Category Archives: Religion

Sententia contra hereticum et astrologum lapsum et postea relapsum

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The 15th century Polish version of the inquisition was very much in tune with the anti-Hussite times. The below was a sentence issued by Zbigniew Oleśnicki the Bishop of Cracow (later cardinal) and John the Dominican inquisitor against the alleged Hussite Henry of either Brieg/Brzeg or, perhaps, of Prague. This sentence was pronounced circa 1429. The interesting passage is as follows:

“…ad suffragia demonum cum suis certis complicibus pro inveniendis thesauris aliquociens habuit refugium, credens id licere nec esse peccatum, ipsum constabat esse relapsum iudicio sapientum et ob hoc curie seculari tradendum.  Verum quia, an invocare demones pro inveniendis thesauris sit manifesta heresis, licet procul dubio heresim sapiat manifeste, cum non esset de hoc lucida determinacio, poterat dubitasse…”

Here Henry is accused of “calling upon demons and certain accomplices” in order to help find treasure, an indication of a “clear heresy.” He is also apparent a repeat offender.

The source of this is a codex (610.40) owned by the prelate of Włocławek Stanisław Ksawery Chodyński which was printed in Volume 2 of the so-called Codex Epistolaris (number 176).

However, as pointed out by Aleksander Birkenmajer (in “The Matter of Henry the Czech” or Sprawa Henryka Czecha), apparently the same case is also discussed in a number of pieces in BJ 2513.

So who was Henry?  He seems to have been a professor at Cracow University who was a popular scholar and even assisted during (or at least was present at) the birth of three sons of Wladyslaw Jagiello: Wladyslaw of Varna, a Kazimierz who died after a few months and of Kazimierz Jagiellonczyk. Henry, also called the “Astrologer”, fell afoul of Church authorities and was accused of Hussitic sympathies, of opposing the excessive veneration of the Holy Mary and, as shown above, of seeking out treasure by means of diabolical powers. The fact that he was a Czech we learn from Jan Dlugosz (genere Bohemus) but also from Stanislaw of Skalbmierz.

You can read more about this (if you know Latin) here in Birkenmajer’s article.

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March 16, 2018

Auguries, Sorceries and Superstitions in the Medieval Manuscripts of the Jagiellonian Library

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The following is a translation of an article by Maria Kowalczyk (aka Maria Kowalczykówna, a senior librarian of the Jagiellonian Library’s manuscript department), “Auguries, Sorceries and Superstitions in the Medieval Manuscripts of the Jagiellonian Library” (Wróżby, czary i zabobony w średniowiecznych rękopisach Biblioteki Jagiellonskiej) . It is an interesting compilation of the author’s notes that she scribbled down while working the manuscript department of the library.  It originally came out in 1979 but it went largely unnoticed until Leszek Kolankiewicz cited the article in his book Dziady (“Forefathers’ Eve”) as proof that Alexander Brueckner’s view of the Polish Pantheon as presented by Jan Długosz was in fact wrong.

Kowalczyk, namely, came across a sermon by Lucas of Great Koźmin (Łukasz z Wielkiego Koźmina) from 1405 or so which predated Długosz by about than 50 years and which predated any other source for Polish paganism.  It was obvious that Brueckner had not been aware of the existence of this source when he wrote his critique of Długosz’ interpretation of pagan Poland’s religion. So here we had proof that Długosz neither made it all up nor did he misinterpret things as Brueckner claimed (though, interestingly, Kowalczyk did not seem to understand that what she found sent Brueckner’s already-strained interpretation down the tubes). The excerpts from that sermon are here and the full sermon here.

One interesting aspect to this is that even the small fragment cited by Kowalczyk seems slightly different from the sermon from other manuscripts.  One notable exception is that the sermon mentions the God list three times but in Kowalczyk’s version based on MS BJ 1446, the list appears twice or, more precisely, the first time the idols are mentioned in the other manuscripts their names are absent in Kowalczyk’s citation. Similarly, there is a reference to Bacchus in the other manuscripts but in the Kowalczyk version the name Bacchus is absent.  Assuming that these differences are actually born out in the manuscript and Kowalczyk did not make a mistake it seems that the manuscripts differ (and there are also other differences in the text just looking at her short fragment) and that the copyist decided not to mention the names the first time around.  Why then he mentioned the list the second and third time it appears is, of course, puzzling.

Another mention is that of Quia which Kowalczyk seems to believe is in the BJ manuscript but which does not appear appear in at least some of the other manuscripts.

Without further ado, here is the article that sparked a minor renaissance in Polish pagan studies. All the numbered notes are the Kowalczyk’s – mine are only the asterisk notes. For the name Stanisław I use Stanisuav throughout to better help with the pronunciation.

In the medieval manuscripts of the Jagiellonian Library there survived a number of texts discussing various manners of auguries, sorceries and superstitions.  The most notable of those are four sermons by Stanisław [Stanisuav] of Skalbmierz [or Skarbmierz so aka Stanisław ze Skarbimierza], a professor of canon law at Krakow University (d 1431).  One of these he dedicated almost entirely to the study of various superstitions, that is the sermon Magistris non inclinavi aurem meam (Proverbs 5, 13), which sermon has survived in  a number of manuscripts as part of the sermon collection by the same author entitled De sapienta Dei [1].  In this sermon the author notes that despite the fact that many people go to church, it is not by any means certain that they follow the Catholic faith in accordance with the teachings of the Church.  For they commit many transgressions against the faith, which transgressions the preacher lists in a detailed manner.  This is the most extensive known sermon about magic sorceries – of which the author list about fifty different types.

Skalbmierz coat of arms

Though not as thoroughly, Stanisuav also mentions the matter of superstitions and transgressions against the faith in his sermon Hic venit [2].

In this sermon the author undertakes a dialogue with a superstitious interlocutor with the latter asserting that he cannot be comitting a sin if – while engaging in his superstitious rites – he also utters Catholic words and prayers and even employs holy objects.  The preacher eventually asks rhetorically, how should this person then explain the various superstitions such as incomprehensible and laughable spells, the calling of the wolf, offerings and writings (pictura verborum).

In turn the third sermon Domine Deus rex celestis Deus Pater omnipotent is found in a collection of sermons by Stanisuav of Skalbmierz called Super Gloriam [in excelsis]  [3].  While speaking of the various false gods that a Christian may fall prey to worshipping, he mentioned and described a series of superstitious practices.

Finally, only  a brief mention of such matters can be found in the sermon Et in unum dominum nostrum Ihesum Christum cilium Dei unigenitum in the series Super Credo [4].

[1] MS BJ 193, 118v-121v and other manuscripts, in which are found the sermons De sapienta Dei.
[2] MS BJ 191, 16v-20r.
[3] MS BJ 191, v. 170r-172v.
[4] MS BJ 190, 18r-20r.

All these collections of Stanisuav of Skalbmierz’ sermons existed already around the year 1415 [*note: for example, Super Gloriam was written during his stay in Prague in the 1390s as per Zawadzki].  However, other sermons of his were written at various other times.  Some had been prepared already at the end of the 14th century.

In the second part of his “Medieval Sermons” in the chapter entitled “Superstitions of the Polish People in the 15th century” [5] Alexander Brueckner published large fragments of four anonymous sermons, which had been in the keeping of the National Library in Warsaw up until World War II.  An examination of these sermons (originally kept at the Holy Cross monastery [6]) allowed me to conclude that, other than a few omissions and minor additions, they were largely taken from the sermons of Stanisuav of Skalbmierz.

