Before mirrors were made, we looked to water to see ourselves reflected. Today, it’s possible that not much has changed. Outside of religious traditions, water is intimately connected with human emotion.
The link between water, the unconscious and emotions has many cross-cultural manifestations. In Hindu philosophy, water is associated with the Moon and Venus, which represent feelings, intuition and imagination.
Taoism views water a little differently: it’s considered an aspect of wisdom. Even though water is soft and weak, it moves in the path of least resistance and may go anywhere, given time. It takes the form in which it is held yet has the capacity to erode solid stone or move mountains. All these things are considered wise. In Taoist thought, the negative emotion associated with water is fear, while the positive emotion is calmness. As with dreams, interpretation depends on how the water takes form. Is it a calm pool? Or a stormy ocean? Water carries all these possibilities.
Human beings have often taken water’s refreshing, fluid quality as a symbol of the power of life itself.
Water that appears 63 times in the Holy book states:
And God has created every animal from water: of them there are some that creep on their bellies; some that walk on two legs; and some that walk on four. God creates what He wills; for verily God has power over all things (Quran, 24-45).
Allah thus asserts in the Holy Book that His Throne was upon the water. That is to say that he created life on the basis of water.
Tales of great floods at some turbulent point in the past are common in many established religions. Usually, after the flood came regeneration and a blank slate. Water as a symbol moved from fertility to punishment to purity. Religious ritual cleansing is still practised widely today, where water cleanses the body and, by extension, purifies it ready for worship.
Muslims must be ritually pure before approaching God in prayer. The major ablution, involves washing the whole body in pure water, necessary after sex or before touching the Quran. In Judaism, too, ritual washing restores or maintains a state of purity. Hands are washed before and after meals and on many other occasions. A Jewish ritual bath, a mikveh, is used for cleansing after menstruation, for example, or as part of initiation ceremonies.
Almost all Christian churches, too, have a symbolic ritual involving water. Catholics extend the symbolism, believing baptism removes the stain of “original sin” (referring to the sin of Adam and Eve in eating the forbidden fruit and symbolising the imperfect nature we are all born with). In the same way that water washes dirt from the body, baptism washes the soul.
In Hinduism, attaining purity is paramount. This relates to both physical cleanliness (morning cleansing is a basic obligation) and spiritual wellbeing. Important pilgrimage sites are usually at rivers and coasts, and funeral grounds are always near a river. Water has spiritually cleansing powers in Hinduism, none more so than the waters of the River Ganges. The Ganges is one of seven holy rivers in Hindu faith, most of which are personified as goddesses.
Even Buddhists, whose religion is far less ritualistic than others, use water at funerals. The deceased is laid in front of a monk and water is poured in a bowl. As it spills over the edge, Buddhists monks recite: “As the rains fill the rivers and overflow into the ocean, so likewise may what is given here reach the departed.”
In religious practice, water is never neutral. It has the power to transform, to purify or annihilate.
Many researchers and scientists in the past made claims of water being a conscious substance that has memory. Water memory is what some theorize as to the ability of water to retain the memory of substances previously dissolved in it, even when there is a very high dilution factor to the point that no molecule of the substance remains in the solution.
The research and controversy surrounding this concept is interesting. Most scientific evidence in modern medicine does not support this contention, and there is strong criticism from skeptics whenever someone comes up with supporting evidence.
Water is the common matrix of all growth: all forms of nature are painted by its invisible brush, revealing an imperfect world full of complexity and intelligence.
Water shapes and defines us as a spiritual, conscious part of this planet in search of meaning.
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