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Sacred Water: Connecting to Water Through Ritual and Reverence


By Amy Thiessen

Water is an essential ingredient to life on this planet. Its necessity and dynamic capacities are recognized and revered by spiritual traditions across cultures. Water is a giver of life, a source of purification, and an element that can be infused with sacred blessings. Religious traditions have long utilized water in their rituals from the washing of oneself before daily prayers (Islam); pilgrimages to sacred rivers (Hinduism); the baptism and admission of a soul into a religious sect (Christianity). This article explores how water is utilized in various spiritual traditions and how we can develop our own rituals to honor this sacred element of life.

 

Water: An Essential Element of Life

From the blood that carries nutrients through our body, to the rivers and oceans that feed the animal and plant kingdoms, water is crucial for the existence of life. It inhabits all areas of our lives. Our bodies are 55-75% water. We drink it. We bathe in it. The entire planet’s surface is over 70% covered by this essential element. The versatility of water allows it to move through land and sky. We find it solidified in glaciers, running freely through rivers, and floating in clouds before its molecules coalesce and fall as sacred rain.

Spiritual Traditions and Water

Water symbolizes regeneration, fertility, purification, and transformation. Across the globe spiritual traditions revere water and use it in rituals of purification, blessing, and connection into divine paths.

Purification through Water

Ablutions, or ritual washing, is a tenant in several religious traditions. In Judaism, ritual washing is intended to restore purity and takes two main forms: full body bath in a mikveh, a bath used for ritual immersion, and netilat yadayim, where one washes their hands upon rising and before meals. In Islam, ritual washing is referred to as “wudu” and is practiced to cleanse oneself for sacred practice, such as daily prayers. Baptism is a common ablution of the Christian faith. Here an individual has has their head sprinkled with holy water or is partly or fully immersed in water. Through this ritual the individual is both purified and admitted to the Christian church.

A foundation of the the Hindu faith is to seek purity of thought and being. Hindus believe that bathing in sacred water cleanses one of spiritual impurities and assists in the liberation from Moksha, the cycle of life and death. Holy places are located along sacred rivers, coasts, and mountains, and it is common for Hindu practitioners to go on a pilgrimage to these sacred sites. The Ganges is considered of the most holy rivers in India. It is believed that the water of the Ganges has great spiritually cleansing properties and as such, is a common destination for devotees.

In Bali, water is an essential aspect of culture and spiritual practice. Their unique expression of Hinduism is referred to as Agama Tirtha, “the religion of the holy water.” All holy sites on this island are accompanied by water from rushing rivers, waterfalls, springs, and streams, to spouts offering this sacred element. Many temples are devoted to water, such as the Tirta Empul temple which was build in 962 A.D around a natural spring. Here devotees come with prayers and offerings to immerse themselves in the sacred waters.

Infusion of Blessings

The theory of “water memory” postulates that water can hold the imprint or “memory” of a substance once diluted in it. This idea is further explored by Japanese author Masaru Emoto who suggests that human consciousness has an effect on the molecular structure of water. In his view, blessings and prayers can change the molecular structure of water and give it more vitality. Though theories of water memory have yet to be inexorably proven, this theory exists in spiritual traditions as well.

Examples of infusing water with holy qualities can be found in various traditions. Balinese priests/ priestesses imprint water through mudra and mantra so that it may effectively carry God’s blessing in ceremony. In Christianity, ministers and priests may sanctify water through prayer and ritual so that it may be used for sacrament and protection.

Blessings of food and drink

Most religious traditions have a practice of giving thanks or blessing before taking in food or drink. Though not specific to water, such practices include gratitude for the gifts and bounty that nourish us; water included. In Judaism, a bracha, a blessing, is said before the enjoyment of food or drink. In Hinduism, chants of gratitude are commonplace at mealtime, as is saying “grace” in Christianity.

Creating Rituals of Water

Spiritual rituals with water vary from simple practices of gratitude to elaborate rituals of immersion and purification. Drawing inspiration from spiritual traditions, we can create our own rituals to connect with water in both simple and elaborate ways. The following section offers guidance in creating such rituals.

Rituals for drinking water

 

Giving Thanks

While holding a glass of water, take a moment to close your eyes and feel gratitude for the water of this earth. Feel into the oceans, rivers, rains, and streams, and sense genuine appreciation for the life that this element brings. As you drink, allow yourself to be nourished by this gratitude.

