Thales (one of earliest Greek philosophers) said, as reported by Hippolytus, in the Refutation of all Heresies

the archê (principle) and the end of all things is water. All things acquire firmness as this solidifies, and again as it is melted their existence is threatened; to this are due earthquakes and whirlwinds and movements of the stars. And all things are movable and in a fluid state, the character of the compound being determined by the nature of the principle from which it springs

And in the Rig-Veda, verse 10.129:

There was neither existence nor non-existence then.

There was neither sky nor heaven beyond it.

What covered it and where? What sheltered?

Was there an abyss of water?

And, in Genesis, at the very beginning we have:

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

And the earth was without form, and void;

and darkness was upon the face of the deep.

And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

Does this point towards a common Indo-Aryan philosophic culture?


A curious feature is that:

in [modern] cosmology we typically model the matter filling the universe as a perfect fluid.

From Carrolls spacetime and geometry, a textbook on GR ie not a popular account.

  • I think it's just indicative of the ubiquity of water on Earth more than anything else. If these different cultures all alluded to something like bismuth as a creative principle instead of water, that might really be evidence of common cultural origin.
    – David H
    Dec 12, 2014 at 15:57
  • I kind of agree, but isn't dirt more common in human experience? (I mean, we named the place Earth.) Not as many myths involve it. (The prime examples are tree-motifs, or burrowing animal motifs. I find these hard to relate to. For instance, the Norse origin stories are just outright stupid -- and one half of those are even about ice.) I do believe water is special in some sense.
    – user9166
    Dec 12, 2014 at 16:16
  • 1
    This is a very interesting question. A solution would involve something from C.G. Jung. As an example, his commentaries (in seminar form) on Nietzsche's Zarathustra. Jung says a lot on 'water'. I know enough from neuroscience to relate your question to neurochemistry and ultimately neurophilosphy. The brain is a 'wet-quantum computer'. Ultimately, Joseph Campbell would call the significance of 'water', "cross-cultural" (it is not something exclusive to Indo-European significance). Follow the index in any of Jung's, Freuds, or Cambell's works. Dec 12, 2014 at 18:51
  • 2
    Incidentally (@DarcyDavis): it is not at all clear that a brain is in any meaningful way a "quantum computer", though 'wet' is surely apt. Dec 12, 2014 at 21:04
  • @Mozibur, do you mean to imply that "water as a creative principle" is not a theme of non-Indo-European cultures? Dec 12, 2014 at 22:28

3 Answers 3


Jung once floated a theory on Thales that the easiest thing to imagine all things made of is water because it is one of the pure substances we see in all three forms in a non-technological culture. Seeing ice or mist become water and realizing that they are the same substance is a major, striking scientific development that has spoken profoundly to integrative thinkers.

This phenomenon strongly influences various associations water has as an 'element'. It emphasizes the already notable flexibility of the substance to realize that even that flexibility is flexible. If anything was everything, the seemingly infinite changeability of water makes it a prime candidate.

At the same time, water has a range of roles in the lives of people near the sea, or in places where very bad weather is about precipitation. It is associated with is the most necessary functions, but also often the most dangerous situations one can be in -- storms, especially at sea, are 'angry' water. We like to imagine the early world as either empty and infinitely peaceful or ultimately chaotic, and those two states are modeled in most places by pools or storms, and therefore as water. Clearly what is comes out of what was 'before it was'.

Either through those associations or others, the core meaning of alchemical water is tied up with femininity -- flexibility, extreme anger and extreme peace, the hidden power implicit in the two roles of 'necessary' wife and 'punitive'mother, Kwan Yin and Kali Ma. It is also clear that human life comes, literally, from women. So creation myths around water are often seen from a psychoanalytic point of view as recognizing the power of women as the a active givers of life. Modeling 'the above' on 'the below', we are made both 'by' and 'of' our mothers (not to mention amniotic fluid) and so the world emerges from water.

So I think there are enough naturally occurring sources of this motif that we would not need to suppose common sources. I think that to the degree these messages are expressions of shared roots, those roots are less information-transmission than they are natural observations cultures make, which predict impending intellectual development.


First, the scientific axiom - correlation is not causation. I do not think there were common sources.

Water is that which is necessary to life more than any other material thing in this world. A person can go weeks without food, but only days without water.

From an Eastern perspective, water was the first object of worship in Hinduism (See Myths and Symbols in Indian Art and Civilization by Heinrich Zimmer). Even today, vedic altars will have some vessel with water in it.

The Rig Veda says that when the universe was first projected out of Brahman, the waters (materials for the universe) were first created. Then Brahma (the creator) was created.


I will give you a short answear. Let's start with Thales, he traveled in many countries including Egypt. Therefore one of the main reasons for water being common material of creation is, he probably saw how when floods of Nile receded from the lands, all livng creatures started to "shine", plants growing, animals moving towards the water.

Also if you think about how water turns to ice, steam and then can go back to its natural form, you probably would think it's easly transformable, so maybe you can create everything from it.

Another reason is, you know water is more than the land on earth and even first men needed water for them to live, so water was essential for living. Knowing this that water gives life maybe water is the essence, the beginning of this life.

Also the womb of women contains water, and since we come from there, but not only we but also the mammals, so water if you are in the old times and you know nothing about big bang, genetics and etc, why would not it be so?

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .