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Water is the essential element for life and a key pillar of all human cultures. In almost all cultures, water is perceived as a female element and this gender key is shared with our planet Earth, the only known one covered mostly with water.
In most of the world’s creation myths, water represents the source of life, energy and divine fertility of the earth and living beings.
It also charges water with great significance within the various religions as they use it in initiation or baptismal rites. Within this context, it encompasses the meanings of purification, renewal, fertility, liberation and abundance.
The human being projects into the water the realization of his fears, but also of his hopes, the promise of life and the threat of death.
We are going to undertake a journey through the continents and their seven seas to get to know the different deities and myths that arise around water.
We start with the Caribbean Sea and its goddess of the sea, the moon and fertility called Atabey. The Tainos, an extinct people of Arawak origin who lived in the Antilles, worshipped Atabey. It represented the goddess as a frog.
From the Caribbean Sea we travelled to the Pacific Ocean to meet Yacuruna, the spirit of the Amazon. This deity can control all the animals in the water. Shamans and healers invoke him to do good and evil. Legend has it he travels at night along the Amazon River riding a black crocodile. He wears a coiled boa as a necklace and can become an attractive man for kidnapping maidens.
In Peru, Amaru is an enormous snake and a Quechua deity. It represents him as a hybrid of a snake body, eagle wings and llama head. They link it to the waters that irrigated the lands of the ancient Peruvian crops.
Mamacocha in Quechua is the mother of the waters. This Inca deity represents everything feminine and gives balance to the world. Adored in Peru, Ecuador, South Colombia, North Chile.
In the Aztec mythology the goddess Chalchiuhtlicue is the one who protects the seas, the lakes, the rivers, the storms and the baptisms. Next to her is the salt goddess Huixtocihualt. To these two female deities, it adds two male gods. On one side there is Opochtli, the god of fishing and on the other Tlaloc, god of storms, rain and earthquakes.
The aborigines in North America venerated the goddess Sedna, who was to protect the sea and every living being that inhabited it.
Hawaiian mythology has Kanaloa or Tangaroa, the god of the sea and the underworld. They shape it like a cephalopod.
Kamohoalii is the shark god. Finally, there is Namaka, goddess of the sea.
From the Pacific Ocean, we slide through the marine currents, and we arrive at the Atlantic Ocean.
Airon is the god of the ancient Hispania and was related to the underground waters, wells and lagoons. It also considered him a god of the underworld who has an ambivalent character. By controlling the water he created life, but he also represented death because it trapped the souls of the dead in the depths.
In Spain in the Cantabrian Sea in the Basque Country you can find the Arrainandere, the mermaids that with the body of a fish and the feet of a duck attracted the sailors.
In Asturias, the myth of Serena tells how a young girl who ate a lot of fish one day while bathing became a mermaid. Serena sang for joy and the sailors venerated her.
In the North Sea, the Celtic goddess Coventia is the goddess of the waters, fertility and abundance. Her cult spread through the south of France, the province of Lugo (Spain) and the north of England. She had the ability to heal, purify and fertilise with the spring water she protected. In Carrawburgh (United Kingdom) there is a temple in his honour.
The Celtic mythology is one of the richest in terms of water deities. The goddess Coventia is joined to the goddess Acionna, also queen of the waters.
The goddess Belisama was to protect the lakes and rivers.
In Ireland there is the goddess of the Boyne river called Boann, the goddess of the waters Li Ban and the god of the sea Lir. The river Shannon has its own goddess called Sinnan.
In the Finnish mythology, three gods dominate the waters. The god Ahti of the depths and the fish. His wife Vellamo, goddess of the sea, lakes and storms and the goddess Vedenemo of the water.
In the Nordic mythology Aegir was the personification of the sea that together with his daughters and wife Ran (goddess of the sea of the death, the one that gathers the drowned ones) controls the waters and their fresh waves.
The Nordic people were great boat travellers, which is why they also worshipped the god of navigation, Njord.
Nehalennia was the goddess of the North Sea and Frey the god of rain, sun, fertility, life and summer.
Europe was home to two great civilizations, the Greek and the Roman. In Roman mythology, the god Fontus was the god of springs and wells. Juturna goddess of wells, fountains and springs. The god of the sea was Neptune and the goddess of the salt water and wife of Neptune was Salacia.
Multiple deities and nymphs composed the Greek mythology. Aegaeon was the god of storms and violent seas. He is also an ally of the titans. Poseidon is the god of the sea and the god of all sea creatures and deities. Amphitrite is the goddess of the sea and wife of Poseidon. Her daughter Cimopolea is the goddess of the giant waves.
