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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Polish legends: witches’ sabbath and old-Slavic religious centre on Łysa Góra (Bald Mountain)

Polish legends from Łysa Góra (Bald Mountain)
Stone statue of a ‘knight’, postcard released in 1960s. Source: fotopolska.eu

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.

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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

Star symbolism and Christmas gift-bringers from Polish folklore

Poland: Gwiazdor (Star-Man or Man from the Stars) and Gwiazdka (Star-Woman or Little Star)
Gwiazdor and Gwiazdka on an illustration published by weneda.net

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).

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Wołogór, Mountain Spirit’s helper

Polish legends: Wołogór (spirit of Ox Mountain)

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.

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Legends from Stone City Nature Reserve in Poland

'Skamieniałe Miasto', Stone City Nature Reserve near Ciężkowice, Poland

'Skamieniałe Miasto', Stone City Nature Reserve near Ciężkowice, Poland
Photo © Marek Koszorek

‘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.

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