The experience of morning dew has been available to people in many lands for centuries. Therefore, its images and symbolism are prevalent in a wide range of mythologies and legends, particularly from ancient times when people lived closer to nature than they do today. These myths and legends help shed light on the human desire to interpret and understand natural phenomena, such as dew (Andrews, Nature vii).
“Dew is moisture that renews the earth. Condensed from the air, it falls in droplets and covers the grass and plant life, seemingly like magic, during the night.” With its sparkle and magical dispensation, people of long ago believed dew to be of celestial origin, as it “healed like rain, cooled like snow, and therefore represented water from some heavenly force” (56).
Many ancient people attributed dew to the sky forces; some associated it with the cold and watery moon which led to the notion of moon dew, a silvery liquid that was sent by lunar gods to nourish the crops; others associated it with the night or thunder. In some Chinese and Japanese myths, dew dripped from the stars; in some Scandinavian myths, it dripped from the bit of the horse that brought night. In an Iroquois’ legend, dew fell from the wings of Oshadagea, the Big Eagle of Dew, who assisted the thunder god and carried a lake of dew on his back to refresh the earth after a fire depletes its vegetation. In a wide range of Classical myths, dew represents the tears of gods and goddesses that lamented their loved ones and fell to the earth as water imbued with the powers from the celestial heavens, to renew life and restore youth (56). These and a vast array of other myths help people understand how dew has been experienced, appreciated, interpreted and understood over time (vii).
While the symbolism of dew is very much like that of rain, its influence is subtler “as the expression of heavenly blessing, it is essentially life-giving grace” (Chevalier and Gheerbrant, Symbols 289). It is pure water with generative powers. Though highly symbolic and even poetic, the reality of dew can be easily missed by those among us today who are too preoccupied to take notice of morning dew and even of nature’s entirety of which they are a minute part.
The ancient Greeks associated dew with fertility myths, particularly pertaining to the love gods and goddesses (290). In Buddhist terms, the “world of the dew” is that of appearances and represents the ephemeral nature of the material things and of life (289). Dew is symbolic of “the light of dawn; spiritual refreshment; […]; Sweet dew is peace and prosperity” and it can represent change and illusion (Cooper, Symbols 50). People today who do not take the time to attend to and value early morning dew likely lack the time and propensity to become familiar with the breadth of nature’s beauty and vulnerabilities.
Ancient peoples battled with and tried to control the forces of nature. Through worship and sacrifice, they tried to placate the gods in an attempt to influence their will (Andrews xii). The ancients revered their nature gods because they feared their power just as they feared neglecting any power strong enough to control the destiny of the world. Thus, the worship of nature involved the reverence of natural phenomena as animated, conscious forces (xii).
The ancients considered natural phenomena as living beings analogous to people but with more power, as was demonstrated to them with the roar of thunder. With awe, they experienced the sight of dew and its evaporation under the sun’s heat. Natural phenomena were mysteries in the ancient world. Back then, people created myths to help them understand the unexplainable, using the best tools available to them: their experience and imagination, as “nature was revealed to them as symbols” (xii). The ancients lived close to nature and treated it with respect as it fulfilled them. In their wonderment of nature, they created myths and legends to explain natural events and influence the forces that control them.
Today, if people take the time to experience dew and seek information about it to help them understand it, they may be largely satisfied with instantaneous explanations derived from a single click on their handheld devices, while the ancients revered and honored the phenomena as if they were miracles. Perhaps in our contemporary culture of instant answers and fast facts, people have lost touch with miracles and no longer recognize the sacred, nor do they invest physical phenomena with spirit as people did long ago.
Depth psychology takes seriously the process of finding “equilibrium in a world unbalanced” (Lorenz, “Forward.” Depth Psychology 7). Myths provide constructs that make order out of chaos. Today, if people can make an effort to see the wonderment in nature and allow it to awaken their imaginations, then perhaps they can embrace myths about “earth-cultivating” humans (Campbell, Power of Myth 23), myths that inspire humans to develop lifestyles that are in accord with nature, and that champion the protection of the environment and the continuation of the planet and of human life. For in this historic hour, the very destiny of the human species and the earth may hinge on a small shift in people’s perspectives on dew.