Water : a spiritual history
- Ian Bradley.
- London ; New York : Bloomsbury, 2012.
Where to find it
Water has long been associated with the magical, the mysterious and the divine.
From sacred springs to holy wells, and from hydropathic cures and temperance reform to the modern spa, Ian Bradley explores how water's creative, health-giving and restorative powers have been conceived, worshipped and marketed in an essentially spiritual way.
In pre-Christian times, springs and rivers were seen as the dwelling places of deities with magical life-giving and curative powers, associated especially with the feminine and with ritual cleansing and rebirth. With the coming of Christianity, water was incorporated into Christian ritual and tradition through baptism and the cult of holy wells. From the 16th century onwards, the benefits of water came to be seen more in terms of therapeutic healing than the miraculous. Through the development of drinking and bathing cures, spas and hydrotherapy, a more scientific but still essentially spiritual understanding of the curative properties of water was developed. By the eighteenth century, spas and watering places had acquired their own enchanted and mysterious qualities, in many ways taking the place of medieval pilgrim shrines. Now, a new, more hedonistic kind of pilgrim comes to modern spas to experience a potent post-modern elixir of self-oriented well-being.
- Chapter breakdown
- 1 Primal notions of water
- Drawing especially on pre-Christian Celtic culture (about which the author has already written and researched extensively), this chapter explores how water was conceived in primal, pre-Christian societies as the dwelling place of deities and sprites, the source of mysterious and magic music from the other world and a key element in cultic and ritual worship. Particular case studies are drawn from archaeological and other evidence at Aquae Sulis (Bath) and Irish and Scottish sites
- 2 Water in the early eastern religions
- Water is hugely important in the in the Vedic texts of India c.800 BC and in the writings of Lao-tzu and the other Tao masters of the fourth and fifth centuries BC. His chapter explores the teaching of Hinduism and Taoism about water, its course and humility and the sacred significance of rivers, as still shown by the Kumbha Mela gathering where the rivers Ganges and Yamuna converge with the mythical underground Saraswati river
- 3 Roman baths
- The Romans really established the idea of 'taking the waters', and specifically of communal bathing in either natural thermal waters or water heated artificially, not just as an important form of social gathering and entertainment but as a means towards healthy and clean living with distinct spiritual and religious overtones. This chapter explores these and other aspects of the Roman love affair with water primarily though means of a detailed examination of the Baths of Caracalla in Rome, as a place of ritual and spiritual as well as physical exercise and refreshment
- 4 Christian understandings of the holiness of water
- Water plays a key role in some of the main theophanies(showings of God) in the Hebrew Bible and encounters between Jesus and key individuals in the Christian New Testament. Based on Jewish purification rites, the Christian sacrament of baptism, initially practised in flowing water as it still is by some groups and sects, brought a new sanctity and spiritual significance to the element of water. Springs and wells were 'baptised' and converted from their pagan associations and came to be seen as holy destinations, especially linked to saints. This chapter makes a special study of Holywell in Wales
- 5 The development of spas
- From the sixteenth century onwards doctors promote the health-giving properties of water and the benefits of 'taking the waters'. As a result spas or villes d'eaux develop across Europe (and later North America) where people come either to drink or to bathe in natural mineral waters believed to have special therapeutic properties. Increasingly, these places come to be seen as having a magical, enchanted quality. This chapter explores the development of spas and their intriguing atmosphere of desperation and decadence, health and hedonism. Case studies are drawn from Bath, Vichy and the spas of the Auvergne, Baden bei Wein, Baden Baden and the spas of Bohemia
- 6 Miraculous waters
- In the nineteenth century, the cult of holy wells and the culture of spas meet in the development of pilgrim shrines where water is seen as having particular miraculous qualities. This is especially true of the waters that flowed from the Grotto at Lourdes after Bernadette had been told in an apparition from the Virgin Mary to claw through the mud and bathe in the stream that would be revealed. This chapter explores the centrality of water in the pilgrim experience at Lourdes and its relationship to the surrounding spa culture
- 7 Islamic bathing
- An exploration of the hammams, or bath houses, found across the Middle East, as an expression of Arab and Islamic notions of cleanliness and ritual bathing, with particular reference to the hammams of Damascus
- 8 The modern spa as a spiritual experience
- Spas have been one of the great growth areas of the booming fitness and leisure industries of the early twenty first century. They are often marketed, presented and designed in quasi-religious and spiritual terms, offering an experience of 'heaven', promising holistic benefits and constructed physically in a way that often suggests worship and ritual. This chapter explores the spirituality of modern spas. Are they the shrines of a new kind of post-modern hedonistic pilgrim?
This item is about
- London ; New York : Bloomsbury, 2012.
- xi, 287 p. : ill. ; 25 cm.
- OCLC Number