Kashubian mythology: Slavic mythology from northern Poland

The Slavic mythology comes in many local subbranches: over the past centuries it was passed down and evolved in many different ways within the various corners of the lands inhabitated by the Slavic people. An excellent example of the local Slavic mythology can be found in northern Poland among the legends of the Kashubian people.

Kashubians (Kaszëbi in their own language, or Kaszubi in Polish) belong to the branch of the West Slavic people. Many of them still speak the Kashubian language that is closely related to Polish, and both those languages belong to the group of the Lechitic languages. Kashubians are sometimes referred to as the last group representing the Baltic Slavs (Slavic people along the shores of the Baltic Sea) or Pomeranian Slavs (Pomerania, also: Pomerelia, was a Latin name for the region called ‘Pòmòrskô’ in Kashubian and ‘Pomorze’ in Polish, both coming from Slavic ‘po-more’ meaning an area ‘by the sea’).

In the Kashubian legends many curious informations about old gods and mythological creatures survived over the centuries. The ethnographers interested in the Kashubian culture managed to gather materials about c. 32 gods and c. 93 spirits, demons and other mythological creatures in which the rural Kashubians still believed around the turn of 19th/20th centuries. Sadly, due to the historical conditions when the Kashubian culture faced erasure over the past centuries (it’s the only fully surviving dialect of the group of Pomeranian Slavic languages) some informations come without important details like the names – a lot of the mythological gods and creatures are only nameless shadows of the old lore. However, there are still many names that can be properly described.

There are both good and bad gods and spirits in the Kashubian mythology. Just like in the case of the other Slavic mythologies, the majority of gods are ‘good’ ones, favorable to the people, while the majority of the spirits represent the dangers lurking in the dark. What’s characteristic for the Kashubian mythology, there are a few unique characters in their lore which reflect the geographical conditions of the Kashubians as the people inhabitating a strip of land on the southern shores of the Baltic Sea and working as sailors or fishermen.

As always in the cases of ‘local’ mythology, some surviving names might’ve been distorted over the long centuries, some might’ve been influenced by the centuries of Christianity, or might represent a worship of Slavic lesser gods of only a local character, not known in the other parts of the Slavic lands. These kinds of details remain a mystery to be unveiled. Some of those names might already ring a bell for those of you who know them from the other Slavic langaugesin a different spelling  (with a strong focus on the spelling of names from the related Polish mythology).

What’s also important to mention for me as the writer trying to translate the informations for you, I must stress out here that some of the names don’t have a ‘standardized’ form in the Kashubian language (which itself has a few dialects), and some of the names I’ve found only in a Polish spelling. There’s still much to research even for me.

Not to prolong my introduction further (feel free to ask questions below), here I’m presenting you a list of a selection of figures from the Kashubian mythology. The list is randomized, and I tried to show here only those figures that can be described with at least a few words about their traits. Some names are illustrated by various Kashubian and Polish artists which I’ve found online (see the respective credits under each of the pictures).


A SELECTION OF KASHUBIAN GODS, SPIRITS AND DEMONS

Kashubian mythology: Bóg Absolut, artist Zbigniew Śmiechowski
Bóg Absolut, artist Zbigniew Śmiechowski, source: bpgw.org.pl

♦ Bóg or Bóg Absolut (transl. God or Absolute God) is one of the gods I’m considered as passed down nameless, and most likely influenced (distorted) by the Christian beliefs. It’s a primal god, having no beginning nor end – a god who was, who is and who will be, unchanged. The Kashubians believed that the Absolute God is never involved in the earthly matters. He has two servants: a god of the good and a god of the evil (also passed down without their names) who are overseeing the Sun and the stars for him.

