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Water Beings: From Nature Worship to the Environmental Crisis

Water Beings: From Nature Worship to the Environmental Crisis

Current price: $45.00
Publication Date: May 4th, 2023
Reaktion Books
The MIT Press Bookstore
1 on hand, as of Feb 23 6:03pm
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Looking to the vast human history of water worship, a crucial study of our broken relationship with all things aquatic—and how we might mend it.
Early human relationships with water were expressed through beliefs in serpentine aquatic deities: rainbow-colored, feathered or horned serpents, giant anacondas, and dragons. Representing the powers of water, these beings were bringers of life and sustenance, world creators, ancestors, guardian spirits, and lawmakers. Worshipped and appeased, they embodied people’s respect for water and its vital role in sustaining all living things. Yet today, though we still recognize that “water is life,” fresh- and saltwater ecosystems have been critically compromised by human activities. This major study of water beings and what has happened to them in different cultural and historical contexts demonstrates how and why some—but not all—societies have moved from worshipping water to wreaking havoc upon it and asks what we can do to turn the tide.

About the Author

Veronica Strang is a cultural anthropologist affiliated with Durham University and Oxford University as well as a fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences. She is the author of many books, including What Anthropologists Do and Gardening the World. 

Praise for Water Beings: From Nature Worship to the Environmental Crisis

"This beautifully crafted nonfiction [book] traces how humanity plunged from worshiping water to wreaking havoc on it. Strang’s study ranges from the ancient serpentine deities that represented the power of water as a bringer of life to today’s exploitation and pollution of our most precious resource."
— Sunday Post, Scotland

"Early human relationships with water were expressed through beliefs in serpentine aquatic deities. This looks into the vast human history of water worship and of our broken relationship with all things aquatic."
— Outdoor Swimmer

"Worthy of high praise. . . . Anthropologically and archaeologically stunning as well as artistically rewarding. . . . This interdisciplinary visual story is a wondrous homage to water."
— Visions for Sustainability Journal

"A far-ranging and gorgeously illustrated study, Water Beings explores humanity's enduring but always transforming connections to the wellsprings of life. A profound and entertaining book for a time when reimagining humanity’s future has never been more vital."
— Caspar Henderson, author of "The Book of Barely Imagined Beings"

"With passion, rigor and creative depth, Strang eloquently takes readers across the world to further our understanding of water's natural, cultural, and symbolic qualities. Water beings are brought to life alongside relational beliefs and practices. This is a magnificent work that reflects a rich human/water/culture relationship, and explores possibilities to avoid a climate crisis future."
— Sandy Toussaint, University of Western Australia

"A spellbinding anthropological itinerary through the winding ways of serpentine water beings as they have manifested through history and across cultures. Luminously illustrated, ingeniously researched, and beautifully narrated, Strang’s book is a treasure, a store of revelatory stories about how materiality, meaning, and myth have intertwined to create the aqueous spirits and deities that have accompanied human being and becoming."
— Stefan Helmreich, Elting E. Morison Professor of Anthropology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology