Great Symbols Series @ Theosophy Trust


Everything originated in water,
Everything will be sustained by water.


 All the world knows that it cannot live without water, for even the lowest forms of organic life cluster about its wetness. Even the rocks of the earth, condensed ages ago in frigid space, clasped to their bosom the moisture that would eventually cloud their highest contours. The clinging dampness of precipitation lubricates the endless patterns of growth everywhere on this globe; yet the essence of water is one of life's most elusive mysteries. One may try to uncover it by sober reference to its chemical makeup, so well-known that even the simple cowboy poet speaks of water as H2O. Scientists may call it an 'essential substance', which can be solid, liquid or gaseous, providing the main constituent of vegetable and animal cells as well as crystals and many minerals. Perhaps the atomic structure of the water molecule may provide a satisfactory identification. It has been declared that all of the strange and important characteristics of water arise from the configuration of the three atoms in the molecule and the distribution of electrical charge among them. This disposition gives polarity to a water molecule, enabling it to serve as an almost universal solvent, to form acids and alkalis, to resist change in temperature and to require immense heat in order to evaporate. One may, then, focus upon how water behaves in trying to plumb its essence. But the fact that one ounce of it contains a trillion trillion molecular containers of sets of one oxygen and two hydrogen atoms may hardly interest or satisfy the confident consumer who, using water every day, feels certain he knows its nature.

 Water has many forms. It is rain, snow, ice and steam. It is the blood, sap, milk and juice of all life, and it is constantly moving. Water is not merely a solvent, it is a catalyst, a medium of conveyance, of dispersion and dilution. It is used as a standard of comparison (gravity, volume, etc.), a cooling and cleansing agent, and it is an archetypal symbol for transmutation. Thales taught that "all things are water", an idea that yields a more occult significance if linked to the fact that the one and only pervasive characteristic of the manifest universe is change or transformation. The enquiring mind may seek clues in the vast mythology which floats upon the sea of human consciousness. Water is always feminine, the 'Mother' out of which all life comes. She is Chaos, primordial substance, and Gangetic flood. Her noumenon exists in the most abstract realm, while her phenomenon takes on the shape and coloration of every vessel in the world. Why is there water on this earth? Why did the fluid of life develop upon this globe and come to sustain the rich variety of forms which we call the Mother's progeny?

 In interstellar space there is only one oxygen atom linked to one in ten million free hydrogen atoms, a condition which seems to preclude the formation of water. The earth, however, captured hydrogen particles in its condensing crystal substances and, after the violent activities of its magnetic fluid had calmed, the imprisoned hydrogen began to bind with oxygen in many combinations. The earth was exactly the right size for its gravity to hold the light hydrogen atoms that were released and hovered in the atmospheric gases. Slowly the cooling earth disgorged great amounts of water from underground forming large heavy clouds that surrounded the globe and returned to its rocky crust the great rains that filled the barren ocean basins. The gathering waters dissolved organic particles from the atmosphere and the rocks and became the vast fluidic womb of evolving organisms. The temperature of any planet is determined by its proximity to the sun which, in the case of the earth, is a distance that allows a 'water-permitting' temperature. A good portion of this globe experiences prevailing temperatures which fall between the freezing point of water (32°F) and its boiling point of 212°F, so that it is not shrouded in gas, covered with ice or heavy hydrogen, as are some of the other planets. In fact, the 'water' of Mars is actually deuterium. On Mercury it would be a condensable gas, while that of Mars is actually a fusible solid, a striking contrast to the supply of water on earth which causes it to appear like a large ball of water rolling through the heavens.

 Three-quarters of the global surface is ocean, and the pattern of evaporation is as constant as the shapes of continents and mountain chains. Of the water evaporated at sea, only one-eighth rides the winds onto the land, and the same twenty-four cubic miles of it daily refreshes the earth and also wears it away through erosion. The regularity of the hydrologic cycle reflects a constancy which broadly ensures life. At the same time it echoes the continuity of the water 'created' a couple of billion years ago which still participates in this vast transformational pilgrimage.

 Water never rests, neither by day nor by night. When flowing above, it causes rain and dew. When flowing below, it forms streams and rivers. Water is outstanding in doing good.

