Wednesday, September 8, 2010

God of the Waters

A young man chanced upon a small clear lake in the forest. As he bent down for a drink he saw his reflection in the calm surface of the water. “This is the abode of the water god,” he declared. “I have seen his face.”

He erected a shrine to the deity at the site of the apparition. He placed wildflowers at the altar daily. People came from miles around to pray, bathe in the water, and be healed of their diseases.

In time thousands of people visited the lake, peered into the water and saw their faces, believing it was the water deity. The various descriptions of their reflections – male and female, young and old, dark or light – became different myths of the water deity, the various faces of God.

A rumor arose that drinking from the water made you immortal after you died. The young man’s son started selling the lake water to those who could not make the journey to the forest. The demand was so great for the water that he employed many helpers to bottle it and ship it to distant locations.

So many bought this water that the small lake dried up, leaving only a muddy basin. “The water deity is dead,” the man declared. “Swallowed by the mud god,” he explained. And he began to sell the mud, which was said to have rejuvenating properties for the skin. People came from miles around to apply the mud to their faces and bodies.

Then the mud was gone, leaving only the hard bedrock beneath. The grandson of the original discoverer of the site began to sell chunks of rock as amulets. They were said to have divining properties, leading the wearer to places where they could dig a well of fresh spring water.

People used the amulets and found water. They dug wells, looked into the water and saw their face. “I have seen the water deity,” the people said.
Painting is “Narcissus” by Caravaggio, 1573-1610, Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica, Roma

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