 

♦ Gosk / Gósk  is the god of the Baltic Sea, and the sea’s king. He is placed among the most important figures of the Kashubian mythology. He’s ruling over the wind, storms and sea waves from his castle located on the sea bottom. When he is resting, the sea is calm. When he is inspecting his underwater lands, a mild wind is blowing, just right for the sails. But when he is enraged, dangerous storms are coming and those sailors who can’t come back to the shore on time are dying in the deep waters. Gosk was highly respected by the Kashubians, and in return he was symphatizing with the sailors’ woes. In some Kashubian legends the god of the sea is simply called Bôłt / Bałtyk (after the Baltic sea).

 

Jastrzëbóg, artist Bronisław Melzer, source: bpgw.org.pl

♦ Jastrzëbóg / Jastër (Bright-God) is a good god of the spring, one of the most important gods of Kashubians. He’s ruling over the earthly nature. Being a light-bringer, he’s believed to be waking everything up from the winter hibernation and making the nature bloom. In the old days the Kashubians celebrated his birth-day each year around the beginning of May in a feast including music, songs and dances. His name was carried on in those Kashubian dialects where the celebrations of Easter were called ‘Jastrë’ by the common people. It’s believed that a place dedicated to his worship was once located somewhere in Jastarnia. What’s interesting, a similar name was written down as one of the major Polish gods by late-medieval chroniclers (Yassa / Jessa / Jesza among other spellings, mentioned in the disputed Polish pantheon by 15th-century chronicler Długosz and in numerous documents and sermons).

 

Mókószka, artist Natasza Sobczak, source: bpgw.org.pl

♦ Mókószka (name most likely related to the well-known Slavic goddess Mokosh / Mokosz) is a kind-hearted patron goddess of women and girls. She was supervising or guiding each sex act, particularly those forbidden ones (most likely for protective causes). Her main accessory was a spinning wheel, and women would sacrifice scissors or wool to her.

 

Mórlawa, artist Tadeusz Podgórski, source: bpgw.org.pl

♦ Mòrlawa is a goddess of death. Her name might be the Kashubian variety of the well-known Slavic goddess Marzanna / Morena.

 

Płaczëbóg, artist Andrzej Grabowski, source: bpgw.org.pl

♦ Płaczëbóg (Crying-God) is a god worshipped on the tops of the hills and in sacred groves, one of the most important gods of Kashubians. Not much is known about him except of the fact that he is looking over convicts and prisoners. A theory claims that he’s a remnant of the sad history of those lands – a god the Kashubians and other Pomeranian Slavs prayed to when they faced the cultural erasure in the late medieval era. In the folklore of Kashubians in the modern era, ‘płaczëbóg’ was also the name used to describe the day of Great Friday before Easter. On that day, a Kashubian custom was to gently smack family members with greenery branches to bring more health and strenght to their bodies.

 

• Jirzan / Jigrzan is a patron of feasts and dances who in the old days was responsible for festivities dedicated to the Sun, the light and the fire – particularly the feast of Sobótczi (Polish: Sobótka), the celebrations of the summer solstice when the night is the shortest.

 

• Lubiczk is a patron of love and sex. He causes the longing between lovers.

 

Przepleta is a patron of feasts, dances and drunkeness.

 

• Biés is an evil forest demon taking a shape of wild animals (see also the Polish bies).

 

Bòrówc, artist: Justyna Krzywicka

• Bòrówc is a protective spirit of the forest fleece, a sworn enemy to the poachers and hunters. He is always friendly towards children, even helping them in gathering of mushrooms or berries. Those children who got lost in the Kashubian forests could always ask him for help in finding the way back and returning home safely. Bòrówc takes shape of an old man with long gray beard. The children say that he’s short and a little stumpy, and that he looks sad at the first sight but his eyes always shine with love and goodness. He’s then sometimes compared to krasnoludki from the Polish mythology. However, the looks of Bòrówc change when he approaches the hunters: for them he appears as a scary giant with a thick black beard. A related name can be found in Polish legends: Borowiec, and both Bòrówc and Borowiec are often compared to the popular Slavic forest spirit Leszy / Leshy.

