Generally speaking the symbolism of dew is closely akin to that of rain, but its influence is of a more subtle order. ‘The waters which spring from the heart,’ wrote Callixtus II Xanthopoulos, ‘fill the entire inner being with divine dew.’ ‘The pearly dew of the noble godhead’ of which Angelus Silesius writes has a similar significance, but suggests the redeeming blood of Christ. Now, in medieval iconography, the blood, which falls drop by drop from the Centurion’s spear, is also the heavenly dew, the symbol of redemption and rebirth, which recurs in Hermetic writings and also in the Jewish Kabbalah, where it is an emanation of the Tree of Life. Apparently there was a ‘tree of sweet dew’ on Mount Kun-Lun, the Chinese centre of the Earth.
Pliny calls dew ‘the sweat of Heaven, the spittle of the stars’. In Indian sacred scriptures it is ‘the symbol of the word of God’. Dew is a symbol of regeneration.
If the heavenly dew of the Jews restored life to dry bones, the lunar dew of the Chinese cleared the vision and allowed the attainment of immortality. The Immortals on the island of Ho-chu feed upon air and dew, according to Lao-Tzu. The dew is drawn from the Moon in a huge shell (to kiue). It was gathered by such mortals as the Han Emperor, Wu, in a jade chalice, to be mixed with powdered jade.
In China, too, dew was associated with the princely power of the yang, sometimes in opposition to the yin influence of rain. The down-dropping of ‘gentle dew’, according to Lao-Tzu (ch. 32), is the sign of the peaceful marriage of Heaven and Earth. Dew is also born of a perfect harmony struck on a four-stringed lute.
On the other hand, in Buddhist terms, the ‘world of dew’ is that of appearances, and is a sign of the ephemeral nature of material things and of the brevity of life.
The Old Greeks related dew with fertility myths, dionysos embodying the fertilizing dew of Heaven. Texts from Ras Shamrah place Astarte in contact with the sea as with a fertilizing dew, and the same is true of aphrodite. It should be emphasized that these are love-gods and goddesses.
The importance of dew in so many rituals and magic spells arises from the fact that it resolves the confrontation between the upper and the lower, the heavenly and the terrestrial waters. Dew is pure water, precious water, pre-eminently primeval water, a distillation of the generative powers of the watery principle. The Fon of Dahomey (now Benin) call it ‘Mother-Water’ and in the Voodoo pantheon, the deified watery element materializes in the shape of drops of dew preserved in a calabash. In Bambara mythology the primal waters first appeared on Earth in the shape of dew. The spider, the Ashanti Demiurge, first created the Sun, Moon and stars and divided night from day and next created dew, Harry Tegnaeus concluding: ‘thus this concept of dew should be related to that of vegetation and fertility.’
Similarly North American Indians believed that ‘The Great Dew Eagle’ regenerated the soil blasted by evil spirits.