Lao Tzu

 In the evolution of the earth, the great force of transmutation exerted by water has played a major role. But the ancient sages held that before there was matter as we know it, before hydrogen and oxygen were molecules whirling and coagulating in space, the universe was chaos, in which no form presented itself. The eternal pulsation of the Stanzas of Dzyan hearken back to that duration before Time, an incantation that chants:


 The slumbering waters awakened in time and the germ came to be fructified within them. All of life's chemical changes take place in watery solutions, and the universe which emerged out of the darkness with its myriad structural complexities experiences time through succeeding events articulated by the flow of the waters of life. Once awakened, the waters act perpetually to promote further evolution. In addition to being a symbol of transmutation, water could be depicted as extremely volatile and restless, possibly owing to its own molecular structure. There is an 'electronic restlessness' within the water molecule which is a result of the angle assumed by the two hydrogen atoms when they affix themselves to the oxygen atom. The electronic alignment of hydrogen on the circumference of oxygen is always at an angle of 104.5° which creates an electrical imbalance within the molecular tetrahedron so that there can never be passivity but a continual 'reaching out'. The disposition of the atoms of the two elements is triangular, and it takes four H2O triangles to make a water molecule tetrahedron. The triangles are isosceles, having angles and sides that do not match, so that the unequal lengths exert different strengths of energy. They are fingers that reach out, dissolving particles and adhering to surfaces, causing them to become wet. They resemble electromagnetic extensions lubricating the wheels within the great wheel of life.

 The wheels themselves evolved from whirling clouds of cosmic dust condensed in the enormity of frigid space. The dust is composed of electrified particles, ninety-nine per cent of which are hydrogen. Modern science conceives of this dust as extremely light but dead matter spewed throughout the universe from the mouth of a senseless series of mechanical accidents. But the ancients spoke of the incandescent cosmic dust as 'the Fiery Wind', "which only follows magnetically, as the iron filings follow the magnet, the directing thought of the 'Creative Forces' ". They held that each atom was potentially self-conscious and that the dust itself was part of a vast homogeneous sea of potentiality.


The Secret Doctrine tells us that hydrogen was the earliest existing form of matter and, together with oxygen, it instills the fire of life into the Mother through the process of incubation. The hydrogen and oxygen of geological time are but phenomenal expressions of the noumenal Spirit. Significantly, the sun is mostly hydrogen, although it contains a little oxygen, while the earth's crust is made up of fifty per cent oxygen, but it is the noumenon of the two together that instills life. Hydrogen is light and rises easily. It zips around, and its strong magnetic attraction causes it to unite with many elements. Oxygen is the element of combustion. It brings movement and chemical activity, while at the same time is larger and much heavier than hydrogen. Because hydrogen atoms are the tiniest in the universe, they can get their nucleus with its positive charge closer to the negative electrons of the oxygen atom than any other element, acting as a binder. The law of magnetism gives this combination unassailable strength, and the attraction between the two molecules is so great that their olamic union involves an actual snapping together. Their attraction for each other is like that between the magnet and the iron filings. This echoes the occult teaching about 'the Fiery Wind' whose 'fire' may be traced on a more phenomenal plane in the combustion of hydrogen by oxygen.

 The two atoms of hydrogen and the one of oxygen form a trident, held in the hands of Neptune rising out of the cosmic sea. On the other hand, their potent fusion and subsequent power of dissolution are evocative of the trishula of Lord Shiva. The sacred fusion of Shiva-Shakti reflects the unity of the Father-Mother whose substance is the universe spun out as the great web Svabhavat, whose upper regions reside in Spirit and whose lower rungs form the matter of the world. Like this web, the tall slender pyramids of water molecules cling together at their peaks making a lattice pattern of vibrant, gossamer quality. Fiery in their most noumenal regions, they form the mists and oceans of the earth at their base. They expand with the hot breath and contract with the cold, reflecting in every way the ladder of cosmic evolution. This lattice is like a fabric of immense dimensions, made up of numerically arranged patterns. The entire universe is an extensive fabric made up of molecular structures, all of which are prone to disintegrate, pointing to the elusive essence of number as the enduring basis of existence. Archetypal combinations and numbers are repeated on each plane of manifestation, just as the twelve of the dodecahedron of cosmos is reflected in the twelve molecules of the snowflake which take their place to be followed by subsequent groups of twelve. Each group is orientated by electrical charges in the growing snowflake and by their own microscopic electromagnetic fields. These molecular regulations are so uniform that a symmetrical pattern develops in six double-sided branches of perfection, and yet no two flakes are ever identical. The three of the H2O triangle times the four sides making up the molecular tetrahedron make the twelve sides of the frozen ice crystal through the magical power of transmutation of the numerology of water.