 

Bòrowô Cotka, artist Krystyna Dering, source: bpgw.org.pl

• Bòrowô Cotka is the sister of Bòrówc. She’s a protective spirit of forest animals, birds and of kind-hearted people. Similarly to her brother, she’s particularly focused on protecting the children, and keeps them safe from evil spells of the witches. She’s known for leaving small treats for the children, for example nuts or sweets. She’s appearing as an old woman (a babushka, might I say) usually wearing a brown garb, a wreath made of cones and a belt made of conifer needles.

 

• Chóchółk is a spirit or demon of the echo and of mimicry.

 

• Damk is a demon of secrets, mysteries and silence. He looks after people of a few words and after recluses. Culturally speaking the Kashubians themselves weren’t talkactive, but they were always afraid of those who preferred observing over talking – such people were suspected of contacts with a damk. The damk was associated with evil charms and spells, and with dark thoughts.

 

• Gadzin is an evil demon taking shape of a snake. He hides in the corners and shadows inside houses and barns. He’s known for sucking the milk out of the udders of cows.

 

• Gòstk is a spirit of hospitality, of the hosts and their guests.

 

• Grzenia is a kind spirit and guardian of the sleeping state who might cause prophetic dreams.

 

• Heretnik is a demon who induces various temptations. He’s known to persuade the Kashubians for example to abandon their language and faith, to leave their family or to throw their kids away.

 

• Jablón is a spirit living in orchards. He’s protecting fruit trees, paticularly apple trees, and gardens. He’s sometimes known to steal fruits or vegetables, or tempt people to pluck a fruit. His name is derived from the Kashubian word describing an apple tree (related Polish word: jabłoń).

 

• Kòbel is a demon causing exploitation, extortion and fraud.

 

• Krośnięta / Kraśniaki are small home spirits living around the household. They resemble humans in appearance. Their favourite places to hide is under floorplanks, under roots of apple trees or under lilac bushes. They love to hang around barns and stables, where they take care of the animals in the absence of the people. Tiny braids in horses’ manes and tails are obvious signs of their presence. Sometimes krośnięta decide to reveal themselves to their hosts, and then they ask for small favors: for example whether they might cross the host’s floor with their wedding retinue, or whether they might have a dance party the whole night. The Kashubians were leaving small treats for krośnięta, like a small bowl of flour, potatoes or milk. Treated well, krośnięta are very kind to their hosts and could even repay by leaving treats as well, even such lavish ones like golden coins. They can also help with household chores: sweep the floors, peel the potatoes or knead the bread. Related spirits from Polish mythology are krasnoludki.

 

• Latawc is a spirit or demon of the wind who can kidnap a person by drawing them into whirlwinds or tornadoes. Related spirits from Polish mythology are latawce.

 

• Lelek is a spirit of foolness, hiding inside the forest bird nightjar (which is called lelek in both Kashubian and Polish). He can also reside in heads of mentally ill people.

 

• Mòch is a demon of love affairs and prostitution.

 

Mòdżlinik, artist Urszula Zimorska, source: bpgw.org.pl

• Mòdżilnik is a spirit of mourning and of mourners, hiding in graves and in burial mounds.

 

• Mòrnica is an evil demon of plagues, ilnesses and infections. She usually appears as an old hag.

 

A ‘Baltic siren’ on a painting by Jarosław Kukowski, source: historia.trojmiasto.pl

• Morzeczki is the Kashubian name for the sirens / mermaids of the Baltic Sea. Morzeczki are known to lure the sailors into the waters and then drown them. They are often wearing an amber necklace. In the Kashubian and other Pomeranian legends morzeczki are connected to old stories about the ruins of the church on the sea shore in the village of Trzęsacz. In many of those legends a beautiful morzeczka was once caught into fishing nets of local fishermen and taken onto the land where the people tried to take care of her. However, a local Christian priest wasn’t fond of that fact and decided to convert the sea creature. He locked her in the church as in a prison. Days were passing by, until she eventually died out of misery and disgrace. Her death angered the Baltic sea – since that day, the sea beats the shore and takes a chunk of the land on which the church stands, bit by bit each year.

