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Monday, February 24, 2020

Elemental Magic: A Complete Guide to Water Folklore & Correspondences

water magic, witchcraft, water witch, water folklore, water correspondences, elemental magic

The first stop on our elemental journey is Water, the element of emotions, healing, purification, and renewal. It is the perfect element to work with during the winter months because it is during winter that we spend time reflecting and setting goals for the future. This reflection process often includes shadow work where we confront past traumas to heal and break bad habits. Shadow work is by no means easy and takes more than a little self-reflection to work, but Water can help with the process greatly, especially in the beginning stages. In today's post, I will discuss the element Water in all her glory, from her history to her correspondences to how she works with the other elements. Because of the brevity of folklore and my personal background as a hedgewitch, I am mostly going to focus on European folklore regarding water. Saddle up because this is an incredibly long post because the history of water began with us.


Humans have always been deeply connected with water, which makes sense considering we are mostly comprised of water and need it to survive. Just a couple days without water and we die. Our ancestors knew this as well and discovered quite quickly that water had the ability to sustain and restore life, as well as take it away. Throughout history and across all cultures, water was revered, being associated with deities, spirits, souls, and the Otherworld. One of the most famous tales is of the River Styx, the river in Hades or the Underworld that separates the living world from that of the dead. To cross said river, you had to secure passage from Charon, the ferrymen, by paying him a coin. However, water folklore goes back even further.

Before the Roman invasion, much of Europe was inhabited by a series of tribes, united by a common language and similar spiritual beliefs, called the Celts. The Celts believed water to be sacred and viewed it as a liminal place, a place between our world and the Otherworld. As such, a series of myths arose around major water sources across Europe. When the Romans, who had their own set of water beliefs and rituals, invaded, they meshed many of the Celtic ideas of water with their own. These traditions were so prevalent and such a cornerstone of society, that when the Christians invaded sometime later, they found it impossible to squash the pagan beliefs. Instead of trying to stamp it out, they wrote over the pagan names with Christian names (much like they did with our holidays), thus preserving much of the folklore related to water, even to this day. From wells and springs to rivers and lakes to the wide-open ocean, folklore abounds.

Across Europe, especially in the UK, there are several sacred wells and natural founts or springs riddled with folklore. While different in location and water type, it was generally believed that these sources of water were imbued with healing properties that could cure just about any ailment. Archeological sites, folklore, and existing wells inform us that there were a number of sacred wells designated across Europe as healing wells. Many of these wells were originally revered by the Celts and later picked up by the Romans who enhanced many well practices across the continent by encouraging the practices and adding their own twist. The Roman philosopher Seneca declared, "Where a spring rises or a water flows there ought we to build altars and offer sacrifices." The Romans took this very seriously, building a series of shrines across the continent. When the Christians arrived, they adopted these same practices, turning the sacred wells into holy places with holy water named after saints. Some of the most famous of these healing wells include Chalice Well in Glastonbury and the Temple of Sulis at Bath. Chalice Well is a red well, meaning the water has a reddish tint due to iron deposits, which has long associated the well with blood and healing. It is believed to be the final resting place of the Holy Grail, hence the name Chalice Well. However, archaeological evidence suggests that the well has been in constant use for over two thousand years, long before the Christian arrived in England. In fact, dozens of flints have been found from the upper Paleolithic to Mesolithic period as well as a sherd from the Iron Age. Historically, the water was used to heal a variety of ailments, including to cure asthma. More recently, the well has become known as a symbol of feminine transformation (again think blood). The Temple of Sulis, however, is one of the few remaining wells or baths with a name that is not Roman or Christian. This suggests that the goddess Sulis, the Goddess of the Gap, was so entrenched in the culture that she couldn't be removed. The Temple of Sulis is a hot spring outside of Bath that has long used for healing and rejuvenation, the warm water being used as a cure-all for whatever ailments one had. The springs were popular well into the 20th century. In fact, it was so heavily used, it shows up in literature from the time and modern-day movies and some of the baths are still open to the public today. These curative properties associated with wells makes sense when we look at the chemistry of the water. Water that bubbles up from the earth is full of minerals that also have therapeutic properties while others are toxic. These minerals include calcium, bicarbonates, irons, sulfur, magnesium, and salt, but also arsenic and radon gas. Magnesium helps regulate cellular processes and muscle relaxation while iron cures anemia and fatigue and calcium aids in bone growth and healing as well as digestive disorders. Radon and arsenic, however, are toxic, and likely explain the visions people received after drinking or bathing in these water sources.

