In this article:
- Water serves a spiritual function for many religions. It’s essential to sustaining life and in connecting people not just to each other, but with their gods.
- Holy water comes in different forms, depending on what you believe in. Some water is holy based on where it’s from, while others are made holy through prayer and consecration.
- Making holy water yourself is surprisingly easy, but may not be considered officially holy.
- However, there are other ways we can bless others and the world with water.
If, like me, you were raised a Roman Catholic, then you’re no stranger to holy water. You’ve seen it, been sprinkled with it, copied how your parents dipped their fingers in the font that held it, and have done the sign of the cross with fingers still damp with it.
Maybe you’ve even tried to taste it (no judgment), or had your cars and your home blessed with it — the whole holy shebang.
We’re told that when something or someone is blessed with holy water, we’re invoking the protection of none other than the Lord on them. It’s why, for example, our homes are deemed safer when they’re blessed, and why people might use holy water to repel and kill vampires and other unsavory creatures.
But what exactly is holy water, and how is it made?
The Significance of Water
Water isn’t just the strongest element in Avatar. In real life, it has a mystical quality to it that connects people to each other, and to their deity of choice. It’s essential to sustaining life, and for many religions, it goes beyond the physical.
In Christianity, we see it used as a symbol for spiritual cleansing, as written about in Ephesians 5:26 and Hebrews 10:22. But it’s also come to stand for capital-G God himself: In the book of Jeremiah, the Lord is described as “the spring of living water.”
Even Jesus, whose title is the Son of God — but is also God himself, but there is only one God… It’s complicated — gets baptized in water, and later on tells people: “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.”
Around the world, water is used in religious rituals of every kind — as a form of blessing, and as something to drink and purify bodies and souls in. In fact, the Kumbh Mela, the largest religious ritual in the world, is all about water: Every 12 years, millions gather at riverbank pilgrimage sites to take a dip in holy rivers and be cleansed from sin.
For Christianity in General
Holy water is present in many kinds of Christian churches, like the Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodoxy, Anglicans, Lutherans, and Methodists, among others.
In the early years, “living” water was found in rivers and streams, which was used to baptize members of the community. This kind of water didn’t receive a special type of blessing.
By the 4th century, still waters began to receive a special blessing at baptismal fonts and pools. Holy water became something people can carry around and bring home for protection against sickness and unclean spirits.
Over time, it became used as a reminder of baptism. The entrances to our churches are flanked by two fonts of holy water you can dip your fingers in, and in certain masses, the priest would sprinkle some on our heads.
For Roman Catholics
Roman Catholics have different kinds of holy water.
The first is what we know simply as holy water, which is what we see in churches and used most commonly in blessings. This water has been blessed with some salt, which acts as a preservative, but salt is also known as a substance that can help ward off evil.
Baptismal holy water, meanwhile, has an extra ingredient: chrism, or anointing oil. This is what’s used for baptizing babies and other new members of the church.
The third kind is Gregorian water, or the “water of consecration.” Aside from the basic ingredients of water and salt, it also includes small amounts of wine and ashes. It’s commonly used by bishops when churches are being consecrated.
Lastly, there is Easter water, which is distributed to churchgoers on Easter Sunday to use at home.
Aside from these types of holy water, there are some kinds of water that aren’t blessed by priests but are believed to have healing powers, such as those found at specific shrines like Lourdes in France.
For Catholics, holy water is often used as parts of sacraments like baptism, marriage, and the anointing of the sick. It’s also used as a way to guard against “the snares of Satan,” — as seen in stories by Saint Teresa of Avila, who was a Doctor of the Church. She wrote about how she used holy water to “put the devils to flight.”
This is also how even non-religious folks know about holy water: through exorcisms in film.
For Eastern Orthodoxy
For believers in the Eastern Orthodox Church, holy water is blessed in two ways.
The first is in a rite called the “Great Blessing of Waters,” which happens on the Feast of Theophany — or the holiday commemorating the visit paid to Jesus as a baby by three Magi. The other time to make holy water is in the “Lesser Blessing of Waters,” conducted as needed throughout the rest of the year.
Like with Roman Catholicism, there are certain springs of water that are believed to be holy on their own. This includes the Life-Giving Spring of the Theotokos in Constantinople, as well as the Pochaev Lavra in Ukraine.
Members of the Eastern Orthodoxy use holy water similarly to Catholics, but they also drink it. It’s common for the faithful to drink holy water every morning.
Though the words “holy water” are more often tied to Christianity, Buddhist traditions are rife with the idea of “blessed water” or “lustral water.” This type of water is used both as a blessing and protection.
In the Theravada tradition, blessed water is made by putting water in a new pot. In a ceremony, a candle is burned and extinguished above the water to represent the elements of fire, air, and earth. Oil and strings are also blessed this way, and Theravādins are then given lustral water to keep in their homes.
Meanwhile, water is blessed in Mahayana Buddhism using sutras and mantras. Once the water is blessed, it is either consumed or used to bless homes.
In the Vajrayana tradition, water is stored in a container called a Bumpa. It symbolizes long life and wisdom.
In Hinduism, water is a representation of God, which is why bathing in holy water is a key element of religious tradition. Holy water, in this sense, is believed to combat evil and purify the soul.
In the aforementioned Kumbh Mela, the word “kumbh” is derived from “kumbha,” or pitcher. Mela, on the other hand, means festival, and so the entire religious event is the festival of the pitcher.
The celebration refers to the pitcher of amrita, or the nectar of immortality produced by gods and demons.
