Vodnar / Aquarius
God of WatersGod of waters is present in the belief of mankind since prehistory. Originally he may have been only a water spirit, inhabiting rivers or lakes. The oldest records about him as a deity have been traced to about 2000 BC. Sumerians called him En.Ki, Babylonians later referred to him as Ea, which means “house of water.” This is an ancient god, that is portrayed with a pitcher or several pitchers, from which water is streaming. We don’t come across the god of waters in the Norico-Roman pantheon, but there are indications that there was an indigenous god of waters, worshipped by Noricans, and later by their descendants Carantanians. This is confirmed by two dedicatory inscriptions just outside the borders of Noricum on the territory inhabited by the Carni people.
One refers to the stone with the inscription TIMAVO CARNICO (To Carnian Timaos), discovered underneath the mountain pass Mt. Croce Carnico, (1360 m) near Fontanon. There is also the legend about a devil or dragon that poisoned the water at its source, which was later made wholesome through the blessing by the Saints Mohor and Fortunat. The second inscription, discovered in 1923 on Majnica near Gorica, refers to the river deity of the River Soča (Isonzo), AESONTIO SACRUM (holy to Soča). In 1882, a relief of a god was found nearby, and was believed to be the image of the god of the River Soča. He stands leaning against the rock and holds in his hands an amphora, from which water is streaming. It is presumed that the amphora and the water represent the river, in this case the River Soča, which issues forth from the mountain above. Both names are undoubtedly the local expression of the same local god of waters, Vodnar (water god; Aquarius).
In many folk tales and myths about rivers and lakes in Slovenia and all over Europe we also encounter Vodnar in the figure of the mythical povodni mož (water man). He is usually a malicious and dangerous being, inhabiting lakes, brooks, fish ponds, rivers and streams. He likes to lie in wait for people near water mills,sometimes lurking beneath the water wheel.
Germans know him as Wassermann, Russians call him Vodanoj, Slovenians Povodni mož. He is mostly an evil character, whereas other water beings, water nymphs and mermaids are friendly to man.
Water meant life and survival, and so the ancient god of waters could not be easily eliminated from folk belief after christianization. His figure was transposed onto St. Christopher. The basis was the legend recorded quite late, in the collection “Legenda Sanctorum” (c.1270).
The saint was initially a pagan and a giant in appearance, who made his living by carrying people across the river. Once a child hailed him, requesting to be carried across. He took the child on his shoulders and carried him, but the child became heavier and heavier, and finally became so heavy that the giant disappeared beneath the water, and so was baptized. When he brought the child to the riverbank, the child told him that he was the creator of the world, Jesus Christ. He told him to plant his club in the ground and it would turn green. The giant obeyed and this occurred. From that time he served the Child and received the name Christophorus, the Christ Carrier.
On the old Carantanian territory, particularly in Koroška region, many churches have great frescoes on their walls, where St. Christopher appears as a giant, carrying Child Jesus on his shoulders. We perceive in the background a trace of the ancient Carantanian deity, and may surmise that St. Christopher replaced Vodnar, the ancient lord of waters. There was sufficient harvest only when there was just enough rain and not too much, and grain for daily bread. St. Christopher became the bread-giver. His name day is 24 July, when the harvest is in danger of being destroyed by the heat. To gain his good will and protection people bring him gifts of bread and grain. So the ancient god Vodnar lives on in the folk lore as the dangerous water spirit povodni mož, and in the figure of St. Christopher, the deity of life-giving water, the bread-giver.
BibliographyJožko Šavli, Zlati cvet. Bajeslovje Slovencev. Duhovna dediščina Karantanije, Bilje, Studio RO, Humar, 2008.
Translated from Slovenian by Aleksandra L. Ceferin.
To be published in English with the title The Golden Flower in 2013.