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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Siuda Baba. How a tale about a ‘pagan’ Slavic Priestess survived in Polish folklore

‘Siuda Baba’, drawing by Jerzy Panek, 1958.

Siuda Baba, a person appearing on the Easter Monday in only a few villages in southern Poland, is a great example of how bits of the informations about the old religions and customs were carried on by rural communities over the long centuries and how they survived in a form of local folklore traditions.

This custom can be still observed in the town of Wieliczka and a few neighbouring villages, notably in the village of Lednica Górna where it most likely originated from and where it’s still recreated every year on the Easter Monday – the day of Śmigus Dyngus or Lany Poniedziałek (Wet Monday). It’s connected to the old pre-Christian Slavic religion and the Slavic spring rites.

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3 ‘specializations’ of spiritual leaders in Slavic Native Faith

There are various, we might call them, ‘specializations’ or ‘professions’ of the Slavic spiritual leaders in the sphere of Rodnovery (Slavic Native Faith), determined on the basis of old resources and continuous folklore traditions. Below I described shortly some essential informations that, hopefully, will show you clearly the main differences between the most well-known of such specializations: wołchw, guślarz and żerca.

Important side note: these are the names of those specializations in the Polish language, and they are spelled differently in the other Slavic languages in which they also exist.

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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

Polish legends: the Fern Flower

 

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Painting “Kwiat paproci” (“Fern Flower”) by artist Antoni Piotrowski (1853-1924), painted around 1900.

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.

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Drowning and burning of Marzanna in Poland

Drowning and burning of Marzanna in Poland
Effigy of Marzanna set on fire before being thrown to the river, Jeziorzany, photo © Dorota Awiorko-Klimek / Dziennik Wschodni.
Drowning and burning of Marzanna in Poland
Huge Marzanna being thrown to the river, Chorzów [source].

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.

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Slavic mythology from Poland (part 9): BIEDA

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Artwork © Jerzy Duda-Gracz

Bieda [pronounced bee-ed-ah] is one of the primeval demons and an immortal being, a shapeshifter. She brings misfortune, misery, hardship and grief. Her name comes from a Polish words meaning “poverty”.

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