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Water as a cultural symbol

Why water is of such an importance in some cultures?

Most cultures were born and grew up around the water. That is why people understood its power since very early: either when it was giving life, either when it took life back.

One of these cultures is Greece. And as it is normal, water and its significance is imprinted everywhere: in mythology, philosophy, religion, customs and traditions. Water, cleaning and purifying , life-giving, neat and clear, calm and impetuous, gives life to all humans. And sometimes it appears as a threat, vengeful and deadly, black and static, full of risks.

Nowadays we don’t believe anymore in various deities of the water. However, through the customs, the rituals and the habits which travel with people in time, it is easy to understand the magical power and influence of the water on the human being.

Traditions and beliefs which are related with water …

Water is free

In some areas of Greece, there was an old custom when somebody departs for a travel to pour water in front of him in order for his way to be open (/free),  and his travel unobstructed like the way water travels.

In other areas,  when a woman is ready to give birth, people  sprinkle her with water in order for the baby to come easy, exactly as water runs.

Water is purifying

In some cases, after the death of a person, people clean the whole house with water, and those who participate in the funeral must wash their hands. This is because  of the  belief that water has purification properties.

Water protects and is immortal

Water however is considered to have also healing properties. So,  people  used to sprinkle someone with water as they believed that this way he is protected from “evil eye”.

The  “immortal water”, which is a main characteristic in fairy tales and folk songs, is considered to be able to  bring somebody back to life or to make him immortal.

Water brings luck

Years ago it was a tradition that a bride, next day after the wedding,  would go to the water well to take fresh water.  There, she should leave a little bit of money or a small bun for the spirit of the water. At the same moment she would make a wish for the goods to run in her new house as the water runs.

Exactly the same tradition was customary in the beginning of the year. Then the young girls used to go before dawn to the water well

in order to bring home the “Unspeakable Water”. They had given the water this name because on their way they didn’t talk to anyone. Only when they came back home and they had sprinkled all the corners of the house and the members of their family, only then they talked again making wishes for the new year. As long as they were at the spring, they needed to  offer a few seeds or a sweet to the fairy of the water and make their wishes for health and happiness at their home.

Water sleeps

According to a very old belief, certain hours the water is asleep.  In this case, somebody must not talk and if he wants to drink, he should first stirr the water with his hand in order to “wake it up”.

Water gives signs for the future

Water also had the ability to give signs for the future. There are a lot of customs connected to this belief, like the ones we still encounter on the name day of Saint John Klidonas, when water gives signs to young girls for the man they will get married.


                                          © Lato,
Het Griekse Taal– & CultuurCentrum van Amsterdam

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