From the droplets in a baptismal fountain to the scattering of ashes on a holy river, water blesses our existence. We enter the world in a burst of amniotic fluid; we ritually wash the bodies of the dead. Throughout our lives we are one with water, in every sense-largely composed of it and perpetually in need of it, body and soul. "I must live near a lake," wrote the psychiatrist Carl Jung, who waded into the depths of the psyche and equated water with the unconscious. "Without water, I thought, nobody could live at all."
Waters, the religious historian Mircea Eliade explained in the 1950s, are the "spring and origin, the reservoir of all the possibilities of existence; they precede every form and support every creation." Versions of that view have been a shared since human history began-and by legend, before. Genesis says the world was brought to life by a God who created a "firmament in the midst of the waters." Babylonians believed in a world made from a blend of fresh and salt water. Pima Indians have said Mother Earth was impregnated by a drop of water. And the archetype of a cataclysmic flood is deeply embedded in cultures from Hebrew to Greek to Aztec.
However varied their beliefs may be, the world’s adherents continue to immerse themselves in a sacred relationship with water.