Indigenous wisdom on water and life, out of Africa

December 20, 2016

Malidoma Somé was removed from his home and started on the path to become a Catholic priest, when he was 5, but he yearned to return to his home village.  He did so when he was 17 and was initiated in his tribe, with the understanding that his role in life was to communicate across boundaries and groups.  He has done so with aplomb. I first heard of him at the close of the Q&A when someone was inquiring about book recommendations, at the end of a Catholic retreat.  His biography, Of Water & Spirit, was one of the most eye-opening books I’ve ever read.  Years later, meeting and talking with Malidoma was also significant.  The reflection below ties in with the alternatives to consumerism theme GCCM has been exploring during Advent.

 ~As we come to the close of the Water Year 2016~

Let us remember:

 “Water is a key element that at the beginning cooled the raging  fires and brought stability, reorienting the cosmic energy toward producing continuity and community.  Since then, people all over the world have felt the need to return again and again to water for purification, cleansing, reconciling, and making peace in the face of the onslaught of life’s challenges.

People, especially people in crisis, are naturally attracted to water.  Many recognize that when they are agitated about something in their lives, they find peace at the waterfront.  Just the sight of a large body of water brings a feeling of quiet and peace, a feeling of home.  Water resets a system gone dry in which motion is accelerated beyond what we can bear.

African healing wisdom looks at physical illness as a fire moving a person’s energy beyond the limit of what he or she can bear.  This suggests that we all need water, and need rituals of water, to stay balanced, oriented, and reconciled.


Without water, nothing can be purified, nothing can be authentic.  Water allows  us to maintain the kind of consciousness that links us to the Other World, and  hence we see in so many mythologies the idea of water as the ‘water of life,’  with water crucial to the spiritual experience and the spiritual journey.

      The element water reconciles and quiets down that which is trapped in the crisis of combustion.  In effect, water cools the burning psyche.  It stills the restless consciousness and bestows serenity upon a person in turmoil, returning focus to a chaotic existence. As an elemental unit in the cosmological wheel, its position is the north, opposite fire, and its color are blue and black.

Water seeks to cleanse, reconcile, and balance that which is in agitation, emotional disorder, and self-danger.  When water succeeds, it restores or enhances life where there was the threat of death.  Hence, the connection between water and life.  To seek water is to seek to reconcile and balance that which is constantly in danger of being thrown out of balance, that which is caught in the fiery loop of speed and consumption.

 ~Malidoma Somé