 Water quenches fire but we are taught that water is liquid fire. Light, flame, heat, cold, fire and water are the 'progeny' or correlations of electricity, the web of the One Life itself. The Mother, before she awakens to the impulse of Fohat, is a 'cool Radiance'. Her first-born are the primal 'centres of Forces' or atoms that develop later in the great Cosmic Elements. These are the primal natures of the first Dhyan Chohans and are described as 'Akashic' 'Ethereal', 'Watery' and 'Fiery'. They are "parahydrogenic, paraoxygenic, oxy-hydrogenic, and ozonic, or perhaps nitr-ozonic". They are electro-positive and negative, their various combinations producing the phenomena associated with the science of alchemy. We see the interplay of fire and water in Sanatsujata, the chief of the Kumaras, who is also known as Ambhamsi or 'the Waters', Ambha being also the name of Aditi, the Celestial Virgin and Mother of the visible universe. The six-pointed star represents a commingling of the philosophical three fires and three waters. The triangle pointing upward is the symbol of fire and Shiva, while that pointing downward represents Vishnu as Nara ('water') yana, "the Spirit which is Invisible Flame, which never burns but sets on fire all that it touches, and gives it life and generation". The progeny of electricity are infinite. Foremost is fire as creator, preserver and destroyer, then light which is the essence of the divine ancestors, and flame, which is the soul. Light incubates water which fuses with earth, as Moses taught, to bring a living soul. Light and flame in and through fire and water receive, conduct and dissolve, at each stage of the manifesting triads. Upon the One Sphere, the Logoic Point became the vertical line of Androgyny. When this line is crossed by that of the horizontal demarcation between heaven and earth, the cube and its four elements, 'the garment of the Deity', manifest. The noumenoi of the four are hidden from the profane eye within the three spiritual primaries symbolized by the Triad over the quaternary made up of kama rupa (hydrogen), linga sarira (nitrogen), prana (oxygen), and the physical body (carbon).

 The Unmanifest Logos, latent Ideation and active Intelligence emanate the noumena of cosmic chaotic energy, astral ideation, life-energy and the earth. Thus the primal natures of the Dhyan Chohans, the chief centres of Force, become the stuff of this world. In this cosmic scheme, kama combines with prana to produce water as we know it. The cosmic desire burning intensely in the world combines with the divine breath that generates all vital phenomena to produce H2O. "That which hydrogen is to the elements and gases on the objective plane, its noumenon is in the world of mental or subjective phenomena." Its trinitarian latent nature is mirrored in its active emanations from the three higher principles. Rudimentary man was nursed by air and then kindled by fire, the noumenon of the Three-in-One within the Self - the Atma, Buddhi, Manas. The Atmic fire of the Father and the watery vehicle of the Buddhic Mother emanate the breath of the human soul. Prana as the reflection of the life-force of the sun is a 'Fohatic force' which is male and active, enlivening the chaotic cosmic energy of hydrogen which conveys and communicates the Desire that first arose in It. In the Vedas, Rudra is depicted as the Divine Ego aspiring to return to its pure and deific state but imprisoned in the world. He springs from the forehead of Brahma, divides into male and female and becomes the parent of the Rudras or vital breaths which are prana. One may thus view the combustion-supporting, active nature of oxygen in terms of an intelligent force which strives through the molecular patterns of the web of life toward the flame that burns behind the veil of the Mother.

