A benevolent water spirit is something unusual indeed. :)

They're not benevolent per se, they only (sometimes) protect the ones who respect them. And by respect, I mean a relation like between people of different rank (like sovereign and a vassal or a nobleman and a serf), not a standard “respecting other people”. They are clearly above humans. If you angered them you're doomed. :)

They also asked riddles to passers-by, also they often asked for some favour, and the best you can do is to fulfil their request. They sometimes return the favour, sometimes not. The worst thing is to refuse, they would get really angry then – but they don't show it instantly, initially they pretend that they respect the fool's decision, only later they unleash the hell – which also extends to the family. Anyway, you should never try to cheat them – they are hundred times smarter than humans (I'm not sure here, but I think they can also read peoples' minds). Accepting any competition or duel with them is extremely risky – great majority of people lose their lives in process (usually drowning). My great-great grandfather was considered lucky, as he won such a competition (I don't remember the circumstances), he was considered utopce's “friend” (which meant they could listen to him, and sometimes answer :P ). Anyway, I'm still afraid of them (even if I don't believe in them), and I always stay cautious near ponds (especially at night).

That's why we resisted Germanisation – the Germans didn't pay respect to the spirits, while righteous Silesians did :P

Btw, is there also a belief that they originate from people who have died in the water, or it's just the name?

Probably originally yes (as in the rest of Poland). But over time the folklore evolved, and the modern utopce are rather a mix of many different creatures. The water spirit was probably the basis because here the deforestation began much earlier than in the rest of Poland, and the fish ponds (rybniki) were really common here (the ponds are the main dwellings of the spirits).

Main defence against them were figures of St. John Nepomucen usually placed near bridges. They were extremely common in Silesia. It may be remarked, that while the original saint appears to don't have a pagan connection, his name has. It's probably why the cult was so popular – he has the same name as John the Baptist and is connected with water, which can mean a late connection with Perun (long forgotten at that time, except his name – living today in a common Silesian exclamation and a swear word – “pieronie!”).


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