Taking a friend back home through the streets of Atteridgeville some time ago, the state of the water flowing in the gullies deeply saddened me. It was a murky green-grey colour and seemed to be more viscous than fresh water. It stank of sewage. Two young barefooted boys ran along the length of this trickle taking turns at tagging each other with sticks. I wondered where the water originated and to where it flowed. About 2 km upstream is a makeshift chicken market. The birds are superfluous former egg-layers that have passed their peak. The merchants cram a dozen or more of these fowls into wire cages no bigger than cubic meter. These containers are stacked out in the blistering sun. None of the birds get food or water. I took pity on these birds and secretly wished that they could speedily meet their end. Customers select their preferred chicken and either carry it away holding it by its folded-back wings or they wait to have it slaughtered and dressed. A fly-infested, bloodstained tree stump serves as the decapitation station. Once beheaded, the fowl is dunked into boiling water in a 44-gallon drum that stands on a wood-burning fire. This softens the feathers for easy plucking and the ground around the drum is strewn with white feathers. The water in the drum is the same colour as the green-grey water flowing along the furrow to where the boys played.
I live about 5 km away as the crow flies. A small mountain range separates us from the township. Most of the land on our side of the mountains is nature reserve which is part of the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site. I marvel at the huge cultural contrast over such a tiny distance! The geology of the area has an interesting connection with water. The city of Johannesburg lies about 60km southeast and Pretoria, some 40km northeast. Johannesburg rests on a huge granite dome, some 50 km in diameter. It extends as far out as Krugersdorp to the west, Soweto to the south-west, Kempton Park out east, Laezonia in the north and Centurion in the north east. A wide band of dolomite rock lies just beyond the dome's perimeter. The Magaliesburg Mountain Range in the northwest sandwiches the dolomite band between the granite dome and itself. Dolomite is a sedimentary rock type comprising carbonate minerals which slowly dissolve in slightly acidic water, leaving a network of subterranean caves that form over millions of years. These enormous caverns contain abundant supplies of pristine water. In some places, the cave's ceiling extends too close to the surface and breaks apart creating portals to the outside world. These openings were traps for early hominids who fell into the caves. The fossil skeletons of homo naledi, which date back some 2½ million years, are the preserved remains of an extinct species of hominin. These skeletal remains were discovered in the Rising Star Cave system which is just one of the many dolomite caves in the area. But the dolomite caves posed challenges not only for early humans, they also influenced the design and layout of the Gautrain. This isa metropolitan passenger train that links Johannesburg, Pretoria and the International Airport. The metro runs underground through the granite dome but then pops above the ground and runs on elevated tracks across the dolomite belt.
Given our dependence on clean potable water, water pollution is a major global problem which requires ongoing evaluation and revision of water resource policies at all levels of society. Johannesburg is one of the few large cities in the world that isn't built on a waterway. Instead, the city formed around goldfields. This metropolitan area receives its water from the Vaal Dam, which is fed in turn by the Highlands Water Scheme that drains melted snow-from the Lesotho mountains, through a network of pipes, over 3,000 km in length. The amount of water available to Gauteng has remained the same over many years, and despite plans to increase storage capacity through the building of new dams or water transfer schemes, predictions are that the demand for water will outstrip supply by the year 2025. But, like many other parts of the world, South Africa is a water-scarce country and often effected by Pacific Ocean currents known as El Nino. In 2015/2016 El Nino caused the worst drought in South Africa in the past forty years. The United Nations Research Institute for Social Development says that over one billion people across the world do not have access to safe, clean drinking water, a human right entrenched in the South African Constitution. Humans can survive for quite a long time without food but they can't go without water for long.
There are many squabbles around the globe over the division of river flows and water quality between upstream and downstream users. Similar face-offs are bound to grow in number and ferocity. By 2050, the world's populations will be a third to a half again as large as they are today, meaning that population explosion is the biggest factor driving water resource risks. Multinationals like PepsiCo, the Coca-Cola Company and Nestle rake in a combined $110 billion a year worldwide selling bottled water at up to 2,000 times the cost of getting it from a tap. Close to half of the bottled water bought by consumers is nothing more than filtered tap water with fancy names.
Water's unusual properties has long fascinated scientists. The movie, "Water," produced by Saida Medvedeva, won four 1st place awards in Europe in 2006. Here is a comment from of one of the scientists featured in this film about water's fascinating science.
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Water is, in fact, a chemical, written as the formula H2O. H2O is one of the most well-known chemical formulas. When properly written, the '2' is written in subscript. Each water molecule is made of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom, thus there are two 'H' atoms and only one 'O.' These atoms are joined by covalent bonding, meaning that they share electrons (as opposed to ionic bonding, in which atoms completely transfer electrons). I remember a rhyme from my schooldays that helps me differentiate between the formulation of water and that of sulphuric acid. The rhyme goes like this, "Poor old Joe has gone below | We aint going to see him no more. | For what he thought was H2O was H2SO4." The two hydrogen atoms of water stick to the oxygen atom with an angle of 104.45°, an angle that adds to water's unusual properties. This precise angle allows water molecules to form cohesive bonds with each other, forming more than 4,500 different structural combinations.
