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The Sanctification Rite of Bathing—the Initiatory Rite of Death and Rebirth

The Jordan River 

(The following is excerpted from Dr. Husfelt’s forthcoming book The Greatest Lie Ever Told - a Manifesto for a Religious Revolution and a New Consciousness)

Ritualistic immersion in running water (stream/river) or the ocean is one of the oldest forms of symbolic death and re-birth. It is one of the essential steps in awakening. It is frightening but necessary. We need to physically symbolically ‘die’ to the old to be ‘born again’—our second birth. It is not membership into an earthly or religious institution. It is the beginning of an awakening to the truth—of the world and one’s authentic self.

Few in the world still practice, teach and conduct this form of purification. Outside of the Mandeans of the Middle East, the greatest concentration of ‘dawn bathers’ are to be found within the indigenous communities that still practice and adhere to the old ways. But even here, there are few still alive that can ‘initiate’ and put people into the ‘living waters’ of the earth.

I am blessed to be one of those who still practices and ‘initiates’ people into bathing. This ‘initiation’ is not one of membership, but one of ‘death and re-birth.’ After I put a person into the stream, they are free to revisit any stream and repeat the ritualistic immersion. Going bathing will help a person release the stress and hurt that comes from living in today’s chaotic and fear-filled world. And quite possibly may be a preventative for Alzheimer’s.[i]

After the initial ‘initiation,’ there are multiple reasons for a person to revisit a stream and bathe. Bathings will increase a person’s spiritual power/mana and their inner heat; the stream will also help release anger, guilt, resentment, fear and uncertainty as well as the other emotional baggage that we seem to carry and seemingly refuse to release. In addition, I use it as a method of healing others.

Each bathing tradition is slightly different. The way that I was taught was four immersions while other traditions such as Hawaiians would do five and in the Middle East three immersions: 

The term mikveh in Hebrew literally means any gathering of waters, but is specifically used in Jewish law for the waters or bath for the ritual immersion. Ancient sages teach that the word mikveh has the same letters as Ko(v)Meh, the Hebrew word for "rising" or "standing tall," therefore we see the idea of being baptized "straightway."


The Essenes were anciently known as regular practicioners (sc) of daily immersion. In the Talmud these daily Mikveh practicioners (sc) are called tovelei shaharit or "dawn bathers." Not only Nasaraens, but several other Jewish groups observed ritual immersion every day to assure readiness for the coming of the Messiah. Epiphanius mentioned one of these groups called Hemerobaptists which means "daily bathers" in Greek. The Clementine Homilees, or Recognitions of Clementtell us that Peter always washed, often in the sea, before dawn which was no doubt a custom of all Nazarenes of his time….


Ancient dawn bathing Nasaraens used at least three forms of Baptism, or mikveh purifications. We know this because the surviving remnants of these Nasaraens, the Nasorai sect (Mandeans), still preserve these forms of this ancient Nasarene purification rite once practiced and promoted by Yeshu (Jesus) and His messianic Spouse Maria….


The Jewish baptism candidates were often immersed three times. The idea of total immersion comes from the Scripture in Leviticus 15:16 when it says, "he shall wash all his flesh in the water." One reason it was customary to immerse three times was because the word mikveh occurs three times in the Torah. We know this to have been an early Nazarene practice under Yeshu-Maria.[ii]

How is it that I came to the knowledge and the practice of bathing? How did I find my modern day John the Baptist? In 1990 Sherry and I sponsored a conference in Maine on Native American Spirituality and Shamanism. We were encouraged to invite as presenters two native elders, a husband and wife, Vince and Mom Stogan from Vancouver, British Columbia. Soon as Sherry and I meant them at the Portland airport, we were struck by their unassuming authenticity. It was as though we were meeting our long lost grandparents.

During the conference we were unaware that Mom Stogan was watching Sherry do her spirit work and Vince was watching me. After the conference and back at our home, Vince and Mom asked to speak to both of us in private. They told us that they saw us in them and asked if we would like to learn their medicine ways. Of course, we were privileged and honored to be asked and willingly accepted.

Our apprenticeship with Vince and Mom was of the ‘old school’ where you learned by listening, watching and doing and not writing anything down. Many of our experiences and learning’s, we cannot tell you about or share in print. This is typical with any oral and initiatory traditions, such as the Mystery Schools of Egypt and Greece, where the initiates were to be silent about the ‘mysteries’ seen and experienced. However, I can tell you some things about bathing and our experiences.

