chapter  2
16 Pages

Water of life, water of death: Pagan notions of water from antiquity to today

ByDieter Gerten

Hundreds of years separate most modern societies from those times when the world was believed to be populated and shielded by gods and other non-human beings. Irrespective of the enormous cultural upheavals (including transitions in religious beliefs) in Europe and elsewhere, water is always indispensable for human wellbeing and survival. At the same time, water always was, and still is, a potential threat to humans. It can be so abundant that it inundates settlements, so scarce that humans and ecosystems su er from droughts, or so salty or contaminated that it becomes undrinkable or even lethal. People have therefore tried to cope with the ambivalent nature of water and particularly to tame its unpleasant, sometimes dangerous face, be it spiritually through direct communication with the forces manifest in water, or technically through engineering solutions. Embracing both worldviews, this chapter explores facets of earlier religious approaches to inland waters and the sea in ancient Europe, speci cally in Greek, Roman, Germanic and Celtic societies, and follows the route of these beliefs into the Christian era up to contemporary neo-Pagan convictions.