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