It’s the nearly perfect ritual substance and symbol, because it speaks to us at the most primal and universal level of our existence. There are as many ways to incorporate it into your own ritual practice as you could possibly take advantage of.
Bath. Rituals of cleansing by immersion figure in traditions all over the world: in the mikvah of Judaism; in Christian baptism; in Hindu purification by bathing in the Ganges. When such rituals figure rebirth, as in Christian baptism, they may also imply the drowning of an old self. Entering the ritual bath with a friend can be incredibly hot–as more than a few Baptist boys may well recall; or as in the Israeli feature film, Eyes Wide Open.
Danger. The waters of the Red Sea give life to the people of Israel; but they bring death to Pharaoh’s army. A great Flood destroys nearly the whole world in the mythologies of any number of cultures. A bucket of water saves the Scarecrow but spells the end for the Wicked Witch of the West.
Aspersion. To sprinkle an object or a person with water is to purify it/him/her symbolically. If a branch in full leaf is used to fling the water, its green life adds another layer of meaning to the gesture. If you use a squirtgun, you’re just being silly.
Well. Not merely a passive container, the well is a sheltering and welcoming resource: a fountain of life in the desert. The Christian baptismal font is the womb of the Church. The well is a place of meeting: for Jakov and Rivkah; for Jesus and the Samaritan woman.
River. It flows endlessly and only seems to be the same from moment to moment: Time itself is like an ever-rolling stream. It carries away what you entrust or abandon to it. It brings life along its banks, and sometimes destruction.