Water - RQ #95 Theme Section
Hail, Hail - The Rio Grande Is Dead - by April Cotte
Holy Waters - Water Deities through Western History - by M. Macha NightMare
Water and the Moon - a Pop Quiz - by Amy Martin
Water Awareness - by Starhawk
For Reclaiming Quarterly #95 (Fall 2004), gathered articles about Water in its physical, ecological, and magical aspects.
Hail, Hail – the Rio Grande Is Dead
Some vignettes on water in the desert
by April Cotte
The Rio Grande died this year. We must honor the dead. We cannot let another river’s crossing go unnoticed.
Junto de los Rios
Junto de los Rios, the juncture of the rivers, Rio Chamo and the Rio Bravo del Norte (Rio Grande), a cradle of civilization in the Chihuahua desert. Rio Grande water travels from the high mountains of Colorado to the Gulf of Mexico. Rio Chamo water travels from the high mountains of the Sierra Madre (Copper Canyon) and enters the Rio Grande with no challenges from la migra (border patrol). People have done agriculture here for 12,000 years, according to a local historian, Enrique Madrid. More then 2000 years ago, they were using modern techniques to divert floodwater so it fanned over their crops.
2002 — President Bush negotiated with President Fox for water in southeast Texas. The Rio Grande was dying and there was hardly any water coming from the Rio Chamo. The joke was that when Bush told Fox, “Give more water to the US via the Rio Chamo.” Fox said, “No problem, just tell me how to make water.”
2004 — I visited my friend Herme Linda in her ejido (cooperative farming community) along the Rio Chamo. I asked her about a strange new cement aqueduct running next to the ejido’s canal. How did that get built so fast? Her ejido just fixed their canal and the canal has not even been getting enough water to sustain their farms. She explained: “It was built by the Mexican government to send water directly to the United States, bypassing all the farms to pay back the water debt.” I asked what would happen to her farm. She shrugged her shoulders — a single mother, farmer with a $10,000 debt since the early 1990s adoption of NAFTA.
Making Water: Rio Nuevo
2002 — A business group called Rio Nuevo (New River) proposed to six of the poorest counties in Texas to lease state land and mine the aquifer for water. The state would receive a one-time signing bonus for the Permanent School Fund. One of their rejected proposals involved sending water down the Rio Grande arroyo to the southeast Texas market.
Headwaters of the Rio Chamo
Areduvechi 2002 — We followed a creek through old-growth forest, enjoying relief from the sun after a long hot day of hiking at 8ooo feet. The aqua blue spring water was delicious. We arrived to a small community and ate prickly pear cactus fruits on the hill while one person went ahead to greet the residents. Below were small, simple adobe houses with some livestock around and fields of beans, squash, and corn growing in mounds irrigated by diversion pipes from one of the springs. It is just enough food for the households for this year. The river continued on its way down cascading falls, into big pools of fish, bigger rivers and ultimately, the Rio Chamo. We were fed hand-made corn tortillas, beans, and dark greens from the forest. A medicinal tea from a creek bed herb was made for one of our ill companions. We played with the children.
Areduvechi 2004 — Tired again from a long hot day of hiking, we descended the creek towards Areduverchi. The tears came to my eyes before I even understood what I was seeing. A road plowed right across the creek leaving a path of felled trees and dislodged rocks everywhere. Water poured around the road then disappeared into the debris. We frantically started throwing rocks and wood out of the way so the water could flow in its old bed, but further down the road crossed the creek again and again. The house was abandoned. Our friends were gone.
There was no food growing in the small fields.
The Rio Grande is Dead
Hail, hail, the Rio Grande is dead: mighty river that flowed through the desert with power and beauty year after year, sweet home to so many species; generations of fish, insects, plants, animals and birds. Singing downstream, roaring down streams. Bring out the bells. Bang the drum.
The Rio Grande died this year. We must honor the dead. We cannot let another river’s crossing go unnoticed.
Make a tombstone: “Rio Grande River died this year of our lord 2004. She was murdered by global capitalism, specifically by the needs of U.S. and Mexican cities, factories, agriculture, the timber industry, lawns, golf courses, and NAFTA. Her last flow was sucked dry by the tamarisk, an invasive species planted to replace eradicated cottonwoods.”
Or perhaps the tombstone should read: “Rio Grande River died in 2003 because she was tired, sick, and broken hearted. She just could not do it anymore. She could not watch another child/species of hers die from the pollution. She could not be used, even one more day, to keep her people from each other. She could no longer carry ecoli, agricultural run off, pesticides, and toxic waste from cities and factories to the sea.”
But no, this all makes the Rio Grande seem like a victim. Let us reframe.
It is not a coincidence that the Rio Grande stopped flowing 10 years after NAFTA was passed. This was also the year the US department of Homeland Security firmly closed the last of 300 informal border crossings where people have legally crossed between US and Mexico, to work, be with family and friends, share food, culture, and education since before she was ever used as a border. The border patrol (la migra) is forcing her to be a rigid barricade despite her flowing watery nature, and she will not comply.
