National Geographic : 2010 Apr
PHOTOGRAPHS BY JOHN STANMEYER We worship the sources of mighty rivers; we erect altars at places where great streams burst suddenly from hidden sources; we adore springs...and consecrate certain pools. SENECA THE YOUNGER, 4 B.C.A.D. 65; AD LUCILIUM EPISTULAE MORALES If I were called in / To construct a religion / I should make use of w ate r, wrote the English poet Philip Larkin in 1954--- and most religions do. Waters, religious historian Mircea Eliade explained in the 1950s, are "spring and origin, the reservoir of all the possibilities of existence; they precede every form and sup- port every creation." So it has been since human history began and, by legend, before. e world, Genesis says, was brought to life by a God who created a " rmament in the midst of the waters." Babylonians believed in a world made from a commingling of fresh and salt water. Pima Indians have said Mother Earth was impregnated by a drop of water. e cata- clysmic ood that destroys a civilization is also an aqueous archetype and part of Hebrew, Greek, and Aztec cultures. e body thirsts. So does the spirit. "I must live near a lake," wrote Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, who waded into the depths of the psyche and equated water with the uncon- scious. "Without water, I thought, nobody could live at all." From our worldly entrance in a burst of amniotic uid to the ritual washing of the dead (taharah in Judaism; ghusl al-mayyit in Islam), water ows through our lives, scribing a line between sacred and profane, life and death. We are doused, dunked, dipped, sprinkled---and blessings ow, deep and wide as the River Jordan of Scripture, wondrous as the spring at Lourdes, cathartic as tears. ---Cathy New man John Stanmeyer photographed " e Global Food Crisis," June 2009.