Goddesses Of Water


After earth, the symbol most commonly associated with goddesses is water, both as the fresh water of rivers and streams, and as the oceans salty waves. 

The gendering of water as feminine is not invariable, however. 

Some mythologies describe the oceans as masculine. 

The Greeks had a sea god, Poseidon, while a similar figure among the Irish was Manannan mac Lir. 

In both cases, the ocean was defined as masculine, as dis tinguished from fresh water, which was feminine. 

Among the Greeks, who despite see ing the ocean as masculine pictured its waves as the innumerable feminine Oceanids, we find the freshwater Nymphs called the Nereids. 

The Irish knew many river god desses such as Sınann, Berba, and Boand, while outside Ireland we find dozens of Celtic water goddesses including Abnoba, Aveta, Coventina, Natosuelta, and Sabrina. 

This salt and fresh water distinction, however, is not universal. 

Some goddesses were described as ruling the oceans, including the Scandinavian Ran who ruled the northern sea, and Chermiss Bu¨t aba and Finnic Mere-Ama (see Finno-Ugric), whose domains were similarly in the arctic waters. 

Hebrew Miriam (see Eastern Mediterra nean) was connected with the ‘‘bitter waters or the salty seas, although a freshwater stream created by her brother Moses also bore her name. 

The connection between the oceans salt water and female fertility is emphasized in the Hindu myth of Prakrti (see India), whose amniotic fluid became the oceans after she gave birth to the gods. 

In many cultures, an ocean goddess controls the fish and mammals that live in her waters and on which humans depend for food. 

An important example of such a figure is Inuit Sedna (see Circumpolar) who, thrown into the water as a sacrifice, thereafter receives sacrifices herself as the ‘‘great food-dish. 

Finnish Vellamo (see Finno Ugric), too, is an ocean goddess who determines how many fish humans can take from her waters, taking advice from her many daughters, the waves of the sea. 

Similarly, the South American sea-mother Mama Cocha brings fish and sea-mammals close to peo ple so that they can be harvested for food. 

Fishermen often fall under the rulership of ocean goddesses, who like Ma-tsu (see China) protects them when they are faring on the waves. 

In some cases, the oceanic goddess is depicted as a primordial mother or creatrix, one from whose depths life was born, as with Babylonian Tiaˆmat (see Eastern Mediterranean). 

Finno-Ugric Luonotar, while not the ocean itself, is intimately con nected with it, having spent much of eternity floating on cosmic waters. 

The sky woman of the American Iroquois, Ataensic, floated on the oceans waters until earth was created (see North America). 

Wherever the waters of the Wintu goddess Mem Loimis fell, the earth grew fertile, while areas not endowed with her watery gift were left as desert (see North America). 

Ocean goddesses could be charming and delightful. 

Lithuanian Amberella tossed pieces of amber to the shore, to reward those who honored her, and Greek Aphrodite was ravishingly beautiful even when fickle. 

But they could also be dangerous. 

Mer maids and sirens, which appear in many mythologies as ocean-dwelling women of great beauty, are threatening water divinities who lure sailors to their death. 

Such fig ures guarded the boundaries between water and land, like Siberian Sug Eezi (see Circumpolar) who like other mermaids had long hair that mimicked the rippling streams that she inhabited. 

Celtic Korrigans danced each night, drawing victims to themselves and drowning them. 

Greek Aphrodite was born of the oceans waves and, although beautiful, could also be pitiless, for love is never without possible threat of loss. 

In China, the primary goddess Xiwang Mu controlled the worlds waters and was invoked when floods threatened, showing that the activities of such cosmic god desses could be damaging to humanity were she not ritually appeased. 

Thus ocean goddesses represent both creative possibility and danger. 

Goddesses associated with fresh water are powers of fertility. 

Such watershed god desses can be seen as divinities of the land as well as the rivers that drain it. 

In India, many rivers are imagined as goddesses of earthly abundance, none more so than the Ganges, whose powerful river drains much of the subcontinent and is seen as the actual body of the goddess Gan ga. 

