among others, and overstate the connection of the deity to water in a few (cross-referencing is always a good idea, regardless of the source, but particularly with a wiki)
Associations–death/rebirth/birth, pregnancy and childbirth, creation, creativity, divination, dreams, healing, emotions, release of emotion, weather, affection, body parts–body fluids, kidneys and bladder, brain, circulatory and lymph systems, breasts and female genitalia, and ears (along with air), peace, transformation/transition/change, chaos, cleansing (purification), blessing, compassion, empathy, the subconscious and unconscious, contracts, courage, fear (overcoming or confronting), and nourishment
The personal quality of Water is feeling. Emotion flows, following its own path, which may meander. Emotion runs deep, with mysteries not visible on the surface. Emotions can be like sunken treasure, hiding secrets at the bottom of the waters of memory or the subconscious. Emotionality and mood swings are, of course, associated with the moon, as are secrets-those things that are just barely visible, lit by moonlight and not exposed to the sun. In the Tarot, the Moon card is full of watery images, such as crustaceans crawling out of the water, and the card’s meaning is rooted in secrets, mysteries, and hidden knowledge. Water is female, and looks within.
Deborah Lipp, The Way of Four
If you are a regular reader of my blog, it comes of no surprise that I’ve made some changes, adaptations, etc to the conventional correspondences that fit my practice and beliefs better. I’m a big believer in witchcraft being an extension of one’s geography–to *grok* the forces and cycles that are native to one’s location and act as a force of change. As such, I work with water a bit differently. To start with, I have a body of water where I live…with its own personality, neither of which (the location or its energy) fit entirely with the traditional directional or seasonal associations (and I’m willing to bet that your local body of water doesn’t either). So they’ve been changed to fit where I live.
Here where the Chesapeake Bay meets the Atlantic, the energy of water is Eastward, and its season is the spring. The Bay works best for cleansing, blessing and transformative magic, and it is great for grounding energy and releasing magic, and not too bad at just about anything–even things that aren’t normally associated with water. With such proximity to the ocean (and the Bay, which is fed by many rivers and streams), deities that make themselves known aren’t bound to any particular pantheon, but rather like the tide, to the mood and season of the sea (and to particular places). As such, Thalassa, Sedna, Psamathe, Neptune and Salacia, La Sirene, and Acionne are the deities I’m the most familiar with.
Getting to Know Water:
Its been my experience that when someone prefers something over another (or feels they are better at it), it often means that the other can get forgotten. If water isn’t your “thing” (and even if it is), there are quite a few things to do to *grok* the essential energy of water in order to work it more effectively.
- Go skinny dipping–Sure, just swim-suited swimming works too…but if you can find a place where you can swim sans clothing, its completely and utterly a different experience. Also, if you aren’t a swimmer, consider taking swimming lessons to increase your comfort level in the water.
- Play in the rain–Without shoes, if possible and in a muddy puddle, if you can find one. If its not raining, sit by a stream or a waterfall–better yet, play in the stream and sit under the waterfall. If you feel silly, drag your kids along as an excuse–if you don’t have your own, borrow someone else’s kids (with their permission of course)!
- Check our your faucets: take a shower, soak in the bath, drink a glass of water (mindfully!)…and if you have ever been somewhere that you can take your glass and dip it in a lake and drink without worrying about pollution or disease, count yourself lucky (one of my favorite places, ever).
- Clean up a stream or your lake, beach, riverfront, etc.
- Visit an aquarium…it could be your own, one of the giant tanks of native fish at a camping store, the pet store, or a dedicated aquarium, either way, veg out with the fishies!
- Watch SharkWeek, or DisneyNature’s Oceans or (Chickadee’s favorite) Turtle: The Incredible Journey, or The Blue Planet series, etc (all of these are avaliable via Netflix, HuluPlus or Amazon, and if you check out PBS, Nature and Nova have free streaming of many of their programs–Nature’s Ocean Giants is available to watch until May 4). Seriously, how often does someone tell you to watch TV to be a better witch?!?!
- Trace the water you drink from precipitation to tap. (This is also the number 1 question on the Bioregional quiz discussed in Chas Clifton’s essay, Nature Religion for Real)
Water in Ritual:
Water rituals are healing, flowing and feminine. Any ritual involving women’s mysteries, childbirth, or gentle change are sympathetic to water. One delightful ritual I helped with had all the practitioners draw symbols of healing on the sidewalk with chalk, which an impending rainstorm carried away to the gods. Water is most often a loving element, though if you’ve ever been in a flash flood, you know it can rage. It represents the wide gamut of our emotions.
