In the druid tradition, water represents the west, the place of emotions and intuition, the place of our ancestors and of the honored dead. Water is often connected with the salmon of wisdom, the salmon who dwells in a sacred pool, offering his wisdom to those who seek him. Water may serve as a gateway to other worlds and as a tool for scrying. Water can be used as a tool to understand flows of all kinds. You can study flowing water through observation, fishing, boating, or swimming and connected with it in order to help us understand deep insights. Snow and ice can likewise, be used as spiritual tools. Water-based animals like turtles, fish, salamanders, dragonflies or water-based plants like cattail, calamus, or lotus are powerful allies for spiritual work. Working deeply with water is part of several druid teachings and courses, and thus, finding ways of doing that kind of work is important. Today, I wanted to share some suggestions and ideas for working with the element of water.
Because I like to root our druidry in the here and now, I think it’s important to understand why, on the physical and spiritual level, water is a good element to be focusing on now. Partially, I want to do this because in the last two months, I’ve been tackling a lot of difficult topics surrounding “Druidry for the 21st century“, and I hope that this post will help offer some soothing and healing. But tied to the issues that I’ve been recently discussing, we have a host of environmental challenges with water: global warming causing ocean acidification and coral bleaching; huge dead zones and polluted rivers; acid mine drainage issues; and issues with draining aquifers are all problems that the earth is facing. We also have a host of social problems surrounding water, like major floods or droughts, issues of water ownership, and issues of the drinkability of water (such as the ongoing water saga in Flint MI or the protests by the Water Protectors to protect the land and drinking water sources).
Further, It seems that right now, the emotional water energy of the world is out of balance: people only feel and focus on their emotional reactions rather than critically analyzing (air), tensions are heated, and social unrest is present. I do not believe that there is any coincidence that as the waters of the world are under pressure and threat we see this unbalanced water energy in our social sphere. As a druid, I understand the relationship of these things. Water is life. When we abuse that water, that abuse unbalances the waters of the world and we, thus, are unbalanced as well. Given these larger problems, I think its good to cultivate a positive and meaningful connection with balanced water energy. This helps us have a buffer between all that unbalanced watery and emotional energy that is plaguing us, for one. But also, deep water work can open up worlds and new insights to us.
Collecting the Sacred Waters
Some years ago, at the OBOD’s East Coast Gathering, I was gifted with a very special vial of water. Thea Worthington, the OBOD Modron at the time, offered me the water that she had brought from Iona, the Isle of Druids. I had never been to Iona or the UK (and I still haven’t been) and this sacred water, coming from my the land of my ancestors–and spiritual ancestors–was a very cherished gift. When I brought the water home and placed it in a glass vial, it was literally humming with energy. I began using it in my spiritual work in various ways; taking a single drop of it and adding it to local water to ‘charge’ that water, bringing it into my rituals and the rituals of our grove, and so forth. Soon after, I began collecting waters from sacred places that I was visiting–waters of the many sacred springs, lakes, rivers, and oceans. After this experience, and through closely working with these waters. Each time I would gather the water, I put it in a small glass dram vial, and gave it a label. If others were going to visit places I may never go, I asked them to bring me water back with them. Thus, over a period of 6 years, my “water collection” has grown quite considerably! Further, I found that physically working with the waters led to many spiritual experiences and insights — and you can build a whole spiritual practice surrounding collecting, honoring, and working with sacred waters.
You might consider starting your own water collection and working with water deeply. I’ve learned a few things that can help you if you want to do this kind of work, which is the basis of the rest of the ritual and spiritual work outlined in this post.
Bring a vessel. First, when you are out and about, always take some kind of collection vessel with you. If you are out locally, you can also use your water bottle to bring back some water at the end of a hike or from some other outing. I try to keep a vial with me in my crane bag and foraging bag; that way, I will always have the opportunity to collect some water. I also keep a spare vial or bottle in my car for other adventures. That way, when the opportunity to gather some water comes up, I am able to take advantage of it!
Now, when you travel on a plane, you need some planning and forethought. I like to put my sacred water in a simple spray bottle labeled “hairspray.” I have never had customs or TSA give me trouble with this, as long as it is packed away in my quart ziplock bag or in a checked bag. Tincture bottles can also be used for this purpose.
Collect water with sacred intent. Second, I think its important to collect water with sacred intent. You want to make an offering to the water in exchange for the water you are taking. I like to do something sonic or energetic for this. I may offer a stone from my land, chant, or play my flute. I like to do something that can resonate with the water in some meaningful way. I also, by the way, will clean up any garbage at the site where I am collecting if there is any to be found.
Knowing where to collect. I think that most places are good places to collect water. I like to think about it this way: even if the source where I am collecting water from is polluted, it is good to represent that water source. That river or lake or whatever still has a spirit, still has live that is trying to live there. I treat polluted water sources differently in my ritual work though, and I’ll explain that below. So if you are going to do this practice, collect widely.
Enlist help. If you have friends or family who are traveling somewhere that you may never go, ask them to bring you back a bit of water. You can also involve other druids by doing a water exchange or using water in your rituals–ask everyone to bring some water (see combined waters – group ritual) below.
Label and store carefully. I purchase clear 1 dram vials with a lid, and use those for my waters, which works really well. I used corked glass bottles for a while, but they tend to dry up after a year or two; the plastic lids never dry out. Pour the water you collected into the vial, then, seal it up tightly. Taking some colored paper and a pen, make yourself some kind of little label. I tie these onto my bottles, but I could just as easily tape the label on there with packing tape. The rest of the water, if safe, I offer my plants or the land. If not safe (due to pollution), I will usually send it down the sink with thanks.
