Sunday, August 16, 2009
I find myself becoming increasingly more fascinated by water, photographing it over and over again. Constantly changing in endless permutations- visually, it never disappoints. It appears to play some age-old game with light, one that only they understand. It can be a mirror, reflecting the colors and forms around it, while keeping its own secrets hidden beneath. It can stay absolutely still, or become a rushing, raging torrent against which nothing can stand. It can be life-giving relief and sustenance, but just as swiftly take life and wash it away as if were nothing.
It seems a mystery to me- something that's so common, and so necessary for life, but is really quite unique. We take water for granted, most of us wasting it without much thought. Yet we can live only a week or so without it; we can go a month or more without food. Our bodies are 60- 70% water. While approximately 75% of the earth's surface is covered with water, 97% of that is salt water, and 2% is frozen in the polar ice caps, which means about 1% is drinkable. It's the only substance that occurs naturally in all of matter's three forms: solid, liquid, and gas. Somehow, the scientific facts don't begin to capture the truth of it, or what it means to us human beings on this planet.
Since the beginning of recorded history, water has been important symbolically as well as physically. According to Avia Veneficia of What's-Your-Sign.com:
The symbolism of water has a universal undertone of purity and fertility. Symbolically, it is often viewed as the source of life itself as we see evidence in countless creation myths in which life emerges from primordial waters.
Interestingly, we are all made of water, and so we can liken many of these myths and allegories to our own existence (the macrocosm mirroring the microcosm and vice versa). Further, we can incorporate symbolism of circulation, life, cohesion and birth by associating the creative waters of the earth with the fluids found in our own body (i.e., blood).
In Taoist tradition, water is considered an aspect of wisdom. The concept here is that water takes on the form in which it is held and moves in the path of least resistance. Here the symbolic meaning of water speaks of a higher wisdom we may all aspire to mimic.
The ever-observant ancient Greeks understood the power of transition water holds. From liquid, to solid, to vapor - water is the epitomal symbol for metamorphosis and philosophical recycling.
Among the first peoples of North America, water was considered a valuable commodity (particularly in the more arid plains and western regions) and the Native Americans considered water to be a symbol of life (further solidifying the symbol affixed in many creation myths).
So it is also with the ancient Egyptians as we learn their beloved (and heavily relied upon) Nile river is akin to the birth canal of their existence.
A quick list of symbolic meanings for water include (but are not limited to):
And from Pure Inside Out:
The holy books of the Hindus 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)
Finally, I'll leave you with the words of one of my personal heroes, and a great Kentuckian:
by Wendell Berry
I was born in a drouth year. That summer
my mother waited in the house, enclosed
in the sun and the dry ceaseless wind,
for the men to come back in the evenings,
bringing water from a distant spring.
veins of leaves ran dry, roots shrank.
And all my life I have dreaded the return
of that year, sure that it still is
somewhere, like a dead enemys soul.
Fear of dust in my mouth is always with me,
and I am the faithful husband of the rain,
I love the water of wells and springs
and the taste of roofs in the water of cisterns.
I am a dry man whose thirst is praise
of clouds, and whose mind is something of a cup.
My sweetness is to wake in the night
after days of dry heat, hearing the rain.