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Rebus: Where Words and Images Meet: Theology - Symbolism

In the world of the Arts and Sciences, we value words and things. And we value the interplay of both to gain meaning, insights, and new perspectives. Though we offer no puzzles here, in this inaugural edition of REBUS, we do offer various observations on

Womb of the World, Goblet of the Gods: Water as Religious Symbol by Dr. Marc Pugliese

 Traveling far enough in any direction leads to an ocean. This simple fact led ancient peoples in all places to wonder if water is ultimate reality. Standing at the ocean’s edge still evokes for moderns multiplex feelings of primordial boundlessness, origins, awe, and profound peace all at the same time. Then it seems we intuitively know that water is more than just one more thing in the world.


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Discussion Questions

1. What is the thesis of the essay? Has the essay satisfactorily proven it? Why or why not?


2. How does the essay distinguish between a “sign” and “symbol”? Use one example of water as a religious symbol in the essay and explain how it is a “symbol” instead of a “sign” according to this distinction?


3. Identify at least one assumption of the author. Do you agree or disagree with this assumption? Why or why not?


4. Compare and contrast how water functions in the creation stories of at least two different religious traditions?


5. What function for people does water serve when it is used as a religious symbol? What need is it meeting or what question is it answering? Can you think of a way water symbolism could possibly function in a similar way for people today who are not adherents of any of the religious traditions discussed in the essay?


6. How have the other four traditional “elements” (i.e., fire, air, earth, etc.) functioned as a religious symbols?




Websites that discuss "natural" elements as religious symbols:



Abrams, Paula. The Water Page.


Protas, Allison. Dictionary of Symbolism.


Witcombe, Chris and Sang Hwang. H20 - The Mystery, Art, and Science of Water. Sweet Briar College.