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Vodyanoy by Ivan Bilibin, 1934
V. Malyshev. Vodyanoy, 1910

In Slavic mythology, vodyanoy or vodyanoi (Russian: водяно́й, IPA: [vədʲɪˈnoj]; lit. '[he] from the water' or 'watery') is a male water spirit. Vodník (or in Germanized form: Hastrman), in Czech fairy tales, is the same creature as the Wassermann or nix of German fairy tales.

Vodyanoy is said to appear as a naked old man with a frog-like face, greenish beard, and long hair, with his body covered in algae and muck, usually covered in black fish scales. He has webbed paws instead of hands, a fish's tail, and eyes that burn like red-hot coals. He usually rides along his river on a half-sunk log, making loud splashes. Consequently, he is often dubbed "grandfather" or "forefather" by the local people. Local drownings are said to be the work of the vodyanoy (or rusalkas).

When angered, the vodyanoy breaks dams, washes down water mills, and drowns people and animals. (Consequently, fishermen, millers, and also bee-keepers make sacrifices to appease him.) He would drag down people to his underwater dwelling to serve him as slaves.

In the Russian North, is believed that vodyanoys have a ruler. He is an old man, armed with a club. He can rise to the sky sitting on a black cloud and creating new rivers and lakes. His name is the Tsar Vodyanik, or the Vodyan Tsar.[1]


Typical projection of vodník in Czech or Slovak folklore

In Czech, Slovene and Slovak folklore the features of the vodník are markedly different from the East-Slavic conception; he has a completely human constitution and habits, except for few differences – vodníci (plural of vodník) have gills, webbed membrane between their fingers and their skin is algae-green in colour (as well as their hair, which is typically of pale green tone). Their overall dress and appearance is bizarre, sometimes even resembling a vagrant; patchy shirts and (by modern standards) odd hats - often boaters with long speckled ribbons - are commonplace. They can withstand lingering for hours outside their ponds. When they do so, one can certainly discern them by their wet coat-tails from which water is dripping under all circumstances. The vodník's face is usually unshaven and it is not uncommon for a vodník to have a large, wet, tangled beard.

Czech, Slovenian and Slovak tales have both evil and good vodníci (relative to human beings) who do (or don't, respectively) try to drown people when they happen to swim in their territory. Vodníci would store the souls of the drowned in porcelain teapots. They consider their teapots as the most valuable heritage and display their "work", and consider the number of these pots as representative of their wealth and/or status among other vodníci. When the lid of such a pot is removed, the soul within (in a form of a bubble) will escape and be liberated. Except for fish (or perhaps fish spirits), they do not have servants. Otherwise, vodníci spend their time by running their territory or – in their spare time – playing cards, smoking pipes or just sitting at the water surface (on rocks, willows nearby) and loitering. Fishermen ask the vodník for help by placing a pinch of tobacco in the water and saying, "Here's your tobacco, Lord Vodník, now give me a fish." In Czech, Slovak and Slovene tales vodníci live in ponds or rivers; there is no mention of a particular dwelling and the "half-sunken log" is unapparent. There are almost no references to vodníci in connection with sea water, which it is supposed would be dangerous, even deadly for them.

Cultural references[edit]

Czech Vodník in Peklo u Nové Město nad Metují
  • The first Slovene ballad, written in 1826 by the Slovene national poet France Prešeren, was titled "The Water Man" (Povodni mož). It is about Urška, a flirt from Ljubljana, who ended in the hands of a handsome man who turned out to be a vodyanoy. The poem is based on a story from The Glory of Carniola, about a dance at Old Square in Ljubljana in July 1547, when Urška Šefer was enchanted by a vodyanoy and tugged to the Ljubljanica. Prešeren wrote it due to his unfulfilled love towards Zalika Dolenc. In the first publication of the poem, the flirt was named Zalika.
  • David Wiltshire's novel Child of Vodyanoi (1978, adapted into the TV series The Nightmare Man) used the water spirit as a metaphor for a miniature Russian submarine.
  • Vodyanoy is one of the best known characters of the Soviet cartoons. In the Soviet animated film The Flying Ship (1979), he sings about his loneliness and need to talk with someone.
  • In China Miéville's Bas-Lag novels, the Vodyanoi are an aquatic people skilled in water-based magic. In Miéville's Perdido Street Station (2000), Vodyanoi dockworkers go on strike and use their magic to blockade a river shipping route.
  • An aging vodnik is the main character of the novel Hastrman by Czech writer Miloš Urban published in 2001. The novel won the Magnesia Litera prize for literature in 2002. A Czech movie based on the first part of the novel was produced in 2018.
  • Vodnik is the main character in the 2013 thriller Croaker, written and directed by Pittsburgh area filmmaker Fred Terling.[2]
  • A Vodyanoy features early in Larry Correia's 2017 novel Monster Hunter Siege.
  • A Vodník appeared as an antagonist in episode 3 of the animated Netflix series Legend Quest, where it terrorized a fvillage by stealing the souls of children.

In games[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Levkievskaya, Elena (2000). Myths of the Russian Folk. Astrel. p. 342. ISBN 5-271-00676-X.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  2. ^ Axelrad, Jacob (7 June 2013). "Canonsburg abuzz over horror movie". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Archived from the original on 2013-06-21.
  3. ^ The 1st Edition Dungeons & Dragons Fiend Folio, p. 93.

External links[edit]