Also a large fragment of Stanisuav’s sermon entitled Magistris non inclinavi had been added to the confessional materials contained in MS BJ 2540 from the first half of the 15th century [7]. Among contemplations on the topic of mortal sins is found chapter devoted to auguries and superstitions [8].  Therein are found the fragments taken from Stanisuav [9].  It is also worth noting that in that document there is found a Polish gloss “booze spor”, a name of a disease which was treated by measuring the sick man or animal with a thread [10].

Because the various superstitions listed by Stanisuav of Skalbmierz had already been discussed by Alexander Brueckner, I will only summarize them directing the reader to the above mentioned discussion of Brueckner’s and the fragments published in it.  First of all the various magics, superstitions and auguries were the province of women.  These so-called “vetules” popped up in towns and villages.  Many of the superstitious practices became part of the regular liturgical year cycle for they were associated with Christmas, Candlemas [Feast of the Presentation/Purification or Święto Matki Boskiej Gromnicznej], the Holy Week, Saint John’s Eve, the Feast of the Assumption of Mary, etc. They played the greatest role at Christmas.  The entire Christmas Eve was spent on festivities, playing dice, and inviting as guests those people who were considered lucky in the belief that they would bring luck [to the household].  Fire was not shared with the neighbors.  Also on Saint John’s Eve, people kept watch among entertainments and dances and superstitious practices.   Women and girls danced and played on Saturday nights.  On Holy (Maundy) Thursday, they did not wash the dishes after dinner so that the dead souls could have a meal.  Also for these souls did they toss out the leftovers.

[5] A. Brueckner, Kazania średniowieczne [Medieval Sermons], part 2, Rozprawy Wydziału Filologicznego AU, XXIV, 1895, pages 318[really 317]-347. [*note: Brueckner issued his Medieval Sermons series in three parts that were part of AU volumes 23 and 24 (or series II volume 9 and 10); these also contain other interesting publications like Władysław Nehring’s Kazania Gnieźnienskie and Brueckner’s Drobne zabytki języka polskiego XV wieku: pieśni]
[6] Warszawa, MS BN Lat. IQ 24, which manuscript was destroyed in World War II.
[7] The work begins Qui bene presunt presbiteri duplici honore habeantur digni (1 Timothy 5, 17) Do. X, cap. V, Ecce ego. Recipiunt enim in hac vita honorem reverencie… Sunt autem specialiter quatuor propter que sacerdotes sunt honorandi… The topic agrees with the summa De doctrina sacerdotali of Richard Wetherset but the proper incipit is different. Compare M. W. Bloomfield, “A Preliminary List of Incipits of Latin Works on the Virtues and Vices”, ‘Traditio’ XI, 1955, number 758.

[8] It begins Sors est ars divinandi, qui nunquam in bono accipitur…, MS BJ 2540, 228v.
[9] Peccant omnes illi qui contra dolorem oculorum per totam noctem a die Nativitatis Iohannis Bapitiste vigilant… X… Et multa talia supersticiosa et diversa et errores superseminati sunt, quod nec omnes de mundo magistrorum possent eos describere, in the same work, 232r-233r.
[10] Quandam infirmitatem vocant vulgariter b o z e  s p o r, in the same work, 232v.

Various priest-blessed objects were also used in superstitious ways – such as large wax candles [gromnice], Easter palms, fire, and especially blessed wax and water that had been blessed by the priests on Holy Saturday and herbs that had been blessed by the priests on the day of the Feat of the Assumption of Mary [Matki Boskiej Zielnej which means the Herb/Green Mother of God day].

Some superstitions and sorceries were intended to divine the future or assure prosperity.  One would read [the future] from the dripping of waxed candles, salt or herbs that had been blessed on the Feast of the Assumption of Mary or figure out the what coming across a hare or a wolf would portend.

The superstitions related to the various important events in a human life: birth, marriage, funerals.  For example, returning home from a funeral one would leave some ash at the home’s doorstep.  It was also the case that people would commission the dying to take care of their matters (after they crossed over).  The superstitions also translated into various activities.  For example, one would not set out any journey on a Monday.  Superstitions were also introduced when starting on the  building of a dwelling.

Superstitions were also associated with the various trades.  The farmers and gardeners who were dependent on the vagaries of nature were also especially prone to them.  From the blooming branches one would divine whether one’s livestock would multiply; one would not hold barehanded the rod or twig which was given at New Year’s – then used to drive the cattle out come springtime.  At the Feast of the Presentation [Purification or Gromniczna] one would walk around the house and the stables holding the candles [i.e., the gromnice]; then one would use fire to brand the cattle hair with the sign of the cross. When the farmers when out till the soil, they would tie an object to the horns of an ox and sprinkle ash that had been blessed by the priest on Ash Wednesday so that the wheel treads (of the wheeled plough). At Easter morning they would go around the field with a cross and the knife that had been used to cut meat at Easter was also used to cut cereal stalks so that the weeds would not grow amongst such crops. They would add something to the cereal so as to protect against rust [!]. They would invite the wolf to a feast so that he would not eat the sheep and they would not name the wolf at Christmas.  They would pour milk from a cow that had just birthed a calf behind them [for good luck?]; and they would refuse to sell milk or dairy products after sunset.

The innkeepers used all kinds of secret practices to ensure that they receive a lot of orders for beer. When buying a horse you were not supposed to use a bare hand to grab its bridle. Also contracts were agreed upon only while wearing gloves.  Hunters and fishermen would use all kinds of superstitions such as incense to help the sucres of an [upcoming] hunt.

However, the most magics and superstitions were practiced as part of the medical arts. Since there were relatively few actual doctors and medical advice was expensive, people turned towards the local old women who cured people using herbs, conjurations and magic.  It was believed that the inscription Lutum fecit Dominus ex sputa (John 8, 9) written during the reading of the Gospel at the fourth Sunday of Lent (Quadragesima Sunday or Invocavit Sunday after Ash Wednesday) can be used to treat eye ailments. It was also a belief that keeping watch on Saint John’s Eve (summer solstice) would avert eye disease.  That night people also wrapped the artemisia plant around their heads so as to prevent headaches throughout the year.  Garlic was attached to garlands and sashes.  Also some sort of small wooden boards would be attached to the brow with signs or writing.  Drawn lines, inscrutable words, signs, made with chalk or by other means were supposed to help with toothaches.

To cure various fevers, as soon as it was discovered that someone was suffering from it, some people would use a sort of a hand “manubrium” uttering words and making motions.  Others wrote words on an apple or wafers and gave these to the sick to eat.  There were also those who, fearful of falling ill with a fever, would not let anyone speak the word fever in their presence.  Another illness (unclear which one) which was called in Polish “miara” [measure] people tried to cure by measuring a person and his head with a thread.  That illness or a similar one, people also tried to cure by stomping on something.

Against ghosts [or anxiety?], people would pour molten lead or wax onto water.  Once this solidified they tied it on a child or on a sick person.  It was undesirable to drink while holding a light [candle] in one’s hand so as not to fall into an incurable illness. For this reason too one would not sit down on the door step.  For reasons unknown, one would chew on Easter wax and eat the [willow blooming] catkins from Easter palms.

One would pray during the new moon, kneeling and fasting even.  One would walk towards the sun to get rid of sickness.  Or would stick a nail in a tree.  Walking barefoot was believed to have medicinal qualities.  To read charms/bewitchments one would use elderberries.  While administering medicine one would pray “our Father, Credo.”  One would make a picture representing death and would walk it out in a procession out of the village.  In medicine one would take into account unlucky days, the so called “dies egypciaci.”

