Groundwater is divine

Posted by Frank van Steenbergen
September 10, 2015

(Postcard from Zagoria in Greece from the double spring of Avragonia)   

Groundwater is divine – it quenches the thirst of people in nearly half of the world and waters forty per cent of all irrigated crops. Groundwater over the ages has served people in remote areas living away from any river – and has in dry periods provided water through springs and wells. Being divine, groundwater was often found with the help of a forked stick by people appropriately called diviners. Often full of therapeutic minerals, water from wells and springs has in many cases been associated with healing power and energy. 

One of those divine sources is the double spring of Avragonia just outside the scenic ‘end of the road’ village Micro Papingo in the Zagoria Mountains in Greece. The Avrogonia water is believed to cure hearts that are hurt. Once a year, in a small local festival, the villagers bless the springs. A small chapel is built on top of the double spring with a huge holy plane tree just behind it. 

Micro Papingo has a rich history for an area as far away and inaccessible as it is. It is one of the 43 villages wedged for centuries on the steeps slopes of the Zagoria region. The area blossomed as it was virtually autonomous of the Turkish rule, and served as a main passage of goods to and from Venice. Remittances of young men working elsewhere further helped the prosperity of the remote villages. Their fame is also on account of their fierce resistance during the Second World War when German aircrafts bombed some of the Zagoria villages. 

Springs have been the main source for drinking water and for dry season irrigation. The porous limestone in these mountains is alternated with layers of impermeable ironstone and slates. Where these two meet, water oozes out as springs, often collected in stone bowls as in Avragonia. 

An ancient belief was that fairies took shelter in many of these springs, and so women would bath in them to acquire on some of their magical beauty.  Such stories develop around springs and wells quite often. They are associated with a range of folk deities: saints, nymphs, dragons or spirits. Unlike rains, floods and droughts that are seen as driven by the large, almighty Godly power, groundwater is always very local and its power far more approachable. 

In the past four decades the use of groundwater has increased five-fold globally. Whilst this has yielded many benefits it has also come at a heavy price in many areas: groundwater levels have plummeted, springs and shallow wells dried out, and in general the groundwater buffer that helped us tidy over difficult times has been impaired. The estimate is that worldwide, we use 20% more groundwater than is being recharged.  At the same time groundwater – probably because of its ubiquity and invisibility– is largely unmanaged. There is a huge disaster in the making, already manifest in several places, if we do not turn around now and start putting the basic governance in place. We need to use groundwater but bless and manage it at the same time, as is being done in the Micro Papingo annual festival.






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September 10, 2015  
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