Water is one of the classical elements of Greek philosophy and science. Pre-Socratic philosophers proposed it as an archai, or an single substance to which all things could be reduced. In the fifth century BCE, Empedocles proposed four archai to which all things could be reduced, water, air, fire and earth. Plato later accepted this concept and expounded on it in the Timaeus. Aristotle later elaborated on these ideas by giving the elemental substances properties and order. Water, being both cold and wet exists between air and earth among the elemental spheres.
In Hindu tradition, water is one of the Panchamahabhuta, or Five Great Elements and the word '''Ap''', plural '''Apas''' is also the name of the deva of water.
Traditional Chinese philosophy classifies water of one of the Wu xing or '''five movements'''. Water is yin; feminine and receptive with downward energy and still motion. The Taoist mystery of water lies in its seeming weakness and pliancy contrasted against the power of floods and its ability to move mountains over the expanse of time. Water is spawned by metal, spawns wood, overcomes fire and is overcome by earth.
The ritual area, participants and tools are often cleansed by asperging with water at the start of a ritual or as part of a ritual. Often salt is added to the water, either to make it more closely resemble seawater, or the waters of the womb, or to blend the energies of earth with those of water.
The Golden Dawn system has incorporated the ancient Greek elemental system into its ceremonial magical system and aligns water with the Qabalistic sphere Hod and the planet Mercury and is assigned to the upper right point of the pentagram in the Supreme Invoking Ritual of the Pentagram. The elemental weapon of water is the cup or chalice.
In Wiccan tradition the element of water may be called in association with the Watchtower of the West. In addition to this, the element of water or water elementals may be invoked or evoked in spells and rituals relating to purification, love, psychic awareness, understanding, dreams, sleep, peace and friendship.
In ancient Greek medicine, water is associated with an excess of phlegm. Medieval medicine continued this course associating it also with winter and illnesses common in the winter. The cure therefore for phlegmatic conditions, that is, cold and wet, would be to balance the body with warm and dry through the use of herbs and other items related to the element of fire.
In traditional Chinese medicine, water is associated with the kidneys, ears and bones.
The chemical element mercury is often associated with water.
The alchemical symbol for water is a downward pointing triangle.
Herbs associated with the element of water tend to be juicy and cooling with a light fragrance. Plants that grow in or near water are also sympathetically associated with the element. Their action tends to be cleansing and soothing.
Crystals and stones associated with the element of water are often blue in color, transparent or opalescent or they may be more likely to be found in and around water.
The signs Scorpio, Cancer and Pisces are associated with the element of water. Water personalities are associated with the positive traits of kindness, empathy, nurturance, sympathy and intuition. On the negative side they are associated with the traits of neediness, over sentimentality, irrationality and the tendency to assume they understand, whether they do or not.
In Chinese astrology water is included in the 10 heavenly stems (the five elements in their yin and yang forms), which combine with the 12 earthly branches (or Chinese signs of the zodiac), to form the 60 year cycle. Yang water years end in 2 (eg 1992), while Yin years end in 3 (eg 1993). Water governs the Chinese zodiac signs Pig, Rat and Ox.
The suit of Cups symbolizes the element of water and relates to those things relating to the family, loving relationships and emotions.
The Hanging Man is also associated with the element of water.
According to various Western traditions, the element water is associated with the color blue, the Winter, the West, the brain, the womb and feminine energy. Animals associated with water include eagles, snakes, scorpions, bears, dolphins, seals, turtles, frogs and fish. The astral creatures of water, include the Undines, mermaids, oreads, naiads, sea serpents, the archangel Gabriel, and the angel Taliahad. Also, cymbals, bells, and all resonant instruments are aligned with the element of water.
In Chinese and Taoist tradition, water is associated with the moon which causes dew to fall. It is representative of flexibility, softness, wisdom, and pliancy and an overabundance leads to difficulty staying on track with plans and commitments. The Primal Spirit of water is represented by a black tortoise.
In many traditions the soul travels westward after death. Many traditions also tell that the soul crosses water of some sort to go to the afterlife. Moving bodies of water are a good conduit for messages to those who have crossed over.