Slavic Lore

Slavic Saturday: Vampires (EP5)

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𝐺𝑤𝑒𝑛𝑡'𝑠 𝑣𝑒𝑟𝑠𝑖𝑜𝑛 𝑜𝑓 𝑎 𝑣𝑎𝑚𝑝𝑖𝑟𝑒

Introduction

To the early Slavs, forests and swamps were omnipresent. Around farms and villages as well as on the mountains, the woods were inescapable. And in the shadows of those trees, spirits lurked.

Most spirits in Slavic mythology aren’t depicted in a positive light. Tales of demons in the shadows of the night spread all across the Slavic tribes and nations, and one of the most frightening tales told was that of vampires.

These creatures, especially those of Transilvanian origin, are fairly well known through pop culture osmosis or an interest in folklore, but what about the Slavic vampires? How did they come to be and what were they like? Let’s find out!

Etymology

The word vampire has its roots in Serbia (вампир, vampir in latin) or in Hungary (vámpír).

In other languages…

  • Bosnia – Lampir
  • Czechia and Slovakia – Upír
  • Poland – wąpierz, upiór
  • Russia – упырь, upyr in latin
  • etc.

How did vampires come to be?

According to the Slavic beliefs, one of the main causes of vampirism is dying an “irregular” death, such as committing suicide. Other factors that could lead to one becoming a nightstalker are being born on a wrong day, being born with teeth, tail or a caul (the amniotic membrane enclosing a fetus), not getting to know the proper religious rituals as a child or getting killed by magic or a practitioner of the black arts. Another possible reason for becoming a vampire was a sloppily or disrespectfully executed burial, which caused the recently deceased to rise from the grave.

Other sources claim that even a living person could become a vampire by suffering from a disease, having bodily deformations or from commiting sinful actions.

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Preventive measures against vampires

When burying a person, a good preventive measure to take so they didn’t turn into a vampire was to put a crucifix in the coffin, placing blocks under the chin to prevent the body from eating the burial shroud (a length of cloth or an enveloping garment in which a corpse is wrapped) and itself (it needed to do that to survive), nailing the clothes to the coffin (for the same reason), filling the casket with sawdust (a vampire awakens in the evening and must count each grain of sawdust, which takes up the entire night, so the creature will die when it rises from the grave at dawn) or piercing the body with thorns or stakes. Sometimes the head of the body was cut off so it couldn’t eat anything or, instead of straight up decapitating it, a scythe blade would be placed over the neck of the body so it would behead itself when it rose from the grave.

Other sources claim that people back then would even put stones over the grave, bury the person with its stomach facing down or put a stone in its mouth to prevent the self-eating.

The different burial preventive measures

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The image of Vampires

The description of vampires varied from location to location. Mostly, though, they were depicted as men with extraordinarily pale complexion. If women became vampires, they were said to be uncommonly beautiful and, similar to their male counterparts, white skinned.

Many nations thought of vampires as creatures that could easily blend with humans, with the difference being that the bloodsuckers seemed to be more active during the hours of the night, as they were avoiding the sunlight. Supposedly, they feasted on human blood, but it was said that they could gain their sustenance from the blood of animals as well. This method was said to be avoided though, as it drained their energy.

When a vampire arrived at a village the dogs went wild, and the cattle were restless. Telltale signs of a nightstalker in the vicinity were dead livestock, relatives or neighbours. Also, the sight of an exhumed body in a lifelike state with newly grown fingernails or hair, a body swelled up like a drum, or with blood on the mouth coupled with a ruddy complexion could be strong implications that a creature of the night was on the prowl.

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And yes, they are afraid of garlic!

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Conclusion

This was the fifth episode of Slavic Saturday. There are many other creatures I am ready to cover for you, my lovely fans. If you missed our previous episodes then you can find that here. I hope to see you all return next Saturday!

DrDenuz is a guest writer for Bandit Gang. You can find him on Twitter, Twitch & YouTube.

