In my tradition of Wicca, when we call ourselves to look to the Directions that go out to the horizon, call ourselves to mindfulness of the Elements within us, we begin in the East. We begin where Sun rises and Day begins, with the Element of breath and breezes and gales, of Air. We begin there, and move to South and Fire, West and Water, and then to the great strength of North and Earth.
For me, there is one Direction that has always had pride of place in my heart. I confess I do not have the balance that perhaps a priestess of my age and experience “ought” to have.
Nonetheless, my power, strength, and “superpowers,” if you will, come from the West. They have always come from water. If you have an astrological bent you can (if you like) read it there: Pisces Sun, Ascendant, and Mercury with Scorpio Moon, all water with a side dish of water. But I don’t know that you even have to go that far.
I’m just a watery girl. A great big manatee. A humpback whale. A bottlenose dolphin. A swan who thought she was an ugly duckling.
I have particular devotions to water deities, yes, but it is water itself that has always called to me. I remember distinctly the first time I saw Ocean. I was very young, maybe 4 years old at Nag’s Head, North Carolina. And then it was not so long after that I saw Ocean in another guise, on the northern California coast. It’s been love ever since. Ideally with rocky beaches and freezing cold water, but I’ll take the Sea wherever we find one another. And She’ll take me.
I remember that first time I smelled the smell of living and dying. I remember my fascination with the shells of dead creatures. The seaweed. The jellyfish whose tentacles, almost having minds of their own, will wrap your leg in pain long after the creature is (seems to be?) dead.
What is death?
What is life?
What are we doing to the plankton, the algae, and other tiny plant-people who keep us alive by their minuscule and limitless exhalations of oxygen?
Ocean is all about life and death. Consuming, exuding, creating and destroying. The image of lightning on Ocean’s face is something I have longed to have tattooed on my body.
“I have swallowed the sailors. I have spat out their keepsakes,” Ocean says in the Dar Williams song.
It’s not just Ocean, the realm of Yemaya and Olokun in the Ifa-descended traditions. It’s not just Aphrodite of the Sea who came across the Mediterranean with her Phoenician devotees, great-granddaughter of Inanna of Sumer. It’s not even my favorite of all Hans Christian Andersen characters, whose spirit becomes part of the foam of the sea—not, I might point out, married to her true love, the two-legged prince. Lastly, it’s not even the domain of Yemaya Assesu and her child Enrile, the place of the brackish water, the magical place where the sweet and salty mix. To be fair I do have a particular devotion to this place. As a Pagan who is Christian-adjacent and who has spent deep time with my Christian roots, the places of mixed waters are especially holy to me.
Today I am looking at my water bottle. I am looking at my Sigg bottle full of sweet water, safe to drink—tap water good for me, and egregiously not so for my siblings in other cities—and coming from below Earth’s surface. Deep water. This water is not so deep as, you know, the Mariana Trench, but deep.
Where are the sweet waters?
Swimming holes, yes. In my experience, the Stoneledge Hole in the “river,” the Sideling Hill Creek that runs through southern Pennsylvania and northern Maryland, now that is a holy place. I do not know the names of any spirits there. I do not know the names of deities associated with this place, but I know this: Hundreds of people, maybe more, know this to be a holy place.
It is water into which I threw myself in January. And yes, I nearly died from hypothermia. It is water to which more than one tradition has come for Dedication and Initiation. It is water with tiny fish that will nibble you gently if you stay still too long. Those of us with shiny piercings are the ones who’d best be mindful. Shiny, shiny lures for little fishes.
Ocean, River, Lake, Creek, Waterfall, Marsh…
I think of all these—the creeks and rivers of my original home, the waterfalls of my new home. And then I think of the miraculous water of the spring.
Anyone who has ever tasted spring water where it emerges generously, sweetly from the ground will never forget it. Tradition after tradition after tradition—Muslim, Christian, Pagan, Jewish, and I’m sure many others I don’t know—recognize the miracle of water springing from Earth.
Springs are Earth’s generosity. On the sides of mountains. In the middle of the desert. Wherever they appear, they have been a gift to life all around them. They are the places where the underworld, as it were, brings up some of its blessing to the upper worlds. Where Moses struck the rock. Where God saved Hagar and Ishmael in the desert.
Springs may be left to their own devices, or they may have wells built around them, and as is humans’ wont, where the Divine work and the work of human hands come together, the wells are recognized as sacred.
The Zamzam in Mecca where God saved Hagar and her son, Ishmael. The well where Jesus sat and had his longest theological discourse in the Gospel of John (with a woman, mind you!). Brigid’s well of Kildare, now sacred to Saint Bridget, along with Her holy flame. Glastonbury’s Chalice Well, and others throughout Europe.
And right now, I love wells. I love the way humans reach down and down and down to find the sweet water, the water we need to live, the water that make us who we are, mostly. I love the way that we build little fountains just to listen to the fresh water tumble over rocks and to drink if we need to.
If we need to drink. When we need to drink.
We are thirsty.
In the Psalms, at one point, the psalmist calls out to God for water because the psalmists tongue has cleaved to the roof of their mouth.
Friends, we are a thirsty people. We are thirsty for the surety of Divine love and connection to our own Deepest, Wisest Selves. We are thirsty for truth that echoes in our hearts and souls, that shakes us from our feet to our crown and back again.
I believe there is nothing that can slake our thirst except Living Water—and by that I do not mean only the Christian or Jewish ideas of living water—I mean the water that we find by seeking the spring at the center of our own hearts.
I mean the water where we can build a well that allows us to access that water at any time. To lower the bucket, to wind the rope, to dip our hands into the blessing of sweet water.
Building that well is what I try to do with what my friend and poet Laura Martin might call (if she were in a whimsical mood) “spiritual snuggles.” Coming up close to Divine Love and demanding a place in Its lap. Building that well is what I do with practice.
Practice that may be any number of things, but I’ll write more about them soon.
For now, know this: I want to meet you at the Well of Divine Wisdom, Love, Authenticity, and Integrity. In my next tele-course, Digging Sacred Wells, we will explore the mysteries of the spring and the well, the sweet water that nourishes our hearts.
Please join us. Please meet me where the water comes from below and our own hands find it from above.
Find out more here, and do be in touch.