About a life devoted to the love for Folklore, Mythology, Legends and.....Art

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Water-spirits and magical gifts....

Currently I am working on a series of drawings depicting all sorts of water-spirits from around the world. The first two drawings I made are based upon legends concerning a gift.
I am very much intrigued by these gifts as they connect the supernatural world with the human world and I like these stories even more when it is said these objects still exist and are in someone's possesion as is the magical flute. (which I will describe later...)

Both legends I have drawn were found in a special Prague travel guide written by Pavel Rut. In this curious little work he describes several legends concerning water-spirits which are thought to haunt the city.
The chance that you would recognize one of these creatures is rather small. Pavel Rut claims that the Prague water-spirits mostly appear like old, skinny men with long, white beards and often wander around in the city. No fish-tails, green colour, sharp claws or fins are seen by the people who met these creatures. About the waternimphs he does not speak much apart from noting they must have been beautiful women.
(Click picture for bigger view)

The first drawing depicts the legend 'Still water'. The writer describes the story in just two sentences but nevertheless that were enough words for me.

His exact words are as follows;
"From time to time water-spirits sold bottles filled with 'still water'. He who wore such a bottle on him would not experience any damage from the river."

I imagine these bottles must have been sought after by sailors and fishermen, and perhaps by their wives as well who tried to get one of these bottles just to make sure their husbands would come back home safe.
Unfortunatley I have not succeeded to find more information about the bottles or their possesors. Nevertheless I was delighted to read the short tale. Sure I have heard about objects which would give the owner the power to control the sea, such as flutes, coins and bags containing wind, but never had I heard of so called 'still water'.

The image simply spoke to me and so I had to put it on paper, even though I did not have much more information about this mysterious water then that found in the two sentences.
(Click picture for bigger view)

The second drawing depicts another wonderful object, a magical flute. Which is, unlike 'still water', a familiar object in many stories concerning water spirits. These objects are supposed to be the favorite instruments of water spirits.
Pavel Rut says: "He who receives such flute as a gift would also receive the power to calm or to bring water in movement."

The most excited thing of all is that it is known to the writer that two people must posses such magical flute.... A miller of the SovĂ­-mills and a ferryman from Vysehrad are or were the lucky possesors.

And yes, I know... it's probably just an old flute which have been in the family for a long time and some grandfather told the little ones great stories about his adventures with the water-spirits. But let us just dream away for a moment and pretend that all of this is true and imagine how the bottoms of rivers and seas are filled with beautiful coral castles, spirits singing their songs and magical flutes and bottles with 'still water' to protect us on our journeys......

Wouldn't that be wonderful.

PS; for those who are interested, prints accompanied with story are now available at my
Etsy shop!


  1. Amazing! I had no idea there were such things as magical flutes and water-spirits. What about mermaids?

  2. Stories about mermaids will follow very soon....

  3. Lovely work--so whimsical, childlike and elegant all at once!

  4. (I was going to comment at DA, but like your blog better since it feels more personal)

    The pictures are gorgeous! And the photograph is lovely too, you choose a beautiful background for them.

    I liked this entry a lot because, knowing quite a lot about water-creature myths, I never heard much on Prague folklore.
    What you mention of the male waters makes me remember the Greek conception of the old waters, such a rivers, who – as belonging to some of the most archaic creatures of the cosmos – are portrayed as old.

    Bottles of still water are an amazing concept (it makes me imagine stories too). And your picture of that man receiving it from the water himself is great. There are many creatures which could have provided such an item and, as it’s not mentioned how to get the bottle, this is an interesting view.
    Also, because you made him give a monetary payment, I can’t help but evocate all those stories about bottled demons who provide to their captors/owner a two sided luck and whose property is not to be changed but through money.

    The second drawing is really beautiful too. Less surprising since the relationship between water and music, as you mentioned, is really good known. But the water-music always holds a dangerous twist and I love how attentive the foam looks at the player and how dark the water is and how dark the highest sky looks; the foam could be giving her a dangerous attention … but the little bird (as a natural singer in contrast to the supernatural singer flute) suggest a sweeter approach.

    Thank you for sharing.

