9 Supernatural Beings & Places of Polish Folklore
small, 9 Supernatural Beings &
Places of Polish Folklore, View of the Adam Mickiewicz monument on a November eve, photo: Wojciech Kryński / Forum, full_mickiewicz_rynek_forum_770.jpg
Poland was a battleground between East and West. Crushed, bombed and robbed by unscrupulous and power-thirsty rulers, its lands are soaked in blood, and its cities have been meticulously rebuilt on the bodies of those who died for them.
With a legacy steeped in murder, death and terror beyond belief, it comes as no surprise that this should be reflected in legends. Several of these are associated with historical sites which can be visited – although not by the faint of heart.
1. Vampire Graves
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After-death mask of Chopin, Museum of Czartoryski Family in Kraków, photo: Grzegorz Kozakiewicz / Forum
Vampire graves are recognised by the positioning of the body in the tomb. Vampires were buried face down, in the fetal position, with their heads cut off and placed between their legs, with wooden or metal pegs and studs piercing their bodies, or in a grave held down by rocks. Many such graves have been discovered in different parts of Poland. Underneath Kraków's main square researchers discovered female skeletons laid in the fetal position, and in Kazimierz Dolny the body of a woman was found with her hand cut off and placed in her mouth.
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The most important discovery was made in Gliwice during construction works for a new highway. Workers found several beheaded bodies. Their skulls were placed between their legs – one of many ways to prevent the dead from returning. It wasn't an uncommon occurrence to pronounce dead those who were still alive. They would wake up in the ground and struggle for their lives. Those who managed to escape the earth would would run around in circles like a beheaded chicken. Ritualistic burials were thus a preventive measure against vampires and the resuscitated dead.
2. Chapel of Skulls
Czermna is a village in Lower Silesia in the far south of Poland. The town has a small baroque church with an unusual chapel, built of 3,000 skeletons of victims of the Thirty Years and Silesian wars and people who died of cholera, the plague, syphilis and starvation. Inside are a crucifix and two carvings of angels, one with a Latin inscription that reads 'Arise from the Dead'. Construction on the so-called 'sanctuary of silence' started in 1776 and was completed 18 years later.
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The chapel was a collaboration between Czech priest Vaclav Tomasek and a local gravedigger, J Langer. The crypt of the chapel contains a further 21,000 bodies, presumably ones that didn't get arranged before both artists themselves died. Their bones were dutifully added to the exhibit.
3. The Black Volga
Legend has it that in the 1960s and '70s a black limo roamed the streets of Warsaw. The car was a Volga, typical of the Communist elite. Its wheel rims were white and its windows adorned with white curtains. It is said to have been driven by a priest, or a nun. Some say even the devil himself. The driver would stop a passerby to ask for directions or the time and then snatch the person. Their main prey was children. Inside the car, there was a blood transfusion station and the victim's blood would be taken to cure rich leukaemia patients. This urban tale has Soviet origins, and is known as far away as Mongolia.
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4. The Wawel Chakra
The Earth is said to have seven force centres. Like the chakras in the tantric and yogic teachings of Hinduism, they are sources of spiritual energy. It is believed that one of those places is Wawel Hill in Kraków, specifically, St. Gereon's chapel from the 11th century. According to the legend, Greek philosopher, mystic and explorer Appollonius of Tyana discovered a hill with positive radiation, now called Wawel, during one of his voyages. He left there one of his talismans, which unlocked the full potential of the chakra radiation.
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5. The White Lady of Kraków
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Mansion of the Wielkopolski family destroyed by the fire, photo: National Digital Archive / www.audiovis.nac.gov.pl
A strange and tragic story is associated with Krakow's city hall. Legend has it that two hundred years ago a priest was called to perform last rites for a dying person. He was taken to his clients by carriage. Once he arrived, the priest was taken to a chamber in which he found a body covered by a cloak. Two people entered the room: an old man and a young girl dressed in white. The priest was told to perform the rite on the girl. After the act was completed the mysterious body emerged from under the cloak. Dressed entirely in red, he turned out to be an executioner and beheaded the girl. Later on the priest found out that she was a young countess punished by her father for a romantic affair with a butler. Apparently the father buried her in the basement of the building. Since then the White Lady has glided along the halls of the mansion.
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6. The torture room of Andreas von Schlieben
Halfway between Poznan and Berlin there is a spooky castle-turned-hotel. The ghost of its former owner, Commander Andreas von Schlieben, was first spotted in 1820. Those who make his acquaintance nowadays are all men and visit the estate in spring and summer. Guests even have the choice of opting for a night in the ‘torture room’. Fitted with a huge solid wood bed, it comes complete with clunky manacles suspended from the walls and other scary bits and pieces.
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7. Devilish friends, Rokita and Boruta
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Boruta the devil. Woodengraving from Tygodnik Ilustrowany. Concept by Juliusz Kossak, engraved by H. Kubler, photo: Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository
According to the legend Rokita was a generous villain who lived with other bandits on Chyb mountain. He would rob rich merchants and hand over the spoils to the villagers. Boruta, on the other hand, inhabited the cellar of Łęczyca castle in central Poland. He was a tall nobleman with a thick black moustache. He wore a long overcoat to hide his tail and a hat to cover his horns. His black eyes revealed his demonic soul. Each Pole tells a different story about him. According to some he was evil and mischievious, according to others he was good. For all intents and purposes, Rokita and Boruta were drinking buddies. One night they were enjoying a merry evening in an inn in Łodz when the barman refused to sell them another pint. Rokita paid but turned the coins into burning chips. The owner was duly paid but he couldn't take his earnings.
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8. The horrific fate of Barbara Zdunk
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Reszel Castle, 2001. Staging of the trial of Barbara Zdunk and the last burning at the stake in Europe 200 years ago, photo: Aleksander Keplicz / Forum
In 1807 a fire ripped through the old town. Authorities blamed the town eccentric, a maid called Barbara Zdunk. Imprisoned for three years in the castle dungeons, she was raped repeatedly and gave birth to two children that nobody knows what happened to. She was burnt at the stake in 1811 and was the last woman in Europe to be burnt for witchcraft. Reszel Castle is now an artist’s hotel and guests regularly speak of hearing stumbling, murmurs and strange footsteps. Even though a visit from Ghost Hunters International discredited the presence of supernatural forces in the castle, the nearby river called Sajna exhibits more worrying signs. An entrance to the underground dungeons can be found there with groans and yelps coming from the inside. Finally, a tragic accident happened at the location, in which a father and son had died when driving on a motorbike. Up to this day, the cause of the accident has not been discovered.
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9. Demonic Possession in Wrocław
On the main square, two townhouses from the Middle Ages are linked together by an overhanging archway symbolic of a couple holding hands. Some say this is Wroclaw's most romantic building but under the archway there was once a cemetery and the inscription reads Mors Ianua Vitae – Death is the gate to life. This was once the setting of a horrid murder. A grandson butchered his grandmother in a devilish frenzy. He is said to have been possessed by a demonic dwarf who resided in the nearby St Elizabeth's church. According to some, the grandmother’s shrieks can still be heard.
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Written by Marta Jazowska, 28 Oct 2014