Infuse with written prayer

Before going to sleep, take some time to write a prayer or affirmation that is particularly meaningful to you on a piece of paper. Take the paper and wrap it around your water bottle or glass. As you do so, imagine the water pulling in the vibration of your words and intentions. In the morning, take a moment to reconnect to your prayer. As you drink this water throughout the day imagine the vibration of your prayer/affirmation permeating every cell in your body.

 

Rituals for bathing and washing

 

Daily washing

Daily washing is an opportunity to connect with the purifying properties of water. As you wash, acknowledge that water is cleansing your physical body, as well as your spiritual and emotional bodies. Take your time and bring love and attention to each body part as you clean.

Sacred immersion

This ritual is a more in-depth water purifying and self-rejuvenating ceremony. It combines elements of Ayurvedic practices with sacred ritual. This practice can be used to support our hearts, soothe our minds, and purify our spirit.

Preparation: What you need

  • A bathtub
  • Offerings: Collect offerings for your bath that will infuse it with soothing elements for your heart, body, and mind. Examples may include essential oils (lavender, geranium, jasmine), flowers (rose pedals, chamomile flowers, pansies, and dandelions), milk, oats, and any other supportive natural ingredients
  • Incense: Incense serve as an effective way to set the space
  • Candles: Candles serve to create a tranquil atmosphere
  • Music: Chanting or prayer songs may serve as an effective way to clear the mind (Check out “Pray” by Sundari Studios)
  • Natural massage oil

 

Ceremony

  • Fill your bath tub with warm water
  • Place offerings near the tub
  • Light incense and candles
  • Turn on music as desired
  • Close your eyes and offer a short prayer or mantra. You will find additional options for prayers and mantras in the next section “Purification through Living Water”
  • Add your offerings, one by one, into the bath. Infuse each offering with intentions of gratitude and blessing
  • Slowly enter the bathtub, be mindful of every sensation in your body as you immerse
  • Once in the tub, take your time washing and blessing each part of your body
  • Lay back in the tub and take time for meditation. You may choose to observe your breath, listen to the chanting music, or repeat prayer or mantra
  • When you are complete, get out of the bath and towel off
  • Massage your entire body with a natural oil and bless each body part as you do so
  • Take a moment of stillness and gratitude for the water that cleanses you, and for taking this time of self-care
  • You may choose to watch the water go down the drain and know that it takes the impurities back into the water system to be transformed

Purification through Living Water

The Hindu faith gives great reverence to the sacredness of water, particularly in natural sources of rivers or springs. In this ceremony, inspired by Hindu practices, we will use natural holy waters for spiritual purification.

Preparation

  1. Choose a location
    Whether it’s a nearby river or a day trip to a canyon, choose a location that inspires you and makes you feel connected to spirit. Consider how you want to connect with the water. If you wish to immerse yourself, ensure that the location you choose is safe for bathing or swimming.
  2. Prepare offerings and prayers
    You may wish to make physical offerings to the water. Ensure these offerings are natural and will not adversely effect the ecosystem. Offerings may include; flowers, stones, leaves, rice (be mindful that food offerings will not negatively affect wildlife), and incense. Prayer is a individual practice. You may wish to prepare a prayer that is unique to your personal spiritual connection or choose a specific mantra or affirmation with which you resonate. Here are some options:

    Prayer
    “Sweet spirit thank you for the water that nourishes this life into existence. I understand that the fluid of this body is that of the oceans and the rains. In water we are we are all connected. I honour the power of water to restore this body, spirit, and mind, to its eternal state of grace and peace. Thank you for this perfect gift, this giver of life.”

    Mantra
    Om
    Om Mani Padme Om
    Gayatri mantra

  1. The Ceremony
  • Set out your offerings and preparations near the water
  • Light incense and sit quietly by the waters edge
  • Take time to connect to the natural setting
  • Recite your prayer or mantra either internally or aloud
  • Release your offerings
  • If staying on shore, place your offering into or near the water
  • If you choose to immerse in the water, hold the offering at heart height and release them when you reach your destination in the water
  • Submerge your body or cup into the water and pour it over your head three times
  • With each submergence or washing, allow the water to cleanse your heart, spirit, and mind. You may choose to infuse this practice by offering specific personal challenges to the cleansing powers of the water
  • Return to the edge of the water and sit quietly
  • Give thanks to the water. You may choose to again recite your mantra or prayer

Water is the giver of life and is essential to existence on this planet. Spiritual disciplines across cultures have long revered water and utilized it for purification and blessing. Through water we are all intimately connected to the wholeness of this life. The spiritual qualities of water may be harnessed in our own lives through ritual. From giving thanks as we drink, to more elaborate ceremonies of purification, water offers us a gateway to the gift of life, transformation, and connection to the divine.

 

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