The water you drink is the same water that's been around since before dinosaurs existed. A water molecule can spend 3,200 years in the ocean before going through the water cycle and up to 10,000 years in deep-underground caves. Pure water is pH neural, meaning that it is neither an acid nor alkaline, yet it dissolves almost anything and is highly corrosive. It has the highest surface tension of all liquids. Nothing in the world is softer and more yielding than water yet it wears down the strong. The harder elements may conquer it but water eventually overcomes. Water is also the most powerful solvent on Earth. But water is not limited to planet Earth, Venus, with its blistering hot surface, boiled its oceans millions of years ago, sending them upwards as dense clouds of steam. Mars, the other of our neighbouring planets, shows signs of abundant water flow, although there is no trace of it there today. A few of Jupiter's moons have plentiful supplies of water, leaving us wandering whether there is a remote possibility of life in these far corners of our very own solar system.
Water is the only substance on Earth which occurs naturally in all three forms of matter: solid, liquid and gas. Water behaves like so many other elements and compounds, going from solid to liquid to gas as the temperature rises. But water has a quirky surprise: it is the only compound that weighs far less in its solid state (ice) than it does in its liquid form (water). Ice doesn't crystallise at the bottom of a pond but instead, ice crystals start to form on the surface of the water. You must have seen that thin film of ice across the surface of water in the birdbath or in a pond of water. On a frosty day, heat radiates from the surface of a pond, chilling the upper layer of water. Had water behaved 'normally,' like other substances, the cold water should get heavier and sink to the bottom of the pond sending hotter water upwards. Had this have been the convection process, the pond would lose more and more heat until the water reached zero degrees Celsius, at which time, the pond would freeze bottom up. But it doesn't happen this way. As water cools, it gets lighter and floats to the surface, trapping denser, warm layers of water at the bottom of the pond. Eventually a sheet of ice forms on the surface. Actually, water does contract a little as it cools until it reaches about 4°C and only then does it begin to expand. If water behaved 'normally,' oceans would have frozen from the bottom up. Since practically no solar radiation reaches the ocean floor, the ice there would never have had a chance to melt, leaving us with frozen oceans with perhaps a thin liquid surface. Life might never have succeeded if water behaved like other 'regular' liquids.
Seventy percent of the world's usable water is consumed in agriculture — growing and raising our food but while water is the most common and abundant substance on Earth, covering nearly 70% of the planet's surface, more than 97% of all water is salt water and less than 3% of it is fresh. Over two thirds of all fresh water is frozen in Antarctica and Greenland, leaving only tiny 1% of useable water. These facts remind me of the words of Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poem, "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner"
Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, nor breath nor motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.
Water, water, everywhere,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, everywhere,
Nor any drop to drink.
We've had an inseparable connection with water, tracing back to our aquatic single-celled origins and spanning our long and convoluted evolutionary past. Indeed, all life originated in the water and our nine-month embryonic development occurred in the waters of the womb. Leonardo Da Vinci said that, "Water is the driving force of all life."
As fascinating as water is from a socio-scientific viewpoint, I'm far more interested by its spiritual significance because water is more than science magic it is also a sacred substance. The practice of baptism in non-Christian religions seems to have been based on a belief in the purifying properties of water. In ancient Babylon, according to the Tablets of Maklu, water was important as a spiritual cleansing agent. In Egypt, the Book of Going Forth by Day contains a treatise on the baptism of new-born children, which was performed to purify them of blemishes acquired in the womb. Water, especially the Nile's cold water, which was believed to have regenerative powers, was used to baptise the dead in a ritual based on the Osiris beliefs. Egyptian cults also developed the idea of regeneration through water. The bath preceding initiation into the cult of Isis seems to have been more than a simple ritual purification; it was probably intended to represent symbolically the initiate's death to the life of this world by recalling Osiris' drowning in the Nile.
The Greek word baptisma, as used in New Testament gospels, was very common among Greek-speaking people; it is used in every period of Greek literature and was applied to a wide variety of matters, including the most familiar acts of everyday life. Ritual baptism is also a fundamental part of Christian practices — Jesus himself being baptised by John the Baptist at the age of thirty. But the use of water digs deeper into the rituals of certain Christian faiths, many of which contain fonts of blessed or Holy Water. The origins of this tradition may have emanated from the ritual of Washing of the Feet in the church's courtyards, a place of simple washing. However, this tradition morphed into the sprinkling or dabbing of Holy Water to remind worshippers of their baptised commitment to the Lord.
The Ganges River in India is one of the most sacred locations for the Hindu faith and practitioners make pilgrimages to the river throughout the year. The Ganges hosts the largest religious festival in the world, which attracts millions of ritualistic bathers. If Hindus spread the ashes of a deceased person on the river, they believe it improves that person's karma, allowing them to achieve salvation faster. The word ghat refers to a series of steps leading down to a body of water, particularly a holy river. Varanasi is the very busy sacred city of the dead situated on the banks of the Ganges River. People come from all over India to be burned there — or even better, to die there, as it is believed that if one dies in Varanasi one's soul goes straight to nirvana, skipping out of the eternal cycle of rebirth. There are two cremation ghats in Varanasi: one for the very poor, and one for the better off. The open air crematoria operate without let-up in this city.
