Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Upinis of Lithuania

Confluence of Merkys and Neman Rivers, Lithuania
Over on the Ghost Village message board, the topic of the month for June has to do with Lake Spirits.  Interestingly, not long before, I had read the main story posted--the tale of New York's Ronkonkoma Lake and its murderous Indian Princess who drowns one male victim a year in retaliation of forbidden love.

Researching this case led to an interest in researching similar stories concerning cursed and haunted bodies of water, and the creatures that may inhabit them.  One tale I came across is that of Lithuania's Upinis.

The Upinis is the guardian spirit of flowing waters.  You'll find the Upinis in such bodies of water as streams, rivers, and creeks.  A different being, the Ezerinis, is reserved for non-flowing bodies, such as lakes.

The Upinis began its history in Lithuania as a deity.  Before the country converted to Christianity in 1387, Pagan beliefs designated certain natural features, most notably waterways, as sacred sites called Altas.  In order to appease the guardian deity of the river or stream and ensure crystal clear water, a sacrifice of white pigs was given.  Pigs were seen as harbingers of the afterlife and a particular servant to the water gods.

These beliefs survived well into the 19th century, but managed to morph away from religious connotations into the myths and legends of the country.  Today, very few believe that these waterways are actually guarded by a personified deity, but are open to the modern idea of a genius loci!

In short, a genius loci is the guardian spirit of a place, with roots in ancient Roman religions.  However, more modern usage of the word refers to the more symbolic "spirit" or feel of a place, rather than an actual spirit. Those in the tri-state might have heard that the large number of suicides and associated hauntings of West Virginia's Hawks Nest State Park can be traced to a guardian spirit, or genius loci.

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