I remember when it made international news that road construction in Iceland was stopped, because of Elves who habited the area. People were excited that Icelanders still believe in magical creatures. Happy that they have 13 Yules instead of one Santa Claus. Outraged that the mother of Yules is a disgusting ogre who eats little kids. Surprised that they have Icelandic Elf School where they teach about hidden people. Do Icelanders really believe in these magical creatures? The only correct answer is: yes and no. These beliefs are rooted and still alive in their culture.It is a topic for a long discussion, but today Icelandic folklore is only the introduction topic for a post about polish beliefs.
I think Icelandic beliefs will seem less ridiculous for us, when we learn more about Slavic mythology. Iceland has not been christianized to the same level as Poland so the pagan beliefs coexist with catholic ones. In Poland pagan beliefs were repressed by catholic religion. Back in the day we were also convinced that magical creatures do exist, but we just forgot about it. My mission is to remind us about it, because it is something exceptional. Everyone knows Jesus story, but how many people have heard about the Beer-drinker who dragged our poor ancestors to the bars, right?
It’s interesting that mythology is still somehow alive in our language, stories or customs. Some of them mixed with catholic religion and now we consider them as one. For example the tradition of Water Monday (as we call it Easter Monday) – pouring water on each other – has roots in pagan tradition. That’s how Slavic people celebrate the end of winter. The catholic church took over just by changing the symbolism of water (pagans – water is spring, new life; catholic religion – water is from the Bible, the story of Jesus).
Let me introduce you to the world of Slavic magical creatures who are hidden in Poland.
Vampires are very popular right now. Teenagers who dream about Pattison, should be grateful to their ancestors for the Vampire creatures. Even the word “vampire” came from a pre-Slavic language. The book “Dracula” spread information about monsters who drink blood and the writer based the main character on a Romanian prince Dracula who was (according to legend) a vampire. But creatures who drink blood is a belief in every Slavic country. Most similar to the Icelandic mother-troll who eats little kids, I think is Strzyga (Fleecing Lady), who eats human flash and drinks blood. Before more carefree upbringings the story was told to the kids, preparing them for life; full of good and bad things. By the way if you read the original versions of some popular stories for kids, you will find out that crime, death, and blood was a natural part of the story; for example Sleeping Beauty wasn’t awakened by a kiss, but by rape.
Baba Yaga (Baba Jaga)
Most of the stories have been changed. Baba Yaga survived thanks to the story of Hansel and Gretel, they didn’t even cut out the part about roasting kids in the oven. In Slavic mythology Baba Yaga was a ruler of wild animals (that’s why she lives in the forest), who eat people, and kids were her favourite dish. What used to be religion, it's a story tales now.
Baba Yaga and other witches are still alive in story-telling as woman who have magic powers. Our ancestors really did believe and they haunted for witches. They had a very interesting test, if someone was a witch or not. The suspect was tide and thrown into the river, if she escaped, that means she is a witch and they killed her. If she drowned, she was innocent. Win win.
Dragon is a very significant part of our culture. There is a legend about Wawel dragon who lived in Cracow and ate virgins (of course) and was killed by the king. If you visit Cracow, there is a sculpture of a dragon in front of the castle. The legend was inspired from far East and the proof the dragon’s existence was crocodile skin brought by soldiers. A local mystical creature with big wings was Viper (Żmij) who lived in the clouds yawning lighting (would you not buy this one?). Besides the main dragon we also have a lot of little ones in Cracow, of whom I started to collect pictures of. They’re everywhere, just look around you. These sculptures used to represent address, before we numbered buildings. “I live at Urzędnicza street, below the dragoon”. How cool is that?
Another popular character of modern fantasy literature derived from Slavic mythology. Beliefs in a human who can turn into an animal exist in many many cultures because warriors used to dress in animals skins for rituals. For example, Navajos from North America believed in a half human, half buffalo. We have werewolves.
Flying woman (Latawica)
There are some magical creatures that survived in our language. Flying women were wind demons who could have sex with humans and blamed for miscarriages. Nowadays that’s how we call girls who spend a lot of time outside the house (flying from one place to another) or who sleep around (flying from one guy to another).
Demon who comes out while a person is asleep and tortures them while they sleep, sucking their blood or milk from their mothers breasts. Only some people had this demon inside and the signs for this are joined brows, two different color of eyes, or you can get it by bad behavior (again, sleeping around ). Today that’s what we call nightmares, but also a woman who isn’t very nice. A demon was a beautiful woman with transparent body who rode a horse in the moonlight after murdering someone. I am waiting for someone to use it in the movie, it’s a very poetic picture.
„This is your fate” – a common phrase that we say, unknowingly that it is the name of a demon. Fate is a human guardian, everyone has their own fate. In catholic religion we have angels, but Fates were more complicated creatures, because their character were not always good. It happened sometimes Fate could make someone life unpleasant and no one could do anything because “this is your Fate”.
Little Devil (Czart)
I always thought that Czart was another word for Devil, but he is a pre-Slavic creature who represents evil and is the two names mixed in one Czart and Devil. Little Devil doesn’t have as much power as Satan, but he bothered people with illnesses, bad weather, and suicide. He lives in unreachable places like marshlands.
And finally we have our Beer-drinker, who you all probably know and meet quite often. A demon who drags people to the bars and persuade them to drink alcohol. See, it’s good to know Slavic mythology, cause now you know who to blame for your “ I had too much” weekend.
I also recorded a video about that: