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.
There are dozens of mountains and hills in Poland sharing the same name: Łysa Góra, also: Łysica, both translated as a ‘Bald Mountain‘. Just like in many other Eastern European and particularly Slavic legends, folklore and culture, reflected for example by the Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky’s in the series of compositions entitled ‘Night on Bald Mountain‘, the notion of a bald mountain is connected to various folk tales about gatherings of the witches and about devilish sabbaths.
Today I’m going to focus on only two of the ‘bald mountains’ which are extremely famous over here in Poland for their history and for rich legends ingrained in the local culture. These are the neighbouring mountains of Łysa Góra and Łysica located in south-central Poland. They belong to the Świętokrzyskie (Holy Cross) mountain range, the oldest range in Poland and one of the oldest in Europe in the terms of geology. The first of the mentioned mountains is also called by its younger name of Święty Krzyż (Holy Cross), applied after a Christian monastery bearing that name had been built on the top of the mountain around 11th century. It was one of the first monasteries in the medieval Poland, and it is this particular monastery what gave the new name not only for the mountain but also for the whole range to which it belongs, and later for the whole Świętokrzyskie Voivodeship (one of the 16 administrative districts of Poland). Despite the centuries of the monastery’s existence, the name of the Bald Mountain for this place prevailed in the common culture and there are countless mysterious tales describing this place, passed down for generations.
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:
- http://www.digart.pl/praca/5435331/Biali_ludzie.html – artwork for a book “Bestiariusz Słowiański” by Paweł Zych and Witold Vargas
Other previously described creatures from Polish mythology:
- ogniki (błędne ogniki) – demons comparable to ignis fatuus
- płanetnicy – supernatural beings called ‘shepherds of the clouds’
- zmory – demons feeding on human vitality during sleep
- boginki – female spirits / demons connected to childbirth
- latawce – demons of the wind forces
- biesy – primeval spirits, evil forces of nature that hide in untouched parts of nature
- południce – midday ladies, demons of betrohed women who died before wedding
- strzyga – a demon similar to a vampire, often travelling in a form of a bird
- bieda – a shapeshifting demon bringing misfortune and poverty
Legends about a mythological fern flower are among the most widespread tales in Poland. Acording to Polish folk beliefs, the wild fern, species that normally never bursts into bloom, does bloom with a magickal flower on two special nights each year. This mythical flower appears on the nights of summer solstice and winter solstice, the two transitional nights of the year when the power of the Sun is on its decisive stages.
The legends say that only the fern that grows in the most secluded parts of the forests can bloom with the magickal flower, and sometimes with a magickal fruit as well. It has to be a place far away from the human settlements, where no dog barking, rooster crowing or people talking could be heard. Moreover, most of the descriptions say that the fern flower blooms specifically in uroczyska, a term in the Polish language that describes places in the wild generally connected with magick or with old pre-Christian places of cult.
Wołogór is a character from local tales and legends near Wołowa Góra (transl.: Ox Mountain) located in the Karkonosze mountain range, region of Lower Silesia in south-western Poland.
The geographical region located between the cities of Kraków and Częstochowa in southern Poland (see the map below) is called the Kraków-Częstochowa Upland or Polish Jura (short for Polish Jurassic Highland). It is famous for a rich ecosystem, and its untouched parts are protected as nature reserves. Here you can see landscapes with white limestone rock formations that were formed milions of years ago in the Jurassic period of Mesozoic era, surrounded by patches of flat meadows and hilly areas, with wild forests preserving a great variety of protected species and plants. Various fossils from the Jurassic period were found here, as well as early human settlements from around 12,000 years ago in many of the region’s attractive cave formations full of flint rocks.
Nowadays the region is a popular destination for nature lovers, and also for castle lovers interested in early Polish history – the region houses over 20 of ancient Polish defensive castles that were protecting Kraków’s northwestern borders at the beginning of the previous millenium.
The castles are connected as a so-called ‘Trail of the Eagle’s Nests‘ (in Polish: Szlak Orlich Gniazd). Nest of an eagle is quite a common symbol from Polish mythology. It is referencing one of the oldest of Polish legends which tells a story about Lech (semi-legendary founder of the early tribe of Polans from around 6th century AD) who chose a location for the tribe’s first capital city after he saw a beautiful sight of a magnificent white eagle flying up from its nest, contrasted with red evening sky (read more about the legend here). In general, an ‘Eagle’s Nest’ is a symbol of the oldest centers of the early Polish state – of the medieval Piast dynasty who started using the image of the white eagle as the Polish coats of arms.
Most of the castles located on the Trail of the Eagle’s Nests are in preserved ruins nowadays. They were destroyed in the past centuries during the many wars Poland went through or simply abandoned, no longer needed as fortresses. Majority of them was built in 14th century during the reign of the king Kazimierz Wielki (Casimir III the Great), but many local tales stress out that the castles were erected over much older defensive structures of the early Polish state (or even of the early proto-Polish Slavic tribe of Vistulans). Each castle on the Trail has its own history and legends, making the whole Trail a unique and mysterious route to discover.
In this article you can read about a few interesting castles to see on the Trail:
- Pieskowa Skała – with a legend about a cruel alchemist
- Ojców – with a legend about lovers saved by a good king
- Ogrodzieniec – with a legend about a ghost of a black dog
- Bobolice – with a legend about twin brothers and a treasure protected by a witch
‘Skamieniałe Miasto’ is a nature reserve located near the town of Ciężkowice, southern Poland. Its name could be translated literally as a ‘City Turned into Stone’. It encompases a large system of sandstone rock formations, stretching through valleys and hills riddled with caves and crevices. Each one of the distinctive rock formations has its own name and a story behind it.