Frances Billinghurst

From the beginning of man's existence, water has played a vital part - settlements were established along the banks of rivers or lake shores to ensure a ready supply of water. For without water, where would human life be? Water is the element of all people. It is our common bond as our bodies and souls all need to be nourished by water.

Our bodies may be able to survive up to a month without food, but without water, we can only last a week. Water is needed not only to re-hydrate ourselves, but also to keep our muscles and other parts of our bodies (ie eyes) operating properly. We all need at least two litres of water per day, so we, as a species, need to look after our precious resource as not only our own lives depend on having fresh clean water, but also the lives of all other inhabitants on the planet.

In terms of evolution, water is near the beginning and source of life. In her book Women's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets, Barbara Walker mentions water is the first of the elements and seen as the "mother of all things". " Water gave birth to "spirit", a male principle; hence the idea of baptismal rebirth that Christians copied from the Pagans involved both water (feminine) and spirit (masculine). The baptismal font was described as a "womb", specifically the womb of Mary, whose name was that of all the ancient Sea Goddesses. "

In many myths around the world, water is the primary impulse of creation, the watery womb of chaos, and is representative of the Great Mother. According to the Zuni people in south-western United States, for example, the first humans emerged into this world through the waters of a spring from the Underworld. Most of us are probably aware of the story of the great flood in the Bible. However, such stories are found all through the ancient world, including on ancient Sumarian text, therefore confirming Barbara Walker's suggestion that water represents the oldest of the Divine Powers.

Water has been used in rites of passage, marking a symbolic act in initiation rites marking the beginning of adulthood. The initiation rite of the Yolngu people of northern Australia re-enacts the swallowing and regurgitation of two boys by Uurlunggur, a great serpent venerated as the source of rain.

Worshippers from ancient Greece through to Muslins of today touch themselves with water (a form or self-blessing or dedication) or wash before entering a sacred place. Ritual bathing of sacred objects is performed with similar intent. The Greeks bathed statues of their Deities every year in order to reaffirm their powers, while the king of Saudi Arabia performs an annual ritual washing of the Ka'ka stone, the sacred black rock which stands as a focal point at Meca, the holy city of the Muslins.

Water played a significant role in the ancient Akkadian story (dating back to at least the 8th century BCE) of the Goddess Ishtar's descent into the Underworld. When Ishtar, the Goddess of Love, Fertility and War, forces her way into the Underworld, she is stripped of her powers and treated as one of the dead, a situation which causes great problems back on Earth. It is only when Namtar, the Goddess's vizier goes to the entrance of the Underworld and sprinkles Ishtar with the waters of live, that she can return.

In the West, however, we have lost our reverence for nature - we treat it merely as a commodity. Although our rituals of living and dying are interwoven with the cycles of water, we have removed ourselves so far from nature that we can no longer see this, unlike other cultures around the world. We need to be re-enchanted with water in order to value its importance again, especially with the hotter Summer months approaching.

One way to bring back this feeling is to contemplate the importance water has on us in our normal lives - something I doubt many of us have considered before, unless faced with an emergency. The next time you take a shower, brush your teeth, clean the car, wash the dishes, or even hose down the drive (this action I personally cannot bear to watch), think about the water you are using and the water you are wasting. What would you do if there was little or no water around - would you cope? There are countries in the world who live on as little as three litres of water per head per day - would you and your family be able to do this?

We need to realise that our actions, no matter how slight, do effect other people, and that we can make a difference. In making this difference, we became special individuals because we realise the importance we play in the cycle of life.


"Without water, there is no life;

so water is not an image or simile,

but a symbol of life."


Frances is the High Priestess of the Temple of the Dark Moon which offers courses in Wicca including a 13-lecture correspondence course, and Goddess spirituality, as well as Full Moon gatherings. For further information, write to her at PO Box 2451, Salisbury Downs SA 5108, visit the Temple's web site www.templedarkmoon.com, or email darkmoon@ace.net.au.