However, like all things, wells not only had the power to heal but also the power to curse. Despite Sulis Temple being largely used for its healing and restorative powers, it was also used for cursing, an ode to the dual nature of the Goddess of the Gap, the goddess between our world and the next. When archeological digs began, more than one hundred lead curse tablets were found inscribed mostly with curses for people who had done them harm or stolen from them (likely their clothes!). Part of this association with cursing may also arise from the fact that some of the sacred wells contained toxic water or even water that would turn living things to stone, like Dropping Well. Items that fall into Dropping Well, including animals, leaves, insects, and votive offerings, quickly turned to stone. At the time, it was believed to be the work of witches, but modern science tells us the waters at Dropping Well contain high levels of carbonates, sulfates, and silica that coat the objects in a layer of mineral thus turning them to "stone." As a hedgewitch, however, I find that I am most drawn to the folklore surrounding wells as being portals to the Otherworld.

Water has often been viewed as a liminal space, a point between our realm and that of the spirits. Wells, in particular, had been not only been revered for their curative and cursing properties but also for their connection with the Otherworld as a portal. One of my favorite stories that hint at wells being portals is The Horned Women. In this Celtic folktale, a wealthy woman's home is overrun by 12 horned witches who set to the task of spinning wool. The woman, upon seeing all these witches in her home tries to awake her family and finds she cannot move or speak until the witches ask for her to make them a cake. She asks to fetch water and they tell her to use a sieve and return with haste lest her family suffer. Try as she might, she cannot fill the sieve with water and falls to the ground weeping next to the well. A voice from the well tells her to not despair and that she should fill the sieve with yellow clay and moss and when she returns home she should say "The mountain of the Fenian women and the sky over it is all on fire." She thanks the well and does as she was asked. Upon hearing the mountain was on fire, the witches cry out in anguish and flee. The well again speaks to the woman and explains how she can safeguard her house from the witches. Not long after the witches return, demanding entry, but the spells hold and they are not allowed to enter the. In a fit of rage, having lost what they believed to be an easy meal, they flee into the night, cursing the well for cursing them. The voice in the well suggests that spirits can cross between realms at such locations and that it may be possible for humans to do so as well. The latter is also mentioned in the Brothers Grimm folktale, Mother Holle. In the tale, a young girl pricks her finger on a spindle and falls into a well where she passes into the Otherworld and meets Mother Holle who gifts her with gold after she completes a series of tasks. Again, this tale strongly suggests wells can be used to travel to the Otherworld. In the Yucatan forest, the Mayans, like the Celts, viewed their wells as portals to the Otherworld known as Xibalba. They believed that the holes filled with water, also called cenotes, were passages back in time to the time of the gods. And this isn't just wells that are associated with being portals. Lakes and rivers are also deeply associated with astral travel and the Otherworld, as seen with the Lady of the Lake and the River Styx.

In modern hedgecraft, wells, rivers, and lakes can be used to help you travel to the Otherworld by acting as your beginning location. When you begin the visualization to enter into the Otherworld, many witches, especially those deeply connected with water, can visualize a body of water to act as a gate. To travel to the Otherworld using a well or another body of water, visualize yourself descending into its waters, swimming deep into the darkness until you reach a light at the end of the tunnel. You may find yourself just about to give up, running out of air, before you finally break the surface on the other side. Once you have reached the other side, be sure to travel back the same way you came so you can return safely to your body.