In Egypt, where the annual inundation of the land by the river Nile was typically associated with the god Osiris, we find the water goddess Anu ket representing the connection between water and the lands increased fertility. 

In Africa, major rivers were goddesses (Yemaja, Oshun, O ya) who were sometimes in conflict with each other over their shared consort. 

Such river goddesses were typically maternal forces, providing their human children with sustenance. 

A similar goddess in Russia, Mokosh (see Slavic), was a motherly figure whose presence was most actively felt in budding springtime. 

Smaller water sources such as springs and creeks could be seen as threatening rather than helpful. 

In Slavic lands, supernatural women, once human, haunted quick-flowing streams. 

Deprived by early death of a chance to have children, the Rusalki drowned sweet babies or fertile young people. 

The Scandinavian Nixies were similarly danger ous. 

In tribal India, the Nippong especially targeted young pregnant women, whom they caused to miscarry. 

Such spirits were often most active in spring and may re present the possibility of flash floods. 

Tribal Indian Bai Tanki, another destructive river goddess, spreads disease through her water—a mythic narrative with a firm basis in science, for polluted water can indeed spread disease. 

Fountains and bedrock springs were often seen as locations of inspiration because of the goddesses who inhabited them. 

The Greek Musae are still known as an image of the force that causes artists to create. 

In India, the river goddess Sarasvatı was the source of inspiration as well as a cosmic creatrix. 

Such inspiration could be legal and organizational as well as artistic. 

Among the Roman water nymphs called the Camenae was Egeria, who oracularly dictated the first laws of Rome and whose name is still used to describe a wise woman advisor. 

Freshwater goddesses, endowed with the gift of seeing the future, could help those who wished to practice the oracular arts. 

Babylonian Nanshe (see Eastern Mediterra nean) was a fortune-tellers goddess celebrated at waterborne festivals. 

Prophecy was not always seen as a gift; the Greek water Nymph Telphusa killed anyone who drank her prophetic waters. 

Yet most often, prophecy was a positive act, connected with heal ing because the ill and infirm turn to oracles in hopes of receiving predictions of pos itive change. 

So common was the connection between springs and healing among the Celts that the names of many of their goddesses have been lost, for they were renamed ‘‘Minerva Medici after the Roman goddess of healing, during Imperial occupation. 

Healing was a common part of the domain of the freshwater goddess, a tradition that continues today with the prayerful use of water from the well at Lourdes, France, dedicated to the virgin Mary (see Eastern Mediterranean). 

In Africa, we find the lake goddess Idemili and the water spirit Mammywata, both of whom offered healing to their worshipers. 

The Hindu goddess Narmada (see India) was especially powerful against snakebite, while the healing offered by Gan ga extended beyond this life, for those who died in her waters were freed from the cycle of rebirth. 

Some important goddesses controlled all water, whether found in rivers or in oceans. 

Anahita, one of the most important Persian divinities (see Eastern Mediterra nean), ruled everything fluid in the universe, even those of the human body. 

Similarly, among the Lithuanians (see Baltic), the water mother Jurat˙e controlled all the earths waters. 

Aztec Chalchihuitlicue (see Mesoamerican) could be found in lakes, rivers, and the ocean. 

Finally, some goddesses could be described as divinities of what science calls the water cycle, for they ruled the rain that falls on the land, the bodies of water (above ground and underground) that gather the rain and return it to the ocean, and the ocean where clouds are born to return water to the land. 

Such goddesses connect air and water like the African sky woman Andriana who descended to earth to become a water goddess. 

Rainbows, those bridges between sky and earth formed by water vapor, often symbolize such goddesses. 

In Australia, the primal serpent Julunggul ruled ocean, rivers (especially waterfalls), and rain; she was embodied in the rainbow. 

A similar rainbow-water-snake spirit found in Haiti was Aida Wedo (see African Diaspora). 

~ Kiran Atma

You can learn more about Goddess Symbolism here.