Throughout the ages, holy water has played a significant part of many religions. Its primary functions have been to A) ward off or wash away evil, sins, or iniquities, and B) to join in closer communion with god, using the water to partially imbue one with their lord's holy being. Holy water may easily serve both functions.
A priest or priestess may consecrate or bless water to make it holy, but the water should first be pure and free of contaminants. This is one of the reasons why, for example, one cannot simply bless a whole lake or an entire ocean. The other reason is, let's face it, a matter of concentration of divine power. If the volume of water to be blessed is too large, a dilute form of holy water will result.
Whether dilute or concentrated, making holy water begins with pure water. A Create Water spell will provide this, or a Purify Food and Drink spell cast upon water will also work. More commonly, simple distillation will suffice. Rainwater may also work, but only if properly collected in such a way as to prevent the water's contact with contaminating surfaces, such as most roofing material, unpolished stone, and most organic matter. Exceptions may be made when these surfaces are actually blessed, in and of themselves. In short, rainwater must pretty much be collected via clean, metal surfaces, or blessed surfaces, and then channeled directly into a blessed, leaded glass, crystal, polished stone, metal, or other blessed nonporous containers.
Honestly, properly collecting rainwater takes such an effort that distillation is often the preferred choice. The controlled, indoor conditions of distillation are much easier to manage. Of course, the distilled water must also be collected in an appropriately blessed container. Thereafter, the water may be blessed in small volumes for concentrated holy water, or large volumes for a more dilute, ritualistic variety.
NOTE: As you may see, distilled water is free of any contaminants, and thus it isn't partially water, but "wholly" water, and one is already well on their way to "holy" water when using it ;-) Also, contrary to some beliefs, one cannot make holy water simply by boiling the "hell" out if it. ;-)
NOTE: A vial of concentrated holy water may be used to make a large amount of dilute or ritualistic holy water simply by pouring it into the larger volume of pure water. Of course, casting the Bless Water spell on a larger volume than 1 pint will also produce dilute holy water.
Actually, dilute holy water is often sought, for it is quite ideal for use in many rituals - particularly cleansing rituals where, in addition to its holy function, the water is meant to serve one of its mundane or ordinary functions of actually washing away dirt, sweat, or filth, and cleansing the body so that one may proceed further onto or into more sacred areas.
Some religions, in fact, require a literal bath in such dilute holy water before entering the inner temple. Others may wish to totally immerse the body for various rituals of communion with god. Such volumes would be prohibitive if they required high levels of divine power, thus dilute forms of holy water will often suffice.
Yet, as most adventurers know, only concentrated divine power has much efficacy in actually warding off evil or causing injury to undead, demons, devils, most manner of evil creatures from the outer planes of existence, or against creatures with some direct tie to those planes. An evil man would not particularly be affected by good holy water, for example, while a vampire sure would.
Only small volumes of water may be blessed while maintaining great levels of potency and power, and while what most people think of as holy water would in fact be quite dilute, what adventurers commonly require, or at least think of when they say 'holy water', is something considerably more potent.
More often than not, and for the remainder of this article, when we speak of holy water it will be understood we are talking about concentrated, non-dilute, holy water, fully imbued with the power of a god's blessing. Typically, such blessings of water might produce a single vial of holy water. This is approximately one pint of water. However, through the use of a holy basin and font, this volume may be increased. See below.
Contrary to popular belief, once holy water is blessed it will not simply remain so forever, but may easily lose its holy nature and power. In fact, it will do so immediately if defiled in any manner such as by being brought in contact with an unholy surface or put into any container that hasn't been properly blessed. Even sparkling clean leaded glassware is inappropriate, for all appropriate containers must be properly blessed before they may safely transport holy water.
NOTE: It is a sad fact, therefore, that many who believe they are secretly taking a little holy water away for their own personal use when they steal it from a temple or church are, in fact, probably stealing dilute holy water - not full strength holy water - and not putting it in a blessed container to boot, thus making it totally ineffective for whatever it is they had in mind.
In addition to the normal function of the spell, Bless, on page 180 of the PHB, we find the following is also true of a special version of this spell.
This transmutation imbues its targets with holy properties to ward off lesser, indirect defilements, such that the blessed items will not corrupt the holy nature of other holy substances, such as holy water, holy oil, holy ointments, holy balms, and similar substances. Containers must be made of leaded glass, crystal, polished stone, fine wood, or rare metals. Blessed surfaces may be nearly anything as long as they are clean and 10 x 10 feet or less, and such blessed surfaces will thus not defile most holy substances. Once so blessed, the object will remain so until purposefully defiled, broken, or dispelled. There are no other costs to this spell, aside from the time required to obtain and cast it, or the actual cost of the item or items to be blessed. Most suitable containers may hold approximately one pint of liquid, and materials and craftsmanship run about 1 GP for each one-pint container.
