Latawce [pronounced la-tav-tse] and their female counterparts latawice [la-ta-vee-tse] were demons believed to be souls of the aborted or stillborn children, but also of people who died suddenly (for example hanged criminals). Originally, they weren’t seen as particularly hostile to people, though could be dangerous due to their restless nature, identified with the unpredictable forces of the wind.
Their appearance was resembling birds, particularly black ones like ravens or rooks. We could interpret that they were shapeshifting in nature, because many tales describe them with human parts (for example face or legs), or even looking like regular people, only with e.g. wings instead of arms. They were mostly night creatures, often arriving with winds, whirls, and storms. People also believed that latawce could die when hit by a lightning.
If bribed with the right offerings, spells and prayers, they could’ve become home spirits and help around the household, for example to guide moderate winds to the windmills. But an offended latawiec could become vicious – in some regions of Poland it was even believed that the fires started by lightnings were caused by these demons, and that they were seducing young people with their irresistible form of appearane, whispering in the winds and eventually driving their victims insane.
Due to the influence of Christianity in Poland, this folk belief was changing over the centuries: for example the origin myth of their creation started including also the unbaptized children. Restless nature of latawce was demonized, compared to devils, and overly sexualized. Still in early 20th century girls were warned not to go out alone on windy or stormy nights, because a latawiec could lure them and force to commit a “sin of impurity”. Over the time, the female verb latawica became even a popular synonym for a promiscuous woman in the Polish language.
The word latawiec in the modern Polish language means also a kite. They are both simply derived from the verb latać which means “to fly”.
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
- boginki – female spirits / demons connected to childbirth
- 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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