 The microcosm of the macrocosm is man, and he contains, like the globe itself, his own ocean. In his body there are at least thirty quarts of water inside the cells, and these make up seven-tenths of his total weight. So delicate is the balance of necessary fluid that a loss of even ten pounds of water through dehydration can be fatal. Life in the womb before birth is aquatic, the foetus living in a warm sea one-third as rich in salts as the ocean. At birth, man begins to experience a recurrent thirst which is second only to his need for air. He must drink water, breathe water, sustain and eliminate water in a constant cycle that reflects the larger hydrologic cycle. However, as is attested by 'riparian laws' conferring first-come, first-serve rights of control, man has displayed a ferocious passion and ruthless irrationality in his scramble to control water. As the old Chinese proverb says, "To rule the mountains is to rule the river." While the metaphorical implications of this may be lofty, the concrete consequences have been historically clumsy and costly. The use of water in the world today is extremely inequitable. While a peasant farmer in South Asia may be expected to use any water available for irrigation and animals, he has a meagre amount for drinking and bathing. The daily water use of the typical urban dweller in the United States is about one hundred and fifty gallons compared with forty gallons used by the average European. This is misleading because the aggregated data for industrial societies do not take into account the amount each individual 'uses' in connection with the products he consumes daily. The manufacture of one barrel of gasoline requires over four hundred gallons of H2O. Refining one ton of sugar requires one thousand gallons, one ton of paper sixty-five thousand gallons, two-thirds of a ton of steel forty-four thousand gallons, and so on it goes. Taking such indirect consumption into account, the estimated average use of the urban U.S. dweller is closer to one thousand, six hundred and fifty gallons a day, excluding irrigation water for agricultural purposes.

 The more one examines the use and distribution of water in the world, the more clearly one sees that great wisdom is needed to create and sustain a balance between man and all other life on the globe. Water lubricates every aspect of the wheel of life, although man does not yet have enough knowledge to understand the interdependent complexity of all this. To direct water from one place to another would be like removing fluids from one part of the human body so as to concentrate them in another. The operation might be successful and the organism might flourish; but, equally, a fundamental balance might be upset, and death ensue. Great benefit seems to have been derived from water projects like that of the Damodar Valley near Calcutta where monsoon flooding and frequent drought were overcome through the construction of a series of dams. The Russians have recently shown that plants and animals thrive on degassed 'bioactive' water, yet the ultimate benefit of such experiments to universal evolution is still unclear.

 The water, which is golden, pure and sanctifying, from which the sun and the fire took birth, let that beautiful and transparent water be preventive of disease and pleasant to us.


 Perhaps the best strategy, given the conspicuously incomplete knowledge of man concerning nature, is one which emulates the known qualities of water itself. Water dammed up and hoarded will grow stagnant, but that given freely will nourish, gain strength and purity in its onward rush. The Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea are made of the same water, but the Sea of Galilee has an outlet, a creative function, while the Dead Sea has none. It nourishes no life for its water is hoarded. Greater is the rustic wisdom of the Rajasthani villagers who give water to attract rain. They mark the absence of rain by reference to the poor frog, as was done in Vedic times when thirsty people noted that "the frogs, due to the want of rains, remain silent throughout the year like Brahmins practising austerity". The Rajasthanis perform a Mindaki, in which people carry frog effigies from house to house and women pour pots of water upon them. This custom is based upon sympathetic magic - the frog effigy receiving 'rain' will attract a shower of rain. It is related that in the 1920's one of the Kahars (male water-carriers) at Bundi determined to end a long drought by such means. He placed the clay effigy on his head and began his rounds. In a few hours, he became so drenched that at last, shivering from the cold, he fell unconscious in the road. The rains promptly began to fall, much to the delight of natural frogs, no doubt.

 How beautiful the Gujarati song which proclaims, "A she-cloud has come from the North and tender lightning is seen flashing, so there is joy in my house." Fullness and giving are suggested in the ancient lyrics from Brindavan which exult, "These are the days to fall in love, the days when the tanks are full." But sad indeed is the pathetic lament of the Bengali maid who begs of Lord Indra, "Rain soon, rain soon, O God! The famine has broken out without water, O Ram! The lowland is dried and the paddy crop of my brother is lost, O Ram!" The anguish conveyed in this cry is all the more poignant when one reflects that the elements are only the visible garb of the invisible Spirits or Cosmic Gods. Occultism teaches that "the speech of the men of the earth cannot reach the Lords. Each must be addressed in the language of His respective element." It is taught that such language is composed of sounds rather than words: only one who knows the correct combinations of vibrations can affect Lord Indra or that Force operating upon a causal plane behind any one of the elements. To learn this sacred science, man must perform the austerities of the Brahmins, he must engage in great tapas and incinerate with inward fire the dross of his lower nature. Only then will pure water flow from him in healing streams.

