Slavic bridal flower crowns from Polish folklore (warning: picture heavy)

Wreaths and other hair ornaments made of flowers and herbs are an essential part of many of the Polish rural customs. Athough most of the customs became almost extinct on the course of the 20th-century modernization of the society, and are preserved mostly in local ethnography museums, there are still certain festivals bearing remnants to the pre-Christian Slavic rites still alive within the Polish culture nowadays. The bridal flower crowns are among the customs that faded away – but can be still spotted around, for example on reenactments of the traditional weddings by various ethnography organizations, in art and culture (including e.g. theatre or cinema), or on some rather rare occasions of weddings when the bride decides to wear a traditional Polish garment instead of the modern white dress.

This post is going to be more of a gallery with examples of the traditional flower crowns of the brides wearing the traditional Polish folk costumes, but of course I’m not leaving it here without at least a bit of the essential informations about this custom for you. Before I start, keep also in mind that the custom shared a lot of common elements coming from the same old Slavic roots – these are the elements I’ll try to describe – but naturally had a lot of regional flavours and differences.

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Day of the Divine Mother of Herbs

Poland: Day of the Divine Mother of the Herbs. A lost painting by Witold Pruszkowski (1846-1896).
Poland: Day of the Divine Mother of the Herbs. A lost painting by Witold Pruszkowski (1846-1896).

August 15th – the day of the Assumption of Mary – is commonly celebrated in Poland as a day dedicated to the Divine Mother of Herbs (Matka Boska Zielna). It’s one of the many holidays of the Christian Holy Mother which resulted in a process of syncretism with much older beliefs rooted in the old-Slavic Faith.

The name of that day and the Holy Mother’s title as the Goddess of Herbs comes entirely from the Polish folklore. It is one of old customs that never got erased but were adopted by the Polish Catholic Church and reinterpreted through the Christian doctrine (see also for example: Gromnica – Thunder Candle and the Divine Mother of the Thunder Candle / with the Wolves). The tradition of celebrating the Divine Mother of Herbs got eventually linked with the day of the Assumption of Mary. Nowadays, due to lack of a proper education about the pre-Christian beliefs in Poland, some of Polish people themselves would even argue about that day being rooted entirely in Christianity. Here in this article I will show you simply how this feast looks like, and how it is and was interpreted in the Polish countryside.

Poland: on the day of the Divine Mother of Herbs
On the day of the Divine Mother of Herbs – an old postcard, via najednejnodze.wordpress.com

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Old-Slavic symbolism of bread and harvest rituals in Poland

Bread in Poland
Harvest festival in Lublin, Poland. Photo © Małgorzata Genca.

Polish folk culture cultivates bread and grains in a special manner, rooted in old-Slavic beliefs and agrarian mythology syncretized with Christianity in Poland over the centuries.

The great importance is still noticeable even from a linguistic point of view. The Polish word zboża (also: zboże), describing all types of domesticated cereals, has the same root as the adjective boży meaning divine and of the God.

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Midsummer celebrations in Poland

Midsummer in Poland
‘Noc Świętojańska’ performance prepared by Częstochowa Song and Dance Ensemble.

The celebrations of midsummer are among the most interesting and oldest annual festivities in Poland. Nowadays it known mostly as Noc Świętojańska (St. John’s Night) due to the influence of Christianity, but in the Polish folk culture few other much older names survived over time, such as Kupalnocka or Noc Kupały (Kupala Night), Sobótki ([Feast of] Bonfires) or Wianki ([Feast of] Wreaths). Their roots go back to ancient Slavic festivals of the summer solstice, of love and fertility, combined with  rites and magical practices where the main focus was put on the cleansing forces of fire and water. It was believed that the night of summer solstice is when the nature’s strenght is at its fullest, when all the land is penetrated by a powerful boost of fresh energy influencing the upcoming harvest and also people’s fertility and love life, when the fern blooms with elusive flowers, when certain herbs gain magical powers of healing or of boosting the fertility, and so on. There are plenty of intriguing elements in the Polish celebrations of midsummer that can be traced back to ancient Slavic practices and beliefs.

Below you’ll read about the major elements and mythological forces important in the Polish celebrations of midsummer:

  1. Fire
  2. Water
  3. Floating wreaths
  4. Fern flower
  5. Witches and evil spirits
  6. Protective herbs
  7. Summary

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Folk rites and beliefs associated with Corpus Christi (Boże Ciało) in Poland

Out of all religious holidays in Poland the Corpus Christi, movable feast that falls on 11th day after Pentecost (called Green Week in Poland), remains one of the most important and colorful feasts celebrated by the Polish people during spring. Outside of the religious (Catholic) sphere that day has also deep undertones coming entirely from rural customs and rites that survived in the Polish countryside over past centuries almost unchanged. Just as in the case of the Pentecost, the rural traditions link both of these holidays topre-Christian spring celebrations, and are connected to many other customs of old-Slavic origins.

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Zielone Świątki, so-called Green Week celebrated on Pentecost

Poland - Zielone Świątki / Green WeekPoland - Zielone Świątki / Green Week

Poland - Zielone Świątki / Green Week
Cottages decorated for the Green Week. Photos © Museum of Mazovian Countryside in Sierpc

This festivity shows many elements of pre-Christian Slavic spring rituals. Nowadays it’s celebrated in Poland around mid-May towards early June – it is a movable feast that became syncretized with the celebrations of Pentecost over time, which starts 50 days after Easter.

Green Week is connected to Slavic rituals of celebrating the full spring (the reborn nature when the branches of trees already turned green). Its core nature is a form of maintenance of the rhythm of the nature, with magical practices of purifying the surroundings from demons or evil spirits that might have an effect on the process of growth during the spring. Goal of these rituals was designed to boost nature’s fertility, the ability to grow, in a process of preparing the soil, crops and livestock for the upcoming summer season and the later (expectantly abundant) harvest.

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Palm Sunday and the symbolic ‘Easter palms’ in Poland

palmy1 palmy2

Tradition of preparing the decorative and colorful ‘Easter palms’ for the blessing in churches on the Palm Sunday (last Sunday of the Lents before Easter) is an old and very important custom in Poland.

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