“An Unearthly Substance” (from chapter Water Is Magic)
“Some substances become mythical,” writes science writer Philip Ball of water in his book, H2O: a Biography of Water. Water, says Ball, transcends its physical and chemical materiality and manifests itself in our minds as a symbol. Even “when we remove its symbolic trappings, its association with purity, with the soul, with the maternal and with life and youth, when we reduce it to a laboratory chemical or a geological phenomenon, water continues to fascinate…it seems unique. Other stuff of the world is endlessly varied, but of a comparable stamp. Typically opaque, its shapes have some permanence—a leaf, a rock, an animal are comprised of fabrics that do not part before a probing finger. Water is the opposite of all that. It is compliant, mobile, transparent, tasteless. It’s not hard to form the impression that, in comparison with the rest of reality, water is somehow unearthly.”
Ultimately, water and our relationship with it is a curious gestalt of magic and paradox. Like the Suntelia Aion described by the Greeks, water cuts recursive patterns of creative destruction through the landscape, an ouroboros remembering. It changes, yet stays the same, shifting its face with the climate. It wanders the earth like a gypsy, stealing from where it is needed and giving whimsically where it isn’t wanted; aggressive yet yielding. Life-giving yet dangerous. Water is the well-spring of life. Yet, it is the River Styx that leads the dead to Hades. The annual flooding of the Nile River served as an ancient Egyptian archetype for resurrection, and was represented by Osiris, the god of death and regeneration. Christian baptism by full immersion, then being raised out of the water of a river or pool, symbolizes burial (with the Lord) and rebirth.
Water is a shape-shifter.
This article is an excerpt from “Water Is…” (Pixl Press) by Nina Munteanu