At this point, once you have some waters you’ve collected, you can start to work with them in really amazing ways!
Creating Your Sacred Water Shrine and Ritual of Coming-Together Waters
Once you have started a water collection, you can build a shrine and welcome each of the waters into your collection with a ritual. I will offer you the basics of the ritual, with the understanding that you can frame it how you like, in any tradition you like.
Find a place where you can have your water shrine. It should NOT be a place that cats or kids can easily get to. In fact, in both of my homes, I kept my water shrine on a counter or near my tub. That’s where it is located currently; my art studio and sacred space have an attached bathroom, and the whole bathroom is dedicated to the theme of water, flow, and Awen. I have an Awen shrine in the bathroom focusing on flow and honoring water, and the opposite side, I have my sacred waters shrine. IF this isn’t an option for you, consider getting a nice decorative box for your waters to serve as your shrine. That or a high shelf might be an option to you.
Once you have a place, you’ll want to think about how you are going to arrange your water vials. I got a nice cut wood round, sanded it a bit, and used that–and it works great.
Now you are ready for the ceremony. There are two options: You can do this in a regular ritual space you use, or you can do it in the bathtub. The bathtub has one advantage–you can, immediately during the ceremony, connect with your sacred waters much more deeply than you are in the water yourself. If you don’t want to or are not able to do it in the tub, you can do that part of the ceremony later (it is offered below). Before you begin, you will need your water shrine area prepared, all of your vials present, and you will need a dropper and one empty vial or bowl for the ceremony. Before the ceremony begins, fill the bowl with rainwater, spring water, or melted snow from your local area (some form of pure water).
Open up a sacred space in your usual manner.
Begin with thanks for the water. Say some words in gratitude, play music, drum, dance, whatever you feel led to do. Allow the emotion to flow through you.
Arrange the vials of water in front of you, however many you have. Pick the first vial up, and through the glass, sense the energy of the water. Focus on the water for a time, simply feeling its energy and remembering how you gathered it–what the day was like, where you were, where the water comes from. Then, focus and see if there are any messages, insights, and/or feelings. Once you are done with the vial, offer thanks and place your vial on the shrine. Continue this process till all of the vials are placed.
Now, take your bowl and dropper. Bless the bowl however you see fit and then pick up each water again. Using your intuition, sense the water and if it should be used for spiritual purposes. If you get an affirmative, take 3 drops of the water from the vial and place it in the bowl. I do not recommend that you include any waters that are polluted to your sacred combined waters. For example, my sister traveled to India and brought back water from the Ganga river. When I did this ceremony and welcomed the Ganga waters to my shrine, I had the very clear message that I was not to open the bottle or work with that water in any way beyond sending that river healing energy (the Ganga is the 6th most polluted river in the world, with over 600 miles of dead zones).
At the end of this ceremony, if you are already bathing, do the full bathing ceremony below. If not, you can close out your space and when you have an opportunity, do a full bathing ceremony if that ceremony speaks to you.
Each time you have new water, you can use the above ceremony to add that water to the shrine. Or, if you are doing a lot of collections, you can wait till you have a few vials to add and do them all at once.
After your ritual concludes, you have created a very powerful bowl of sacred water with many different water energies, what I call the “coming together” water. Add this water to a vial and label it. If there is any remaining water in your bowl, water your plants with it, or pour it on the earth to offer your blessing. If your vial gets low, you can always add more water (and treat this like a “mother” essence, infinitely able to be added to and used).
Healing and Blessing Bathing Ritual
You can do this ritual, as I said above, as part of your shrine building and coming together water ritual, otherwise, you can do this anytime you feel led. I find this ritual is particularly powerful when I am having a hard time emotionally and my emotions (and thus water) are out of balance. I also find this ritual useful for healing of all kinds. This ritual is useful to cultivate the flow of Awen in your life. This ritual is best done in a bathtub, but not all people have access to bathtubs. Thus, I give a shower variant at the end.
Now, I want to talk a little bit about what to do at the end of the ritual (before I offer instructions). In the tradition of hoodoo and more broadly, from many folk magic traditions, a bathing ritual is complete only after a person has drip-dried–that is, toweling off after the ritual literally “wipes away” the magic. I think that drip dry option adds an additional layer to the ceremony.
Prepare your bathroom for sacred work. I prefer to do this ritual at night, and I use at least four large tapers to light my bathroom. This provides ample light and sets the right ambiance. Burn some incense and do whatever else you’d like to set the stage. You can play some soft instrumental music for this ritual. Additionally, make sure you have your vial of coming together waters and a dropper bottle.
Open up your sacred space, then fill and enter your tub. Have your vial with you. Holding the vial in your hand, speak your sacred intent to the water (healing, creative flow, balancing, flexibility, etc). Then, open up your vial and use your dropper to drop 3 water droplets into your tub. Close the vial and then swish the water around. Now, simply relax. Meditate, journey, breathe deeply, listen to music–just allow that sacred water to work on you in various ways.
When you have allowed the sacred waters to do the work, thank the waters for their gifts and healing. Then, pull your drain and leave the tub. If at all possible, do not use a towel and allow yourself to drip dry. Close out your sacred space.
Shower variant: Place the sacred waters in a bucket of warm water. Take the water into the shower and using a sponge, sponge yourself all over. Do everything else the same as described above.
I hope this has been a useful way for you to think about how to work in a sacred way with water as part of your druid or nature-based spiritual path. I still have a lot more to share about these water practices, but, since this post is getting quite long, I’ll finish up next week. Next week, stay tuned for by offering you some other ceremonies and ways to use your combined waters and also how to do a “coming together” waters ritual in a grove/group setting.