Diane Sylvan, The Circle Within
Ritual water works in two ways — it gives and it takes away. It gives health, wealth and wisdom because of its sacred origins or its blessed condition. It takes away evil, back luck or the spiritual grime of daily life by virtue of its purity or its simple cleansing properties.
One of the easiest ways to add the power of water into ritual is to start with a ritual most of us already do with water–bathing. Use water to not just wash away the physical grime, but to wash away stress, negativity, etc. Visualize the energy of water raining down onto and into your body, washing away (as Chickadee would say) “all the mad things and bad things and sad things” that you’ve seen or felt or thought towards yourself and towards others, as your psyche is rinsed clean. Diane Sylvan (whose descriptions of making the daily rituals a ritual ares more poetic) has a novel idea (in that I haven’t seen it mentioned elsewhere) that even brushing one’s teeth “can be a way of scrubbing away dishonesty, making room for you to speak the truth, or it can simple bring your attention to the words you say.”
Ivan Kupala Day, a traditional Ukrainian holiday is a day of water and fire (click the pic & follow the link, its pretty interesting!).
The same sort of cleansing can be done on a larger, more transformational, level in a ritual at a waterfall, shallow stream or at the beach. Focusing on ridding oneself of a bad habit, negativity, etc and then “refilling” one’s self with positive energy, better habits, etc can be easily done with any source of running water, but it is especially suited to the change of the tide. I’ve done this at the beach, one of the few times I worry about proper spell/ritual timing, where the outgoing tide is used to “pull” the unwanted out, and “push” the wanted in. This is a ritual that can also be done with just visualization, but (IMO) there is something about making the effort to go to a special place and do a ritual that makes rituals or spells meant to mark something life-changing, that gives them more power.
Cleansing and blessing rituals involving water are pretty universal, crossing cultures and religions, from Christian baptisms to ritual purity traditions in Judaism, and beyond. Water-based rituals aren’t just for the body and soul, but are great for cleansing items as well, and to cast away (biodegradable and environmentally friendly) spell components of spells that one wishes to deconstruct/deactivate. Blessed/holy water (tutorial in the links below) can be used to cleanse the home and to cleanse items. Other powerful water rituals include those for grieving (after all, grief is a sort of cleansing process), for fertility, and for growth (particularly in conjunction with earth), as well as rituals that invoke or involve water deities or spirits.
Ask not what your elements can do for you…after all, these posts are called SERVING the elements!
There are really two big threats to water–overuse and pollution. Both are problems in most places, but which problem is more of a problem can vary (like the recent drought in Texas) and both water conservation, to combat water overuse, and pollution prevention start with us.
Most home water use occurs out of doors (depending on where you live, anywhere from 30-70% of home water use goes to water the lawn and landscaping; estimates vary, but most suggest that only 30-50% of water used actually does what it is intended to). Indoors, the toilet is the biggest water user, followed by the shower/bathtub. For advice on how to conserve water in and around the home, check out your regional water authority–most of them offer their own advice for the area where you live.
Water pollution is a bit more complex of an issue, with multiple sources of pollution–storm water runoff, outdoor home water use (landscape/lawn watering is often accompanied by fertalizing, which mostly washes into the local watershed), chemical pollutants (indoor and outdoor), pet waste, plastics pollution (which I blogged about last fall), cigarette butts, and more. One of the biggest things that we can do to control our waste (and possible/probable) pollution is to control our purchases and to control how we dispose of them. Eschewing disposable items in favor of reusable ones, choosing renewable, recyclable or biodegradable materials over ones with an indefinite lifetime in the waste stream (increasing their chances of getting into the ocean), using environmentally friendly cleaners, and choosing native plant landscaping and reducing fertilizer and pesticide use are all ways to minimize pollution into our watersheds.
Other things we can do to protect our sources of water include supporting local conservation organizations with their efforts–our local organizations plant beach grasses in the sand dunes to protect the coast line for erosion, host an annual clean-up day of the Chesapeake Bay, plant sea grasses further inland as wildlife habitat, promote rain barrel use, provide oysters for people living along the shore to “plant”, etc. Even if you don’t live somewhere coastal, local organizations can often offer guidance on planting native species or creating rain gardens, or on local conservation initiatives.