Sunday, April 5, 2015

River Goddesses, Water of the Earth, and Local Cultus

Platte River by Jetuusp, Creative Commons License
This week's topic for the Pagan Experience is Water.  I'm sure I'll get to read quite a few posts on Monday about the element of Water in a Wiccan or Neo-Wiccan context, and I'll enjoy them - but I've come to the point where it's not really relevant to my practice at all.  Rather than the overarching idea of Water as a being or spirit that encompasses all that is wet in the world, I have instead begun honoring many local spirits.  They are certainly related to water, but that is not all that they are.

The first is my river Goddess, the lady of the Platte River that spreads brown and wide across the prairie.  She extends Her tendrils into hundreds, maybe thousands of tributaries across the land where I live, and as a child I grew up near and found refuge in several of them.  She has been with me nearly all the days of my life.  I understand Her as the life-bringer to our dry land; farmers use Her water for irrigation for their crops, so much so that Her volume is much lower today than it was before mass European immigration.  In this way, Her giving of life is a very real and visceral thing - it is not an endless resource to bestow on all, but instead as we use this precious water, it directly takes away from Her vitality and the habitat of all who dwell in Her ecosystem.  Part of my work in honoring Her is educating the future generations that I work with about good water management practices, and how the river contributes to the entire ecosystem that we must live within.  I also make it a point to visit one of Her tributaries (it is just across the street from me) and leave an offering once a week - something biodegradable, that will hopefully aid the river and its life.

The second great spirit of water that I recognize is the Ogallala Aquifer.  This is a huge lake that spans many of the midwestern states, located far underground.  I don't have any direct experience with this water (other than drinking only well-water for several years of my life, which of course came directly from that source), but it is a place and a spirit that I frequently visit in my meditations.  From my experiences there, this is a deeply ancient spirit, dark and cold and clear where the Platte is warm and brown with sunshine.  Being deep under the earth, it is a place where nothing grows, where nothing lives - an old, old spirit of water surrounded by even older rocks for many years.  Its personality seems to be equally as different from my river Goddess.  I haven't ever gotten a feeling of gender from this spirit.  It seems to be outside of those kinds of concerns of things that live and breathe on the surface of the earth, where life comes and is gone in the blink of an eye.  It can be deeply hostile - the aquifer is also being drained at an astounding rate by farmers always seeking more irrigation, and to me it feels as if it resents this strongly.  I have spent many years building this relationship, and yet I am still very much a stranger in a strange land when I try to approach the aquifer on its own turf.

These are my primary spiritual interactions with the idea of water, these two spirits that hold the vast majority of the water in my region, who have always sustained me with water to drink, who water and give life to much of what I eat.  They are not the element of Water, they are not associated with emotions or changeability in particular - they are distinct spirits, beautiful and strange deities, and they are directly responsible for my family's ability to live here in this arid land.  I feel as if I cannot honor them enough for these gifts.

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