The largest problem with holy water is keeping it sanctified, pure, or holy, and thus free of outside influences that may easily corrupt or pollute its holy nature. The holy font is used for this purpose.
A font is a specially blessed container or housing for the holy water, often resembling a large chest with a cover or door. It is not simply a vial, flask, jar, waterskin, cup, or just any old container. Indeed, the actual water container is not even the font, but kept within the font. The font is usually made of polished stone, rare or exotic wood, and/or valuable metals, all of which are usually covered in religious symbols for a particular deity.
Many fonts within temples are large, immobile, and ornately crafted, affixed to a pedestal or platform, and house the actual basin wherein the holy water is created or blessed. Such fonts are quite expensive, as are the basins. Furthermore, they are tuned to the holy ground or temple where they were consecrated, and may not be moved off the premises, lest purification rites, blessings, and spells need be cast anew.
More common are the smaller, portable fonts. These blessed containers are usually wood in the shape of the deity's holy symbol, or a small box carved with holy symbols on five of six sides, but may only house a single vial within the font. This vial also must be properly blessed and sealed with wax. While so enclosed and protected within the font, holy water and the like is relatively safe and may remain holy for centuries.
Portable holy fonts vary in cost from 1 GP to 1000 GP, but quality ones would never run less than 10 GP. Adventurers who wish to carry holy water would of necessity purchase such a quality font.
Outside a font, even blessed containers may not suffice when transporting holy water over great distances, or over long periods of time. Holy water does not travel well. It may accidentally run afoul of corrupting magical fields, unholy influences, or other contaminants. All too often, these areas of defilement easily go unnoticed. Thus, each month a container of holy water is on the road, so to speak, roll 1d6. Any result of 1-5 indicates the water and container has become defiled.
NOTE: By defiled, in this case, we merely mean the potency of concentrated holy water has been lost. It may well be, and often is, still dilute holy water, which has its uses. For example, it is a tie or marker that still tenuously connects one back to their deity. Thus, many commoners like to have it. After holy water loses it full potency, though, at best it might deliver 1 HP of damage to the most foul and evil denizens of the outer planes. A direct hit would amount to no more than splash damage, for example. Dilute holy water may also still be used for many cleansing rituals, and blessing rituals, so it is not exactly useless.
For potent holy water, if it is carried within a holy font, or on the person of a cleric, holy warrior, or similarly holy entity, each month roll 1d6, and only a result of a 1 will indicate defilement and corruption of water and container. While it may continue to hold dilute holy water, such corruption is unsuitable for fully potent holy water.
Once defiled or corrupted, such containers may simply be cleaned and blessed again, while the water must be cast aside and replaced with new holy water. There is often a special method used to discard such water, as well. Of course, as indicated, the dilute holy water may be kept for lesser purposes.
For those who know how - i.e. clerics, holy warriors, and unfortunately many evil creatures often affected by holy water - one may tell if the water is still holy or not by holding its container up to a naked flame. To all others it would merely appear as normal water, but to those in the know, fully potent holy water radiates of a slightly blue glow. This perception ability may not be learned without actually taking holy orders, or through more diabolic or demonic means often known only to foul denizens of evil who may actually be harmed by fully potent holy water. Alchemists of rank 2 or higher may also discern if holy water is still good, though through different and alchemical means.
All this means - unfortunately for most adventurers other than clerics, paladins or other holy warriors - that holy water is not easy to carry around, and when one most needs it, they probably won't have it unless a friendly cleric just handed it to them. Either that, or they will have to invest 10 GP or more in a holy, portable font, as well as considerable money for the holy water itself, all while knowing it may lose its potency all too easily. The lesson: it's better to get it when you know you'll soon need it, rather than constantly buying it and replacing it as it goes bad.
There is, however, the Bless Water spell. This also needs slight adjustment. It is exceedingly unlikely anyone will lug around 5 pounds of anything to make holy water a single time, let alone powdered silver or other clumsy, hard to make, and otherwise useless materials. So a better, more playable version of the spell has been crafted.
This transmutation imbues approximately 1 pint of water, and its container, with positive energy, turning the relatively pure water into holy water. Such water may have special effects on certain creatures. The container will soon lose its ability to hold holy water without corrupting it, so the holy water should be transferred to a more suitable, blessed container, if not used immediately.