 

Mùczk, artist: Justyna Krzywicka

• Mùczk is a demon of silence, despair and gloom.

 

Mùmôcz , artist: Justyna Krzywicka

• Mùmôcz is a demon of the waters who can live in lakes, ponds, rivers and even in muds or marshes. He’s known to draw people underwater.

 

Nëczk, artist: Justyna Krzywicka

• Nëczk is a mischievous demon causing swirls, whirls or maelstorms in the water. He can live in the sea but also in lakes and rivers.

 

• Nieplёkùs is a michievous demon of mockery, ridicule and of verbal abuse.

 

• Òtmãt is a mischievous demon of stupidity, naivety and fraud.

 

• Òprzёpólnica is a good spirit of an abundant harvest, appearing as young woman dressed in white clothes and wearing a wreath made of the ears of grain. During the season of harvest she is sometimes waking the workers up so they could finish their work.

 

• Paralusz is a powerful demon of anger and of a sudden death.

 

• Pòkusa is a demon of temptation appearing in a form of an attractive young woman or man.

• Mëtk is a lesser demon, servant to Pòkusa, persuading people to sign a chirograph with the evil forces.

• Nieprzestój is another lesser demon serving Pòkusa, representing tempter.

 

• Pikòn is a mischievous demon sent by the witches. He causes fralities in the people, and turns their hair into a kôłtun / kołtun.

 

• Pólnica is a spirit of the fields appearing as a beautiful woman. During each summer she rides a horse through the fields, overseeing them and checking whether the crops are growing well. Meeting her brings misery – her beauty puts a charm on the witnesses who later wither and eventually die of yearning, wanting just to see her again.

 

• Przegrzecha is a demon of the lust, the sin and the evil. She resides inside the people and makes them do things they later deeply regret. Some Kashubians believed that every human has a Przegrzecha inside them.

 

• Pùrtk / Pùrtôk / Pùrtala is a demon of quarrels and strifes. He spends most of his time making pranks. His presence can be sensed: he arrives with a terrible stench. People believed that he’s residing in the trash and manure.

 

• Redunice are Kashubian water spirits who might be compared to rusałki or vile in some ways. However, redunice are almost always seen as good spirits, and the people believed that the bodies of the drowned people might be taken away by them to a better world (and this way they might save the drowned from the doomed faith of becoming a water demon). A redunica is allowed to form a bond with a human man under one condition: the human could never see the membranes between her fingers or the fins on her hips with his bare eyes. Redunice were known even to marry the humans and form strong bonds with them. After the husband’s death redunica would die too, out of longing and misery. The abandoned mothers of the redunice who chose to live on the ground with a human were leaving the waters with grief: turning themselves into swans and flying away ‘behind the seventh sea’.

 

• Remùs is a demon of robbery, crime and roguery. He resides inside people, and persuades them to perform evil acts. Once he was a patron of pirates, then was kicked out from the sea, and nowadays minor rowdyism on the land is all he has left.

 

• Rétnik is a demon of music. He attacks musicians, putting charms on their instruments or replacing them with his own cursed ones. He uses his music to lure people into dangerous zones. He’s particularily active during the season of the lent before Easter when the dances and festivities are forbidden.

 

• Rujawc is a guardian of pilgrims.

 

• Skarbówc / Skamżoch / Mamón is an evil spirit who’s obsessively protecting treasures burried under the ground. He has many eyes, and each of the eye glows like an ognik (will-o-the-wisp). In order to protect the treasure from unwanted ‘theft’ he is leading the people into dangerous parts of marshes. There was only one way to get the treasure from him: to exchange it for a human soul. Some people made it successfully by tricking the spirit: using a hand of a person who has just died to reach with it for the treasure.