One would not let horses and cattle drink water in which hands (nogcie) had been washed so that they would not become stick with an eye disease (which was also called nogiec [hence the perceived connection]).  To treat this disease as well as uraz one would use farcical enchantments [?].  To treat household animals one used fire that had been blessed on Holy Saturday. Herbs blessed during the Feast of the Assumption were used to treat cattle and to shoe away demons by sticking them onto the house and in the cowshed.  One would place a [piece of paper with?] the name of Saint Luke written on it since his symbol is an ox.  In the conclusion of his sermon Magistris non inclinavi Stanisuav of Skalbmierz says that one writer is unable to write down all the superstitions especially since they always multiply as new ones arise constantly.

Of course, Stanisuav, being a cleric, saw all these practices from his own religious vantage point.  Therefore, to fight such superstitions he used primarily theological arguments.  He asserted that those who attach incomprehensible caracteres to sick people, receive blessings from old women [as opposed to priests], and those who believe that diseases and human ailments may be cured, create a false god; in his opinion, they wound the faith, steal from Christ, flee from the light. He warned that one should not worship either the Sun or the Moon for veneration is owed only to God who created them.  In the sermon Hic venit Saint john is made to address his audience to ask whether he who came as a witness of truth is to be seen the same as those who try to find salvation in various [ritualistic] writings, apocrypha, signs, plants, wax, lead, wood, stones, carvings, empty words, inane blessings, curses.  Stanisuav also appealed to common sense.  He encouraged his listeners to hearken more to doctors than to old women.  He said, for example, that the sheep will be better protected from the wolf by being closely guarded rather than by avoiding the uttering of the wolf’s name. He tried to convince that a sickness is best driven away not by using a thread but by applying medicine [whatever that “medicine” may have been]. He ridiculed those who would scribble down various words and signs which were understood by no one and those who would take as blessed that which had not been and is not blessed.

It is not easy to determine how much of the writing of Stanisuav from Skalbmierz is original since we still know very little about his models.  While it is true that there is a treatise by the Silesian Nicholas from Jawor De superstitionibus, which is known from various XVth century copies but Stanisuav’s sermons do not appear to have made any textual borrowings from that treatise [11].  However, already Zofia Kozłowska-Budkowa drew attention to the influence of Czech preachers [12].  In their sermons too does the problem of sorcery and superstition appear sharply. What’s more, one can see that Stanisuav’s sermons are dependent on those.

MS. 1396 (written at Plock in the year 1414 it originated from the library of the Plock preacher Jacob of Piotrkow) contains a synodal sermon Sacerdotes contempserunt written by the Czech preacher John Milicz from Kromieryz – from which we learn that not only the common people but also priests, especially clergymen took part in various superstitious practices. In agreement with local women and sometimes in exchange for money, during their first [?] masses they put on belts (or straps/girdles) which were then later used in superstitious practices (of unclear type); during the gospels being read they would write various words on communal wafers, laurel leaves and cards designed to counteract fevers or other diseases such as Ihesus autem transiens etc. or the already mentioned Lutum fecit Dominus ex sputa. On Palm Sunday during the reading of the Passion they would cut out the aforementioned crosses.  They created amulets (“ligature“), which were then worn by superstitious, illiterate people. Therefore, the preacher [John] concludes that those priests who engaged in such practices or who permit that others do so, are not priests of Christ but of Baal or Belial [13].

The same [John] Milicz in a sermon for the feast of Saints Simon and Jude [Judas Thaddaeus] entitled Principes apostolorum (a part of the compilation known as Abortivus) raises the issue of superstitions. In MS. BJ 1645 a glossator observes at this juncture: Nota been contra incantatrices et incredulous [14].

[11] See A. Franz, Der Magister Nicolaus Magni de Jawor, Freiburg 1898. It also could not have been taken from Katalog magi Rudolfa, pub. E. Karwot, Prace Etnologiczne, v. 4, Wrocław 1955 and the rev. G. Labuda, “Studia Źródłoznawcze” III, 1958, p. 314.
[12] Z. Budkowa, Sermones Sapientiales Stanisława ze Skalbmierza, “Sprawozdania Polskiej Akademii Umiejętności” LIII, 1952, p. 395. See also Largum sero Marcina z Holeszowa, MS BJ 1400, p. 337-353.
[13] Sunt et alii sacerdotes vel clerici, qui sacramentis abutuntur in suis vel mulierum coniuracionibus, incantacionibus, sortilegiis. Sunt qui in missis suis novis vel primis amorem mulierum vel precio vel pecunia conducti cingunt se cingulis ad supersticiones faciendas. Sunt qui scribunt contra febres vel infirmitates super hostia, super lauri baca, super cedula, vel scribunt illud Ihesus autem transiens etc. vel Lutum fecit Dominus ex sputo etc. quando ewangelium legitur ac si illa verba evangelii non valerent alio tempore scripta, quam cum evangelium legitur, quia hoc est supersticiosum, quod tempore illi creditur, vel incidunt cruce infra passionis leccionem in in die Palmarum vel ligaturas faciunt… Hi sacerdotes Domini sed Baal, non Christi sed Belial. Vertunt enim letanias sanctorum in invocaciones demonum, Ioviniani sunt non Christiani…, MS BJ 1396, 273v.
[14] Ad hoc eciam pertinent omnes ligature et remedia, que eciam medicorum disciplina condempnat sive in verbis sive in caracteribus sive in quibuscumque rebus suspendendis vel ligandis vel solvendis, vel qui credit in occursum lupi, leporis vel hominis, vel qui sperat in inicia fori, vel contractus… quidam adorant lunam et murmurant in novilunio, pecunias ut augmententur. Quidam observant dies egipciacos… Quidam contra febres vel dolorem dencium, capitis vel oculorum in pomo vel lauri baca, in plumbo in hostia, sive qui scribunt Lutum fecit ex sputo Dominus sive Ihesus autem transiens etc. infra evangelium, incidunt cruces infra passionem que ideo supersticiosa sunt… Coniurant quidam serpentes… Caveatis quibus sanare homines vel peccora quandoque conantur, quia ut plurimum admiscent aliqua ut mensurare hominem vel pecus vel spuere vel insufflare vel police tangere vel cereo digito et non alio quidquam ad hoc pertinens facere et talia in vestris ecclesiis facere prohibetis… Quidam eciam per artem notoriam scienciam nituntur aquirere… Quidam in sacramentis de crismate et oleo faciunt sortilegia. Caveant ne sint irregulares…, MS BJ 1645, 153v, compare too MS BJ 1175, 327v.

A student of Stanisuav from Skalbmierz, Lucas from Great Koźmin, a professor of theology at Cracow University, who died in 1412, speaks against superstitions and magics  in several sermons contained in his postilla. While discussing the text of the evangelical pericope regarding the wedding at Cana [where Jesus turned water into wine, resulting in mass inebriation and several “angry drunk” incidents], he mentioned that, in his time, “old wives,” witches and fortune tellers were being invited to weddings so as to foretell the future [presumably of the married couple] [15].

Koźmin coat of arms – Prussian version

In his sermon for the second Sunday of Lent, while discussing the story of the Canaanite woman [Matthew 15.22 or Greek, Mark 7.24], who’d asked Christ to cure her daughter who was tormented by Satan [demon really], upbraids women of his own time, saying that they, instead, engage with the devil when they medicate themselves and their children by incantations and amulets [nawąz, presumably from wiązać referring to tying of plants in some sort of a wreath?] [16]. Therefore, [according to Lucas] Jesus said to the Canaanite “Woman, great is your faith!” but to those other women [Lucas’ contemporaries], he would have said [according to Lucas]: “Great are your incantations and great are your magics.” Lucas also speaks of old women, alewives who gave themselves to superstitions, in his sermon for the Assumption of Mary [17].