They say that if you wish to make Holy Water you need only boil the hell out of it! But jokes aside, Holy Water in a Christian context is often taken from the baptismal font and further blessed in prescribed ways. Here's one such blessing:
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So, we've got science on the one hand and spiritual practices on the other, each having very specific views about water but is there any evidence to consolidate these opposing views? We know that water is a living substance, the most common and the least understood. It defies the basic laws of physics and yet it holds the keys to life. Known to ancients as a transmitter to and from the higher realms, water is now known to retain memory and convey information to our DNA. The movie "Water" is a documentary film about how human intentions not only change the structure of water, but how our thoughts can alter our environment too. Here's a snippet from the movie that speaks about water's capacity to hold memory:
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The Japanese scientist, Dr Masaro Emoto showed that water can reproduce the qualities of any substance it once contained and it has a startling connection between human thought, intention and the spoken word. What put Dr Emoto at the forefront of the study of water is his proof that thoughts and feelings affect physical reality. By producing different focused intentions through written and spoken words and music and literally presenting them to water samples from the same source, the water appeared to change its expression. He wrapped labels around a few jars of water and each sample when viewed under a microscope, showed different crystalline structures. The samples that contained words like, 'love' and 'peace', showed up as perfectly symmetrical crystals of different shape. The sample that contained the label, 'hate,' showed up as a seriously deformed crystalline structure. Here's a snippet from the interesting movie, What the Bleep do we Know:
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Perhaps we now have some real scientific evidence suggesting that homeopathy actually works. Dilution is the process that potentises homeopathic medicines. It sounds completely counterintuitive as one would expect that the more a remedy is diluted, the weaker it becomes but that's not the case in homeopathy. The base remedy is diluted with distilled water in a ratio of 1 part of treatment to 10 parts of water. The mixture is then successed by vigorously pounding it against the palm of the hand. One part of this new mixture is then diluted with 10 parts of water and successed again. Each time this process is repeated through successive dilutions, its potency increases. A common approach is to dilute the remedy thirty times. By now, there are only one part of the remedy to millions of parts of water yet the water 'remembers' the potent cure. A contributor to the Water movie speaks of an antibiotic used by the President and the American Army in Afghanistan and other parts of the world:
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Based on the presumption that 'water has memory' as described by Dr Emoto, I devised my own water ritual.
May I share it with you: I have a small brown tincture bottle that has a lid fitted with an eyedropper which I bought at a pharmacy. The empty little bottle travelled in my luggage to Hawaii on my pilgrimage to visit my spiritual teacher, Ram Dass. There, I filled the bottle with a little water from his home and left it on his shrine for the duration of my five-day visit. It now filled with my sacred water, travelled back home and I keep it in front of the Buddha on my shrine at home. Every now and then, I might pass a drop of this water on to someone in need. They bring a little bottle of their own which we fill with spring water (from our boreholes) and I add one drop of sacred water from my little bottle. That person's bottle is successed 25 times on the palm of my hand — just as one would do in preparing a homeopathic dilution. There's a nice notion, that my drop of sacred water will potentise the whole new bottle of water, the intention of which is to spread spiritual love, drop by drop to successive generations of sacred water.
I sometimes conduct a personal ritual by taking a beautiful lead-crystal glass and filling it with a little spring water. I add one drop of sacred water to the glass of water. Sitting somewhere comfortable, I hold the glass between my hands, cupping them around it, thus letting Reiki energy and positive intention flow into the water. As I do this, I bless the water: "As I now sit in the presence of my highest-self and God, I bless this glass of water which is now imprinted with the memory of its sacred journey having been collected from my guru's house. As I soon begin to drink this glass of sacred water, I surrender all of my being to its Divine healing properties. As it enters my bloodstream, may it positively alter all the water in my body. May it help erase old water memories of illness, fatigue and mental dullness, thus purifying my mind and healing my body. Amen!" I wait for a minute or so and then slowly drink the glass of water. On multiple occasions, I have reversed various medical conditions that were deemed to be incurable. They weren't life-threatening issues, they were just annoying and uncomfortable. One day, they were there and a week later, they were gone. I cannot tell you whether this happens because of my water ritual, or because of other spiritual practices I perform or even if it happens because of the power of suggestion and the placebo effect. What I can say is that these instances of healing have been remarkable to watch.
Try out this glass-of-water ritual for yourself. You don't have to get a drop of water from me because you can create sacred water for yourself by placing spring water in a glass jar with labels of positive intent stuck all around it. Place the jar in your special place and allow the water in the jar to imprint the affirmations and intentions upon itself. Feel free to share your interesting stories with me. Listen out as I now give you our contact details.