 

• Smãtk / Smętek is a prankish spirit of contrariness, causing troubles. He looks almost like a human, but he has a short tail, one horse leg and one chicken leg, and small horns growing out of his forehead.  He might be compared to the Slavic demon czart / chort.

 

• Sorin is an evil demon causing disabilities, deformities and infirmities.

 

Kashubian mythology: statue of a stolem in Ostrzyce
Stolem, a statue in Ostrzyce [source]

• Stolemë / Stolemy are giants who in the old days were living somewhere in the region of Kashubia. Kashubians share a tale that once they were terrorizing the people, but were eventually defeated thanks to human cleverness. Stolemy were tall as trees, and their heads were still above the sea level when they were walking on the bottom of the Bay of Puck. The earth was shaking when stolemy were walking on the ground. Wherever their feet touched the ground, nothing was growing in that spot anymore – the people say that this was the reason why the region of Kashubia has so much of infertile soil and so much of wavy landscapes. Stolemy were able to crush large boulders with only their hands, and they were throwing large pieces of stone into their enemies – that’s why you can find many desolate boulders around Kashubia. The Kashubians were sometimes using the word ‘stolem’ also to describe an exceptionally strong person. Large scultptures of the stolemy – the ‘creators’ of the Kashubian landscape – are nowadays a popular touristic attraction for example in the town of Gniewino (pictured above).

 

• Szargan is a destructive demon causing storms.

 

• Szëmich is a good spirit living in the forests who sings silently for the trees and for the forest animals and birds. He creates the calming forest sounds.

 

• Szwernót is a demon of poverty and penury.

 

 

• Trzãsewid is a spirit or ghost appearing at night in marshes: he takes a shape of a man walking with a lantern.

 

 • Turón / Tarón is a demon of violence and lawlessness, causing destruction.

 

Ùtróp, artist: Justyna Krzywicka

Ùtróp is a humanoid demon causing possession.

 

Wёkrёkùs, artist: Justyna Krzywicka

• Wёkrёkùs is a mischievous demon of misfortune and failures.

 

• Zôcérka is an evil witch-like demon who steals children, and smokes them alive in her hideout in the forest in order to eat the meat.

 

These are all names I’ve translated so far. As you probably can already see, the Kashubian mythology is quite rich in interesting characters. The list still needs a few more supplementary informations, which I might add sometime in the future when I will have the time to research the topic further. Hope you liked the list, and learned something new from it.


Please leave a link to my blog in case of quoting or using the informations above. With love, ‘Lamus Dworski’.


 

Polish books about Kashubian legends and mythology // Książki o tematyce kaszubskich legend i mitologii:

  • Ceynowa Józef “Dobro zwycięża. Legendy z Kaszub i Pomorza”, 1985
  • Labuda Aleksander “Bògowie i dëchë naj przodków / Bogowie i duchy naszych przodków”, 2012
  • Necel Augustyn “Demony purtki i stolemy. Baśnie kaszubskie”, 1975
  • Necel Augustyn “W niewoli białych purtków: podania i gawędy z Wybrzeża”, 1977
  • Treder Jerzy “Kaszubi: wierzenia i twórczość”, 2002
  • Schramke Grzegorz “W wieczornej mgle. Niesamowite opowieści z Kaszub / W wieczórny dôce. Niestworzoné powiôstczi z Kaszëbsczi”, 2004
  • Sychta Bernard “Słownik gwar kaszubskich na tle kultury ludowych”, 1967-76
  • W kręgu mitologii kaszubskiej. Pokłosie konferencji naukowej, red. J. Borchmann, B. Wiszowaty, Bolszewo 2001
  • Pomerania 11 (437) 2010, Mateusz Meyer: Poczuj kaszubskiego ducha

Articles in Polish to read online // Artykuły do poczytania online:

Sources of pictures:

Advertisements

Add comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s