I bring to you my love of water. What I share is part research, part poetry, and part soul, fluidly stewed together for you to feed on. How these words shape you, flood you, and fill you, I cannot control. However my hope is that you gain an understanding of how the element water effects us and can be used for spiritual and symbolic purposes, whether through the Tarot (in the suit of cups) or in other ways as you see fit. This is a hearty, heartfelt but well researched read. Get ready to dive deep into a few watery areas and see how they flow together. Oh, and to get you in the mood, you may want to press play on the song “Water,” by the Incredible String Band.

IMG_1411Water as Life
To know water, we have to go back in time and first know our evolution. It took us humanoids 6 million years to evolve from our apelike ancestors. But science tells us, even earlier than that,  we grew out of single cells, and micro creatures swimming and spinning about in the water. As a metaphysicist, I will focus on the spiritual aspect of what this means, and we’ll start with good ‘ol Manly Hall. He explores the symbolism of us emerging from water in his book, The Secret Teachings of All Ages:

“The ancients realized that the primary forms of life first came out of water, and modern science concurs in this view. H.G. Wells, in his Outline of History describing primitive life on the earth, states: “But though the ocean and intertidal water already swarmed with life, the land above the high-tide line was still, as far as we can guess, a stony wilderness without a trace of life.” In the next chapter he adds, “Wherever the shore-line ran there was life, and that life went in and by and with water as its home, its medium, and its fundamental necessity (131).”

Like our birthplace, the womb, we developed in a watery abyss. Water was our home, and as written above, our “medium.” This word suggests that water has great power between life and death; if not the very least as an evolutionary tie, its greater symbolism rests in its connection to our birthplace and the wellspring of life. Formed over eons, we were shaped in the water but eventually sought to explore the land, as tadpoles, frogs, lizards, and leaping creatures, eventually evolving into four-legged mammalian walkers. We crawled from the water out onto that stony wilderness. but we did not abandon our past.  We return to it every day. We drink water, we bathe in it, and we ARE water, 60% so.

g-beach-resortAs a Medium, I have also experienced water as a gatekeeper between life and death. This first became apparent to me when I had a visitation dream from a family member a few years ago. She visited me from the shoreline of a beach and spoke to me telepathically. I shared this vision with my Dad, and he commented that in his experience, dreams with water are sent from God. While we have differing religious views, his comment stuck with me.

correspondancesEast to West
The sun rises in the east (air) and sets in the west (water). I associate water with the direction west, as shown in this chart. The rising sun in the is east is symbolic of life beginning, while the setting sun symbolic of death. The sun rises, the sun sets. The day begins, the day ends. Every day, there is a new day of creation, a new cycle. Water guides us through to the underworld, back to ourselves at the end of our day, and in death.

Water & The Story of Creation

We have some how always known about our connection to water as our earliest birthplace, even before science discovered this. Let’s look at how one of the oldest religions, Judaism, views the element water and the beginning of life, as written in their sacred text, the Sepher Yetzirah, or Book of Formation. I will be referencing this book as its transcribed by Manly Hall on pages 360-362 of his book The Secret Teachings of the Ages (as an FYI, this is a great book for those interested in comparative religion, mythology, and the esoteric).

The Book of Formation tells us that the supreme creator first ordered the world into number, letters, and then sounds. These building blocks of life are called the 32 mysterious paths of wisdom. The Holy Qabalah (below), is a map of these building blocks. Also, if you are interested, the Qabalah connects with the Tarot.  A great book to read about the Qabalah for magickal purposes, as well as its connection to Tarot is The Chicken Qabalah, by Lon Milo Duquette.

ImageCacheQabalah and the Sephirot
Out of the 32 paths, 10 of them are circles or points called the Sephirot. The Sephirot are emanations. The Book of Formation tells us that these emanations were like lightening as they came down from the supreme creator. It all happened so fast, but in that instant, those points also became a cosmic blueprint of realms, with Spirit (supreme creator) residing in 1, and us humans at the bottom, in realm 10 on earth, or Kingdom.

The Book of Formation also tells us that different elements were born in each emanation. The first emanation is Spirit in and of itself. The second is Air – the breath of life. The third emanation of the Sephirot deals with water. In this third emanation, primordial water was extracted from the air, and the in the Book of Formation it is written that at this time the creator “formed therein twenty-two sounds – and established them out of mud and loam.”