    Ah, you said:
    “And yes, I know... it's probably just an old flute which have been in the family for a long time and some grandfather told the little ones great stories about his adventures with the water-spirits.”I can’t help but to completely disagree.
    The traditions related to the uncertainness of the water are deep and constant enough to be approached with intellectual respect by the urban-positive-science-minded citizen who can’t really feel enough closeness towards that reality. Even if there’s a chance on being a made up story, in topics of such a kind make up stories normally only drink from an underlying realtiy.
    I’m not trying to sound romantic (I take mythography too seriously for that), I just keep in mind that things are necessarily more than what we think they are and that, normally, not even the beautiful coral castles can express the awe they hold.

    (I’ll try to comment other entries as soon as I can)

  5. Thank you so much for your comment, I'm glad you like my latest works.
    I would like to add something to the things you said.

    I noticed I haven't been really clear on how to recieve the bottles filled with still water. These bottles had to be 'purchased' and indeed that does make you think of all those other folktales about bottled demons, doesn't it?
    But to come back to the Prague water-spirits, they were actually believed to come out of the water every week and sell their goods on the local markets. Their products were very much praised by the people as they believed it was of a better quality. In many stories they are described as traders, which fascinates me and I thought this concept might fascinate you as well.

    Oh, yes and of course you were completely right when you said you disagreed with me on the part; “And yes, I know... it's probably just an old flute which have been in the family for a long time and some grandfather told the little ones great stories about his adventures with the water-spirits.”
    I didn't meant to say I do not belief in the possibility of gifts from nature spirits. I know these stories very well, not just from folktales but also from many official accounts I have read, even from the present, which describe the contact between these spirits and humans. Quite often a gift is mentioned in these stories, but never have I read about someone saying he received a real object. In general these gifts are from organic origine, such as gems, leaves, flowers etc, depending on the elements these spirits are connected with.
    I happen to be very interested in these 'supernatural' objects and I have read about many archeological research on this field. Not in one case I have read about an object which nature was truly 'magical'.
    For example the 'Kattenbeker' from the Netherlands, (a cup, which it is said to be from supernatural origine as well) turned out to be a cup which was in the old days traditionally given by weddings; a so called wedding cup.
    I can give dozens of these examples, from objects which are claimed to have a supernatural origin but turned out to be a fraud. These stories are mainly created by people, ´simple folks´ who find some old object which look odd to them and so they create wonderful stories around them.

    Someone who wants to belief ( like I do) must be sceptic, as it has no use to fool yourself.

  6. Ah, thank you, I really didn’t get that they were properly selling their “products”.
    I love the idea of those creatures going to the local markets. The mysterious-stallholder/trader figure is always enchanting, like a portal holder as they are people able to travel (at some level) to an “other side” to bring back things that shouldn’t be here (and that generally are meant to be returned). I’m particularly fond of the ones around the deep old forests; but the water, being deep, dark and old, is not less interesting.

    I understand what you mean. I personally work with this stuff more on the phenomenological level, where the content of truth is secondary to a deep understanding of the sense, but I completely agree with your critic position..

    However, I didn’t mean it in such a “plastic” terms as knowing someone had the direct experience of receiving a gift. But I do think that the wonder held in these tales echoes another kind of wonder which is deeply truth and, being these of stories traces of it, you can’t simply tell they are fantasy meaning they are not real. It works on different coordinates. Uhm… More the less like what Tolkien though on fairy tales: he weren’t expecting to ever meet an elf in his backyard, but that didn’t allowed him to tell that elves were lies, or to simply rule out the chance of being truly amazed of the world through them. I guess it’s also a bit alike that the concept behind Ende’s Never Ending Story void.

    But thinking about it now, from the cases I know of having strange experiences of some kind, there’s never an object to be left behind involved (but in witchcraft cases, which I know a few personally). In tales, as I think your words imply too, the most of the objects are meant to disappear in some way after doing their job… Maybe the most “permanent” gifts can be found at myths, rather than at tales. Many of those objects have civilizing functions or are the legacy of a culture, so are meant to be kept. Just like… the Japanese Imperial objects, meant to be given by the Sun goddess.

    Hehe. What you mention here on the “simple folk” is exactly the major objection I find when I told you that dealing with amulets is not my favourite topic, because that what you mention is mostly the case, but those “made up” stories tend are never… uh… new(?) but related to oldest traditions which are the ones I love to learn.