An interesting detail found itself in Lucas’ sermon for the Green Week/Pentecost regarding Si quis diligit me ([Anyone who loves me] John 14.23). He mentions in this sermon namely relics of a pagan past, disappearing then under the influence of the Christian preachers; these dances and parties, during which were uttered the names of alleged pagan Gods: Lada, Yassa, Nia [18]. This same was repeated about fifty years later by Jan Długosz [19].

[15] MS BJ 1446, 167v, compare J. Wolny, Materiały do historii wagantów w Polsce średniowiecznej, “Biuletyn Biblioteki Jagiellońskiej” XIX, 1969, page 80.
[16] …non ad Deum sed magis ad dyabolum, scilicet ad artem eius puta ad incantaciones, ad sortilegia vetularumque ligaturas, que eciam libri medicorum condempnant, recurrunt, et tunc cum faciunt voluntatem dyaboli ipso cessante vexare estimant incantaciones illas vel illa sortilegia seu ligaturas ipsos vel ipsorum filios filiasve dixerim sanare… autem mulieribus posset dici o mulier magna est luxuria tua, magna est incantacio tua, magna est ars sortilega tua. MS BJ 1446, 199v, 203v.
[17] Same at 257v,

[18] Hoc deberent advertere hodie in choreis vel in alibi in spectaculis nephanda loquentes, in cordibus immunda meditantes, clamantes et nominantes ydolorum nomina, [] et attendere an possit referri ad Deum Patrem. Certe non. Venit ad summum bonum, nisi quod bonum. Non enim festa libere [] quales proh dolor celebrant ex remanenciis rituum execrabilium paganorum, quales fuerunt predecessores nostri, pervenire poterint ad aures, nisi ad ulciscendum, sicuti ascenderat clamor Sodomorum et Gomorrorum.  Nam in hoc festo liberi fiebant turpes  denudacione et alia turpia, que dicit Apostolus eciam non nominare gracia domini Dei. Tamem talia iam auctis predicatoribus, cessantur et in multis locis cessaverunt…. Non est aliud nomen sub celo in quo oportet nos salvos fieri. Non enim salvatur in hoc nomine Lado, Yasa, Quia, Nia, sed in nomine Ihesus Christus… Non Lada, non Yassa, non Nia, que sunt nomina alias ydolorum in Polonia hic cultorum, ut quedam cronice testantur ipsorum Polonorum… Same at 268v-269r.
[19] See B. Ulanowski, Kilka uwag o statutach synodów diecezyalnych krakowskich, Archiwum Komisji Historycznej V, Kraków 1888. page 27; Ioannes Dlugossius, Annales seu Cronicae incliti Poloniae, v. 1, Varsaviae 1964, page 106; Brueckner, same as above pages 10-11; the same, Encyklopedia staropolska, v. II, Warszawa, Kraków 1937, page 181, where he states that these are not names of pagan Gods.   

In MS BJ 1619 from the year 1407, containing a large number of sermons with Polish glosses (which also contains the oldest version of the Bogurodzica [mother of God, Polish hymn]), in the sermon regarding Nupcie fact sunt  there is a [description of] superstitions related to marriage (such as entering the house with the right foot first) [20].

The archdeacon of Gniezno, Peter Wolfram (died 1428), owned a manuscript which contained a sermon to the clergy entitled Ierusalem, Ierusalem, que occidis prophets (Matthew 23.37) of unknown authorship, in which he upbraided those [amongst the clergy?] who continued using superstitious practices [21].  The Sermo de S. Mathia regarding Surgens Petrus (Book of Acts of the Apostles 15.7) in MS BJ 2513 from the first quarter of the 15th century discusses auguries/ fortune telling (the manuscript also preserves the sermon of Marcin of Holeszow) [22].

Also Jacob of Piotrków, a preacher from Płock (d. 1447), talked on Palm Sunday about superstitions connected with the Holy Week; we know this because on the backside of a letter he personally wrote down directives in this matter, that is, an injunction against swallowing [willow blooming] catkins, against the preparation of crosses, against the placing of bread underneath the cross, against the strewing of ash, and against abuses [of what kind ?] with the [holy?] fire and holy water on Holy Saturday [23].

From a recommendation written by Kasper Rockenberg, the later decretist [Decretum Gratiani], at the occasion of the awarding of the bachelor of arts degrees at Cracow University, we learn of another superstitious practice. We find out that Kasper suffered from a fever but was able to get rid of it when, on the advice of one of the university masters, he transferred the said fever pursuant to a notarized deed – and without a right of repurchase – to the Jew Zacharias [24].

During Lent, pastors would read to their congregants the so-called prohibitions a communion paschal, so that they would know which sins would prevent them from being admitted to the Holy Communion during Easter. The registers [of such sins] have survived in several fifteenth century codices of the Jagiellonian Library. Among others, mortal sins included the practice of magic and superstitions, sometimes just being mentioned in general form, for example Item incantatricibus [25]. But we also find more detailed descriptions:

[20] MS BJ 1619, 96v.
[21] Sed heu nonnulli faciunt qui per vanas benedicciones per fatuas aplicaciones rerum quarumlibet querunt faustum vel procurant fieri infaustum… Taceo de illis, qui tempora observant et rebus sacramentalibus abuntur, querentes inde faustum ceram fundentes vel plumbum, MS BJ 2459, 207v-208r.
[22] MS BJ 2513, 358v.
[23] Dicendum in die Palmarum. Ne abuntantur ramis gluciendo, cruces parando. Item de pane posito sub cruce. Item de audicione passionis. Item de cremacione ignis feria quarta. Item de cieccione pulveris postea. Item ut feria 5 ieiunietur. Item ne igne et aqua consecratis errent. Item de pane benedicendo. Addition BJ 225/70, compare M. Kowalczyk, E Belczrzowa, F. Wysocka, Glosy polskie Jakuba z Piotrkowa i innych autorów w rękopisach Biblioteki Jagiellońskiej, “Biuletyn Biblioteki Jagiellońskiej” XXIII, 1973, page 86.
[24] MS BJ 2459, 263v-264r, M. Kowalczyk, Krakowskie mowy uniwersyteckie pierwszej połowy XV w., Kraków 1970, page 94. [my note: Kasper came from a local German town family so whether this practice could be Polish or German we can’t tell.  One wonders who could sue under the deed if Rockenberg had instead died – Zacharias who would not have gotten the desired (?) fever or the relatives of Rockenberg!? If there was a payment made for this “transfer” who paid whom?].
[25] MS BJ 1619. 55r.

Item omnes divinatores, incantatores, vel incantatrices… Item omnes benedicentes oculos, caput, dentes seu quascumque infirmates in hominibus et in animalibus, alia mala contra Deum facientes non admittantur. Item omnes demones pro furtis vel pro perditis coniurantes. Item omnes betheniam fugantes vel fodientes.

Magic figures also on the list of sins whose absolution was reserved for the bishop:

Ad episcopum mittuntur… maiores sorciarii maxime qui baptizant ymagines et qui ymolant demonibus [26].

During a bishop’s episcopal visitation, investigations were conducted to determine whether there were any witches in the parish. In MS BJ 399, which belonged to the afore-mentioned Jacob of Piotrkow, there are queries put together in connection with such a visitation; several of those have to do with magic and superstitions. Specifically, this a fragment from the third book of Decretum [or Decretorum libri viginti] by Burchard [the bishop] of Worms [De aeclesiis (“on the congregations”)]. In the same codex is found also initial fragments from the nineteenth book of Decretum [De paenitentia (“on penitence,” or “Corrector Burchardi”)]. Those fragments appear under the name Corrector et medicus. Therein, a large part of the text is devoted to matters of interest to us [27]. Since codex BJ 399 had been copied in 1420, we can infer that these texts which had been written at the beginning of the 11th century were still relevant in the territories of Poland [in the 15th century].