Apart from wells and founts, rivers played a key role in many folktales that still survive to this day. As already mentioned, several myths involving the Underworld include traveling across a river, such as the River Styx or Sildir from Norse mythology. As such, rivers became associated with death as well as life. In the case of the Egyptians, the Nile River was viewed as a life-bringer as annual flooding brought life-giving water and fertile silt to the valleys so crops could flourish. The Nile was so prominent in Egyptian life that it was given its own god, Hapi. The annual flooding was often referred to as the "Arrival of Hapi." However, the Nile was also viewed as a portal to the Underworld, that the souls of the dead crossed the "river of heaven" heading west to set and then rising again to be reborn in the east. Mesopotamia had similar myths. In the Sumerian poem, Gilgamesh and the Netherworld, the god Enki travels to the Underworld via a boat on a river. This idea is further perpetuated in The Babylonian Theodicy which states "Of course our fathers pay passage to go death's way, / I too will cross the river of the dead, / as is commanded from the old." We see similar stories appearing across Europe as well, with the Greek River Styx and the Celtic lore involving the ferryman Barinthus. The name Barinthus is derived from Barrfind which translates to "white hair." As such, Barinthus is often depicted with white hair and a white beard, a personification of Death himself. Today witches call upon Barinthus to ferry them to Avolon or the Otherworld while journeying. Across all cultures, there are stories of the Weeping Woman, Banshee, Bean-Nighe, or the White Woman found near rivers, often washing clothing sometimes stained in blood. These women are viewed as omens of death and anyone who sees or hears her cries will soon die or experience death within the family. Slavic funerary songs also mention souls traveling across a river: "A river runs here, a fiery river, / From east to west, / From west to north, / Over that river, the fiery river, / Drives the Archangel Michael, the light. / He transports souls, the souls of the righteous..." As such, rivers can be used like wells to cross into the Otherworld, communicate with spirits, or commune with the dead. North-flowing rivers can be used to send messages to the Otherworld or send spells on their way.

Apart from being associated with death and the Otherworld, rivers have long been associated with healing and life as well. South-flowing rivers are believed to be healing rivers in Scottish folklore while other Celtic traditions believe water traveling toward the Sun is gifted with healing properties. Several charms call for water from a river to cure anything from headaches to curses, as the running water was believed to wash the ailment away. One of the most famous myths surrounding the healing properties of rivers is once again the River Styx. To prevent his death, Thetis took her son Achilles to the River Styx where she held him by the ankle and dipped him into the water. This made Achilles invulnerable to harm, except around his ankle where his mother held him. As such, Achilles grew strong and was never sick nor injured until his untimely death due to a stray arrow hitting his "heel." Today, the Ganges River is said to purify the soul, removing impurities from past lives and corporeal sins. As such, rivers can be used to wash away negativity, impurities, ailments, and stress.

Like wells and rivers, lakes were also viewed as sacred places. The most famous of lake tales comes to us from Arthurian legend: the Lady of the Lake, a faery woman who gifts Author with the legendary sword Excalibur, enchants Merlin, and raises Lancelot after he is orphaned. We also have the famous Loch Ness monster, believed by many to be an elusive water horse. Both of these myths suggest, much like all water sources, that lakes are a liminal place where spirits and humans can pass between realms. And, like other water sources, lakes can be used for healing purposes as well. Being still and calm, lake water is believed to heal, remove curses, and treat illnesses especially those related to stress and anxiety. Flowers growing along the banks were believed to have more potent healing potential than similar flowers growing away from the lake as they were imbued with the magical waters. The still lake water was also often used for reflective magic or for divination, the waters acting as a mirror.

