Updated: Jun 24
A Cross-Cultural Examination on the History and Symbolism of Baptism in Hinduism, Paganism, and Christianity
Integral Health and Yoga Therapy, California Institute for Human Sciences
IH 652: Subtle Energy Systems
Dr. Mali Burgess
June 14, 2022
This paper is an in-depth exploration of the sacramental practice of baptism as performed in Christianity, Paganism, and Hinduism, and how this relates to subtle energy systems including the chakras, angels, and body systems. Research on this theme examined commonalities throughout these three religions regarding the symbolism of water as used in purification, births, weddings, and other ceremonies or rituals. Additional studies explored possible connections to the various ways in which water spirits are represented throughout the aforementioned cultures and religions.
A Cross-Cultural Examination on the History and Symbolism of Baptism in Hinduism, Paganism, and Christianity
The Symbolism of Water Throughout Religions
Water is cross-culturally significant, vital to life and human existence. The scientific theory of evolution indicates that humans have adapted from a land-sea environment, and water is essential to human survival because without it life can not be sustained. Notably, the sac of amniotic fluid inside the mother is the first home a fetus has (Odent, 1993). Central in all cultures and religions, water is a sacred gift to humanity, whether it be motherhood, hot springs, rivers, or baptisms (Odent, 1993; Khan, 2014). Khan (2014) explains that water is a symbol of life, or God, and therefore represents purification, spiritual redemption, wisdom, and honorable virtue.
Many Hindus and yogis believe in and practice the esoteric science of Ayurveda. Medical specialties including pediatrics, gynecology, general medicine, and surgery are addressed in Ayurveda. The specialists study and practice how these function in relation to body tissue, bodily excretions, and the body, mind, and spirit connection. Another fundamental theory in Ayurveda is the belief and understanding of, what in Sanskrit is referred to as, pancha maha bhuta: the five great elements. All living bodies on Earth are comprised of the five great elements. Vibrations in space are the first to form, this element is called ether. Subtle movements in the ether create the element of air, and friction in the ether creates fire (Lad, 1984).
Through the heat of the Fire, certain ethereal elements dissolved and liquified, manifesting the Water element, and then solidified to form the molecules of Earth. In this way, Ether manifested into the four elements of Air, Fire, Water and Earth. (Lad, 1984, p. 21)
It is further believed that all matter holds properties of the five basic elements and that the elements of ether, air, fire, water, and earth come from the energy of the “Cosmic Consciousness: all five are present in all matter in the universe” (Lad, 1984, p. 22).
Christianity implements the use of magnetized water, which has also been infused with the fiery element of salt, to create holy water to cleanse and enhance the soul’s connection to the body and wash away evil thoughts and feelings (Powell, 1927). Hinduism recognizes water as being connected with God and having the ability to cleanse and revitalize the mind, body, and spirit, eliminate evil, and ensure fertile lands (Khan, 2014). Paganism recognizes water as one of the five elements necessary for earthly physical existence and represents human emotions, intuition, wisdom, and the subconscious (Higginbotham & Higgenbotham, 2003). Higginbotham and Higgenbotham (2003) also wrote that Pagans recognize water as a vital element to be represented on the sacred altar in magickal workings. All three belief systems highlight the significance of water, especially recognizing the qualities that represent life and purification.
History of Baptism
Steiner (1909) highlighted the state of the etheric body during baptisms performed by John the Baptist. John the Baptist would submerge an individual in water causing the etheric body to separate from the physical body, allowing the astral body to become aware of the connection to the divine and spiritual world (Steiner, 1909).
To make it a little clearer, we can say that when the submersion was successful it produced in the disciple the conviction: I have spirit within me; I am not just a being in this physical-material body; and this spirit within me is one with the spirit underlying all things. (Steiner, 1909, para. 2)
Baptism, as understood today, may have originated in Christianity, however the use of water in various rituals and ceremonies has been significant in other cultures as well.
