Błędne ogniki or simply ogniki [singular form: błędny ognik] are demons guarding the graves where forgotten treasures are hidden. They are the lost souls of penitents, the impious or deceitful people, particularly of the fraudulent surveyors or unjust landlords. They live in marshes and swamps.
Ogniki are demons hostile to people. If lost wanderers reach the areas haunted by ogniki, they are led into the most dangerous parts of the location and get drowned. Many people would describe going after the lights of błędne ogniki as a hypnotic state. The lights would sometimes appear as a pair of hands holding either a candle or an undescribable light source. Ogniki are trying to keep the people as far away from the treasures they were protecting as possible. They are suffering from their earthly greed.
According to some folk traditions, a way to protect oneself from the błędne ogniki is to burn protective herbs on the torch that is held during the night travels or to throw coins behind the back in order to distract or bribe the demons.
Due the influence of Christianization in Poland the błędne ogniki are also described as souls of the innocent children who weren’t baptized before their death or souls of the people who didn’t receive the anointing sacrament. A person caught in the marshes by błędne ogniki would promise to pay for a holy mass dedicated to their souls – and such a promise has to be fulfilled, otherwise they would come after the person sooner or later.
The could be rougly compared to will-o’-the-wisp / ignis fatuus.
Other names, dependant on the region od Poland [plural forms]: świetliki bagienne, świczki, światełka.
On the picture: late 19th-century woodcut by Julian Schübeler based on Miłosz Kotarbiński’s drawing, source.
My general sources / book recommendations [in Polish only].
Rebloggable version on my tumblr blog: [link].
Other creatures from Polish mythology described on my blog:
- płanetnicy – supernatural beings called ‘shepherds of the clouds’
- zmory – demons feeding on human vitality during sleep
- boginki – female spirits / demons connected to childbirth
- latawce – demons of the wind forces
- biesy – primeval spirits, evil forces of nature that hide in untouched parts of nature
- południce – midday ladies, demons of betrohed women who died before wedding
- strzyga – a demon similar to a vampire, often travelling in a form of a bird
- bieda – a shapeshifting demon bringing misfortune and poverty
- biali zimni ludzie (white cold people) – demons being a personification of illnesses
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