 Water symbolizes transmutation, the ocean of the unconscious, the abyss of mystery and intuition. It is a veil of the One Fire of Atman, a mediator between life and death, with its positive and negative flow of creation and destruction. The entrance to the Spirit-world is typically described in terms of crossing a river or immersing oneself into a body of water. It marks a return to the pre-form state, a return to innocence and purity, but one haunted by death and annihilation. The 'water' of the Mother Earth flows around her, issuing from her head and becoming foul at her feet. It is purified only when it returns to her heart under the foot of the sacred Shambala. This is mythically placed near the belt of the earth, the Himavat which stretches around the world and rose up above the waters only during the time of the Third Race of humanity. Through the Races can be traced the flow of the Mother back to the first pure pulsation of Amrita's sweet water. To understand the dual forces of water, one may focus upon this 'belt' which divides them. To its north water drains in a spiral, moving counter-clockwise, while to its south it does the opposite. The counter-clockwise motion signifies the fall of spirit into matter, whereas the opposite represents its ascendance - up from the pit to the place of the 'heart'. Perhaps the ingestion of 'bioactive' water can sympathetically aid this latter process, if only on the physical plane.


 What is metaphysical water and how does it become physical water? The Secret Doctrine, so rich in its arcane intimations, teaches that the Sun evolved and aggregated with his smaller seven Brothers from the bosom of his Mother (Aditi). During Pralaya the Mother Deep was stretched in infinity as 'the dry Waters of Space'. This became moist only after the breathing over its face of Narayana, 'the Spirit which is Invisible Flame'. The One became Two and the Third appeared as Purusha, who is Narayana. He is like Fohat who stands between the fire yazatas and the water yazatas (sons of waters). He is the Son of Ether in its highest aspect, Akasa. The rudimentary man was nursed by Air and then lit by Fire, which was the Father-Mother who produced the breath of the human soul. If we seek to know the rarefied nature of that air, we must move beyond the triad towards its noumenon. Thus Brahma evolved out of chaos over which Vishnu moved. It is said that m this primordial state of creation, "the rudimentary universe, submerged in water, reposed in the bosom of Vishnu. Sprung from this chaos and darkness, Brahma, the architect of the world, poised on a lotus-leaf floated upon the waters, unable to discern anything but water and darkness." He soliloquized in consternation: "Who am I? Whence came I?" Whereupon he heard a voice saying, "Direct your thoughts to Bhagavat." Brahma seated himself in an attitude of contemplation, and the Eternal dispersed the darkness and opened his understanding. Then he emerged from the egg of infinite chaos, as light moves upon the waters.

 This 'Mover Upon the Waters' is the Third or Creative Logos. The fruit of its union with those ethereal waters will be as Rudra who sprang from Brahma's forehead to divide into male and female and give birth to the vital breath or prana, the prototype of oxygen as we know it. So, the archetypes of hydrogen and oxygen, of Mother, Son and Father, have interacted in succeeding triune patterns along the ladder of the great web, eventually resulting in the hydroelectric phenomena of this world. "The spagyrisation of matter by triads is necessary to develop the generative force, that prolific virtue and tendency to reproduction which is inherent in all bodies." One is reminded of the triangular structure of the united hydrogen and oxygen atoms, and may imagine its extended side as that force which bears the outlines of the next triangle and then the next, ever moving as the vehicle of the life-current. The poles of the water molecule with their positive and negative charge exert a disruptive influence on all other molecules, breaking them up and releasing their elements just as surely as its substance gives life to form. And so, all life's structures are merely momentary expressions of number, formed by water and broken up by it in an endless progression within the vast evolving stream of Samsara.

 May the disciple who would seek Nirvana light within himself the golden flame of Akashic Fire. May he, like the silent Brahmin performing austerities, know the bliss of the seeming void even while living in the seeming fullness of the world. May he build high the fire of tapas within him until his pain and longing are converted into sweet and compassionate tears that may flow in abundance for all humanity. May his life become a sweet and purifying fountain of joy and hope for others so that they may come to see for themselves the hidden flame in the water's depths.

And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like nature's patient, sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priest-like task,
Of pure ablution round earth's human shores.

John Keats