History of Baptism in Christianity
In Christianity, the Book of Genesis claimed that water was the universe’s primordial substance and that it symbolized the fountain of God, responsible for rain, abundance, grace, joy, and life (Khan, 2014). Baptism is a method by which a person is able to open their soul to Christ (Steiner, 1909). When John the Baptist submerged the body in water separating the etheric body from the physical body to reveal the spiritual world, if the one receiving the baptism was open to receiving the energy of Christ, the astral body would flow into the etheric body and a sense of clairvoyance would form (Steiner, 1909).
History of Baptism in Paganism
As written by Higgenbotham and Higgenbotham (2003), when Pagan parents welcomed a baby into their life, there was no need to pledge their faith to Paganism because their faith existed just as energy existed, therefore there was no ceremony where an infant became Pagan. They did, however, celebrate the arrival of new life with the friends and family of the baby to show support for the parents and offer the child blessings (Higgenbotham & Higgenbotham, 2003).
Baptism in Pagan Weddings
The movement that swept throughout the Pagan community in which Pagans were converted to Christianity created a merging of religious traditions. One example of this was in the practice of marriage, “a Pagan marriage could be recognized by the Christian church after the couple received the sacrament of Baptism” (Leeming, 1954, p. 7). Leeming (1954) explained that there was a natural and supernatural bond in any marriage, and in Paganism, although the bond was there, it was still lacking the union between Christ and the Church, therefore in order to recognize the sacrament of marriage in the eyes of the church a baptism needed to take place.
The Symbolism of Water in Pagan Weddings
Pagans hold water to be one of the fundamental elements for life on Earth. Pagans associate water with intuition and the higher self as well as sexuality and fertility (Higginbotham & Higgenbotham, 2003). Water is represented in some form at major ceremonies, such as a wedding.
Fountains are often found on the reception tables of upscale weddings, more for the spectacle of it than for any ancient symbolism, but the fountain can symbolize overflowing love whether the unwitting brides and bridegrooms are aware of it or not. (Kaldera & Schwartzstein, 2019, p. 296)
Many traditional Pagan weddings also display small figures such as mermaids, shells, and water to invoke the powers of river and sea Goddesses who are often known to oversee love and marriage (Kaldera & Schwartzstein, 2019).
The Symbolism of Water in Hindu Rituals
The core constitution of many Hindu rituals is to purify the body and soul and increase the connection to the higher bodies and to God (Joshi & Fawcett, 2001). The Hindus do not pray to the sacred water that absorbs pollutants and washes them away, but rather they pray to the “source of life and spirituality within water” (Joshi & Fawcett, 2001, p.3).
History of Baptism in Hinduism
Hinduism dates back to around 1500 BC from the area of what is now Pakistan. Hindu sacred texts were written in Sanskrit, as were the philosophies of yoga (Gatrad et al., 2004). Water is especially sacred in Hinduism for its spiritually cleansing and healing properties, especially rivers such as the Ganges (Khan, 2014). Although not traditionally called a baptism, Hindus believe that those who bathe in the Ganges, or if a part of themselves such as hair or bone is left on the bank of the river, they will reach paradise (Khan, 2014). Even though Hindu society “is based on a very rigid caste system that forbids interaction between different castes, sacred rivers function as great equalizers. In the sacred water, distinctions of caste are dissolved, as all sins fall away” (Khan, 2014, para. 8).
Customs of Water at Birth and Death in Hinduism
In Hindu culture, women are often seen as impure due to “their bodily secretions during their menstrual cycle and immediately after childbirth” (Joshi & Fawcett, 2001, p. 5). Touching a woman who is menstruating or within the first ten days after childbirth is considered a form of pollution and water is a means to purify this pollution (Joshi & Fawcett, 2001). In India, there are still some Hindus who believe it is best not to breastfeed a newborn for two days after birth as the female is seen as impure. Therefore, female family members will wash the breasts of the nursing mother before breastfeeding can begin (Gatrad et al., 2004). If a baby dies a ritual is held where the body is washed and a cup of water is placed at the grave near the baby’s head (Gatrad et al., 2004). A sip of the liquid from the Ganges is often given to a dying Hindu when possible since it is believed to hold sacred and purifying properties (Khan, 2014). Another ritual that is sometimes performed at a funeral involves the son of the deceased dripping water around the burning body on the pyre to prevent the soul from escaping the body and becoming a ghost (Khan, 2014).
