Designing with the Goddess in Mind: A Meditation on Greek Spring Fountains by Carol P. Christ

During the past week I have been thinking about Greek spring fountains while designing a water fountain for my new apartment in Heraklion, Crete. When the architect sent photos showing that the tiles had been removed from my balconies, I noticed an enclosed niche that could be used for stacking wood, turned into a closet, or as I began to imagine, would be the perfect place for a fountain to bring the soothing sound of running water to my balcony.

balcony view


balcony niche

The general design was immediately apparent to me. The water spout would be on the back wall, a low wall at the front of the niche would enclose a water basin, and a motor would recirculate the water. All that remained were the details. I hoped to find a traditional water spout, the sort that looks to me like a womb and to place an image of the Goddess on a shelf on the wall above it.

Greek water fountains are traditionally found at spring sources. Altars and shrines both pre-Christian and Christian were often built near springs. The water spout that looks like a womb can be understood in “the language of the Goddess” as a symbol of Goddess as the Source of Life. Just as women give birth through their wombs with a great rush of watery liquid, even more so the spring gives birth to life, sustaining not only humans, but also animals and plants. The connection of female bodies to the spring source is intensified when we remember that in the division of labor in traditional societies, women and girls are almost always the ones who go to the springs to collect water and bring it home.

When water moves through the traditional spout, it fills the “womb-space” before spilling out through a “vaginal” opening. I find the movement of the water through the spout incredibly beautiful, touching, and erotic. You can see the water moving in the spout in the video I found while searching for images of traditional water fountains. The video shows young women singing a traditional Cypriot song about a special spring fountain with water that heals the sick and makes women beautiful.

Watching this video again and yet again, I feel transported back to Sappho’s school. The singers wear little make-up and eschew the fashionable sexy clothing so many young women in Greece and elsewhere in the modern world prefer. They radiate innocence.

In The Dancing Goddesses, Elizabeth Wayland Barber writes that all over Europe and up until recent times, young unmarried girls went out together in the spring to dance by rivers. Their dancing helped to stimulate the fertility of the earth. Wayland Barber hypothesized that only unmarried girls participated in this dance because their fertility was most powerful because it was stored up, untapped, not yet used to create children.

When I first read this explanation, I was not sure if I liked it or agreed with it. But one night in Piraeus when a newly engaged young woman led the dance at a local taverna, I understood. This young woman was still a girl, yet she danced with assurance of her power to create life. I could almost physically feel seeds from her soon to be fertile womb spilling out onto the floor as she danced.

I had a similar sensation as I watched the young women singing about the special spring. Unlike the newly engaged girl at the taverna, they seemed not to be thinking about men or marriage, but rather to be wholly involved with each other and their song. Their power was in their singular focus. This, I imagine, was also the situation of Sappho’s students.

I searched high and low on line and on the telephone and sent my architect to search, but unfortunately, we were unable to locate a traditional spout—new or used—for my fountain.

fountain in progress

All we could find were brass taps, many with with dragon mouths, and lion head spouts. At first, I rejected the idea of a lion head spout, because lions have been understood to be a symbol of male power: in Crete, the emblem of the overlords from Venice. But this lion grew on me, I especially liked his open, interested eyes. I decided to choose him and for the water to pour forth from his mouth into my pool.

lion spout

He is not a Lion King. She is the Water, the Source if Life. He is Her child.


Carol P. Christ is an internationally known feminist and ecofeminist writer, activist, and educator who will soon be moving to Heraklion, Crete. Carol’s recent books are  Goddess and God in the World: Conversations in Embodied Theology and A Serpentine Path: Mysteries of the Goddess. Carol has been leading Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete for over twenty years: join her in Crete. Carol’s photo by Michael Honneger.

Listen to Carol’s a-mazing interview with Mary Hynes on CBC’s Tapestry recorded in conjunction with her keynote address to the Parliament of World’s Religions.

Categories: Feminism and Religion, General, Goddess

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

9 replies

  1. What an inspired project, how lovely that you’ll soon have your own fountain, I’m sure it will bring you much pleasure and continued inspiration. I live all the symbolism it brings, thank you for sharing that. I love the empowerment messages we find in goddesses.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The singing in the video is exquisitely beautiful. Thank you for including it. May your settling in to your new apartment go smoothly.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Lions are amazing mothers to their cubs. I love that video. Enjoy what will be your amazing fountain. The concept reminds me of the chalice well in Glastonbury England. Healing, fertility, nurturing, all.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I could see the foundation on your balcony coming to life… how exciting for you to be doing all this during the spring – this spring especially – when we are slipping in and out of chaos/fear/confusion/disbelief…
    I love fountains – I love water period – and yes, of course the waters rise with the women who honor them – then and now…
    Every night I sleep with an open window so I can hear the sound of the rising brook beneath the house and listen for wood frogs… early spring in Maine is a wondrous time of becoming…
    But back to you – please share more about your evolving home – oh Carol, I do wish you well.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Thanks, Carol, for this delightful post. Including the video of the Cypriot women singing started out my day in joy.

    Water is life, something we all need to understand in these days when it is becoming a critical “resource” in many places around the world. Hearing it splashing is a healing sound, immediately returning us to the placidity of one of the Goddess’s faces. Enjoy your fountain!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Thank you so much for sharing your fountain and song. Both cheered my heart. What I took from your story was how rewarding flexibility can be – so often its our fixation on a preconception that keeps pleasure at bay.

    I also have a small water feature in my yard. It is a hole in the ground lined in plastic, held in place and disguised with flat slabs of stone- planes of sedimentary rock, laid down in layers eons ago underwater – silt drifting down in incremental grains until some tipping point of weight turned clay to stone. It’s a weird combination of old and new, but both stone and plastic are products of transformation.

    I seem to have gotten off topic here- flowing ideas rather like water. I noticed that your tiles closely resemble the shape you sought for your fountain’s mouth. It was a joy to read this. May blessings flow around you and through you.


  7. Thank you sharing your inspired design process with us. I can hear the sound of the water. The video of the song, made me think of the hum of bees in parts. Blessings on your new home.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Interesting Elizabeth I heard bees too!
    Bee Goddess!

    Liked by 1 person

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