Is the Vodnik Real?

Since the earliest days of human history, mankind has believed in spirits that dwell in pools and rivers, and mythical creatures that lure the unwary to a watery grave Some cultures call them Morgens, or Nix, or Naiads

In the Czech Republic they call them Vodniks As humanity’s understanding of the world grows, the spaces in which Vodniks can hide shrink – that is, if they exist at all Vodniks are humanoid, but that is where the similarities to us end

They have the body of a naked, old man with a distinctly amphibian face Various descriptions give the Vodnik webbed feet or a fish’s tail, or a long, green, unkempt beard According to legend, when the Vodnik appears to humans after prolonged periods underwater, its skin is coated in mud and green algae Black scales and gills make water-dwelling easy, but only in freshwater Vodniks can go onto dry land, and disguise themselves by dressing in shabby clothing

However if the green beards didn’t give them away, you could identify a Vodnik by the fact their coattails constantly drip water Vodniks are capable of both good and evil acts They sometimes drown victims on a whim, trapping their souls in porcelain tea cups Vodniks are particularly angered by anything that disrupts the flow of the water, like dams, fishing nets and waterwheels Despite their penchant for drownings, Vodniks might also seduce disowned girls or wed drowned women

This contrasts with other legends, which casts Vodniks as husbands of Russian water nymphs called Rusalka Vodniks are solitary creatures but have a defined hierarchy For example, in Russian mythology there is a King Vodyanik, who is an old man perched on a black cloud, crafting new waterways on Earth As early as the sixth century CE, the Byzantine scholar Procopius wrote about Southern Slavs believing in creatures like the Vodnik But one of the first explicit descriptions of a Vodnik comes from an encyclopedia written in 1689 called “The Glory of the Duchy of Carniola”

This is a compendium of the history, geology, theology and folklore of Carniola, in present day Slovenia, by Johann Weikhard von Valvasor The encyclopedia includes the story of a girl named Urska, who attended a dance at the Old Square in the city of Ljublijana (LOO-BLEE-ANNA) During the dance, Urska flirted with a number of men, before falling for a disguised Vodnik The Vodnik lured Urska to the River Ljublijanica (LOO-BLEE-ANN-EE-KA), where it drowned her Since then the Vodnik has been a regular feature of Eastern European culture

Slovenia’s national poet, France Preseren (FRAN-SEY PRESS-SEER-RAN), based on a popular ballad on Valvasor’s tale More recently, Polish author Andrezej Sapkowski (ANDREI SAP-KOV-SKI) included a race of aquatic creatures called Vodyanoy in his series of books about “The Witcher” In Russia, Vodyanoy are evil and vindictive water-creatures Anyone caught in their waters after sunset or on a holy day is dragged to the depths to serve as their slave According to legend, the Vodyanoy would drown anyone who did not make the sign of the cross over themselves before entering the water

The Vodnik itself can be considered an amalgamation of water spirits from nearby cultures Drowning spirits are common features in folklore In English folklore, a character called Jenny Greenteeth inhabits rivers, pulling the young and the elderly into the flowing water In Japan, a Kappa is a green, amphibious creature with human characteristics who wrestles people into murky depths Even MesoAmerican civilisations like the Aztecs believed in the existence of a water beast who drowns unwary humans called the ahuizotl (A-HWEE-ZOT-L)

According to the Florentine Codex, a 16th century study of MsoAmerican culture, “[The ahuizotl was] black, like rubber; slippery, very smooth, long-tailed And if anyone arrives there at its entrance, or there in the water where it is, it then grabs him there It is said that it sinks him, it plunges him into the water; it carries him to its home

” But is there any truth to the myths of creatures that drown humans? In May 2014, the remains of an alleged Kappa went on display in Kyuushuu, Japan The bones were first presented to the Miyakonojo Shimazu (MEE-A-KON-OJO SHEE-MA-ZOO)family after a creature believed to be a Kappa was shot and killed in 1818 This is not the first time alleged Kappa body parts have gone on display The Zuiryuji ( Zoo-ee-ree-ohh-gee ) Temple in Osaka prefecture is home to 70-centimetre-long Kappa mummy, dating from 1682 Yet another Kappa mummy, of unknown origin, is on display at the Matsuura Brewery in Imari

In 2018, while on holiday in Liverpool, in England, Australian Karen Hargreaves claimed to have photographed Jenny Greenteeth Hargreaves said that the figure, complete with long black hair and leather strappings, was not there when she took the photo, and only appeared after processing In 2016, travel guide Andrey Solovyev reported seeing a creature with the exact same description and behaviour of the Vodyanoy in Lake Labynkyr, in Northern Russia Solovyev claimed he saw robust fishing nets torn to shreds, and a “dark creature” swimming out of the lake Rumours of the “Devil of Labynkyr” have existed since the 19th century

The beast was brought to popular attention in 1953 when Soviet scientist Victor Tverdokhlebova claimed to have seen a grey monster with a large mouth and wide set eyes A 2012 Moscow State University sonar survey revealed at least one unidentified creature lives in the icy waters of Labynkyr Not all of these sightings and skeletons might be of legendary creatures TV presenter and biologist Jeremy Wade says sightings of the Kappa are really encounters with the Japanese Giant Salamander The Giant Salamander can grow up to five feet long, and inhabits streams with cool, clear water

Meanwhile, a 1997 issue of Cryptozoology Review argued that “It appears very likely that the Ahuízotl was a type of otter, possibly one of some unknown species” However, research into the Vodnik is severely limited and, unlike the Kappa, there is a complete lack of physical evidence to either prove or disprove the water spirit’s existence Author and classicist Edith Hamilton said that myths are allegories for how people should behave in society With that in mind, it’s not hard to see how different cultures around the world developed similar myths about water spirits who drown the unwary Stories about the Vodnik stoke the imagination of children, warning them not to stray too close to the water’s edge

As time passes and evidence continues to be scarce, it’s hard to see those stories being anything more than folk tales

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