Slavic mythology from Poland (part 3): ZMORY

drawing by Robert Sawa

Zmory [singular form: zmora] are vicious half-demonic creatures. They’re emaciating the living by feeding on their vital forces but aren’t able to kill them directly. Zmory are night creatures, connected to sleep disturbances.

Many Polish folk myths describe them as the wandering souls of those living people who were lost in a deep sleep state or suffering from a severe disease [also in a coma], that were leaving the body to tire out the humans. In some regions of Poland they were also said to be the souls of those people who died in misery without receiving the holy sacraments or people born with two souls. In all cases they were lost between the living and the dead worlds, seeking the vital energy – in some rare cases even sucking off peoples’ blood. Zmory would usually sit on the sleeping people’s legs or chests, causing a sleep paralysis or breathing problems connected with a feeling of a heaviness on the chest. They were more likely to attack a person sleeping on the back.

Zmory were believed to be semi-material beings, unable to go through a solid state. This wouldn’t stop them though, as according to the old tales they had learned to open any kind of a door lock. They could also get inside a room through a keyhole, taking a form of e.g. a mosquito or a thin straw. Usually they would be invisible, but some zmory would be able to take a form of a human, still having a semi-transparent body. In most of the old stories they would be women [male equivalent being e.g. dusiołek] and would appear as e.g. an ugly maiden or a hideous hag.

In multiple Polish folk tales the zmory would also harass animals and their beloved targets were horses. They were seeking a warm company and horse’s vital strenght, distressing the animals. A horse visited by a zmora at night would be sweaty and visibly exhausted in the morning. Zmory would also always mess up horses’ manes and tails – tie their hair into thin braids, very hard to untangle. Some of the particularly mischievous zmory would torture horses by riding them around the whole night. They would also leave marks on a horse’s body by trying to get on it.

People would protect themselves from zmory by fumigating the bedroom with a special composition of herbs, keeping the holy water close to the bed or going to sleep with an axe or another sharp metal object. After an attack of a zmora it was necessary to change the sleeping place or at least the sleeping position for the next night or two in order to avoid further “visits”. The stalls could’ve been protected from zmory by hanging e.g. a dead magpie inside or sheep horns outside the building, by cutting the horse’s mane short in a magical ritual or sprinkling the animal with salty water [salt believed to be protective].

Examples of other names, dependant on the region of Poland [singular forms]: mora, mara, nocnica, dusznica, zmora końska.

[polecam 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. płanetnicy – supernatural beings called ‘shepherds of the clouds’
  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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