Protection of houses against the evil in the region of Mazovia

Source: Museum of Mazovian Countryside in Sierpc

People in the old Polish countryside were very particular about maintaining certain rites and preparing protective accessories in their household and the whole farm enclosure. These customs stemmed from pre-Christian Slavic protective rituals, and – despite the centuries of influence of the Christian church – they survived in continuity for as long as the early 20th century in many parts of the rural Poland.

The following informations I’ve translated for you are describing the old protective customs from the historical region of Mazowsze (Eng: Mazovia) located in the north-east parts of the central Poland. The same or very similar customs are common in other regions of Poland, as well as in many other Slavic countries.

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Slavic tattoos by Polish artists

With the growth of the interest by the Polish people themselves in learning more about our pre-Christian Slavic mythology and faith, we can also observe a growing trend in exploration of the Slavic themes in various forms of art.

In Poland that trend is persistent but remains quite subtle. It’s entering mostly the personal spaces but more and more often also the ‘commercial’ spheres. Take the success of ‘The Witcher’ franchise as an example, the game that is drawing so much from the rich Slavic folklore and mythology, or the ongoing short film project ‘Legendy Polskie’ with modern interpretations of Polish legends by Allegro (the biggest Polish online auction website) that featured the name of Perun and vivid Rodnovery symbolism in one of their most recent videos dedicated to Jaga (Baba Yaga – you can watch the video here, and don’t forget to turn on English subtitles).

What I want to show you today is connected to the personal spaces – more precisely the human bodies. It’s the revival of the almost-forgotten traditions meeting the modern ways of self-expression.

In the recent years many more of Polish tattoo artists are getting requests to create an artwork inspired by the Slavic faith or mythology. We can also see such fascinations across the other Slavic countries where popular Rodnovery symbols are being tattooed. In Poland what’s been popular recently is beautiful and unique portraits of the Slavic gods or demons – unique personal intepretations of their appearance by the tattoo artists.

Below you can see only some examples that recently caught my eye (the artists’ pages are sourced respectfully under each picture):

Slavic god Veles by artist Aleksandra Dobra

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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).

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Rękawka, a Slavic spring festival in Kraków

Rękawka festival in Kraków, Poland. Photo © Ilja Van de Pavert

One of the events of the most mysterious roots held in the city of Kraków (Cracow) in Poland is a festival called Rękawka (pronounced ren-kav-kah), organized on the first Tuesday after Easter on the famous Krakus Mound, one of the 5 historical man-made mounds that you can see nowadays in Kraków.

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Linden Tree. Trees in the Polish (Slavic) folklore and culture: part 1

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An old linden tree in the Zawieprzyce Park, archival photo by Stanisław Pastusiak via lubelskie.regiopedia.pl

Linden trees were among the most sacred trees in the Slavic tradition, just as in many other cultures where these trees can be naturally found in the climate. In the old days in Poland a linden tree was believed to have strong protective properties and was commonly associated with ‘female’ aspects of the nature (paired with an oak tree representing the nature’s ‘masculine’ side in the rural traditions). Its natural ability to a quick recovery was praised and symbolized rebirth and fertility, extremely important for example in the spring and summer rituals.

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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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Polish/Slavic mythology: Biali Zimni Ludzie (White Cold People)

Polish mythology: Biali Zimni Ludzie. Artwork © Paweł Zych
Polish mythology: Biali Zimni Ludzie. Artwork © Paweł Zych

These mysterious creatures are demons known from Polish folk tales, notably from the regions of Warmia and Mazury. They can be described as personification of ilnesses, and their frightening appearance reflects their dangerous nature – their small scrawny bodies are covered in ghost-white and unhealthy-looking skin, and they’re walking around in fast feverish movement. Their vary in the size, and can be as small as a head of a pin.

No singular form of their name is used, and we might conclude that they come only in groups. They are most often called Biali Ludzie (White People), Zimni Ludzie (Cold People) or Białe Gnomy (White Gnomes) and other variations of these names. These mysterious creatures share some traits with vicious spectra (widma), and are distant ‘relatives’ of krasnoludki (Polish mythological type of a gnome or a dwarf).

Biali Ludzie are bad omens, able to haunt or prey on people. They live in forests and swamps, and love to ambush travellers from a hiding in waters of the wayside puddles. When they choose a target, they hide in the clothes and wait for the victim to fall asleep. Then, they climb onto the face and enter the sleeping victim’s body through the mouth or the nostrils. This way, they infect people with various hard-to-cure illnesses. One of the first symptoms of their presence in the body is high fever.

The Polish folk tales and folk medicine were proposing many remedies and magickal rites that were supposed to cure infected person’s body. The demons’ victims were forced to drink strong spirits mixed with powdered dried eyes of a crayfish, or eat a stalk from an old broom on a slice of bread with butter. One of popular rites was to puff and breathe into a deep hole drilled in a trunk of a tree, and then to clog the hole with a wooden stake, what was supposed to imprison the exhaled demons inside. However, there was never an ultimate way of a cure due to the demonic causation of the illness.


More to read in Polish:

Other previously described creatures from Polish mythology:

  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. bieda – a shapeshifting demon bringing misfortune and poverty