Slavic Saturday: Dryads (EP4)

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𝐺𝑤𝑒𝑛𝑡'𝑠 𝑣𝑒𝑟𝑠𝑖𝑜𝑛 𝑜𝑓 𝑎 𝑑𝑟𝑦𝑎𝑑

Introduction

To the early Slavs, the forests and the swamps within them were everywhere. Around farms and villages as well as upon mountains, the woods were inescapable. And in the shadows of those trees, spirits lurked.

Most spirits in Slavic mythology aren’t the friendliest creatures. Tales of demons in the night’s shadows spread all across the Slavic tribes and nations, and one of the most frightening tales told was that of Dryads.

Dryads in Greek mythology are portrayed as nypmhs, goddesses or demigoddesses. Their counterpart in Slavic mythology are “vily”(the plural form of vila).

Vila, or víla, rusalka, diva, samojuda or samodiva is a Slavic fairy – a supernatural, beautiful female.

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Etymology

The Slavic term “vila” allegedly comes from the word viliti meaning being possessed, crazy. The name “rusalka” either came from the Czech term rusovlasá, meaning women with ginger hair or the word rusa, meaning river.

The origins

Some of the historic accounts claim that vily are souls of girls that died too soon, not by a natural cause, especially the souls of the girls that committed suicide or drowned.

They are similar to creatures named “Navky”, beings that came to life from unbaptized children that were drowned by their own mothers. They either have the form of small children or beautiful half-naked women, who hurt people.

The types of dryads in Slavic mythology

Mountain Dryads

In the Balkan countries there were the mountain dryads (vile planinkinje, samovile samogorske), that lived in caves and could shapeshift to snakes. Their counterpart in the Czech mythology could be Runa, the wife of Lord of the underground Kovlad. She is the Queen of the Permonics as well.

Air dryads

Once again in the Balkan countries, there were air dryads (samovile oblankinje). These were flying through the air and could affect the weather – especially in making the sky cloudy and making thunderstorms. Allegedly they used lightnings as arrows.

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Forest dryads

The forest dryads are called žínky or žienky, in Czechia and Slovakia. They live in the trees and are described as beautiful translucent ladies in soft dresses with golden or ginger hair. Their hair was supposed to be the source of their power, making them able to shapeshift into various kinds of animals such as horses, wolves, falcons or swans. They were also very good at healing and fortune telling.

Supposedly, they used to go hunting on deer- or horsebacks, danced & sang in the forests and only showed up when the dew was falling or when there was a rainbow.

Water dryads

The water dryads are called rusalky, living near the springs, rivers and lakes and they were close to watermen.

Their hair must be wet at any given moment because if it’s not, the rusalka perishes & when they are combing their hair, they can cause a flooding.

There are also dryads/fairies called judy or jezinky – being incredibly beautiful and living in the water or forests, but they were truly vile and were trying to drown people and lead travellers off the paths.

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The relationship with humans

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The water dryads like to drown people (similar to the watermen) and are very mad when people use their wells. They get especially dangerous during Letnice (Pentecost, the festival when Christians celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit, celebrated on the Sunday 50 days after Easter), when they not only drown and tickle travellers to death, who don’t manage to solve their riddles, but they flip over ships, break bridges, water damns and tear fishing nets.

The forest dryads try to lure you to their dancing circle so they could dance you to your death.

Fairies/dryads are also allegedly responsible for stealing children from the cradles and changing them for their own ugly, mentally and physically disfigured children (notice the similarities with Mammuna).  In Latvia they say that dryads cannot even have their own children so the thing that they leave in the cradle is just a magical soulless creation.

The child was most vulnerable to be stolen during the first two days after being born so in that period the mother couldn’t leave the child alone. If the child was stolen, mother should beat the changeling so the fairy pities it, comes for it and changes it back. Notice the similarity with Mammuna once again, could even mean Mammuna was some sort of a dryad/fairy.

