Slavic mythology from Poland (part 9): BIEDA

Artwork © Jerzy Duda-Gracz

Bieda [pronounced bee-ed-ah] is one of the primeval demons and an immortal being, a shapeshifter. She brings misfortune, misery, hardship and grief. Her name comes from a Polish words meaning “poverty”.

She wanders on the Earth as an exceptionally tall and lean woman, resembling a fragile twig in her posture, and covers herself with tattered rags. She’s nourishing herself on human happiness and luck, sucking it out of her victims along with all their vital forces.

After choosing her targets she is settling down in a household. Her presence can be noticed right afterwards in a series of disasters and troubles happening suddenly in the family. She can turn herself into any object or animal – it was thus advised to watch out for e.g. any new thing that had suddenly appeared in the house, birds like sparrows or swallows who had built their nests under the roof but didn’t seem to lay eggs like the regular birds, or lone mouses who seemed to be smarter than cats.

Bieda is an immortal being and can’t be killed. Many people failed by trying to burn or sink the object she turned into – but she would then escape, squealing and screeching loudly, only to turn herself again or hide into another object, often much harder to track down.

She could feed herself on the family’s vitality up until everyone’s death, therefore it’s necessary to find her and remove the unfamiliar object far from the household – preferably give it as a gift to an enemy. Some tales say thatbieda could be tricked into entering a beautiful object which could be later gifted or tossed at enemy’s property.

One of the popular Polish phrases tells that “bieda (aż) piszczy” (literally: bieda squeals – meaning a bad situation, misery and impoverishment). Numerous local proverbs preserved the notion of bieda as a being, often entangled with the meaning of “poverty”, for example: “bieda po biedzie: jedna nie odeszła, a druga jedzie” (bieda after bieda, one hasn’t left yet but another is coming), “i kij nie obroni, jak bieda dogoni” (a stick won’t protect if bieda catches up with you), “goń biedę drzwiami to wlezie oknami” (chase bieda out through the door – she’ll enter through windows), and many more.

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

Rebloggable version of tumblr.

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. zmory – demons feeding on human vitality during sleep
  4. boginki – female spirits / demons connected to childbirth
  5. latawce – demons of the wind forces
  6. biesy – primeval spirits, evil forces of nature that hide in untouched parts of nature
  7. południce – midday ladies, demons of betrohed women who died before wedding
  8. strzyga – a demon similar to a vampire, often travelling in a form of a bird
  9. biali zimni ludzie (white cold people) – demons being a personification of illnesses

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