The material component for this spell should be 25 GP worth of pure metal, in any form. In may be copper, silver, gold, platinum, or mithral, but should approximately be worth 25 GP. This metal offering vanishes upon the spell's completion. It should be noted that most coins are not pure metals, but are instead alloys to make them durable. Unless the coins are pure metal, they may not be used as the component for this spell.
Alternatively to the metal material component, a specially constructed chalice may instead be used as a focus. Such a focus does not vanish and may be used again and again. However, its cost is considerably more. The inner bowl - (the portion that holds and actually touches the single pint of water) - must be crafted from pure silver, gold, platinum, or mithral. The rest of the chalice must be metal or polished stone, ivory, bone, or other suitable material. The chalice must also be covered in one's deity's holy symbols. The value of this chalice must be 1,000 GP or more, and it would weigh 1 to 3 pounds. The holy water may rest within the chalice until needed or it evaporates, but would be unsuitable for traveling very far. Therefore, the holy water should be transferred to an appropriately blessed and sealed container if one intends to use it later or transport it very far
While upon holy ground or within a holy temple, one may employ the Bless Water spell more effectively when used in combination with a specially blessed basin. This basin must be constructed of precious metal, covered in holy symbols, and housed in an appropriate font. If done properly, the more valuable the basin, the more holy water may be produced each week. Like the chalice focus, the basin has a similar function, and also does not vanish. Moreover, though they can be costly to obtain or make, once made, the manufacture of holy water is virtually free.
NOTE: Temples still charge adventurers about 25 GP for a pint of concentrated holy water, even if they can produce it less expensively. The reason is two fold. First, one has to pay for the basin and font somehow, as well as provide additional revenues for the church, and Second, there is still a limited volume they can make, and to charge less is to invite frivolous uses of something so sacred, or to garner a less respectful attitude to the worth of the service as well as the worth of their lord's blessing. The 25 GP cost includes a specially blessed vial or container that is, by itself, worth about 1 GP. This price does not, however, cover the cost of the font. A well to do temple may be able to afford to sell fully potent holy water to commoners for as little as 2 GP - (1 GP for the cheapest of fonts, and 1 GP for the blessed vial, while the holy water itself is free). They may do this, not upon demand, however, but only to those whose desires and needs are judged worthy and pure. More commonly, for purposes of blessings and rituals, either dilute holy water will suffice for the masses, or the priest will undertake the task of the blessing and carry any and all holy water themselves.
Holy water may be made in a temple only during the correct time of the week, so one may produce a batch of holy water only once/week. The following table suggests costs for basin types, the appropriate font type suitable for that basin, and how much holy water it may make each week.
It is a popular misconception that holy water is simply of good alignment, or unholy water is simply of evil alignment. Truthfully, blessed water may be made of any alignment except true neutral. Thus, there are eight different varieties of 'holy' water. The efficacy of blessed water depends on its alignment and the alignment of the target, as well as the target's origins or nature other than its alignment. The following table shows the amount of healing (+) or damage (-) a single vial will do upon a direct hit when you compare the water's alignment with the target's alignment.
NOTE: Again, please note differences in alignment alone are usually insufficient to cause damage. A chaotic evil human man hit with a good dose of LG holy water does NOT take 2d6 damage simply because of the alignment difference. In order to do actual damage, the target must be summoned or conjured from another plane, from an outer plane where it makes it natural home, or directly tied to an outer plane in some manner - such as a vampire may be linked to the negative material plane - AND be of a sufficiently dissimilar alignment. If both conditions are true, only then will blessed water likely cause harmful damage. The minor healing, on the other hand, if any, is generally true of all creatures of a similar alignment. Remember, this healing or damage only happens with full power "holy" water, and little, if any affect, will happen when using dilute "holy" water.
Indirect hits, or splash damage, cause 1 HP of damage if the creature is susceptible to blessed water damage at all given its alignment and origins. Otherwise, it does no damage.
NOTE: Please bear in mind, many times this article simply refers to 'holy' water, 'holy' symbols, or 'holy' this or 'holy' that when 'unholy' types are also possible. Thus, it should never be inferred only 'holy' or good items may be so blessed, when their evil counterparts may also exist.
Finally, such is the nature of the holy warrior that their saliva or spit is actually considered blessed water of the holy warrior's alignment - i.e. LG, CG, LE, or CE. In a pinch, and if they successfully rolled to hit, their spit would be similar to splash damage when it hit a creature of the appropriate alignment and origins.
© August of 2003