White: colors in Polish folklore (part 2)

Witold-Chomicz(1910-1984)-Wanda
“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

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Red: colors in Polish folklore (part 1)

https://onebid.pl/pl/auction/304/lot/124/jan-ekiert-1907-1993-kobieta-z-koralami-1950
Jan Ekiert (1907-1993): Kobieta z koralami (Woman with Coral Necklace), 1950. Source: onebid.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

halny-witkiewicz
“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”

gaik
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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Traditional trance music and dance – Mazurek, the ‘Wild Music from the Heart of Poland’

There’re certain modern connotations and a definition of what a ‘trance music’ is – but here I want to use that term in its traditional/native meaning, and to introduce the traditional type of music coming from the heart of Poland: the rural mazurkas. I’ve been thinking long how should I call this type of music in the English language (I might not know a better term for it because it isn’t my native language) but eventually I decided that ‘trance music’ fits the most after all. The music I want to show you was putting the dancers into an almost hypnotic state, it comprised of [relatively] fast beats, and was played for various types of rural festivities and social events set in the old Polish countryside. In a way, I think that some elements of the definition of ‘trance music’ still fits with this old music – anyways, let’s jump to the introduction.

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Painted cottages in Poland

A painted house in the village of Zalipie, southern Poland. Source: Małopolska.pl Fb Page

Many of you might’ve already heard about Zalipie, a small village in southern Poland where an old custom still survives nowadays: houses are decorated in rich flowery patterns both on the inside and outside. Today I want to describe a short history of that custom for you, and also to show a few examples of similar decorative folk art in the other regions of Poland from the past. Painting the interiors of cottages – and in rarer cases the exteriors as well – is an old tradition known from many rural regions of the Eastern and Central European countries, including Poland. In a lot of documented historical cases from around 100 years ago the painted patterns were rather simple in form and their meaning was connected to the forgotten protective rites.

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