Child of Water

March 13, 2010 at 8:36 am Leave a comment

Water Gobi desert

Water in Gobi desert, China. Photo K.B.

Now the moment has come for the potter to add water to the dry clay. The Bible mentions water already in the second verse in the first chapter. The Water existed before Elohim created earth, before he created the sun and the moon. Other, more earthly creation tales tell the same story in different ways.

In Siberia, the very first shaman looking out over the infinite ocean asks a loon to fetch him some clay from the bottom of the sea; in California the god asks a turtle or a wild goose to do it.

In the Finnish epic Kalevala, a bird lays an egg from which the world emerges, on top of the knee that the Daughter of Air floating in the primordial sea holds above the water (the image makes me see myself in the bath tub).  Even the infinite ocean has a bottom; it floats on top of the earth.


Another creation story, that I like very much comes from the Hopi nation in Arizona:

The Goddess of the West meets the Goddess of the East on the rainbow.  They meditate and create land. The Goddess of the East forms a wren of clay and chanting they call it to life. Afterward they create the first woman and later the first man.

As embryos we floated in the amniotic liquid inside the womb and all the cells in our bodies are surrounded by water. Without water we soon die, but the contrary is also true. The tsunami and last years’ floods have taught us how dangerous too much water can be.

The symbol hidden in the Christian baptism is that it first symbolizes death through drowning, then a new life. This is not a new symbol; death and resurrection by the gift of the Water of Life were symbolized at least five thousand years ago in the tale about Inanna and Ereshkigal:


Seal impression with Inanna and lion

The Sumerian goddess Inanna (who later was called Ishtar, Aphrodite and Venus) goes into the underworld to visit her sister Ereshkigal in the country of Death. Instead of welcoming her, Ereshkigal kills her with a look and suspends the corpse on a hook near her bed. In the upper world fertility ceases: no babies and no animals are born; no grain, no fruits mature,  and the grass stops growing. Inanna’s faithful servant understands that something awful has happened and goes to find help. Only Enki, the god of water and wisdom dares help her. He picks some dirt from under one of his nails and forms two small beings that he sends down to Ereshkigal. The Goddess of Death is in pain, moaning on her bed and they sit down by her and empathize with her: “Poor Ereshkigal, your womb, your back ” Suddenly Ereshkigal becomes conscious of  their presence and wanting to thank them for their empathy, gives them Inanna’s corpse, which they return to life by pouring the Water of Life on it.

This is what the priest and minister do during the Christian baptism and we repeat the ritual when we wash the body of the deceased. The water of life occurs in many tales and also in the medieval alchemy. Old people return young after a bath in it. It seems to be our longing for more life and our great fear of the unknown, the death, that we express in this image. However, the road to find it is long and dangerous. Five thousand years ago, the Sumerians told the story about Gilgamesh and his search for the plant that gave eternal life.  It grew in the deepest place of the sea, but he managed–nearly dying in his search–to fetch it only to loose it again to a snake during the seconds he was asleep.

The gorgon Medusa

Medusa. From an Athenian vase. Late 6th century BC. Drawing K.B.

Most of the beings inhabiting the rivers, the lakes and the sea are dangerous except, curiously enough, the Gorgon Medusa in a modern Greek folktale. She appears as a strict but kind woman living in a cave at the bottom of the sea and this although she was one of the most terrifying monsters in the old Greece and an image of the dangerous Femininity–and of the dark mother, nowadays often personified by the mother-in-law:

Once upon a time there was an old fisherman with no children. Every morning he prayed for a son. One day the Gorgon swims up to him. “Of course, I can give you a son, but only if you give him to me when he has become twelve years old.” Yes, the fisherman promises and hopes that the Gorgon will forget the promise. She doesn’t. She takes the boy and keeps him five years, then she leaves him on the beach and he returns home. After some time he hears that the princess wants to marry the one that can hide from her so well that she cannot find him. It is impossible because the princess owns a mirror that shows all the hiding places. Three times she finds the boy in the most impossible places–the Gorgon helps him–the fourth time he is transformed into an ant that hides behind the princess. The princess searches for him in her mirror the whole day and in the evening she desperately crushes the mirror on the floor: “Where are you? I want to marry you.” Then the ant turns back into a boy again.

I find it interesting how in modern Greece, the Gorgon who lives on the bottom of the sea, is much kinder than the mermaids that sexually attract the sailors only to kill them. The water, that is the image of the unconscious, is dangerous for all those that are not ready for it. Could the reason that the old movie “Jaws” still is so popular, be our involuntary attraction to that which lies hidden in the water, in the unconscious.

The water symbolizes new life but not security and rest. Living water always moves; only when it is dead, there is no movement in it. In India they say that when the black threatening clouds let loose floods of rain, it gives birth to Fire, in Sanskrit Apam Napat, “Child of Water.”


Entry filed under: Gilgamesh, Inanna, Kalevala, Medusa, Water.

Mother Earth? Fire and Why Potters Made Useless Combs of Pottery

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