Let’s pause for a minute. Did you hear that? There were 22 sounds created from mud and loam (loam is clay). So, in this religious text, we are brought back to where we began our first steps. On the shoreline, slipping from the water and mixing with mud, we took our first walk-about, leaving our simpler celled-start behind. Looking at the Sephirot above, I have to say that while I’m no scientist, to me it looks like one big cell or molecule. In the third emanation or growth, we came onto the shoreline as watery lizards, mixing with mud and loam as we first traversed the land.

But, once on shore we didn’t stop there. As we evolved, we developed language, the “twenty-two sounds,” the alphabet (22 sounds, the Hebrew Alphabet in this case).

So you see, to me it seems we have always inherently understood our beginning in water. This is why water is central to many mythologies and religious practices. Later we will explore how water is used for magickal and ceremonial purposes, but first let’s look at water as a building block that fluidly ties together a variety of beliefs.

Water in Mythology

To begin, I am going to explore the myth of Odin (Hanged Man, card #12 in the Tarot), because it bears a striking resemblance to the idea of language emerging from water, much as we did. Hall recounts the tale of Odin on page 91 of The Secret Teachings of All Ages. Odin, seeking enlightenment, decided to hang himself from the World Tree (think of this as the tree of life) for 9 nights. Look at the Tarot card, and glance back up at the Qabalah. See a similar shape?

Anyhoo, whilst Odin was hangin’ round for 9 days, he decided to really show everyone his humility so he stabbed himself in the side with a spear. Mostly, he wanted to impress the Norns (Fates), who lived at the bottom of the World Tree so that they would share their power with them. These 3 powerful sisters controlled the fate of all humans, but also, they possessed something else; language. And with language they shaped humanity. Their language was the Runes.

220px-Norns_(1832)_from_Die_Helden_und_Götter_des_Nordens,_oder_Das_Buch_der_sagenThe 3 Norns lived at the bottom of the World Tree where there was a well called the Well of Urd. The Norns’ realm was in water! And as Odin hung, he stared longingly into their watery home for 9 nights. Finally, the Norns showed favor unto Odin (maybe he just started to annoy them), and as he stared into their watery well whilst hanging, the Norns revealed the Runic language! Here we see the idea of water acting again as a source of creation, and again, a birthplace for knowledge (language).

Venus is basically the same goddess as Aphrodite. Venus is Roman, and Aphrodite was her earlier Greek name. She is the goddess of love, beauty and fertility. But, guess how she was born? In water. While this is no surprise, the -the-birth-of-venus-copy-of-botticellistale of how she formed is pretty weird.

Boticelli’s Birth of Venus, c. 1480

In Greek mythology, Uranus was god of the sky and the husband to Gaia, Mother Earth. They were the beginning of life, fathering and mothering the first generations of titans, the great gods and Greek Pantheon. One of their children was Cronus – Father time (Chronos is another god associated with time- they are perhaps one in the same). And guess how Father time, Mr. Cronus was depicted? With a scythe. Well, you know how these tales work. There’s lots of blood, murder, and incest. Basically, Cronus overpowered his father, Uranus. Cronus castrated his father, and those man parts fell into the sea. With his scythe, Cronus became an agent of death, forcing his father Uranus to return to where life began; the sea. Into the water, Uranus’ manhood fell. But the manparts didn’t die there. Nope, they foamed and they writhed in the water, emerging as the beautiful, heavenly Aphrodite. She rose to the surface on a seashell and was quickly robed and welcomed ashore.

And so, in this story, our cells split from male to female in the foaming water. In the sea, we reproduced, and came ashore to seek something more, at least as the story goes.

Inanna, Persephone, and Ishtar, Astarte
Inanna, Persephone, Ishtar, and Astarte are all goddesses from different cultures with similar stories. They are stolen, forced, or led from earth into the underworld and de-flowered, it seems, by a male in the underworld. Or, if not de-flowered, they gain insight into the deeper workings of cycles and therefore the cosmos. As these ladies become enthroned and entrenched in the underworld, crops die and humanity suffers. Often, the underworld is depicted as being traveled to and from via water.

These goddesses are then stuck in the underworld for half the year (winter). The earth and humanity suffers during this time, and so do the goddesses. In the myth of Ishtar, she is revived from near death by having water poured over her body, then returning to earth. We can compare this to the return of water and warmth in the spring, when the land is made fertile for growth and food! In the Tarot, I associated card #17, the Star, with this mythos.