This tombstone could read as follows: “The Rio Grande stopped flowing this year as a direct action to show the illegitimacy and failures of corporate globalization. She demands:
• The border between US and Mexico is open
• NAFTA is void
• Aquifers are never mined for profit
• The tamarisk is eradicated along her banks
• Chemical production/use, the corporate cattle industry and industrial agriculture are stopped and no toxins are
dumped or allowed in the river
• Only permaculture agriculture is done in the desert
• The timber industry in the Copper Canyon is stopped.”
April Cotte has been learning and teaching about ecological and socio-political issues on the US/Mexican border since 1997.
For more on water issues, visit , , , (indigenous water issues). In Canada,
Website contacts courtesy of Cathy Holt.
Water Deities Through Western History
by M. Macha NightMare
We Witches have a chant that goes: “The ocean is the beginning of the Earth. All life comes from the sea.” And it does. Ninety-five percent of all life is in the oceans of the world. The womb waters where we all begin are like the salt water of the ocean, full of nutrients, creating a safe place for us to grow until we are ready to breathe air and live on land.
As far back as ancient Egypt, we see that the sun god Atum (Re) reposed in the primordial ocean (Nun). The first gods in Assyro-Babylonian myth arose from the coming together of sweet water (Apsu) and salt water (Tiamat). Surrounded by seas, the mythology of the seafaring Greeks is filled with sea goddesses, nymphs and monsters. We get our word dolphin from the sea god Delphinos. Oceanus was the Titan of the sea. The Olympic god Poseidon, called Neptune by the Romans, rode white steeds that were the roaring waves, or rode in a seashell chariot pulled by seahorses. Aphrodite was foam-born. The Yoruba people of West Africa, and later the African diaspora in the Americas and the Caribbean, worship Yemaya, a goddess who loved mirrors and pearls, and who appears dressed in blue skirts with white ruffled underskirts, suggesting the waves meeting the shore.
Many peoples are fed by the oceans and rivers. For instance, the one-eyed goddess Sedna lives at the bottom of the ocean with the fish and the seals. If she is not propitiated, she will not provide food for the Alaskan people.
Not only seawater but fresh water is sacred. Around the world people see the magic of rivers, lakes, ponds, streams and waterfalls. Our Pagan ancestors saw the feminine divine in rivers. For example, the Boyne in Ireland is the river of the cow goddess Boann, and the Seine in France is the goddess Sequana. The ancient Babylonians situated temples to the moon goddess Ishtar in natural grottoes where springs emanated. Many wells and streams are the home of ondines, water nymphs, and other beings.
Sacred springs that bubble up from under the earth have healing properties. The ancient Celts built shrines to the goddess Sulis at the hot mineral waters at Bath, where people have gone to take the waters for seven thousand years. When the Romans later expanded their empire into Britain, they built a temple there to Sulis Minerva. Springs sacred to the goddess Bridget are found throughout Ireland; pilgrims leave offerings and pray to be healed with the water. At the Gallo-Roman Fontes Sequanae sanctuary at the source of the Seine, two hundred ancient carved oak figures representing all or part of the human body have been left by people seeking healing. People travel to the Dead Sea to bathe in its waters, which are especially efficacious for healing for diseases of the skin.
Water purifies and renews, and can bring about powerful transformations. Bathing in the sacred River Ganges frees the bather from blemish. It is the custom in most initiatory traditions for the candidate to bathe to ritually purify herself prior to experiencing the mysteries and taking vows. For instance, pilgrims to the Eleusinian Mysteries in ancient Greece purified themselves in the sea prior to initiation.
The river can be a boundary between worlds. The dead must pay a coin to Charon to ferry them across the Underworld River Styx. The bodies of the dead in ancient Egypt were taken from the east to the west side of the Nile for burial on the other side. Throughout the world the dead are washed with clear water to prepare them for the Otherworld. Kanaloa is the old Polynesian sea god of death, darkness, water, and squid.
Some springs, wells and streams are sources of oracular wisdom. The sacred stream near Demeter’s sanctuary at Patras in present day Jordan provides an infallible divination mirror. Drinking of magical water gives the gift of prophecy.
Today, as we have for thousands of years, we drink water from springs such as Evian and Perrier in France, Pelligrino in Italy and Calistoga in California, for its healthful benefits. Yet in some places the people don’t have enough clean drinking water. We have used our oceans as a global garbage dump; we have filled our rivers with contaminants. This desecrates the very source of life. Without a reawakening on the part of all people everywhere to the sacredness of water we as a species will vanish from the earth like six of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
Excerpted from Pagan Pride: Honoring the Craft and Culture of Earth and Goddess, by M. Macha NightMare, Citadel Press, sptember 2004.
Water and the Moon — A Pop Quiz
By Amy Martin
The Moon and water have deep physical and metaphysical connections. Let’s explore them — answers below.
