The Motif of Living Water in Slavic Tradition


by Richard Kuehnel and Rado Lencek

We examined Slavic rituals related to the living water motif in

Rites, Ceremonies, and Folk Festivals

Our investigation has produced several significant conclusions. It has demonstrated that the living water motif may be common to Eastern, Western, and South Slavic tradition and therefore of common Slavic origin. Our structural analysis of the Eastern Slavic folktales collected by Afanasev has produced certain oppositions: water from above acts upon beings below, and destruction by man stands opposed to healing and renewal by water. Moreover, based upon our analysis of the prehistoric ecology of the so-called Slavic proto-home, and through our examination of Eastern Slavic folk rituals, these oppositions may be evidence of underlying mythical beliefs which originated in a period of transition to primitive farming.

Further Study

Many facets of this study warrant further investigation. We have only briefly reflected upon the living water motif in Western and South Slavic folklore, and a more thorough examination may be useful. Furthermore, a study of the folk rituals of these cultures would probably more sharply define the remnants of ancient mythical beliefs which may remain in these traditions. Our examination of a belief in the magical powers of water has touched upon the more general concept of destruction as a precursor to renewal. A comparative study of this idea may produce important information on the possible universality or even polygenetic origin of this belief.