Boginki [singular form: boginka] are female personifications of the wild forces of the nature in the old-Slavic Polish mythology. They are seen as demons either neutral or hostile to people, often attacking women during childbirth, replacing the newborns with “odmieńce” (changelings), startling the horses and cattle or destroying the fishing nests.
Appearing in many forms and subtypes, they could’ve been living in swamps, lakes, rivers, forests, bushwoods or mountains.
In some of the folk beliefs (depending on the region of Poland), a woman who died in childbirth, commited suicide or murdered a child was suffering by becoming a boginka after the death; the kids stolen from cradles could also be turning into boginki or other types of demons. People believed also that witches are able to summon and pray to boginki in order to get help (for example to get a child that boginka was stealing from the inattentive mothers). In other regional beliefs, boginka could also sneak into a woman’s bed to whimper under the bedclothes, appear during a wedding party to treat the guests with poisoned vodka, or lure thier old lovers into dangerous swamps or deep waters. They were sometime believed to have husbands, demons called boginiarze, and give birth to their own children – then they’d capture young human mothers for breastfeeding.
The term boginki is often referred to as the oldest umbrella term for such spirits, one of the oldest traces to the old-Slavic female aspects of the untamed, primeval nature. The literal translation of the word is a diminutive form of the word bogini – goddess. That ancient concept had evolved over the time and could’ve gained some of the negative superstitions during the process of Christianization and times of the witch hunt. Over the centuries, boginki gained many new names, some only local, for example the boginki living in rivers and lakes started to be called by the popular name of rusałki, term borrowed from the East Slavic mythology, and the boginki that were specifically stealing children from the cradles gained the name mamuny. According to stories from some region such as Pieniny in southern Poland, boginki had a certain appearance: black hair, black eyes, and swarthy skin.
To ensure a protection from boginki, Polish women were preparing special compositions of herbs and flowers, blessed during the Kupala Night (Slavic summer solstice celebrations) or during the feast of the Holy Mother of the Herbs (celebrated on the day of the Assumption of Mary), and putting red caps on the heads or red ribbons around the wrists of their children (red was seen as the most protective color in the old-Slavic beliefs, bringing general safety, beauty and prosperity, strenghtening the powers of the home spirits, and representing the good, warming fire).
My general sources / book recommendations [in Polish only].
Rebloggable version on my tumblr blog: [link].
Other creatures from Polish mythology described on my blog:
- ogniki (błędne ogniki) – demons comparable to ignis fatuus
- płanetnicy – supernatural beings called ‘shepherds of the clouds’
- zmory – demons feeding on human vitality during sleep
- 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
15 thoughts on “Slavic mythology from Poland (part 4): BOGINKI”
To me, the mythology of the “corruption of condemning women” through folklore, by calling them demons was in a way, the “Witch Burnings” of Slavic cultures of both Paganism and Christianity. Eventually this will die off as both Paganism and Christianity fades away and we re-enter the prehistory of Shamanism and Dream Cultures again.
This is not just polish but also slovak as bohynka from Spiš region under High Tatras or maybe Orava and Kysuce (northern parts of Slovakia).
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That’s correct! Boginki were known in most regions of central, southern and eastern Poland, and also (from what is known to me) in regions of Slovakia, Ukraine and Belarus adjacent to Poland. My series of “Slavic mythology from Poland” is simply intended to show the translated informations from the Polish sources. It’s sometimes extremely hard to trace all the similarities among the other Slavic countries, because on one hand there’re always so many analogies, but on the other hand not everything appears in all the other Slavic languages under the same name. Thank you for your comment!