The story goes that the gods and demons fought over the kumbha in a battle that lasted for 12 years. In the fight, four drops of the elixir of immortality spilled — and these four drops became the four sites of the festival of cleansing.
These four sacred sites are the Haridwar on the Ganges River, the Ujjain on the Shipra, the Nashik on the Godavari, and the Prayag or Prayagraj at the point where the Ganges, the Jamuna, and the Sarasvati meet.
The Ganges River is considered a manifestation of Mother Ganga, the goddess of forgiveness and purification, and is the holiest river in Hinduism.
Sunni Muslims call their holy water as Zamzam water, which comes from a spring in Mecca, or the holiest of Muslim cities. Like with other religious traditions, this holy water is used for healing both physical and spiritual illnesses.
Shia Muslims, on the other hand, drink “healing water.” This is often made by dissolving dust from sacred locations like the Karbala in water, and then drinking it as a cure for physical and spiritual ailments. In some traditions, this water is also called light and ambrosia.
So, How Do You Make Holy Water?
Depending on which religion you practice, you can’t always “make” holy water. Given all the above, sometimes holy water is based on where you got the water from, like Lourdes in France and Mecca in Saudi Arabia. Sometimes it’s also a matter of what you put into it, like dust from Karbala in Iraq.
And for other kinds of holy water that involve mostly just salt and water, you have to have the right certifications to make it. Though you can certainly follow the steps involved in making it, it’s not exactly like following a recipe book — most holy water in Christian traditions is considered holy because it’s been blessed by an ordained member of the church.
But if taking a bottle of pre-blessed holy water home isn’t enough for you, then there’s certainly nothing stopping you from going ahead and trying to make your own.
Of course, I can’t speak for other religions, and I certainly have no authority to tell you what to do and which types of mixtures can be holy. I’m just a writer who got curious enough to research the topic. But, I’d like to think the power of holy water comes in the faith one might put in it, and how we believe it becomes more than the sum of its parts when made and used right.
In the Roman Catholic tradition, there are three key things to remember when making holy water.
Making basic holy water starts with blessing some salt. The best kind to use is pure salt, like Kosher salt or natural rock salt, which you can put in a bowl or jar. There are no requirements for the container, so long as it’s reasonably clean and you mark it in a way that will let you avoid confusing it for regular salt when cooking.
From here, the actual blessing is done with a prayer, which you can find in The Roman Ritual. It’s a book you can buy at a Catholic bookstore or order online. The words are:
“Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth. O salt, creature of God, I exorcise you by the living God, by the true God, by the holy God, by the God who ordered you to be poured into the water by Eliseo the Prophet so that its life-giving powers might be restored. I exorcise you so that you may become a means of salvation for believers, that you may bring health of soul and body to all who make use of you, arid that you may put to flight and drive away from the places where you are sprinkled every apparition, villainy, and turn of devilish deceit, and every unclean spirit, adjured by Him Who will come to judge the living and the dead and the world by fire. Amen.”
There’s also a version you can say if you’re blessing the salt with a friend, who functions as a witness to the consecration.
Once you’ve blessed your salt, it’s time to bless the water. Water from lakes, streams, rivers, and other natural sources is best, as tap water tends to have chlorine and other chemicals in it. Be sure to filter your water, though, especially if you plan on sprinkling the final product on yourself.
If you don’t live near a natural source of water, then — at the risk of sounding like Ina Garten — store-bought is fine, too. Just try and use distilled or spring water.
In The Roman Ritual, the words for blessing the water are:
“O water, creature of God, I exorcise you in the name of God the Father almighty, and in the name of Jesus Christ His Son, our Lord, and in the power of the Holy Spirit. I exorcise you so that you may put to flight all the power of the Enemy, and be able to root out and supplant that Enemy with his apostate angels: through the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who will come to judge the living and the dead and the world by fire. Amen.”
If you feel like going the extra mile, you can also search for the original Latin prayer and use that. Just be sure to look up pronunciation guides first — you wouldn’t want to accidentally summon anything with a lack of training.
Once both the water and salt have been blessed, you’ll need to combine them. You do this by adding the salt to the water with your hand, pouring the powder in the shape of the cross. As you do that, you’ll need to recite:
“May this salt and water be mixed together; in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen”
Once this is done, you also have the option of blessing the mixture. This prayer comes from the Book of Blessings:
“Blessed are you, Lord, Almighty God, who deigned to bless us in Christ, the living water of our salvation, and to reform us interiorly, grant that we who are fortified by the sprinkling of or use of this water, the youth of the spirit being renewed by the power of the Holy Spirit, may walk always in newness of life.”
In the Medieval Ages, holy water was considered so powerful that sometimes the fonts that held it had to be locked away from thieves who might use it for unauthorized magic.
But when storing your holy water today, you can use the special bottles — usually simply marked with a cross or an H — that you can find in Catholic bookstores when you go and pick up your copy of The Roman Ritual. But any clean container should work, so long as you keep it separate from, say, regular bottled water so you don’t get confused.
For Catholics, holy water is not allowed to be disposed of in regular plumbing. If you need to throw holy water away, there’s a special basin for doing so in your local church. The basin leads directly into the ground for proper disposal.
A Quick Word on Troubled Waters
The bible tells us that holy water can cleanse, heal, and stand for God himself. But the bible also tells us to stand up for the last, lost, and least of us.
So maybe another way we can add a little more blessing in this world, outside of sprinkling salt and water mixtures on ourselves, is to ensure that everyone has access to life-giving water. There’s also the call to stop the relentless pollution of our water, which only contributes to a climate crisis that threatens the most vulnerable of us.