Slavic mythology from Poland (part 2): PŁANETNICY

Polish_mythology-płanetnicy
drawing by Robert Sawa.

Płanetnicy* (singular form: płanetnik, pronounced pwa-net-neek) are the ‘shepherds of the clouds‘, described in numerous Polish folk tales. They are believed to be ancient spirits with a great power over various atmospheric phenomena, able to control the clouds by moving them around on long ropes. That way they can bring for example nourishing rain or damaging ice storms to the crop fields, or maintain a good weather for villages.

They belong to a group of neutral spirits. Płanetnicy were seen as friendly to the people, but on the other hand could be very easily enraged if facing rudeness or depravity. In such a case, they might act mischievously and bring a storm over a village or a crop field – and could potentially destroy them on a whim.

Local Polish people bestowed a great respect for these spirits and always tried to gain their favours. They practiced various forms of magical actions. For example , it was common to throw a bit of flour into the air as an offering for the płanetnicy, to burn special compositions of herbs for them, and then ring local church’s bells in order to ‘mark’ an area where the clouds should be dispersed.

Płanetnik would sometimes visit a house, always in dripping wet clothes even if the weather was hot and dry. In such situations it is necessary to greet him as one would greet a dearest member of the family or a closest friend – to feed him, to provide a good company and prepare a place to rest. However, it is forbidden to ask him anything about his identity (maybe unless he would start talking about it first). When appearing on the earth, płanetnicy are usually taking a shape of tall and old men, wearing simple clothes (usually traditional outfits made of white linen) and straw hats with a wide brim that are protecting their eyes from the sunlight.

Polish legends say that there are different ranks of płanetnicy. There are groups responsible for different types of clouds creating either rain, snow, hail, storm, and so on. Some of them are binding together lightnings and preparing them for a later use. Some are doing basic work like shaping up the clouds out of fog that they ‘take out’ from seas, lakes, rivers and swamps. The strongest płanetnicy are pushing the heaviest of storm clouds. Sometimes a group of them is chosen to escort a captured evil dragon over the clouds to a place of its execution – then, strong hailstorms are appearing under the clouds as a side effect.

Sometimes an ‘earthly płanetnik’ is born. It is a human being who has an unusual ability of predicting or even controlling the weather. Polish people believed that such abilities could be gained by making a pact with the spirits of płanetnicy. Such a human being – the ‘earthly płanetnik’ (Polish: ‘ziemski płanetnik’) – is easy to recognize by their calmness, devotion, wisdom and kindness to the others. One of the last well-documented cases of a man considered to be an ‘earthly płanetnik’ comes from a village of Przysietnica in southern Poland, where the local people recognized the unusual abilities in Mr. Wojciech Rachwał, who passed away in 1973. Old stories about Mr. Rachwał say that he was able to stop storms from entering the village by making signs of a cross into the direction of the sky or holding up a gromnica (thunder candle), and was always able to predict the weather. His grave in a local cementery contains a line: ‘the last płanetnik’.

Płanetnicy - mythological spirits able to control the weather from Polish tales
Archival image of ‘earthly płanetnik’ Mr. Wojciech Rachwał dispersing the clouds. Source: Anna Kisielewska: “Wojciech Rachwał – płanetnik z Przysietnicy”. W: Między dawnymi a nowymi laty… Studia folklorystyczne pod red. R.Górskiego i J.Krzyżanowskiego, 1970.

*Other local names known in Poland [plural forms]: płanetnikichmurniki, obłoczniki.

[polecam krótki artykuł po polsku]

My general sources / book recommendations [in Polish only].

Rebloggable version on my tumblr blog: [link].


Other creatures from Polish mythology described on my blog:

  1. ogniki (błędne ogniki) – demons comparable to ignis fatuus
  2. zmory – demons feeding on human vitality during sleep
  3. boginki – female spirits / demons connected to childbirth
  4. latawce – demons of the wind forces
  5. biesy – primeval spirits, evil forces of nature that hide in untouched parts of nature
  6. południce – midday ladies, demons of betrohed women who died before wedding
  7. strzyga – a demon similar to a vampire, often travelling in a form of a bird
  8. bieda – a shapeshifting demon bringing misfortune and poverty
  9. biali zimni ludzie (white cold people) – demons being a personification of illnesses
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11 thoughts on “Slavic mythology from Poland (part 2): PŁANETNICY

  1. The concept of “moving them about on ropes” reminded me of the bit from Ralston’s The Songs of the Russian People, that had me puzzled. “” The people of Novogorod formerly offered their chief worship and adoration to a certain idol named Perun. When subsequently they received baptism, they removed it from its place, and threw it into the river Volchov ; and the story goes, that it swam against the stream, and that near the bridge a voice was heard, saying, “This for you, inhabitants of Novogorod, in memory of me ; ‘ and at the same time a certain rope was thrown upon the bridge. Even now it happens from time to time on certain days of the year, that this voice of Perun may be heard, and on these occasions the citizens run together and lash each other with ropes, and such a tumult arises therefrom, that all the efforts of the Governor can scarcely assuage it.” Herberstein, Mr. Major’s translation, vol. II. p. 26.”

    I was wondering about the significance of the rope. Why would Perun give it to them? And it says they “lash each other with rope” do you think they are hitting each other with the rope in punishment of throwing down Perun?
    – Robin

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