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Love And Will
Meditation And Recollection
The First Form Of Contemplation
The Mystical Life
The Preparation Of The Mystic
The Second Form Of Contemplation
The Third Form Of Contemplation
The World Of Reality
What Is Mysticism?
Anaximenes And The Air
Animism, Ancient And Modern
Brooks And Streams
Development And Discipline Of Intuition
Earth, Mountains, And Plains
Fire And The Sun
Heracleitus And The Cosmic Fire
Light And Darkness
Man And Nature
Mystic Intuition And Reason
Mystic Receptivity
Nature Mysticism And The Race
Nature Not Symbolic
Nature, And The Absolute
Poetry And Nature Mysticism
Rivers And Death
Rivers And Life
Seasons, Vegetation, Animals
Springs And Wells
Still Waters
The Beautiful And The Ugly
The Charge Of Anthropomorphism
The Expanse Of Heaven--colour
The Immanent Idea
The Moon--a Special Problem
The Ocean
The Waters Under The Earth
Will And Consciousness In Nature
Winds And Clouds

Rivers And Life

A river is but a larger brook. And yet by virtue of its volume, it
manifests features which are peculiarly its own, and exerts
influences which have not alone affected individual moods and
imaginings, but often profoundly modified and moulded the
destinies of peoples and civilisations. The two outstanding
instances are the Nile and the Ganges.

The Nile has attracted to itself, from the dawn of history to the
present day, a peculiar share of wonder and renown. It is the
longest river of its continent--possibly of the world; and the
exploration of its sources is only just completed. It flows
through a limestone country over which, save for its beneficent
action, would drive the parched sands of the Libyan desert. Its
periodic inundations, with their rich deposits of alluvial soil,
repel the encroaching wastes, and solve the problem of the food
supply. Egypt has with good reason been called "the gift of the

This river therefore possesses in a marked degree all the mystic
influences of moving water, and emphasises them by physical
and historical features of exceptional import. What wonder that
it has had so direct a bearing on the spiritual development of the
people on its banks, and that it entered into the very texture of
their lives! It was, for the Egyptian, pre-eminently the sacred
river--deemed to be one of the primitive essences--ranked with
those highest deities who were not visible objects of adoration.
As a form of God "he cannot (says an ancient hymnist) be
figured in stone; he is not to be seen in the sculptured images
upon which men place the united crowns of the North and the
South, furnished with uraei." The honour thus conferred was but
commensurate with the blessings he brought. For in what would
have been a valley of death he was the sole source and sustainer
of life. A further quotation from the beautiful hymn just
mentioned will indicate the affection and mystic emotion he
inspired. "Homage to thee, O Hapi! (i.e. the Nile). Thou comest
forth in this land, and dost come in peace to make Egypt to live,
O thou hidden one, thou guide of the darkness whensoever it is
thy pleasure to be its guide. Thou waterest the fields which Ra
hath created, thou makest all animals to live, thou makest the
land to drink without ceasing; thou descendest the path of
heaven, thou art the friend of meat and drink, thou art the giver
of the grain, and thou makest every place of work to flourish, O
Ptah! . . . If thou wert to be overcome in heaven the gods would
fall down headlong, and mankind would perish."

In this passage the mystic observes how the natural power of
running water to suggest spontaneous movement, and therefore
life, is accentuated and denned by the actual results of the river's
beneficent overflow. And a further step is taken when Hapi is
addressed by the names of Ptah (as above) and Khnemu; for he
is not thus confused with the gods so named, but being the great
life-supplier for the land, he is, like them, regarded as a creative
power. The development of the ideas suggested is thus
essentially parallel to that described in the chapter on the
Teutonic myths of the three subterranean wells and the

But can any distinctive features of the Egyptian religion be
traced to the influences exerted by the phenomena of the Nile?
Most decidedly so--in two directions more especially. That
religion is one of contrasts; it represents the world as a scene of
titanic conflict. The realm of Osiris is opposed to that of
Typhon--creation to destruction. And the master influence in
shaping the form in which these contrasts were conceived was
undoubtedly the Nile. On one side barren rocks and parched
sands, and on the other the fertilising powers of the sacred
stream. All around, vast solitudes, and along the river the hum
of teeming communities and the rich fullness of prosperous
civilisations. The world was visibly, for the Egyptian, a fierce
recurring battle between life and death.

