Academic journal article Journal of Research in Gender Studies

The Feminine Spirit of Water

Academic journal article Journal of Research in Gender Studies

The Feminine Spirit of Water

Article excerpt

Water was the archai proposed by the Pre-socratic Thales of Miletus, who tried to reduce all things to a single substance. At the same time, water has always been an important theme, motif, source of imagination in literature and not only.

The motif of primordial water is universal since it appears in almost all cosmogonies, symbolizing, as Mircea Eliade noticed, "the primordial substance, from which every form is bom and in which everything comes back, through regression or cataclysm."1

The motif of water appears, probably for the first time in literature, in Rig-Veda, one of the oldest texts, composed between 1700 and 1100 BC, in the Punjab region of the Indian subcontinent. Water is an eternal element, "the waters flow on forever."2 The Vedic Hymns praise water as it bears life, force and wisdom. Thus, we recognize one of the feminine elements, one of the energies of depth, which will later create impressive images in literature around the world. In fact, water, life giving, fertile, changing and mysterious, has long been equated with the feminine aspects of creation, nature and spirituality.

The feminine energies give us life as well as heal and care for it. In RigVeda, water is, also, a way of purification: "Whatever sin is found in me, whatever evil I have wrought. If I have lied or falsely sworn, Waters, remove it far from me."3

The Babylonian civilization has several important literary creations, among which Enuma Eli§, written, probably, between the 13th and the 12th century BC, is a poem centered on cosmogony and theogony. The birth of the world, containing the motif of the initial water, is presented like this: at the beginning there was nothing, no earth and no sky, because they were not named; the only "thing" that was everywhere was Water, the primordial water, made of a mixture of sweet waters, Apsu, the god, and salty waters, Tiamat, the goddess:

"When on high the heaven had not been named,

Firm ground below had not been called by name,

Naught but primordial Apsu, their begetter,

(And) Mummu-Tiamat, she who bore them all,

Their waters commingling as a single body."4

What we should notice now is the fact that water has not only a feminine side, but a masculine one, too, both being necessary in order to create the world. This is also seen in other poems. Hesiod, in his Theogony, caught the feminine principle in the static water, and the male principle in the foamy waters of the ocean. The fecund water is different from the barren water due to Love.

In what other ways is the feminine spirit of water relevant? In many ancient societies the Goddess was bom from the sea. Anne Baring and Jules Cashford noted, "All the mother goddesses were bom from the sea-from the Summen an Narnmu, the Egyptian Isis, the Greek Aphrodite, the Aztec Chalchiuhtlicue, down to the Christian Mary (whose name in Latin means sea)."5

At the level of cosmic symbolism, mother is represented by the "stagnated water from which all vegetable and animal forms come out. From this point of view the maternal principle is associated with life, death and rebirth."6 The womb of the Great Mother is also symbolized by wells.

Over the ages, water has become a paradox. Once part of God and spirituality, it also has become the dwelling place of water spirits, sirens and nymphs that are seducers of men and who lure humans to their watery graves. This side of water is universal, too, from the mythology of Native Americans to that of the Greeks. Realizing this, however, only signifies that good and evil are part of the whole. Sometimes, especially in literature, the topic of good and evil is related to the idea of pure and impure water.

G. Bachelard, master dreamer of the elements, animating the waters of the soul with his stirring, fluid imagination, speaks openly about the almost always feminine character attributed to water by the naive imagination and the poetic imagination. …

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