The Northwest Coast First People have three primary ceremonial practices: winter spirit dancing, bathing and burnings or ‘feeding the spirits’ as well as the traditional methods of shamanic healing. Bathing is their primary purification rite. Sher and I, and sometimes our daughter Jess, would travel to Vancouver and stay with Mom and Vince 24/7. Many of the stories and teachings that we heard were learned around the kitchen table. These informal sessions would sometimes last late into the night with Vince smoking cigarette after cigarette and drinking glass after glass of Pepsi.

Many times we would not get to bed until two o’clock in the morning and then we would have to get back up at three o’clock to go bathing. It was about an hours drive north of Vancouver to the bathing spot. Bathing as a symbolic death and then rebirth from the great mother, Mother Earth, replicates our human birthing experience as we leave the waters of the earth mother and transition from the dark to the light on a physical as well as a metaphoric/spiritual level. Timing is always touchy as you must enter the waters in the dark but then leave the stream or river in the lightness of first light, which is approximately an hour become sunrise.

Connected with bathing is a spiritual process known as questing for a song. This spirit song is not handed down person to person but comes to you during bathing and is a reflection of your spiritual power. It is believed that the songs are in the air surrounding the streams and a song will only come to a person that is spiritually ready to receive it. The quest occurs for four consecutive mornings and involves other things that I cannot reveal.

Walking up a mountain trail in the dark is disconcerting enough but then to hear the subtle roar of the stream only adds to the otherworldliness of the moment. Include a bit of fear and your sense of time dissolves into timelessness. I’ve always had perfectly strong eyesight and have been a swimming coach and instructor. So entering a mountain stream in the dark and submerging at least four times was not too scary or difficult for me. But for Sherry the opposite was true. She has worn glasses the majority of her life and almost downed as a child. For her to enter the mountain stream in the dark and without her glasses was an act of courage and trust.

Vince put us both through the quest and at the end of the four days both Sherry and I had our songs. Please do not think that doing the four days will always result in a song. In fact just the opposite is true. Over the years I assisted Vince when some non-natives wanted the opportunity to get a song. Not one person ever received a song during that time.

Bathing as spirit training is not easy especially when you consider that the training period is during the winter. Winters in Maine can be extremely brutal, cold and snowy. Many times I had to break through the ice to bathe. One time I even wondered if I would even make it back to my car alive as I trudged through the thigh high snow with no feeling in my legs. But the experience is awesome even though after countless bathings there is still a little trepidation and fear.

Standing barefooted and naked on the river bank with the stars as the ceiling of my church and the roar of the river as the gateway to eternity always put me not only in the now, but in a state of timelessness where I was one with all things. When I entered the river with my first step, there would be an explosion of my senses and the illusion of dualistic reality would dissolve into an oneness of truth. With my first squatting submersion, I would die once again only to be reborn as I would explode straight up out of the ‘mothers’ waters into the air with my primal scream escaping from my lips. And for a split second my mind would shift into the realization that I must do this three more times.

After the fourth submersion as I would shoot up out of the waters my song would erupt from the inner core of my soul. How long I would remain in the freezing but not freezing waters was always a mystery. The sirens song was always to stay in the power, to stay in the true oneness of life where all the human worries and fears do not exist: it is only you and the mystery of God—the realm of the earth and the kingdom of heaven.

[i] Since the nineteenth century, “important concepts of life were brought to the field of physiology such as homeostasis by Walter Cannon…. Dr. Canon realized the importance of balance between acid and alkaline in the body fluids, especially in the blood….  An acidic condition inhibits nerve action and an alkaline condition stimulates nerve action. One who has an alkaline blood condition can think and act (decide) well. On the other hand, one who has an acidic blood condition cannot think well or act quickly, clearly, or decisively…. For a long time I searched for a quick way to change an acidic to an alkaline condition. Finally, I found one through religious rituals. Japanese Shinto religion strongly recommends performing the misogi ritual, in which one takes a cold water bath or shower in a river, waterfall, or the ocean.” Herman Aihara, Acid and Alkaline, pp. 1 & 109.



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