In 1888 B. Ulanowski [28] published a questionnaire from MS BJ 143 related to an episcopal visitation of the Włocławek diocese dated to, probably, the 14th century. By means of this questionnaire the clergy also investigated magic and superstitions. A similar text has been preserved in MS BJ 2415 from 1415, which belonged to a doctor decretorum [of decrees] of Cracow University, Nicholas Spiczmeri [Nicolai Spiczmeri].  It contains the following question:

Item an sunt aliqui sacrilegi, incantatores vel divinatores cum invocacione demonum, aut aliorum nominum, aut aliquas supersticiones facientes et servantes [29].

It is also worth noting that such investigations were also undertaken to see if a parish did not harbor Wycliffites or Hussites. Also in the chapter discussing usury, there is a Polish gloss “wplath” [30].

The rather plentifully preserved in the Jagiellonian Library manuals for confessors also discussed auguries, magics and superstitions. Unfortunately, although there exist editions of confessional summas [31], it is difficult to establish, at least for now, their authorship or even to determine whether any of them were written in the territories of Poland. MS BJ 2213 from about 1450, contains the Tractatulus multum utilis pro confessionibus which features a small Polish insert:

[26] MS BJ 2397, 283v, 279v.
[27] See edition PL 140, 573-579, 949-962.
[28] B. Ulanowski,  Modus inquirendi super statu ecclesie generalis z pierwszej połowy XV stulecia, Archiwum Komisji Historycznej V, Kraków 1888, page 228.
[29] MS BJ 2415, 232v.
[30] Item an aliqui mutant pecunias super usuris vulgariter w p l a t h…, in the same.
[31] P. Michaud-Quantin, Sommes de casuistique et manuels de confession au moyen âge, Montreal 1962.

Prosta, pocorna spowyecz ma bycz, czysta y vyerna, czasta, odthcrita, rostropna y dobrowolna, srmyeszlyva, czala, tayemna, rychla, placzacza, moczna, poszluszna y tesz nasza zaluyącza [32].

Among the sins committed by means of an affirmative act there are listed the following:

Sortilegys, auguriis aut divinacionibus intendere. Karacteres, scripturas, in plumbo aut in aliquo alio coligaturas plumbi fusi vel cere vel alicuius alterius non medicionalis differe atque in his contra preceptum Domini et ecclesie spem ponere [33].

In the short instruction which begins with the words Sacerdos, qui debet confessions recipere…, in the codex BJ 2403 there features the following query:

Si corpus Domini servasti in ore tuo vel posuisti ipsum in aliquo loco indigno propter incantaciones faciendas…[34]

The above-mentioned MS BJ 2397 from 1418, attached to which has been preserved the will of Mikolaj Wisliczka also contains short texts dealing with confession. One of them begins with the words Post modem querat de denim preceptis and contains the following question in the part dealing with the sins violating the First Commandment:

Querat ergo utrum experimenta vel incantaciones vel coniuraciones pro mulieribus vel sortilegis pro rebus inveniendis fecerit vel auguria servaverit vel divinaciones vel demones consulerit.

As regards the Third Commandment, the confessor was supposed to ask the following:

…si in festis ad ducendas choreas vel spectacula ad videnda exivit vel sicut est consvetudo in aliquibus partibus in vigiliis sanctorum et in ecclesiis cantilenas luxuriosas cantare. Quod grave peccatum est.

In the notes towards the end of the codex there is a copy from some kind of a penitential regarding superstitions involved in taking Communion:

De mulieribus, que corpus Domini tenent in ore et osculantur viros suos. Sorciarie, que corpus Domini in ore retinent et cum ipso osculantur amasios suos, ut eos habeant coniuges omnibus diebus sue vite peniteant… Similiter ille qui crismate meleficia procuraverit penitendus est ad arbitrium sacerdoties vel de aliis sacramentis… Omnes srciarie graviter sunt penitende tanquam ligate comunicacione generali [35].

In the confessional manual contained in MS BJ 2540, to which has been attached a fragment of a sermon by Stanisuav of Skalbmierz, we find a chapter beginning with the words Sors est dedicated to discussing auguries and magic. The matter of wearing amulets is discussed and, among others, the following question is raised:

[32] MS BJ 2213, 194r.
[33] Same, 199r.
[34] MS BJ 2403, 169v.
[35] MS BJ 2397, 277v-278r, 281v.

Utrum cartle et alligature circa collum infirmorum contentes verba evengelica aut versus psalterii vel alia divina verba suspendere circa collum sit peccatum?

Another chapter, entitled De imaginibus. quasi facing astronomi discusses the pictures/drawings that were being made by astrologers [36]. In turn, the Casus penitenciales secundum iura which is contained in MS BJ 2151, dated from the first quarter of the fifteenth century, sets out atonements for various mortal sins. Among other things what is discussed there includes instances of soothsaying and magic: “qui videt in astrolabio” as well as “sortilegus” [37]. Another source is the fourteenth century Determinaciones diversorum casuum by Stephan of Rudnice (who was the vicar general of Ernest of Pardubice) in MS BJ 2220 which also touches upon magic and superstitions; perhaps this was a source of some of the discussion by Stanisuav of Skalbmierz [38].

The short Questiones vulgares de apparition mortuorum (MS BJ 2121 from the fourteenth century) contains matters regarding magic, for example, Posse vel non posse anima, que ex hac vita migravit, magicis carminibus evocari et vivorum apparere aspectibus… An sit aliqua virtus in caracteribus [39]. 

In the anonymous Questiones de Eucharista in codex BJ 1395 from about 1430, which belonged to the theologian Paul of Pyskowice, there is the matter of Utrum divinatoribus, sortilegus et carminatricibus debeat dari corpus Christi. Et videtur quod sic [40].

It is known that in the fifteenth century Cracow’s scholarly circles, people concerned themselves not just with astrology but also with magic.  For example, in the 1410 letter by the queen Anna of Cilli [second wife of Wladyslaw Jagiello] to the Pope, we have described an otherwise unknown Nicholas who is supposed to have engaged in secret practices [41]. During the 1428-1429 trial of the royal astrologer, Henry the Czech, it was revealed that both crystal gazing and black magic were practiced in Cracow [42].

Because the line between that which was permitted by the Church, that is between black and white magic, such matters were subject to heavy debate also at Cracow University. In MS BJ 2070 from the second quarter of the fifteenth century, the following matter has been preserved: Utrum futurorum divinacio, ex genere duo illicita, in alliquo casu sive eius specie determinata ab ecclesia, licite sit tolleranda. Quod questio sit vera… [43] which was, perhaps, written by or under the direction of Thomas Strzemplinski, a professor of decrees, later theology and, eventually, a bishop of Cracow. The author cites Augustine, Isidore, Thomas Aquinas, William of Paris, the Decretum [and] the Summa [de casibus poenitentiae] of [Saint] Raymond of Penyafort.    The author also discusses different types of fortune telling and magic. He seeks to prove that the “carminatores” [spell chanters], if they incant against diseases without connection to any demons, do not commit mortal sins. Nevertheless, he concludes that the practice should be prohibited since the permitted spells are often mixed up with the forbidden. Naturally, he stresses that one should never summon demons although it is permissible to bind them in the Name of the Lord so that they would not harm the people.

