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
Today I’d like to introduce you to two mysterious characters from Polish folklore, and to a few other elements related to pre-Christian Slavic celebrations of the winter solstice and the later season of carnival. Informations about them survived in local folk customs, to be precise in Christmas rites called in Polish kolędowanie or kolęda (known in English as Slavic caroling).
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.
‘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.
Celebrated around March 21st (first day of spring) or on the 4th Sunday of the Lents before Easter, the custom of burning of Marzanna symbolizes the departure of winter and is rooted in pre-Christian Slavic rites that were performed to summon the spring. Originally it was celebrated during the spring equinox as a religious feast of the Slavic pagans, and it survived over the last thousand years despite the huge impact of Christianity and countless efforts of erasing that custom from the Polish countryside.