Dryads don’t need to be portrayed as vile and vengeful even if they often are, but their terrible deeds can be attributed to their carelessness and recklessness. When dryads are actually vengeful it’s mostly when you kill animals, cut down trees and disrupt their peace.

When one wants to protect himself against the wrongdoings of the fairies he should use mint, silver sagebrush or lovage.

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Positive

Dryads are not only a negative creature but also a very kind one. Sometimes they don’t hurt young man but are keeping them safe and give them gifts (in Serbia the dryads are called “posestriny”, imaginary sisters and guardians).

It’s even possible to wed a dryad (voluntarily or by forcing them to (by stealing their belonging without which she cannot leave her husband). But when the marriage is voluntary it usually has a condition which when is broken, the fairy leaves the husband and takes the kids. In most of the stories the husband usually breaks the condition (never confront her about her origins of being a dryad, cut her hair or try to find out what she is doing in a locked room at night), but if he doesn’t and the dryad stays with the husband, she is helping him with her knowledge or magic and the husband is prosperous.  The kids that they have together are extraordinarily smart and have a great memory.

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Conclusion

This was the fourth episode of Slavic Saturday. There are many other creatures I am ready to cover for you, my lovely fans. If you missed episode three then you can find that here. I hope to see you all return next Saturday!

DrDenuz is a guest writer for Bandit Gang. You can find him on Twitter, Twitch & YouTube.

Slavic Saturday: Kikimore (EP3)

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𝐺𝑤𝑒𝑛𝑡'𝑠 𝑣𝑒𝑟𝑠𝑖𝑜𝑛 𝑜𝑓 𝐾𝑖𝑘𝑖𝑚𝑜𝑟𝑎

Introduction

To the early Slavs, the forests and the swamps within them were everywhere. Around farms and villages as well as upon mountains, the woods were inescapable. And in the shadows of those trees, spirits lurked.

Most spirits in Slavic mythology aren’t the friendliest creatures. Tales of demons in the night’s shadows spread all across the Slavic tribes and nations, and one of the most frightening tales told was that of Kikimora.

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Etymology

In every Slavic country, the concept of an evil, noxious creature called kikimora/mora/mura/zmora was spread. It was an evil demon which suffocates sleeping people, drinks their blood, and is able to shapeshift into different objects.

In Poland, Kikimora is known as “mora”, same as in Slovakia or Croatia. In Serbia, she is called “noćnink”, meaning “nightgown” in English. In every case, no matter the name in the various languages, her nickname is “nightmare”.

In some literature, she is known as “sziszimora” or “szyszymora”.

Her name also has origins in Finnish from the word kikke mörkö”, meaning scarecrow.

Saying her name also resembles the sound of a spinning wheel (a tool used to spin sheep wool), which is a bad omen in Slavic countries.

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Characteristic

Legends describe kikimora as a being without a body, a wraith or as a nightmare, which when settled in your house, will not want to leave and will make living in the house hell for its inhabitants.

She is also a sign that something bad is going to happen.

Kikimora – The sleep paralysis demon

Kikimora is said to be the cause of sleep paralysis and the nightmares accompanying sleep paralysis. The trouble of not being able to breathe is apparently caused by kikimora sitting on your chest and the nightmares or demons you see while suffering from sleep paralysis are the product of kikomora herself.

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How does a Kikimora come to life?

It is believed that kikimora is conceived from a dead or a stillborn baby. In some cases a ghost of kikimora could also come out of a body of a woman that died during labour. In that case kikimora resembles the mother or grandmother of the unborn child.

Behaviour

When the kikimora inhabits a house, she lives behind the stove or in the cellar, and usually produces noises similar to those made by mice in order to obtain food.

Kikimora is said to travel around the rooms in the house through keyholes in doors. To stop this, people tried to clog the keyhole at night with bits of paper or by leaving keys in the keyhole.

Looking at kikimora’s eyes is dangerous so little kids were taught by their parents that when they suspected a kikomora in their room they should look at the pillows or windows. Under any circumstances they can’t look at doors, wardrobes or chests because it was right there where Kikimora hid the most.