When the heat of the pyre cracks the skull of the corpse, the mourners bathe in the river and return home. On the third day, after the cremation the ashes are collected and, on or after the 10th day they are cast into a holy river. (Khan, 2014, para. 9)
Subtle Energy Symbolism in Baptism
Energy is everywhere in everything and it is no surprise that energy is referenced in the sacramental ritual of baptism. In addition to energy, the spirit is also everything and everywhere. “First, we must recall that spiritual processes underlie really all physical processes — even those that pertain to the human being” (Steiner, 1909, para. 7). Most people, especially parents of a newborn, would agree that encouraging what is good for a child and eliminating what is not would be ideal for any child. Powell (n.d.) wrote that the sacrament of baptism is specifically intended to ward off negativity and encourage what is good by using a high vibrational frequency of magnetized water to stimulate a child’s astral and mental bodies to eliminate “germs of evil” (Powell, n.d., p. 153). The baptism also honors the higher bodies of the soul and allows a child’s vehicles to set forth a powerful energetic alignment and restoration (Powell, n.d.).
Hinduism, Paganism, and Christianity all refer to the chakras in some manner. Hinduism has many common references to the chakras and the “seven chakras correlate with the seven Christian sacraments” (Higgenbotham & Higgenbotham, 2003, p. 169). The sacrament of baptism relates to the root chakra and symbolizes birth and life. The sacral chakra is associated with the sacrament of communion and represents honor in relationships (Higgenbotham & Higgenbotham, 2003). The sacrament of last rites is related to the crown chakra which “represents our connection to spirit” (Higgenbotham & Higgenbotham, 2003, p. 169). During a Christian baptism the priest draws a cross over the child’s third eye, throat, heart, and solar plexus chakras so that they open up and flow without debris (Powell, 1927). Powell (1927) noted that when the magnetized holy water is rubbed across the forehead, it acts as an aid in stimulating the brain and pituitary gland, and vibrates through the mental, astral, etheric, and physical bodies.
Angels, Devas, Fairies, and Sylphs
Whether called angels, fairies, fates, devas or sylphs there is a common idealogy between Paganism, Christianity, and Hiduism that a new baby is likely to be blessed with some sort of guardian entity. According to Powell (n.d.), during a baptism with consecrated water the chakras are balanced and begin flowing rapidly, and when they begin to do so a thought form, commonly referred to as a guardian angel develops, which in Christianity is believed to be Christ. Powell (n.d.) referred to these divine force thought forms as sylphs that later grow into seraphs. Similarly in Paganism, a Deity is chosen or assigned. “Pagans have many images of Deity, including multiple images, male, female, animal, energy or spirit images, or no images at all” (Higgenbotham & Higgenbotham, 2003, p. 40). In Pagan culture, the birth-spirit fairies are called Fates. “Following a baby’s birth it was customary to lay an offering table for fairies who were expected to arrive and bestow the baby’s fate” (Illes, 2005, p. 433). Three spirits were most commonly bestowed but sometimes there was only one, and there could be as many as 12. South Albanian fairies are called Fatit, Serbian spirits are called Oosood, and are visible only to the mother of the child and appear seven days after birth (Illes, 2005).
The various human bodies, from the dense physical body to the subtler etheric, astral, and mental bodies, are all interconnected and influenced by water. Many religions and cultures recognize water as spiritual or sacred. Water is used as a sacred element to purify the body, mind, and spirit. This purification can take place either in a full-body submersion baptism, a chakra activating baptism with water placed on particular areas of the body, or other various rituals in Christianity, Paganism, and Hinduism. It can represent life and God Water is adaptive in its commonality within all living things.
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