[36] MS BJ 2540, 228v-233r.
[37] MS BJ 2151, 264r.
[38] MS BJ 2220, 21r; ed. R Zeleny, The Quaestiunculae of Stephan of Roudnice, “Appolinaris”, 38, 1965, pages 236-283, 372-405.
[39] MS BJ 2121, 44r, 48.
[40] MS BJ 1395, 288r, see Z. Włodek, Paweł z Pyskowic, Materiały is Studia Zakładu Historii Filozofii Starożytnej i Średniowiecznej V, page 154. 
[41] J. Zathey, Per la storia dell’ ambiente magico-astrologico a Cracovia nel Quattrocento, in Magia, astrologia e religione nel Rinascimento, Convegno polacco-italiano (Varsavia: 25-27 settembre 1972), Warszawa 1974 (Accademia Polacca delle Scienze […]. Conferenze, fasc. 65), pages 99-109; also see R. Ganszyniec, Pas magiczny, Archiwum Tow. Naukowego we Lwowie, Dział I. v. I, number 6, Lwów 1922; Modlitewnik Władysława Warneńczyka w zbiorach Biblioteki Bodlejańskiej, edited L. Bernacki, R. Gaszyniec, W Podlacha, Kraków 1928, page 72 and others. 
[42] A. Birkenmajer, Sprawa magistra Henryka Czecha, “Collectanea Theologica” XVII, 1936, pages 210 and others.

De carminatoribus vel eciam carminatricibus qui carminant infirmos vel pueros vel alia aliqua circa ipsos faciunt eciam est dicendum secundum Wilhelmum, quod si nichil supersticiosum dicunt aut docent aut faciunt… non credo, quod peccent mortaliter… Sed credo, quod prohibendi sunt viri et mulieres a talibus, quia multa inutilia et supersticiosa solent admiscere nisi forte sit sacerdos, religiosus et discretus aut eciam laycus sive vir sive mulier excellentis vite et probate discrecionis, que fusa oracione licite super infirmum non super pomum vel pirum aut cingulum aut similia super infirmantes manus imponat iuxta illud Marci ultimo [16, 18] Super egros manus inponent et bene habebunt. Nec sunt hee persone prohibende a talibus nisi forte timeatur, quod ad exemplum illorum et indiscreti et supersticiosi carminatores sibi abusum usurpent… Sic eciam si portentur reliquie ad fiduciam Dei et sanctorum non erit illicitun. Si aut circa hoc attendatur aliqua aliud vanum puta quod vas sit triangulare vel aliquid huiusmodi… supersticiosum erit… [44]

From this Church questionnaire we learn details about auguries/prophesizing [and] amulets which in Old Polish were called nawęzy [singular nawąz]. To fight off disease, the above-mentioned notes were written down and attached onto the human or on an animal. Of course, all these practices were condemned [by the Church] for religious reasons:

Ad supersticionem pertinent omnes ligature atque remedia que medicorum disciplina condempnat sive in precacionibus sive in quibusdam notis, quos caracteres vocant, sive in quibuscumque rebus suspendendis atque alligandis que miciori nomine phisicam? vocant, ut quasi non supersticionem implicare…

Sive qui attendunt sompnalia scirpta et falso Danielis nomine intitulata et sortes, que dicuntur sanctorum apostolorum, auguria avium aut aliqua pro domo facienda aut coniugio complendo aut in colleccionibus herbarum carmina dicunt aut pitaciola pro quavis infirmitate scripta super homines aut animalia ponunt, preter Symbolum et Oracionem Dominicam… Qui autem talibus credunt aut ad eorum domum euntes, aut suis domibus introducunt et interrogant, sciant se fidem Christianam et baptismum prevaricasse et paganum ac apostatam et retro abeuntem et Dei inimicum iram Dei graviter in eternum incurisse nisi ecclesiastica penitencia enendatus Deo reconcilietur [45]. 

We learn too that these co-called “caracteres” contained Hebrew angel names, unintelligible for most.  Nevertheless, it was feared that something may have snuck in there that was forbidden by the Church:

[43] MS BJ 2070, 150r-181r.
[44] Same, 160r-160v.
[45] Same, 155r, 167r.

…nunc multi aliqua nomina hebrayca angelorum confingunt et alligant, que noni ntelligentibus metuenda videntur. Est ecuam cavendum ne aliquid falsitatis contineant… deinde 20 cavendum est ne cum verbis sacris contineantur ibi aliqua vana puta caracteres inscripti preter signum crucis… [46]

How these 14th century signs looked like we can see in the fragments attached to MS BJ 1309. Here there are mentioned angels standing super gradum VII and there is a listing of the signs which you were supposed to write [or etch] onto a silver plate/plaque to protect against ghosts as the damaged text informs us:

…scribe angelos supradictos cum karakteribus istis in tabula argentea et porta supra pectus tuum et non timeas [47].

In MS BJ 551, dating from the 14th century, there was added at the beginning of the 15th a list of a number of magical customs: the welcoming of the new moon, that is kneeling, recitation of transcribed prayers [48] and other practices. When engaging in such practices, it was noted, one must have at the beginning declared/decided to remain in the Catholic faith. The codes also contains other magical practices, for example, a recipe for a love potion.  Some of these have been entirely blotted out with ink.

In those days another popular belief was in the magical power of stones. Such belief reached into antiquity. Even the Catholic Church engaged in the practice of blessing stones. In theological works of the period we find discussions of the symbolism of stones, especially the precious ones. Medieval doctors also utilized stones as medicines. In the Jagiellonian Library manuscripts there are a number of treatises de lapidibus [“Regarding Stones”]. An interesting anonymous treatise has been preserved in MS BJ 778 [49], which belonged to Jacob of Dobra, a professor of medicine at Cracow University [d. 1447]. The Incipit [the beginning] of his Abesten lapis latine dictum, qui in Greco Odolfanus dicitur, Fetularinus perisces in Caldeo nuncupatur… does not appear in the library’s catalogues/inventory. The treatise is, however, undoubtedly largely a compilation of other sources.  There appear in it fragments taken from Aristotle, Saint Albert the Great [bishop of Cologne], Matthaeus Silvaticus [or Mattheus Sylvaticus] and others but there are also interesting annexes dealing with German controlled lands of the Mark Brandenburg. This treatise was compiled sometime around 1300 since Přemysl Otakar II [king of Bohemia] (died 1278) is mentioned in it as dead, his son Wenceslaus II Přemyslid (1275-1305) as being king of Bohemia and Henry [III] the margrave of Meissen/Misnia (died in 1288) as also dead. The author in alphabetic order describes about 100 minerals and other stones. Included is an external description of the stone, locations where it could be found, its properties, what it is useful for, how to wear/carry it and what it should be framed/set in. For example, a diamond (adamas) when attached onto the left side of the body restrains anger, and increases wealth. It should be set in gold, silver or an alloy of these metals (electrum).

[46] Same, 159v.
[47] MS BJ 1309, Ir-Iv See also R. Bugaj, Nauki tajemne w Polsce w dobie odrodzenia, Wrocław 1976.
[48] In novilunio cum primo perspexeris lunam flexis genibus dic hunc versum Illumina domine vultum tuum super nos et fac hoc, quam diu vixeris. Et tunc vade domum ad cameram tuam devoveno, quod nunquam peririum voluntarie volueris facere et quod in fide katholica semper volueris perseverare et dic aliquias oraciones… MS BJ 551, 109v.
[49] MS BJ 778, 200r-210r.

When discussing the properties of beryllium, asserts that one of its alloys/types is possessed by frogs/toads. At this point he introduces a fable, heard allegedly in Styria [Steiermark] about the Czech king Otakar II. When he and his army entered Hungary and the soldiers were resting, a giant toad (the size of a dog) was to have run through the camp who probably held such a stone for no one attacked it.