Kikimora sometimes took on a disguise of an incredibly beautiful young woman and haunted the dreams of married man. She would drive the man crazy with desire and destroy the relationship with their wife. Men weren’t the only victims to kikimora as she also infiltrates the dreams of women and makes them jealous or makes them think that their husbands preferre some other woman.

Different kinds of kikimora

There are two different kinds of Kikimoras. The one that comes from the forest is married to the Domovoi.

The other one comes from the swamp and is married to Leshy. It is said that she can be identified by her wet footprints. When home builders wanted to cause harm to someone buying a house, they would bring in Kikimora. Once she is inside, it is difficult to get her to leave.

Swamp Kikimora was described as a small, ugly, hunchbacked, thin, and scruffy old woman with a pointed nose and disheveled hair. She was said to use moss and grass as her clothes. It was believed that she frightened people, knocked travelers off the road, and also kidnappped children.

Conclusion

This was the third episode of Slavic Saturday. There are many other creatures I am ready to cover for you, my lovely fans. If you missed episode two then you can find that here. I hope to see you all return next Saturday!

DrDenuz is a guest writer for Bandit Gang. You can find him on Twitter, Twitch & YouTube.

Slavic Saturday: Koshchey (EP2)

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𝐺𝑤𝑒𝑛𝑡'𝑠 𝑣𝑒𝑟𝑠𝑖𝑜𝑛 𝑜𝑓 𝐾𝑜𝑠ℎ𝑐ℎ𝑒𝑖

Introduction

To the early Slavs, the forests and the swamps within them were everywhere. Around farms and villages as well as upon mountains, the woods were inescapable. And in the shadows of those trees, spirits lurked.

Most spirits in Slavic mythology aren’t the friendliest creatures. Tales of demons in the night’s shadows spread all across the Slavic tribes and nations, and one of the most frightening tales told was that of Koshchey.

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So who is Koshchey according to Slavic Lore?

Koshchey or Koschei, often called “the Immortal” or “The Deathless” is a supernatural antagonist in Slavic Mythology. He has the look of an ugly bony old man, and he is dangerous mostly to young women.

Usually, he takes the role of a malevolent rival father figure, who competes for or entraps a male hero’s love interest.

His name is derived from the ancient Slavic word “Kosh” meaning something very skinny or sapless. In the modern languages his name resembles the word “kosť” most closely meaning “bone” in Slovak.

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Koschei's kingdom

Koshchei is a powerful wizard and is a master of transformation spells. He can take on the form of a flying snake or a black raven. He likes to ride his skeleton horse around his gloomy kingdom. In his kingdom, there are no trees, the birds don’t sing, nothing grows in the soil and the sunlight never shines through the thick clouds. That’s why there’s always dusk, which causes the hardest frosts.

The legend of Koschei

The legends claim that Koschei is very hard to kill as he hides his soul in a needle that is hidden inside an egg, the egg is in a duck, the duck is in a hare, the hare is in an iron chest and the chest is buried & chained up on a far island named Bajan in the middle of an Ocean.  If the needle is safely hidden Koschei is unkillable. But if the iron chest is open, the hare runs off immediately. If you kill the hare, the duck flies off and if you kill the duck & manage to steal the egg Koschei is now in your power. When this happens, Koschei starts losing his magical powers. If the needle is broken, Koschei dies.

Koschei according to other tales

In other tales, Koschei can cast a sleep spell that can be broken by playing an enchanted gusli1. Depending on the tale, he has different characteristics: he may ride a three- or seven-legged horse, may have tusks or fangs and may possess a variety of different magic objects (like cloaks and rings) that a hero is sent to obtain, or he may have other magic powers. In one tale he has eyelids so heavy he requires servants to lift them.

1 Gusli is the oldest East Slavic multi-string plucked instrument.

Conclusion

This was the second episode of Slavic Saturday. There are many other creatures I am ready to cover for you, my lovely fans. If you missed episode one then you can find that here. I hope to see you all return next Saturday!

