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A Pilgrimage to the World’s ‘Sacred Waters’

In 2009, photographer John Stanmeyer set off on a pilgrimage of sorts to document how different cultures use water in spiritual ritual.

Over the course of seven months, Stanmeyer’s journey took him to 12 nations: Egypt, France, Haiti, India, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, Mexico, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine and the United States. Along the way, he witnessed everything from the carving of a giant cross into a frozen river in Maine, to a city-wide water fight in Laos.

When you compare various faiths around the world, Stanmeyer says, it quickly becomes apparent that the uses of water in religion are nearly universal and similar across cultures.

“Spiritually, we seem to have evolved for millenniums to have a dire need for having a very meaningful, layered spiritual connection with water….Needing it as much as we need it in many ways as consumption,” Stanmeyer says.

Stanmeyer’s photographs are in the April issue of National Geographic magazine, as well as in ‘Sacred Waters: Photography by John Stanmeyer,’” at the National Geographic Museum in Washington, D.C., through July 25, and at the Annenberg Space for Photography in Los Angeles through June 13 as part of the exhibition “Water: Our Thirsty World.”

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