1) The most obvious is ocean tides. Is high tide at Full or New Moon?
2) Water is unusual in that it fully changes states, like the Moon appears to do. What are the three aquatic phases?
3) What does water do that Moon does?
4) What human qualities are associated with water and the Moon?
5) What ritual objects are associated with water and the Moon?
6) What color is associated with water and the Moon?
7) What direction is associated with water and the Moon?
8) What time of day is associated with water and the Moon?
Amy Martin, a Dallas-based journalist and writer, is author of the upcoming book, “Hidden Heart of the Continent: Finding the Divine Beneath Our Feet.” Contact or .
2) solid (or frozen, which is interesting because it’s less dense than liquid), liquid (with a unique molecular structure that helps substances to dissolve), gas (water vapor, what clouds are made of)
3) descends (water always goes to lowest level - the Moon activates the unconscious), receptive (the ocean refuses no river - the Moon accepts Sun’s rays), reflective (water reflects light - the Moon reflects the Sun’s rays)
4) emotions, relationships, intuition, unconscious
5) mirror, bowl/cup/chalice
6) black (the deeper the water, the darker it appears to be — Moon is associated with the night, though it is often up in day)
7) west (water: Pacific Ocean — Moon: night, ruled by Moon, arrives when the Sun sets in the west)
8) twilight (water: the day dissolves into darkness — Moon: nighttime, ruled by Moon, arrives)
Excerpts on water from Starhawk’s book, “The Earth Path”
Water and Awareness
Meditating by a lake one day, I heard the water say to me: “All water is one, one whole, one awareness. All water is continuously aware of all the other water in the world.”
That insight profoundly changed my relationship to water. Instead of thinking of it as a physical substance, I began to perceive it as a flow of life-giving awareness, constantly cycling through the world. To be a Witch, to be someone who has consciously accepted the challenge of serving the powers of life and balance, we must bring ourselves into right relationship with that pervasive consciousness. Only through a balanced relationship with water can we have abundance and thriving life.
And water knows. Water spirits, water Goddesses and Gods, however we want to name that intelligence which is so different from ours, something knows and feels when we approach with love and respect.
So to begin exploring the teachings of water, let’s start by expressing our gratitude and making an offering.
Observing water is a meditation in itself. Just watching a flowing river or a running stream can help us feel calm and renewed. Swimming, floating, being in or near water is one of the basic ways human beings relax and replenish our energies.
Following are three suggestions for observing water.
(1) Ground and come into your senses. Look around at the form of the land, the plants, the shape of the hills, the creases and crevices. Become aware of the presence and traces of water, of the flows which have shaped the land, smoothed the rocks, of the water which permeates the soil, the water encompassed in the bodies of plants and animals. Observe the presence and flow and movement of water.
(2) Sit beside a running stream, or a swift river, or the ocean. Watch the movement and form of the water. Notice the shapes and patterns that it makes, where it runs fast and where it slows down, where there are standing waves and where there are slow eddies. Notice the way the patterns of movement form and reflect the shapes of the land. The visible motion of water is only the surface layer of more complex movement below. What can the surface tell you about the depths?
(3) Get into water. Go swimming in a river or body-surfing in the ocean. Be sure to be safe, have a buddy, and be aware of currents and undertows. Feel the force of the water on your body. Notice how you move in the water, how the waves and ripples feel. Dive down and feel the difference between the motion below and the motion above. Feel the temperature changes from the depths to the surface. Close your eyes, and observe the water with your skin, your muscles, your deep bodily senses.
“The Earth Path” by Starhawk was released by Harper San Francisco in Fall 2004. For more information on the book, as well as a teaching/travel schedule and other writings by Starhawk, visit her website,
Thirst: a documentary on water
Is Water a Human Right or a Commodity?
Is water part of a shared “commons,” a human right for all people? Or is it a commodity to be bought, sold, and traded in a global marketplace? Thirst tells the stories of communities in Bolivia, India, and the United States that are asking these fundamental questions.
Over a billion people lack access to safe drinking water. Each year, millions of children die of diseases caused by unsafe water. The numbers are increasing.
In Bolivia, we witness a full-scale insurrection against a water privatization contract with the U.S.-based Bechtel Corporation. In Stockton, California, residents create a grassroots coalition to oppose a proposal to give control of the water system to a consortium of global corporations. In India, a grassroots movement for water conservation has rejuvenated rivers, literally changing the desert landscape while opposing government efforts to sell water sources to companies like Coke and Pepsi.
Water activists from Bolivia, Stockton, and India all meet at the World Water Forum in Kyoto as part of a new movement against global water privatization. As the Forum reaches it final day, water issues build toward an explosive outcome.
Directors Alan Snitow and Deborah Kaufman see water as the leading battleground in conflicts over privatization. “Water is up for grabs in the U.S. for the first time in a century,” says Snitow. “It’s an issue of democracy. Who gets to decide?”
Thirst aired in July as part of PBS’s “P.O.V.” series. Visit