In this treatise  there are mentioned numerous places primarily located in Germany in which one is able to find these stones. For example, the author states that jacint may be found in the Saale [Solawa] which in Franconia [Franken] is called Christian but when it enters Saxony is called pagan. The treatise mentions a scientist by the name Ulderic who worked in the area of Goslar. A part of the treatise (dealing with love) has been blurred out.  When discussing magnesium, the treatise mentions a chamber near Freiburg in Meissen/Misnia.  In one part of chamber one could hear what was being discussed in the other.

After discussing the last (alphabetically) stone (zigrutes), the author moves on to the art of making amulets and different ways of attaching stones [50], something that he largely lifted from Albert the Great.

To conclude this review of the Jagiellonian Library manuscripts containing materials dealing with auguries, sorceries, superstitions and magic, I would like to stress that this is hardly a result of a systematically undertaken inquiry but only a compilation of notes taken [by me] while working in the manuscript department of the Jagiellonian University. Therefore, this review can hardly be seen as complete. Nevertheless, this inquiry confirms that magic, auguries and superstitions were widely spread in Polish lands in the 15th century.

Moreover, these materials demand an edition by specialists, ethnographers, especially since often older (even 11th century) non-Polish texts or fragments [51] were being being copied in the 14th and 15th centuries.  Especially the sermon of Stanisuav of Skalbmierz Magistris non inclinavi aurem meam, which, shortly, is supposed to appear in print together with the entire collection De sapienta Dei, deserves this kind of an edition and printing in Polish.

[50] Perhaps the gold-plated dragon tongue mentioned in a court record served as this kind of an amulet. Offic. Crac. 15, page 426.
[51] The fragment …qui credunt de nocturnis temporibus equitare cum Dyana et Herodiade… which appears in Stanisuav of Skalbmierz sermon [enttiled] Domine Deus rex celestis is present in  Burchard’s [the bishop of Worms’] Decretum [or Decretorum libri viginti] as well as in a number of above discussed texts in MSS BJ 2121, 48; 2070, 152v. 

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January 26, 2018

Lel, Polel, Lada and the Alcis of the Mother of the Gods

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I have previously discussed the similarities between the “mother of the Gods” mentioned by Tacitus and the Polish Lada as well as the fact that she was made by Polish writers to be the mother of Lel and Polel the alleged Polish dioscuri.  In turn, Tacitus said that the Nahanarvali worshiped Alcis who were their dioscuri.  The Nahanarvali likely lived on the river Narwa – which is today’s Narew. It is possible that the naha refers to -nad meaning “on the”.  It is more likely that it refers to a Germanic term as in nah or “near” such as is found in In der Nähe and so forth (neahneh meaning “nigh”).  That would not establish the language of the Nahnarvali themselves as the writers’ (Tacitus and others)  intermediaries may have been Germanic. In any event, Narwa is in Mazovia andi so too in Mazovia was Lada worshipped as per Dlugosz (perhaps in the village Lady).  I’ve written about all of this previously.

What I had forgotten to mention was that already Jacob Grimm had the same idea.  I attach that here. This passage also discusses the Krainian God Torik which Grimm dismisses as not having anything to do with Thor because it just meant the “second” (vtorik > Torik). Of course, one could also interpret Thor as the “second”.  On that see here.

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October 8, 2017

Polish Pantheon

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Who were the Polish Gods?  Jan Dlugosz is actually quite clear about this question but it’s worth to summarize again. To call these Names a “pantheon” is in some respects an exaggeration.  They were made a pantheon by Dlugosz but each Name has its own development and history and it is quite possible that some of these Names had a different tradition and came from, at least at some point, different tribes or even peoples (Sarmatian, Venetic/Lusatian, Suevic).

  • Yessa/Yassa/Yesza/Yasza (in Polish spelled with a “J” in lieu of a “Y”) – the head of the Polish pantheon its equivalent being Jupiter; this God is probably the same as the “Germanic” Jecha and Tacitus’ Isidi/Isis; He is also likely the “Greek” Iasion (the Czechs spoke of Chasson sive Jassen) and perhaps the “Greek” Jason; in Aethicus Easter, it seems Yassa as Iasion appears with the Eastern Slavic Paron; Yesha/Yessa or Yesza/Yassa; As the “yasny” or “light” God, He is also probably the “God of Lightning” mentioned by Procopius, the One who comes “first” (Jeden/Odin) and who is followed by thunder (Thor or Wtory, meaning the “second” or Perun/Paron or Baltic Perkunas); He seems to be also the God of Light and of fertility/harvest rites; at war He may be identical with Yarovit/Gerowit; He may also be linked to Ossirus or Odyseus; note that the Slavic “sh” or “sz” is nothing more than a diminutive form (compare it with, for example, Sasha); the original Name must have been Iasion;  later, after introduction of Christianity, a traveller, wanderer – much like Odin but unlike the scheming and bitter Odin, He remained the simple Jaś Wędrowniczek – a young boy who travels the countryside – very much in line with the original Iasion/Jason; 
  • Lada/Ladon – the guardian of Jessa; this deity is Mars or a Goddess; perhaps the best answer to this confusion is that Lada is both Mars and a female Deity; She is an Amazon – the protector of Yassa (Alado gardzyna yesse – which means something like “Oh, Lada, protect Yassa”) interestingly, she was worshipped, as Dlugosz says (without himself making the Amazon connection) in Mazovia; notice too that her name appears already in Luccan as the consort/spouse; She seems to be similar to Leda who was seduced by Zeus (or, in this case,  Iasion which would also make Lada similar to Demeter though Dlugosz makes Marzanna be Ceres (which was the equivalent of Demeter));
  • Niya – the God or Goddess of after life or underworld; the equivalent of Pluto; the God had a temple in Gniezno according to Dlugosz;
  • Dzidzilelia/Didilela/Zizilela – the Goddess of marriage and fertility; also associated with Venus; this Goddess is probably the same as the “Germanic” Ciza, Zizara;
  • Dzievanna/Devanna – the Goddess of the forests and hunts; this Goddess is probably the same as the “Germanic” Taefana; expressly tied to Diana as a forest Deity; interestingly, the name also appears in India (Vindi) and in Ireland (Dublin-Lublin) and parts of Britain (Cheshire with its 20th Legion);
  • Marzana – harvest Goddess associated with Ceres;
  • Pogoda – the Goddess of weather, the “giver of good weather”;
  • Sywie/Ziwie/Zyvie/Ziva – God of Life (Zycie or of the zijn);

Outside of Dlugosz many of the above Names are repeated.  Other Names include:

  • Boda/Bodze;
  • Lel/Heli/Leli – the Polish Castor but perhaps connected with the Germanic Hel;
  • Polel – the Polish Pollux;
  • Pogwizd/Pochwist/Pochwistel/Niepogoda;
  • Pan;
  • Grom;
  • Piorun (probably Ukraine only since, at the time of writing, that was part of Poland);
  • Gwiazda;

Finally, one book mentions a whole league of Deities and demons:


Farel, Diabelus, Orkiusz, Opses, Loheli, Latawiec, Szatan, Chejdasz, Koffel, Rozwod, Smolka, Harab the Hunter, Ileli, Kozyra, Gaja, Ruszaj, Pozar, Strojnat, Biez, Dymek, Rozboj, Bierka, Wicher, Sczebiot, Odmieniec, Wilkolek [werewolf], Wesad, Dyngus or Kiczka, Fugas


Dziewanna, Marzanna, Wenda, Jedza, Ossorya, Chorzyca, Merkana

For other posts on Polish Gods see here (part I), here (part II), here (part III) and here (part IV).