The Magickal uses of Water

We have explored some religious and mythical correlations with water, let’s now venture to look at how water trickles down into practice. I am mostly interested in exploring the use of water for divination. Much like we formed slowly over eons in fluid, I see water as a symbolic mirror that reflects what is forming below the surface. Water can be used as a reflection to see our lives. The Moon, in Tarot and in many practices, is seen as the divine feminine and a symbol of the intuitive realm. The Moon can see itself when reflected in water on a clear night. The Moon is our desire to see what’s hidden below the surface, and the water, the Moon’s reflection, is the essence we must see into.

We hear stories of gazing into wells to gain insight. In popular culture, a similar motif appears as sorcerers gaze into water, where divine wisdom and the future is foretold. Sometimes this begins with a woman pouring water from a jug into a fountain (think Galadriel in Lord of the Rings), and the ability to see the truth begins.







Additionally, we use Tarot for divination. Tarot first emerged C. 1430 in Italy, and in this deck, we have the suit of cups (see this deck below, the Visconti, and the Ace of Cups). Cups hold water, and wouldn’t you know, water and the suit of cups within the Tarot symbolizes our intuitive sense. Water leads us back to ourselves, and is also the realm of feeling. In psychic work, the use of feeling to see or sense is called clairsentience.

Visconti-sforza-cups-aceWe’ve touched on water in popular culture and its correlation with divination, but let’s now reference historical accounts of divination that involve water. We can assume that these concepts are Pagan and predate Christianity. While most written material from antiquity has been destroyed, we can look at surviving practices that have been referenced through sources appearing in the last few hundred years.

For this, we look to Charles Leland. Leland was a writer born in 1824 in Philadelphia. He eventually called London his home, but in 1869 he set out to travel through Europe. Leading him was his interest in folklore, and through his studies, he began to connect with people who were practicing ancient Pagan traditions, as they had been doing for generations. Leland became interested in recording and preserving these traditions, amazed at how some of these beliefs seemed centuries old. In his book Etruscan Roman Remains, Leland writes about his studies in the opening:

“Here is in Northern Italy a mountain district known as La Romagna Toscana…These Romagnoli are manifestly a very ancient race, and appear to have preserved traditions and observances little changed from an incredibly early time…They were probably there before the Etruscans…and it is very likely that they left in remote districts those traces to culture to which this book refers to (2).”

The Etruscan civilization can be traced to 800 BCE to 4th C, CE. So, while Leland’s writing is from the late 19th C, we have to trust that his encounters with some of these folks show the survival of very old traditions.

In Leland’s Etruscan Roman Remains, through his interviews he finds two divination systems that use water. The first involves pouring metal into water, and the second, oil into water. Of metal, Leland notes that this is a very old practice across many cultures. It makes sense to me, perhaps because with metal we were able to forge weapons, and perhaps, in fighting, divination could foresee just how effective these weapons would be.

Divination by Lead and Water
The process of how to use divination with lead is recorded on page 308, and it’s written in the style that Leland was writing down aural accounts, making it a bit tough to read. So instead of quoting it, I will summarize the recipe and concept:

Mix together:
3 seeds of Rose
3 leaves of Nettle
2 leaves of Rue
3 seeds of Cumin

1. At midnight, bind two tallow candles together with red ribbon and light them.
2. Take a plate, and put lead on it.
3. Put the plate into the fire.
4. When the lead melts, add the herb mixture.
5. When they are mixed together, pour them into a bowl of water.

Reading and using your lead/water:
1. If they form a river, it is a bad sign.  You can use this mixture to curse an enemy. Pour it into or around their house.
2. If they form a baptismal font (this is a basin used for baptizing), the omens are good.

{ I imagine, that the reference here is that the lead divides in a way similar to water baptizing a head. So then, if the lead divides (unlike the river, in outcome one), the answer is yes! You can then take the cooled lead, and out it into a red bag. You can put this it into the house of someone you wish to bring good luck! }

So, there you have it. Divination by lead and water.

Divination by Oil and Water
Let’s look at the oil and water method recorded by Leland. He has a really cool account of entering the home of the fortune-teller, where he witnesses her methods:

“There are in the streets of Florence, not far from the Signoria, houses which were, possibly, old in the time of Dante…who knows the age of anything in this land where relics of even prehistoric culture abound..699px-Rembrandt_Harmensz._van_Rijn_038.Into one of these houses I entered– into total darkness– felt my way upstairs to an invisible door– knocked, and entered a large room only divided by one another by an arch. There was but a half-light from a single window, and the whole formed a very Rembrandt-like picture. At the table sat the fortune-teller, and before her was a glass of water into which, with strange gestures while uttering incantations, she was dropping oil from a bottle (311).”

Philosopher in Meditation, Rembrandt, 1632.