Brizo is the goddess of the sailors and Ceto, goddess of the dangers of the ocean and the sea monsters.
Leucothea and Palaemon are gods who help sailors in distress.
South of the Atlantic Ocean in Nigeria in the heat of the African continent is Yemayá.
Yemayá is the Orisha of fertility in the Yoruba religion. They associate it with rivers, the sea and anybody that is composed of water. Its worship came to the American continent at the time of the African slave trade. In Uruguay and Brazil she adopted the name of Lemanjá and is the virgin of the seas. Today, they still make offerings to her on 2 February.
In Egypt, the goddess Anuket was the protector of the Nile River and of watering the fields. Hapi and Satet are the gods of the flooding of the Nile, and Khnum is the god of the Nile.
The goddess of rivers, death, mourning and night is Nephthys.
Sobek is the god of the Nile river, represented as a crocodile or a man with the head of a crocodile.
Tefnut is the goddess of water, fertility and humidity.
The ocean currents take us to the Indian and Pacific Ocean and to the Asian continent. In the Assyrian mythology (Mesopotamia) we find the goddess Derceto. To they consecrated her the seas and the fishes. It represents her in the form of a fish, with arms, breasts and a woman’s head. Her worship penetrated Greek and Roman culture.
Within Mesopotamian mythology, the god of fresh water is Abzu. The god of the channels and rivers is Enbilulu.
Marduk is another god associated with waters, nature, judgment and magic. The river Tigris has its own god called Enki.
Nammu was the goddess of the primitive sea and next to her is Nanshe, goddess of the Persian Gulf, fertility, social justice and fishing.
Sirsir is the god of sailors and the goddess Tiamat is the queen of salt water and chaos.
In Armenia, the goddesses Astghik and Tsovinar were worshipped. Astghik was the goddess of waters and Tsovinar, the goddess of storms.
To these we can add Anahita, the goddess of the waters associated with fertility and healing.
We travel to India and meet Varuna, god of the Ocean. He moves through a crocodile. In the Ramayana text, Varuna was the owner of Saumanasa, the elephant of the west, one of the four pachyderms that sustain the universe.
In Hinduism, the god of fresh water is Apam Napat. Danu is the goddess of the primordial waters and the goddess of the river Ganges is Ganga.
In Indonesian mythology, Dewi Danu is the goddess of water. The goddess of the North Sea is Dewi Lanjar, and the goddess of the Indian Ocean is Nyai Roro Kidul.
From Indonesia, sailing through the Pacific, we reach China. In the Chinese mythology, it classifies the water deities in three groups. On the one hand, there are the gods, on the other the honourable and immortal kings of the water and finally the dragon kings of the four seas.
In the group of the gods the first one is Gonggong, redheaded dragon with the head of a man god. He is responsible for the great floods.
Mazu is the goddess of the sea and protector of the sailors. Hebo is the god of the Yellow River.
Longmu, Ehuang and Nuying are the goddesses of the Xijiang River in the Lingnan area.
Tam Kung is the deity worshipped in the Hong Kong and Macau sea.
The honourable kings of the water immortals are Yu the Great (master of the great Chinese flood), Qu Yuan, Wu Zixu, Xiang Yu and Lu Ban.
The dragon kings of the four seas are Ao Kuang (East Sea), Ao Qin (South Sea), Ao (West Sea) and Ao Shun (North Sea).
And we ended our journey through Asia in Japan. It loads Japanese mythology with many legendary creatures.
Ameonna in Japanese mythology, Yokai is a female spirit capable of attracting rain just by licking her hands. In the morning, she takes the form of a cloud and at night she turns into rain.
Ebisu is the sea god of fortune and fishing. Hanzaki Daimyojin is a giant Japanese salamander and lord of the water.
The Japanese dragons Mizuchi, Ryujin and Watatsumi are gods of the sea and ocean.
The god of storms is Susanoo.
Oceania is surrounded by the Indian Ocean on the left, the Pacific Ocean on the right, and the Southern Ocean by the Southern Ocean Glacier.
Within the water deities that extend over this continent, we first highlight the mythology of the Fiji Islands, where there are two water gods. Daucinia god of navigation and the shark god of Dakuwaqa.
In New Zealand, in the South Pacific Ocean, we find the Maoris. They base their mythology on animal deities and myths that helped build New Zealand.
Within this mythology we find Ikatere, fish god father of all marine creatures including the mermaids.
Rongomai is a whale god and Tangaroa is a sea god.
Related to the myths with the animals is the whale Tohora who saved the legendary hero Paikea from drowning. By bringing him ashore he built New Zealand.
And so much for our exciting journey across the seven seas. Water, a precious commodity through time and different cultures.