But not all folklore surrounds freshwater sources. Being as vast and dangerous as it is, the ocean has played a dominant role in human history and thus has its own magical properties and folklore. You could write an entire book on sea folklore and witchcraft, and people have, so I am just going to give a brief overview here. The ocean played a major role in the development of civilizations around the world. For a long time, the ocean was impassible and untameable, which led our ancestors to tie the sea to destruction, instability, and chaos. It was believed that the ocean was ruled by the gods, which had any variety of names including Neptune, Poseidon, and Aegir, and without currying their favor, there was no way you could pass. In Celtic lore, the sea was also heavily associated with witches who were believed to be able to control the weather, especially on the open ocean, and could, therefore, bring the demise of travelers. The Odyssey is one of the best surviving myths surrounding the ocean where we see just how fickle the gods could be when it came to allowing travelers to safely pass. Odysseus, the hero of the epic, blinds Poseidon's son, Polyphemus, thus incurring the wrath of Poseidon who makes Odysseus' journey home extremely difficult and long to ensure he returns home to even more problems. The story is also filled with one of my favorite nature spirits, the siren. Sirens were originally companions of Persephone and when they failed to prevent her rape, they were transformed as punishment, condemned to lure men to their deaths for all eternity (Love it!). In The Odyssey, Odysseus ties himself to the front of his ship so he may hear the sirens first to alert his crew to stuff their ears with wax so they may safely sail out of harm's way. Sirens continue to appear in a number of myths across multiple cultures, including another Greek tale involving Jason and Orpheus. Jason commands Orpheus to drown out the siren's songs with his lyre so they may safely pass. Folklore is also filled with another favorite mythological creature, the mermaid which according to Assyrian legends, began with the goddess Atargatis when she transformed herself into a mermaid after accidentally killing her human lover. Originally, mermaids were believed to be the causes of floods, storms, shipwrecks, and drownings, much like sirens. Either way, the sea was believed to be full of dangers, and rightly so, as many travelers have lost their lives to its fickleness.

With the somewhat taming of the sea, the ocean began to be associated with life, abundance, and plenty as it provided an abundance of food. Later myths show a change in mermaid folklore, portraying them to be benevolent beings who bestowed boons on sailors and human lovers. Christopher Columbus reported seeing a mermaid during his voyage, which may have led to his safe passage. These boons sometimes took the form of mermaid's purses, shark, skate, or ray egg sacs that washed up onshore. (You can read more about mermaids here). Furthermore, the tides often brought in all sorts of treasures for beachcombers that could be used for a variety of purposes in daily life or to create sailor charms. For example, white hag stones, stones with a hole naturally worn in the middle, were often combined with a Mary bean or Malaga nut from Brazil to bring good luck and protection to sailors. Sea urchins were placed on mantles in homes and even in ships to ensure there would be bread to eat.

While many of the deities associated with the ocean are masculine, the ocean is heavily influenced by the Moon, a feminine aspect, which controls the ebb and flow of the tides. In Norfolk and Suffolk, it is believed that children born at ebb tide, the period between high and low tide when the water flows out, would face many challenges in life, while more children were born during flow or flood tide, when the tide is coming in. Being a movement of water inward, these children would likely face better prospects in life. Ebb tide was used for banishing, destroying obstacles, and sending things or people away. Flow tide, on the other hand, was used for growth, expansion, hastening, creation, and creativity. High tide and low tide were also heavily associated with magic. High tide was used for prosperity and abundance magic while low tide was used much like ebb tide for banishing, shadow word, chord cutting, and breaking habits.

And these are all just bodies of water! There is numerous folklore about dew, mists, and rain! Again, there is absolutely too much folklore on these subjects to include in this post, so I'm going to very briefly summarize. Dew has long been a prized magical ingredient, especially in protection and glamour magic. Especially lazy and dirty women and children were believed to be taken away by faeries where they were carefully cleansed by morning dew becoming more beautiful upon their arrival home. Most famously, however, dew was often collected and applied before sunrise on May Day (Beltane) to heal and as a glamour. On the Summer Solstice, it was believed that dew would increase one's strength. Across Europe, especially in Britain, dew was believed to have curative properties. It was often applied to the eyes to help eye pain or rubbed on warts and freckles to remove them. Dew collected from stones with depression or cups called Bullaun Holes were used by wise women and men in medicines to enhance their restorative qualities. Sometimes the dew was collected with a white rag and tied around the ailing part to help it heal faster.

While dew was often seen as a healer, mists were viewed as a magical veil that was used by spirits of the Otherworld to shroud themselves. Furthermore, Celtic folklore suggests that not only did the fae and other spirits arrive with the mist, but the mist could carry you away as well, bringing you to the water if you weren't careful. With mist and fog, it is believed all manner of devilish creatures can walk the Earth. People often report seeing black dogs, an omen of death, in the mists or hearing the luring voices of women calling them out to sea. However, in the Haudenosaunee myth The Maid of the Mist, the maiden is a savor who warns her village of impending doom. In almost all legends, the mists act as a portal or gateway between realms, thus becoming an excellent hedge riding tool for astral travel.