And springing out of this appears the second great influence to
be attributed to the famous river. The Egyptian grasped firmly
and developed fully the doctrine of immortality. Doubtless
many factors contributed to the peculiar form which his belief
assumed, but none would be of more importance than the ever
renewed gift of life which the Nile brought from an unknown
and an unseen world. Hence also the connection between the
Nile-god and Osiris, the god of the resurrection. So deeply were
the world-views and spiritual experiences of the Egyptians
influenced by the mystic's powers of the Nile--by the immanent
ideas therein made concrete. The Egyptians, in their turn,
influenced the Hebrews, the Greeks, and the Romans; and these,
again, have influenced the race. Who shall estimate the effect
on the human mind of the physical phenomena of this single

When we turn to the story of the Ganges, a further mystical
concept comes into view--that of purification. It is manifestly
suggested by the cleansing qualities of water, and has exercised
an important function in the development of certain moral ideas
and ideals. Bathing in running water to cleanse the stains of the
body led on to, and combined with, the concept of cleansing the
stains of the soul. But even thus the dominant suggestion of life
declares itself, as is specially obvious in the case of Christian
baptism, where the washing with water symbolises not only the
cleansing of the soul, but the new birth, the higher life of the
spirit. It is by keeping in mind these blended concepts that we
shall best understand the story of the Ganges.

All the larger rivers of India are looked upon as abodes and
vehicles of the divine essence, and therefore as possessed of
power to cleanse from moral guilt. Their banks, from source to
sea, are holy ground, and pilgrims plod their way along them to
win merit--a merit that is measured by the years of travel and
the sanctity of the stream. Of all the great rivers in this ancient
land, the Ganges is the noblest. Mother Ganga, stands supreme.
No water such as hers for washing away the stains of the most
heinous crimes. She has bands of priests who call themselves
her "Sons," and who conduct pilgrims down the flights of steps
that line her banks, aid them in their ablutions, and declare them
clean. To die and to be buried near the stream is in itself
sufficient to win an entrance to the realms of bliss. "Those who,
even at a distance of a hundred leagues, cry Ganga, Ganga,
atone for the sins committed during three previous lives." In
short, the hold the river has obtained upon the affections and
imaginations of the Hindus is marvellously firm and lasting.

Of course a river so renowned has its wreath of myths and
legends, characterised, in this instance, by the prodigality of the
Eastern mind. It is not necessary to linger over these, save in so
far as to note that they ascribe a divine origin to the sacred
stream; the sense of power and movement issuing from the
world of the unseen is no less strong than that aroused by the
Nile; though it finds strangely different modes of expression, its
essential character is the same. Interesting and typical is the
Hindu belief that the spot where flow together the waters of the
Ganges, the Jumna and the Sarasvati is one of the most
hallowed in a land of holy places. "These three sacred rivers
form a kind of Tri-murti, or triad, often personified as
goddesses, and called 'Mothers.'" With such facts in view, it
would be hard to exaggerate the influence of rivers on the
development of the Hindu's speculation and practice, and more
especially of his mysticism.

Such intuitions and beliefs find their full flower in the
conception of the river of life--the stream, pure as crystal, that,
with exulting movement onward, brings to men the thrill of
hope and the inspiration of progress to a world beyond. It pulses
and swings in the glorious sunshine--it reflects the blue of
heaven--it sweeps superbly with unsullied current past every
obstacle, and bursts through every barrier:

at ille
Labitur et labetur in omne volubilis aevum.

Yes, the Nile, the Ganges, the Rhine, the Thames, and a
thousand other rivers of renown have had, and still have, their
part to play in the cosmic drama and in the development of
man's spiritual nature. Generation after generation has found
them to be capable of stirring peculiar emotions, and of
stimulating profound thoughts on the mystery of life. And all
these powers are concentrated and sublimated in this glorious
vision of "the river of water of life that flows from the throne
of God."

Next: Rivers And Death

Previous: Brooks And Streams

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