Drawing protective symbols with sand in Poland

Poland: old tradition of drawing protective symbols with sand
Archival photo, region of Kujawy in Poland. From magazine “Gadki z chatki”.

Drawing protective or decorative symbols with sand is an old custom from the rural parts of Poland, first described by ethnographers in 19th century. In Polish it’s usually called ‘sypanie piaskiem’ (what translates simply to ‘pouring of sand’). It used to be common to many regions located in the modern-day central Poland. This tradition started disappearing first due to changes of construction materials inside cottages and their surroudings (explained below). Later it died out almost completely during the secular communist rule and the rapid industrialization of the Polish countryside after World War 2.

The co-called ‘sand carpets’ were prepared for religious feasts, most notably for Easter but also for other religious spring feasts, of which many bear traces to pre-Christian Slavic beliefs (read for example: the Green Week or the Polish celebrations of Corpus Christi).

Originally the ‘sand carpets’ decorated only interiors of rural cottages. The custom was surviving for the longest time in those villages that were still using a klepisko (an old type of a hard earthen floor inside houses). Sand poured on such a klepisko was behaving differently and staying longer than on the modern types of hard floors.

Poland: old tradition of drawing protective symbols with sand
Exhibition in ethnography museum in Toruń. Photo via wiano.eu

Then, the modernized materials started entering Polish countryside, notably during the era of the industrial revolution in 19th century. People started building cottages with the hard floors, much quicker to maintain over the year than the old klepisko type of floor. Sand poured on the new hard floors was swept away easily even with a small blow of draft air – the rural people most likely didn’t feel it works and looks correctly this way and the custom started dying out slowly.

However, in some regions the people started ‘going outside’ with the custom. Many symbols started appearing on the ground and paths in front of cottages.

sand-symbols-in-poland02
An exhibition organized in cultural centre in Toruń.
sand-symbols-in-poland04
Archival photo taken in Kujawy, 1972, from the collections of Museum of Kujawy and Dobrzyń Lands.

The custom survived the longest in the region of Kujawy (north-central Poland) where the people were nourishing this old tradition even after the World War 2. Before disappearing, drawing of the sand symbols was noted to be alive also in regions around Kielce, Opoczno, Rawa Mazowiecka and Łowicz, all in central parts of Poland.

The symbols had a temporary character and were made usually only for a day. Those poured inside cottages were prepared in the morning, and were carefully swept away in the evening after the main festive meal. Sometimes the symbols could’ve stayed on the floor overnight, and the ethnographers were noting that the most decorative elements were often ‘drawn’ close to the beds.

Poland: old tradition of drawing protective symbols with sand
Contemporary competition in the region of Kujawy. Photo via wloclaweknews.pl

Nowadays many ethnography organizations in the mentioned region of Kujawy are reviving the old custom. Events with competitions for the most beautiful designs decorating paths and streets with the sand symbols are held, and they become only more and more popular. They are promoted under a name of ‘Kujawskie sypanie piaskiem’ (transl. ‘Kuyavian pouring of sand’). The same motifs that used to be ‘drawn’ with the sand in this region are also appearing in the regional embroidery, and many motifs created during the contemporary competitions are inspired by the local embroidery and other crafts. They include for example symmetrical flowery forms that are remnants of the symbol of a tree of life.

Below under the cut you can see a gallery of the conteporary competitions organized primarily in town of Przedecz (located in the region of Kujawy) – lots of pictures showing the patterns.


‘SYPANIE PIASKIEM’ – POURING OF SAND IN POLAND


Photos taken in Przedecz, region of Kujawy, 2014

source: http://www.przedecz.net/index.php?dzial=1&strona=47 :

Poland: old tradition of drawing protective symbols with sand Poland: old tradition of drawing protective symbols with sand Poland: old tradition of drawing protective symbols with sand Poland: old tradition of drawing protective symbols with sand Poland: old tradition of drawing protective symbols with sand Poland: old tradition of drawing protective symbols with sand Poland: old tradition of drawing protective symbols with sand Poland: old tradition of drawing protective symbols with sand


Photos taken in Przedecz, region of Kujawy, 2012

source: http://www.przedecz.net/index.php?dzial=1&strona=39 :

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Photos taken in Przedecz, region of Kujawy, 2010

source: http://www.przedecz.net/index.php?dzial=1&strona=23 :

Poland: old tradition of drawing protective symbols with sand Poland: old tradition of drawing protective symbols with sand Poland: old tradition of drawing protective symbols with sand Poland: old tradition of drawing protective symbols with sand Poland: old tradition of drawing protective symbols with sand Poland: old tradition of drawing protective symbols with sand Poland: old tradition of drawing protective symbols with sand


Photos taken in Przedecz, region of Kujawy, 2008

source: http://www.przedecz.net/index.php?dzial=4&kronika=10&nr=42 :

Poland: old tradition of drawing protective symbols with sand Poland: old tradition of drawing protective symbols with sand Poland: old tradition of drawing protective symbols with sand Poland: old tradition of drawing protective symbols with sand Poland: old tradition of drawing protective symbols with sand Poland: old tradition of drawing protective symbols with sand Poland: old tradition of drawing protective symbols with sand Poland: old tradition of drawing protective symbols with sand Poland: old tradition of drawing protective symbols with sand Poland: old tradition of drawing protective symbols with sand Poland: old tradition of drawing protective symbols with sand Poland: old tradition of drawing protective symbols with sand Poland: old tradition of drawing protective symbols with sand


Photos taken in Przedecz, region of Kujawy, 2009

source: http://www.imxs.pl/ckis/ckis.konin.pl/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=101:sypanie09&catid=52:ludowo&Itemid=50

Poland: old tradition of drawing protective symbols with sand Poland: old tradition of drawing protective symbols with sand Poland: old tradition of drawing protective symbols with sand Poland: old tradition of drawing protective symbols with sand Poland: old tradition of drawing protective symbols with sand Poland: old tradition of drawing protective symbols with sand


Apart from the region of Kujawy, the custom is reconstructed also in other regions of central Poland when it was documented in the past.

Photos below were taken in the Ethnography Museum of Mazovian Countryside located in Sierpc. In contrast to the region of Kujawy where the sand was poured in a simple was with a hand, this region was using small funnels made of paper.

source: https://www.facebook.com/muzeumsierpc

Poland: old tradition of drawing protective symbols with sand Poland: old tradition of drawing protective symbols with sand Poland: old tradition of drawing protective symbols with sand Poland: old tradition of drawing protective symbols with sand


I collect other examples under the tag ‘sand’ in my tumblr gallery: 

http://lamus-dworski.tumblr.com/tagged/sand

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2 thoughts on “Drawing protective symbols with sand in Poland

  1. how extraordinary…i was familiar with the hindu tradition of “kolam”, which are similar designs made with rice flour in india. but i’d never seen these! i am seeing a number of parallels between certain ancient indian customs and slavic practices, as well as a few very ancient greek traditions. not surprising given the travels of ancient indo-european and other peoples.

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    1. There are many pararels among old customs altogether. Regarding the kolam you mentioned, there are some similar designs that in the Polish folklore have survived in the papercutting crafts known as “wycinanki”, especially their circular types. You should check them out.

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