Rain, on the other hand, as a complete set of unique myths, but in most cases, rain is associated with life, fertility, and healing. Originally, the rain was associated with spontaneous generation and was believed that frogs and worms came directly from rain, thus associating it with life, abundance, and fertility. Oden, a Norse god of fertility among other things, was also associated with the rain. I'm sure you can figure out what the rain was meant to be in this case. In Greek mythology, rain is believed to be the tears of Calandra, daughter of Hades, mourning the death of her beloved, Orestes, son of Zeus. Zeus and Hades, upon hearing of their love, struck down Orestes and locked Calandra in the clouds to mourn for all eternity. Rainwater has been used in all manner of magical ways, including spells for rejuvenation, healing, protection, cursing, and nourishment. Rainwater alone deserves a post of its own, which I'll likely do this year sometime in April because "April showers bring May flowers..."

Phew! That was a lot to cover! As you can see, I've only scratched the surface of water folklore. There is plenty more from Asia, Africa, and the Americas that wasn't touched on here. There simply isn't enough time for me to cover everything in great detail, but this folklore provides a deeper understanding of how important water has been throughout human history. It is the bringer of life and death, a healer and a curse. Without water and all its amazing, properties humans would not be where we are today. It nourishes our bodies, helps our cells and organs function and while aiding plants in creating food. It helps us and our planet maintain a relatively constant temperature and allows cell membranes to form a double layer. Its a universal solvent, acting as a carrier for all manner of solutes such as salt and aiding in digestion. Its uses are endless, both practically and magically and no amount of writing will ever do it justice.


Below is a quick correspondence guide for water, including a free printable page for your Book of Shadows!

Gender: Feminine
Planet: Moon, Neptune, Pluto
Time: Twilight
Season: Fall
Direction: West (although if the closest body of water to you is a different direction, use that instead)
Tarot Cards: Cups
Zodiac: Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces
Symbolism: emotion, intuition, psychic abilities, love, unconscious mind, fertility, self-healing, reflection, lunar energy, deep feelings, curses, death
Symbols: Ocean, lake, river, fog, mist, creek, well, spring, pond, rain, shell, sea glass, driftwood, cup, chalice, bowl, trident, seaweed, hag stones, cauldron
Deities: Oshun, Davy Jones, Danu, Grannus, Lir, Llyr, Sinann, Selkie, Sulis, Nix, Nerthus, Nehalennia, Aegir, Achelous, Alpheus, Brizo, Ceto, Doris, Eurybia, Graeae, Nerus, Nerites, Poseidon, Tethys, Thetis, Coventina, Fontus, Juturna, Neptune, Salacia, Tiberinus, Ap, Yami, Ganga, Mokosh, Veles, Anuket, Hapi, Nephthys, Satet, Sobek, Tefnut, Enki, Marduk, Nammu, Sirsir, Tiamat, Hebo, Mazu, Gonggong, Suijin, Susanoo, Cerridwen
Nature Spirits: Undine, nymph, mermaid, finfolk, lake ladies, water maidens, Cailleach, water horse, kelpie, bean-nighe, banshee, white woman, washerwoman, water cows, faeries associated with wells, streams, ponds, or lakes
Colors: Blue, silver, white, gray, seafoam, indigo, aquamarine, bluish-silver, black
Food and Drink: water, tea, apple, pear, coconut, strawberry, watermelon
Herbs: seaweed, aloe, fern, water lily, lotus, moss, willow, gardenia, apple, catnip, chamomile, cattail, lettuce, kelp, birch, cabbage, coconut, cucumber, comfrey, eucalyptus, gourd, geranium, grape, licorice, lilac, pear, strawberry, tomato
Crystals and Gemstones: Moonstone, pearl, silver, aquamarine, amethyst, blue tourmaline, lapis lazuli, fluorite, coral, blue topaz, beryl, opal, coral
Animals: fish, snake, frog, crab, lobster, eel, shark, dragonfly, seahorse, dolphin, sea otter, seal, whale, alligator, crocodile, beaver, octopus, penguin, salamander, turtle, starfish, koi, coral, barnacle, manta ray, manatee, jellyfish, nautilus, heron, duck, geese, crane, swan, water birds, ammonite, dragons, serpents

water correspondences, water magic, book of shadows, water witchcraft, water witch, witchcraft, magic, elemental magic



How does water work with the other elements?