DrDenuz is a guest writer for Bandit Gang. You can find him on Twitter, Twitch & YouTube.

Also check out the meme special of last week's article here.

Slavic Saturday: Mammuna (EP1)

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𝐺𝑤𝑒𝑛𝑡'𝑠 𝑣𝑒𝑟𝑠𝑖𝑜𝑛 𝑜𝑓 𝑀𝑎𝑚𝑚𝑢𝑛𝑎

Introduction

To the early Slavs, the forests and the swamps within them were everywhere. Around farms and villages as well as upon mountains, the woods were inescapable. And in the shadows of those trees, spirits lurked.

Most spirits in Slavic mythology aren’t the friendliest creatures. Tales of demons in the night’s shadows spread all across the Slavic tribes and nations, and one of the most frightening tales told was that of Mammuna.

Her habitat

Mammuna typically lives in thickets near rivers, streams and lakes.

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Characteristic

Mammuna also known as Dziwożona or Boginka is a female swamp demon known for being malicious and dangerous. Her hair is long and according to some sources Mammuna’s body is richly covered in hair. She is said to have long breasts that she usually has tossed over her shoulders.

Her saggy breasts

Some people claim that she uses her breasts to wash clothes. Another thing that her breasts are known for is that she uses them to breastfeed men she captures, she also puts the breast in their mouth to smother them or smacks the poor men with them.

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Child stealing

After the sun goes down Mammuna’s child stealing campaign begins. She steals the children of so called “šestonedieľky” 1.

The child of a “šestonedieľka” is swapped with Mammuna’s and is called a foundling or a changeling. Mammuna’s child is very distinct – it’s blackish, very ugly, disproportionate, and often has a disability or a sickness. It has a huge abdomen, an unusually small or large head, a hump, thin arms and legs, a hairy body and long claws. Its teeth also start to grow prematurely. The child is also very wicked. The people around it must bear with its great spitefulness. It also fears its mother, doesn’t want to sleep, it’s scared of noisiness and is very gluttonous.

Changeling

As an adult (which was in fact rare, as nearly all changelings were thought to die in early childhood (most probably killed by displeased parents), it was disabled, gibbered instead of talked, and distrusted people.

When a mother wanted to protect their child from being stolen, they had to tie a red ribbon around its wrist2, put a red hat on its head ,and shield the child’s face from the moonlight. Under no circumstances should a mother wash the baby’s nappies after sunset or turn her head away from the child when it was asleep.

Another method of deterring a Dziwożona was to keep a St. John’s Wort flower or a Harebell at home or to grab it when the danger was known.

1 šestonedieľka (in Slovak) translates as “sixsundayeress” meaning a woman that went through labour six weeks ago.

2 this custom is still preserved in some regions of Poland, although without the original meaning. 

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𝑆𝑡. 𝐽𝑜ℎ𝑛'𝑠 𝑊𝑜𝑟𝑡 𝑓𝑙𝑜𝑤𝑒𝑟
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𝐻𝑎𝑟𝑒𝑏𝑒𝑙

A mother that got her child stolen still has a slight chance to get her baby back. In order to get it back, she has to beat the changeling with willow twigs until the crying of the child summons Mammuna that changed the children. Only then she gives the mother’s child back to the original mum, but even then the child could already be dead.

Another fable talks about another way to get your child back. The mother had to take the changeling to a midden, whip it with a birch twig and pour water over it from an eggshell, shouting “Take yours, give mine back!”, at which point Mammuna normally felt sorry for her offspring and took it away, returning the one she stole.

Other sources claim that Mammuna is an old lady, that knows the power of different herbs and likes to help people lost in the woods.

A romanticized version of Mammuna.

Conclusion

This was the first episode of Slavic Saturday. There are many other creatures I am ready to cover for you, my lovely fans. I hope to see you all return next Saturday!

DrDenuz is a guest writer for Bandit Gang. You can find him on Twitter, Twitch & YouTube.