A major study of marine serpent deities, which embodied ancient people's reverence of water.
Early human relationships with water were expressed through beliefs in serpentine aquatic deities: rainbow-coloured, 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.
Veronica Strang is a cultural anthropologist affiliated with Durham University and Oxford University, and a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences. Her previous books include Water: Nature and Culture (2015).
"With passion, rigour and creative depth, Veronica 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, Professor of Anthropology, The 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
"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