In the seventies, they decided to make the blue Polish Lake Pakoskim into a great reservoir.
Man had not touched the place for millennia, and it may be that the lake was a little surprised that humans roughly manhandled her into a series of three reservoirs, separated by causeways, spanning 14.5 kn in length.
She has since settled down to a period of placid stasis and fish have come back to live in the three great sections of Pakoskim Lake. But that unceremonious rifling and rummaging in the seventies? Man uncovered some age-old secrets there.
In moved the Poznań Department of Archaeology and Preservation. For there were reasons to believe that peoples had lived on the shores of the great lake since neolithic times, and as recently as the mediaeval period.
And what they uncovered, at the village of Jankowo on the lake, was astonishing.
Along the lake they discovered more than 100 archaeological sites. And on an island in the lake they found a moated, elliptical fort, more than 2000 years old. It had a central square, and a castle, and a bridge across the lake for access; and evidence of houses which had wooden sides and floors of compacted clay. Every house had a furnace, a clay dome built on a wooden skeleton. Inside they found hoes, arrowheads, stone grinders, leather working tools and evidence of skilled metal working.
All human life was once there, on the deserted lake at Jankowo.
I mention this because one find arrested me, as I went about my business yesterday. I found this picture of one of their Gods. just his head; nothing else.
He is thought to have been a god of the forest. And Gods were important to the Slavs, back then. Because if you were a tiny pin-dot in the vast landscapes of that part of the world, nature would baffle and frighten you, too. The best way to make sense of it all was to tell stories.
They made a day-god and a night-god, Byelobog and Chernobog. The sky was a god – Svarog – and so were its children, the Sun, Dazhbog, and Fire, Svarogich. The forests were filled with mischievous spirited called Leshys, and every field was ruled by a Polevik. Even the barns had their little gods, the Ovinniks. And the stories: such stories, so magnificent that they kept the men warm by their clay-and-wood furnaces during the endless winter nights.
But then came Christianity.
A merciless story-scythe, Christianity, in some ways. Experts think that it cut pagan mythology off ‘in the bud’ before it had completely bloomed. It is thought that the head of this god may have been hacked from its body and thrown into the lake as part of the destruction of many such images when the Christians came to claim souls. Much of the evidence of the bigger Gods remains only in the robust folklore of the region. For you can wrest a statue from a Pole, but they put their stories in wallets close to their hearts.
But the little gods: it is said they escaped the massacre of the Christians. The household spirits of place, the Domovoi? The villagers slipped them quietly out of sight, and kept them close, so that these little hairy human-shaped spirits of divinity somehow remained to guide the people of that region through the centuries, and when the archaeologists arrived and began to take notice of the people of the island lake, their descendants could add something to their understanding. And not just the house- spirits but the Dvorovoi, the spirits of the back yard, and the spirit of the bathroom at the bottom of the garden, the Bannik.
All alive and well, in the houses of the people of Pakość.
So here’s a beginning to the tales of the Slav gods they have patronised as rustic. I’ll tell more in the days to come. For it would be a great shame if these lovely little gods remained in the silt at the bottom of a lake, somewhere in the South of Poland.