Water with Fire: Water can be used to extinguish Fire, while Fire can evaporate Water forming steam, mist, and fog.
Water with Earth: Water can feed the Earth, providing it with life-giving properties so plants may flourish. However, Water can also destroy Earth through waterlogging, flooding, and erosion.
Water with Air: Water and Air can combine to corrode and dissolve metals or Air can act as a carrier for Water, transporting water vapor around the world, thus aiding in the water cycle. Furthermore, Air can be used to make Water, as Water is one part oxygen and two parts hydrogen (both originally gasses).


Your task for the next couple of days is to research local bodies of water where you live. Where is the nearest body of water? Can you walk to it? How clean is the water? If it man-made or natural? What is its source? Where does it begin? Where does it end? Is there any folklore associated with it?

Don't worry about traveling to this body of water just yet. You can use Google Maps (with satellite view on) to get a good idea of what your local terrain looks like from above. This is a great way to map out your area and begin finding those magical places. Take stock of where your local water sources are and write down anything you learn in your Book of Shadows or Grimoire. While it seems simple, this task is extremely important and helps you build a more local practice.


Interest in the rest of the series? Here's what's to come!

Elemental Magic Series

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7 comments :

  1. Wow. The amount of work and research you put into this post is truly commendable! I'm glad I sat down with a fresh cup of coffee to really settle in properly and read.

    I live in the Chicagoland area so Lake Michigan is the obvious nearby body of water, but you've inspired me to go out and seek what other sources are out there.

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    1. Thank you! I don't even feel like I scratched the surface either!

      I hope you find some water sources you were not aware of before. I noticed one today on my way to dinner; a river that runs under the road on my way to a cafe down the street. Unfortunately its on private property, but while I sat in traffic, waiting for the light to change, I took in everything I could about it. I'm going to spend Saturday exploring and visiting some local water sources. All of the lakes in Georgia are man-made, nothing like the Great Lakes, and I find their energy to be very different from the natural rivers and streams that have been her for an age. I grew up on the lake and near a large river and I miss being able to just walk through my backyard to get to them. Now I have to go to a beach and pay to visit. Its just not the same nor as magical.

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    2. I'm from Canada originally, and grew up living on the shores of Lake Superior in northern Ontario. While I appreciate that Lake Michigan is nearby, it's not on my doorstep, and I miss living so close to numerous lakes, rivers and streams (and forests, and mountains, and the list goes on, haha). I do have a great appreciation for the prairies of the Midwest, though, but it's a completely different energy.

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    3. I am originally from Flint, Michigan and spent many a summer traveling around Michigan and visiting the lakes. My parents love the lakes so much that they built my childhood home in Georgia on the lake. I'm still close, but its not like walking through the yard anymore. I find it interesting that of all the things I miss, its walking through the woods down to the lake.

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  2. This is such a stellar, detailed, and incredibly interesting + informative post. As a Cancer (sun sign), I lapped up (pun intended) every engaging word.

    Water is the element that I've always felt closest to. So much so, that several years ago, I mindfully set about deeping my connection to, and understanding of, the other elements a good deal more. Things are somewhat more even-handed across the board now, but I can't fathom water not always holding pride-of-place amongst the elements for me and my own path.

    I am wholeheartedly looking forward to the next entry on water and all the others that will comprise this brilliant series, dear Willow.

    Autumn Zenith 🎃 Witchcrafted Life

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    1. Thank you, Autumn! I'm a Libra, but I find I do not connect quite so well with Air as I do with Water. I truly believe its because we are mostly water that we naturally form a deep bond with it, but even then, we know so little about it. From a scientific point of view it is the most amazing substance on earth, and allows for life to exist in the first place. Without it, we are nothing...

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    2. Fellow air sign here (Gemini) who has also always felt the strongest bond with water.

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