Dożynki, the ancient harvest festival

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“Udane plony”, Leon Bigosiński (1871-1928).  Source: cyfrowe.mnw.art.pl

Dożynki is an annual harvest festival celebrated in Poland around the turn of August and September that dates back maybe even to the ancient times. To majority of acclaimed historic Polish folklorists, researchers, and poets, such as Oskar Kolberg, Zygmunt Gloger, Ignacy Krasicki, Józef Ignacy Kraszewski, and numerous others, it’s been more than clear that dożynki hold many remnants of a pre-Christian feast of fertility and crops, dedicated to gods of prolificacy, celebrated in rural communities over the centuries ever since the pagan times and eventually syncretized with Christianity.

You might’ve already heard about that festival under the name of dozhinki (how it is very often spelled in the English language). Remnants of that mysterious Slavic festival survived in all Slavic countries under many similar names in local forms of harvest festivities. In Poland it’s been known also under names of wyżynki, obżynki (these two along with the name of dożynki are related to the word żeniec – old Polish word for a reaper), okrężne (from okrężny – roundabout, coming from a custom of ritual encircling of the crop fields), wieńcowe, wieńczyny (from wieniec – wreath or garland), and other regional names that could also be used separately to describe certain parts or rituals performed during that festival.

Before I go into details, I recommend you first to read my older article describing the symbolism of bread, and the rituals of the season of harvest itself before continuing to read about dożynki which is the culminating point of that season.

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Black: colors in Polish folklore (part 3)

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“Smok wawelski” (“Wawel Dragon“) by Witold Pruszkowski (1846-1896). Source: www.malarze.com

Third part of my short series describing the symbolism of colors in Polish folklore.

Again, starting with a bit of vocabulary and etymology for the interested (you might skip these few points to go right to the text below):

  • black (noun): czerń
  • adjectives: (she) czarna; (he) czarny; (it) czarne [full declension here at wiktionary]
  • etymology: coming from Proto-Slavic *čьrnъ, from earlier *čьrxnъ < *kьršnъ, from Proto-Balto-Slavic *kiršnas, from Proto-Indo-European *kr̥snós (black) [wiktionary]
  • the above root for the color black is pretty much consistent across all Slavic languages
  • also called: kary (used only to describe the color of horses) and wrony (used to describe colors of other animals, today rarely in use)

Continue reading “Black: colors in Polish folklore (part 3)”

White: colors in Polish folklore (part 2)

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“Wanda” by artist Witold Chomicz (1910-1984)

Second part of my planned short series describing the symbolism of colors in Polish folklore.

Like before, I’ll start with a bit of vocabulary and etymology for the interested (you might skip these few points to go right to the text below):

  • white (noun): biel
  • adjectives: (she) biała, (he) biały, (it) białe [full declension here at wiktionary]
  • etymology: derived from from Proto-Slavic *bělъ, which in turn came from Proto-Indo-European root noun *bʰēlHs (“white surface or stain”) [wiktionary]
  • the above root for the color white is consistent across all Slavic languages

Continue reading “White: colors in Polish folklore (part 2)”

Red: colors in Polish folklore (part 1)

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‘Girl in Red’ by artist Jacek Malczewski (1855-1929). Source: sztuka.agraart.pl

This is going to be a series of articles describing the symbolism of colors in Polish folklore. Red seems to me to be an obvious choice for a start of the series – it’s among the most magickal colors, popular for example in regional clothing, protective charms and jewellery.

First, a bit of vocabulary and related etymology facts for the curious, you can skip these few points to go to the text below right away:

  • red (noun): czerwień
  • adjectives: (she) czerwona, (he) czerwony, (it) czerwone [full declension here at wiktionary]
  • etymology: derived from czerw (larva, maggot, brood), precisely from Polish cochineal, a scale insect that used to be the main source for crimson dye in parts parts of Eurasia, and was one of main export products of the Kingdom of Poland in 15th and 16th centuries
  • the word “czerw” itself came from from Proto-Slavic *čьrvь, that in turn came from Proto-Indo-European *kʷr̥mis meaning a worm [wictionary]
  • the Polish cochineal gave also the name for the Polish name of June: czerwiec. It is the month when the Polish cochineals used to be harvested for the dye, before reaching maturity.
  • in the old-Polish language the color red was also called krasny

Continue reading “Red: colors in Polish folklore (part 1)”

The Halny wind and its mysteries

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“Wiatr halny” by Stanisław Witkiewicz (1851-1915), in the collection of Muzeum Narodowe w Krakowie / katalog.muzeum.krakow.pl

Even though not particularly high in comparison to other more well-known mountain ranges, the Tatra Mountains located in southern Poland are strongly affected by the local climate, and therefore can be extremely dangerous to those who’d underestimate their size or their nature. It’s usually advised to avoid trekking or hiking during the days when the wind called halny is blowing.

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Rosette / 6-pointed Star in Polish folklore

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6-petal rosette is an ancient symbol, a part of the overlapping circles grid family that was appearing in various cultures and dates back at least as far back as the Late Bronze Age. It was discovered in numerous lands all over Europe and beyond, including stonework of the old Celts, Visigoths, ancient Egypt, Rome, China, and many others. It was used in early Christian art as well, for example in the stonework of early Romanesque and Gothic churches, as well as in Byzantine structures.

Over the centuries it survived among many different regions all over the continent, including the rural art of the Slavic people. It was widespread notably in the areas around the Carpathian Mountain Range (that include mountainous regions of southern Poland, and stretches across countries like Romania, Slovakia, southeastern Ukraine, northern Serbia, Hungary) where it was used primarily as a protective symbol for the building and appliances.

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Gaik, the Polish/Slavic “May tree”

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Gaik in Lublin, eastern Poland. Photography by Fotograf Lublin – NAPC Studio

This custom was a part of Slavic spring celebrations, appearing during various festivals and rituals throughout the spring season in Poland and in many other Slavic countries. Gaik usually appears as a small tree or a branch (most often a local type of a conifer tree, or a birch tree) decorated with colorful ribbons and other adornments, depending on the occasion (for example trinkets, flowers and bells, or colorful pisanki made on emptied eggshells hanging from the branches). Gaik is known under many different regional names in Poland, and you can find it under numerous names such as: gaj, goik, gaiczek, maj, maik, mojik, sad, nowe lato, nowe latko, turzyce.

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