Leland then gets to speak to the Fortune-Teller, and she explains how to go about the process. You will notice here, the mixing of Paganism with Christianity and I will  write out my interpretations of the directions:

1. Fill a small flask or vial with oil. While holding the flask, make the symbol of the cross three times across the face, saying:
“In the name of heaven,
Of the stars and moon,
I pass away this trouble
For better luck and soon!”

2. Take the vial in your right hand and make three crosses over the glass of water, exactly from side-to-side. tarjaniWith your left hand, make the corna.

{ Hand gesture for horns, used by Italians as well as other cultures; Hindus call it Karana Mudra. This motion can be used to create a curse, or to protect from evil or a curse cast to you. I imagine that in this case, you are removing or protecting yourself from evil }.
While doing this, the Strega (Italian witch) repeats:

“Befania, Befania, Befania!
Thou who didst cause this trouble,
Bear it away from me.”

{ On a very interesting side-note, Befana is an Italian figure. She is an old woman who rides a broomstick, entering the house through the chimney at night of January 5th– Epiphany Eve– delivering gifts to good children, and coal to bad children. Sound familiar? On another side-note, perhaps when Leland wrote this, he wrote Befania versus Befana, in line with the orator/fortune-teller’s pronunciation? }

3. Then pour in/let fall 3 drops of oil from the water into the vial. If they combine at once, it is a good sign, or a YES to the question asked. If the drops fall apart, it is a bad sign or a NO.

Then it is written that to “…thoroughly explore all the chances, this ceremony is renewed three times. And every time through the water and oil into the street or to the court.” And this is hilarious: “Should a man be the first to pass, all will yet go well. If a woman, the omens are still unfavourable.”

9B__1zOx_uUGHqLZcV-ofJ4Hw9GWXUkDiB1jUUh4lmpFktoL5fhf0I0ptTD2jsM21IMBzzlSJr-xfkOSZ8faD-HmxbIB5B8gw3XCVL0HzKMxpvU2G2dwKY88ThMgOttJksSPxMBkKqaDxRSWfVN2-Ent0ndFramBEVRX43e6BhYNDFj9ymehII9WgtD4Fg5ZL93yyejL8OcASkhmzG-KIt seems that  you can repeat the spell up to three times, each time repeating the motions and incantations. The text also mentions making your hand into the sign of the castagna. I’m not sure what that is, except the text mentions placing your thumb between forefingers and middle fingers. It seems like another version of shaping your hand into a warding-off-the-evil-eye pose. Maybe it looks like this >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>  ?

It’s also noted that you can rest this hand on the edge of the glass. The orator also reveals that in doing this spell up to three times, if still unsuccessful (meaning the answer is no or the results are unfavorable), that you can do the following:

1. Drop a teaspoon of salt into the glass and repeat the Befania incantation.
2. If the oil turns a whitish color, Befania relents and all will go well.
3. If the oil doesn’t turn white, your lost option is to drop a hot coal into the glass, and ask Fire to cleanse the energy by saying:

“Thou who burnest so immensely,
Thou who warmest all mankind,
I pray thee to burn
This evil spell,
And the one who smote me with it!”

4. The coal and water must then be thrown into a running stream behind you without looking back.
Whew! Well, I’m not sure I’m going to be cooking up this kinda demanding recipe anytime soon, but you get the picture! Water has been used as a part of divination for a very long time. You may want to explore or try some of these methods out, altering them to fit your own practice and beliefs.

In Closing
Water is a part of our bodies, our beginning, and our end.  Symbolically, water represents a passage between worlds, and a glance deeper into our own world. Divination is the process by which that is hidden reveals itself; water shows us what is forming. In the case of the visitation dreams I’ve had, water has been a forceful present that’s alerted me I have traveled between realms, or traveled to the land of the dead (the setting sun).

Water can also heal. Sometimes, when I close my eyes to re-center, I see a black pool of water, and I imagine everything dissolving away into the deep. Occasionally an image appears that warns me or alerts me to something I need to see. Water is my own private divination pool.

Water is one of the four elements revered across various traditions, and can be used symbolically. All magick, even the Tarot, is a form of a sympathetic process. By this I mean that magick is a process of mimicry. Through using the elements, we change the alchemy within ourselves and around us, thereby achieving the desired results we’d like to see in reality. Sometimes this begins with seeing into what’s below the surface, which water can help us do.

BTW, this is my song about water (river), and it’s coming out via Moon Glyph records in the Fall of 2015:

Thanks for reading and flowing down this river with me!




Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *