Oxun painting by Rowan Fairgrove

Pagans and the Coming Water Crisis

by Rowan Fairgrove
PantheaCon 2005

Water is everywhere, in our bodies, in our world. Water is the original source of life and all life contains water. Water is sacred -- entitled to reverence and respect. All people's have venerated water. Many have seen the source of rivers as being in the Otherworld or in Heaven. Rivers have been seen as sacred channels funneling blessings to earth. Ganga came down from heaven and became the Ganges. Boann became the River Boyne. Sionnan the Shannon. Hafren the Severn. The rivers of Europe bear the name of Danu, the Mother Goddess. We have the Danube, the Donn, the Dneiper. All echoes of Her life-giving presence. In Africa, Oshun, Oya and Yemanja gave their names to rivers. Mulan, a Chinese river Goddess, is said to hover over the entire length of Her river, day and night, guarding its purity and ensuring its abundance. And those are universal water themes -- abundance, fertility and purity. Whatever Pagan tradition we follow there are probably River Goddesses in our pantheons. We have Sea Gods and Goddesses also... but the sea is not drinking water. Of all the water on our world, only 2.5% is freshwater. And of that 69% is in glaciers, 30% in groundwater and only one third of one percent (.3%) in renewable supplies in lakes and waterways. So little. And yet we pollute it with inadequate sanitation, with industrial waste and with our lack of care in using water as a dumping ground. This is not the way to treat a sacred, life-giving element.

One of the themes of the last three Parliaments of the World's Religions has been the re-sacralizing of the Earth. There has been a recognition that our modern world has lost that sense of sacredness and that our survival as ecological beings demands that we find a way to bring a sense of veneration and respect back into our World. I believe that, as practitioners of Pagan traditions, we should be in the forefront of that effort. We have a history of regarding the Earth as sacred and now we need the will to step forward and walk our talk. At the Parliament last year in Barcelona, they asked each of us who attended an Assembly to commit to a "simple and profound act" to further one of four agendas. I chose "Access to Clean Water" and this presentation is my action.

Since committing to learn and teach about access to water I have read many things, from ancient sacred texts to modern religious writings, from the writings of activists and ecologist to declarations by the United Nations. It is clear that there is a looming crisis around access to potable water in this world. Over one billion people, about one sixth of the world's population, are without access to clean water today. And this is not just a third world problem. Yes, the greatest problems of bad sanitation and poverty are in the third world and with rising population it will only get worse. But industries and agriculture, citizens, cities and governments around the world pollute and mis-manage water. And there is a new and growing problem -- water is becoming increasingly privatized and commoditized. When water is held as a commodity for profit, rather than a human right and sacred trust, the problems can get much worse. Access to water and adequate sanitation must be handled responsibly for the benefit of all... humans, animals and the waterway ecology.

So, what am I advocating? We, as Pagans, need to be aware of the issue of access to clean water. We, as citizens of the world, need to be aware of where our own water comes from and who controls it. At the 2004 Parliament a number of Pagans attended the Water Assembly at Montserrat and they have called for Pagans around the world to accept a special relationship to water in their own regions - adopt a well or spring, a creek or river, a lake or reservoir -- do ritual, clean the area, defend its purity and advocate on its behalf. Speak to the Goddesses, the spirits of the waters, remind them of their sacredness and remind your communities that the waters are sacred.

I have vials that contain sacred waters from 43 countries on all seven continents and from all Seven Seas that have been gathered by the Rt. Rev. David Ponedel and others for the Waters of the World Project. Rev. Ponedel says, "As an event in an interfaith setting, using water gathered at sacred sites from around the world, is a powerful act. It brings together spirituality, faith traditions, histories, beliefs, stories, rituals, and miracles attributed to the places where the water has been collected. When this water is combined, a singular pool of energy is created, representing both the highest aspirations of the human family, and our shared understanding of the sacred relationship we hold with Life." People in the interfaith movement around the world are aligning themselves with his words and their own vials of water. The Waters of the World have been part of ceremonies at: UN50, San Francisco CA, June 1995; MerryMeet, Saratoga CA, August 1997; URI Global Summit, Stanford CA, June 1999; Parliament of the World's Religions, Cape Town, South Africa, December 1999; Earth Day, Berkeley CA, 2002; URI Global Council Meeting, City of 10,000 Buddhas CA, May 2004; Montserrat Assembly, Parliament of the World's Religions, Barcelona, Spain, 2004; Goldin Institute for International Partnership and Peace, Taipei, Taiwan, 2004 and probably in other places we don't know about. We are not alone in our prayers for water!

I have begun a practice where I hold the water and think pure and loving thoughts at it, along the lines of the work of Dr. Emoto's "Messages from Water". This aligns the water in a positive way. I then see my blessing going out to all the sources of water contained in the vial, plus to all other sources of water on the planet. I am sure that there are many other ways you might do workings around water in your own practice. This is important because, whilst we have the same tools of activism and engagement with the world that the next person has, we also recognize that we have access to magic and energy working. I believe that we must work on all levels for our planet and all who live here today and in generations to come.

Water-related Web pages


Water Webster water portal
WaterWebster.com brings together safe drinking water and wastewater news, research, resources and information and provides it free to anyone who needs it, anywhere in the world.
Water Conserve
Water conservation information and news.


World Water Council
The World Water Council's mission is to promote awareness, build political commitment and trigger action on critical water issues
UN Water
UN-Water is the United Nations inter-agency coordination mechanism for all freshwater related issues, including sanitation.
UNESCO works to build the scientific knowledge base to help countries manage their water resources in a sustainable way. Polaris Project - Water Rights
Polaris Institute
Polaris spearheaded a curriculum development project centered on water issues and social justice for high school students in Ontario.
Indigenous Declaration on Water
This Declaration was formulated by indigenous participants at the 2003 World Water Forum in Kyoto, and has become a key document in articulating a common position among Indigenous Peoples towards water development policies.


EPA Office of Water
he Office of Water (OW) ensures drinking water is safe, and restores and maintains oceans, watersheds, and their aquatic ecosystems to protect human health, support economic and recreational activities, and provide healthy habitat for fish, plants and wildlife.
USGS Water Resources of the United States
Water is one of seven science mission areas of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). Water's mission is to collect and disseminate reliable, impartial, and timely information that is needed to understand the Nation's water resources.
National Agricultural Library - Water Quality Information Center
The Water Quality Information Center (WQIC) is the focal point of the National Agricultural Library's water quality efforts, the center collects, organizes, and communicates the scientific findings, educational methodologies, and public policy issues related to water resources and agriculture.
American Water Works Association
The American Water Works Association is the largest nonprofit, scientific and educational association dedicated to managing and treating water.
Water Keeper Alliance
Advocating for swimmable, drinkable, fishable water worldwide.
NRDC Clean Water and Oceans Page
The Natural Resources Defense Council is helping to secure safe and sufficient water for people and the environment.
Sierra Club - Water Sentinels
Protecting America's Waters.
River Network
River Network empowers and unites people and communities to protect and restore rivers and other waters that sustain all life. We envision a future with clean and ample water for people and nature, where local caretakers are well-equipped, effective and courageous champions for our rivers.
Rocky Mountain Institute - Water
White papers on water issues.
Groundwater Foundation
Groundwater Foundation educates people and inspires action to ensure sustainable, clean groundwater for future generations.
Clean Water Network
Our Clean Water Network is working to protect the waterways we have for the health, the happiness and the hardworking fun of generations – ours and beyond!

San Francisco Bay Region and California

California Bay Delta Authority (archive)
Since 2012 the new website is Delta Stewardship Council Providing the best possible unbiased scientific information to inform water and environmental decision making in the Delta.
California Public Citizen - Water for All
Public Citizen's Water for All Campaign is dedicated to protecting water as a common resource, stopping water privatization and bulk water sales, and defending access to clean and affordable water around the world.
Pacific Institute
The Pacific Institute creates and advances solutions to the world’s most pressing water challenges.
Acterra: Action for a Healthy Planet
Acterra is an environmental non-profit serving the Silicon Valley. Some projects have been around water quality and conservation.
Save the Bay
Save The Bay works to protect the San Francisco Bay from pollution and reckless shoreline development and make it cleaner and healthier for people and wildlife.
California Watershed Network
California Watershed Network (CWN) works to protect and restore the natural environments of California’s watersheds while ensuring healthy and sustainable communities.
Restore Hetch Hetchy
The mission of Restore Hetch Hetchy is to return the Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite National Park to its natural splendor ─ while continuing to meet the water and power needs of all communities that depend on the Tuolumne River.
Protecting San Francisco Bay.from pollution.
Watershed Project
The Watershed Project is restoring the natural wonder of the San Francisco Bay-one creek, marsh and watershed at a time.
The Upper Sacramento River Exchange
We promote healthy watersheds in Siskiyou County through community involvement in stewardship, restoration and education.
Council for Watershed Health
Formerly the Los Angeles and San Gabriel Rivers Watershed Council.


Yes! Magazine Winter 2004 issue on Water
BBC Water Debate (2003)
Bay Nature Magazine
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