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October 8, 2017

Ziza or Zizilia

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Always thought it was curious when German (as opposed to Nordic) Gods sounded Slavic.  One such case – of Lollus – we already discussed here.  Others such as Jecha or Biel I might want to get to later.  But then there is the curious case that actually is attested as early as 1135 in a story – Ex Gallica Historia –  that is very unlikely to be true but whose value (noticed too by Grimm) is nevertheless at least threefold.

First, the story of how the Swabians defeated the Romans (attributed to Velleius Paterculus but not likely written by him) tells of the founding of the city of Augsburg.  Augsburg was founded by the Romans after the defeat of not the Suevi but of the Vindelici who are supposed to have been an entirely different tribe.  These were, in fact, the same Vindelici who gave their name to Lacus Venetus, that is Bodensee.  Augsburg’s Roman name was Augusta Vindelicorum.  Thus we have Suevi, Vindelici (or Veneti?) of the River Lech and… Master Kadłubek.  This is because the story is in many ways similar to the stories written by Wincenty Kadłubek about how the Poles (or Lechites as he would have it) defeated the Romans (and others).  The fact that Augsburg sits in the old Vinde-Licia seem very suggestive.  At the very least here there may be an inspiration for Kadlubek who was a travelled man.

Second, there is a name here that is clear Slavic and that appears nowhere else.  The author has Roman soldier be called Bogudis.  He seems to be an Avar.

Third, there is a report of who the Swabians relied on for their Divine Protection.  Here we have a name that is at least somewhat similar to a Goddess said to have been worshipped by the pagan Poles.  We know that

  • Jan Długosz says: “Venus they called Dzydzilelya and thought her to be the goddess of marriage, so that they asked her to bless them with children and to give them a richness of sons and daughters.”
  • Marcin Kromer‘s list of Gods includes Zizililia: Colebant itaq pro dijs Poloni, & caeterae Slavici nominis gentes, praeciupe Iovem, Martem, Plutonem, Cererem, Venerem, Dianam: quos Iessam, Ladum sive Ladonem, Niam, Marzanam, Zizililiam, Zievanam sive Zevoniam, vocabant.
  • This is repeated by Maciej Stryjkowski who says: Venera (Venus/Aph-rod-ite [!]) they called the goddess of love Zizilia, to whom they prayed for fertility and all sorts of bodily pleasures they demanded from her.  

(Another “Z” Divinity is Zievana sive Zevonia (Kromer) about whom Stryjkowski says: “Diana the goddess of the hunt in they tongue they called Ziewonia or Dziewanna.”)

For more of these see here.

In any event, the Swabian Goddess’ name is supposedly Cisa or Zisa.  This, when one thinks of the tree cis, would already be enough to perk up Slavic ears. But in the story the name comes up slightly differently:

  • Zizarim (or Zizarana?)
  • Ziza
  • Ziznberc (mountain)
  • Zicę

Of course, already Grimm noticed the similarity of the name to that mentioned by Tacitus:

Para Suevorum et Isidi sacrificat.

There are even closer connections to words such as the Goddess Ziva mentioned by Helmold or “life” as życie (that word comes from żyto supposedly – of course, there is an interesting Slavic connection here too found in Diodorus Siculus description of the (real) Galls who, he says, make a drink “out of barley which they call zythos or beer”).

In any event, the Goddess Ziza has been repeatedly cited by the learned men and women of Augsburg throughout the Middle Ages and many places are said to have been named after Her.

There is another potential connection here to Slavs but about that later.

There is also this definition of “cross-eyed” (zez) which Brueckner claims comes from the German sechs but does not say why he thinks that:

On the other hand, a multi-cephalic goddess may appear or at least seem to be all seeing – if you tried the same you’d look cross-eyed… not to mention that the expression above about a naked man waiting on Zyza (or on Leda as in “ice”) can also be read to mean waiting not “on” but “for” as in a naked man waiting for a judgment [?] of Zyza or of Leda/Lada.  The expressions cited by Bruecker are ones he discussed already in 1900 and they come from Potocki’s writing.

Here is a full text of the Historia from the MGH:

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September 21, 2017

Caesar on Germanic Religion

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What do we know of the religion of the Germans?  Well, you have Tacitus but… you also have an earlier account by no less an authority than Julius Caesar in Book VI of his Gallic Wars:

“The Germans differ much from these usages, for they have neither Druids to preside over sacred offices, nor do they pay great regard to sacrifices. They rank in the number of the gods those alone whom they behold, and by whose instrumentality they are obviously benefited, namely, the sun, fire, and the moon; they have not heard of the other deities even by report.”

Germani multum ab hac consuetudine differunt. Nam neque druides habent, qui rebus divinis praesint, neque sacrificiis student. Deorum numero eos solos ducunt, quos cernunt et quorum aperte opibus iuvantur, Solem et Vulcanum et Lunam, reliquos ne fama quidem acceperunt.

Of course, the worship of the sun and fire was not something that we normally think of Nordic religion.  Instead, we think of “eastern” religions like in this account of the Persians.

Of course, the same could be said of the Slavs who worship:

  • Jasion, Jutrebog, Jarowit/Gerovit or, if you want to go further east, apparently, Svarog as the “Sun”  and
  • Svarozic as the “fire”

What about the moon?  Well, that’s tougher but there is the ksiezyc which is a diminutive of ksiadz.  Ksiadz used to mean prince or ruler.  Ksiezyc would thus mean “little ruler” so that much like:

  • Svarog > Svarozyc (big fire = the Sun > little fire = actual fire) 

we have:

  • Ksiadz > ksiezyc (big prince = the Sun > little prince = the moon)

Now, many folklorists have done all kinds of gymnastics to try to claim that Caesar’s Germanic Gods were somehow just different versions of Wotan, Thor or Tyr.

And yet that is not what the above says.

And those Germanic names!  Where are these Germanic Arios- after all?

Well, we have:

  • Ariovistus, as well as,
  • Ariamir (Suevi) , but to find another Ario- you have to look East,
  • Ariobarzanes and that one is, again, in the East (Persia).

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September 7, 2017

Matrem Deum Venerantur – Signs of Lada

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Tacitus’ Germania has an interesting passage in Chapter 45 regarding the so-called Aestii who are sometimes viewed as the ancestors of the Balts.

“…At this point the Suevic sea, on its eastern shore, washes the tribes of the Æstii, whose rites and fashions and style of dress are those of the Suevi, while their language is more. like the British. They worship the mother of the gods, and wear as a religious symbol the device of a wild boar. This serves as armour, and as a universal defence, rendering the votary of the goddess safe even amidst enemies. They often use clubs, iron weapons but seldom. They are more patient in cultivating corn and other produce than might be expected from the general indolence of the Germans. But they also search the deep, and are the only people who gather amber (which they call “glesum”), in the shallows, and also on the shore itself…” 

Or in Latin:

“…Trans Suionas aliud mare, pigrum ac prope inmotum, quo cingi cludique terrarum orbem hinc fides, quod extremus cadentis iam solis fulgor in ortus edurat adeo clarus, ut sidera hebetet; sonum insuper emergentis audiri formasque equorum et radios capitis adspici persuasio adicit. Illuc usque (et fama vera) tantum natura. Ergo iam dextro Suevici maris litore Aestiorum gentes adluuntur, quibus ritus habitusque Suevorum, lingua Britannicae propior. Matrem deum venerantur. Insigne superstitionis formas aprorum gestant: id pro armis omniumque tutela securum deae cultorem etiam inter hostis praestat. Rarus ferri, frequens fustium usus. Frumenta ceterosque fructus patientius quam pro solita Germanorum inertia laborant. Sed et mare scrutantur, ac soli omnium sucinum, quod ipsi glesum vocant, inter vada atque in ipso litore legunt...”

So who was this “mother of the Gods”? Rheia (Rhaetia?)? Cybele? Gaia?

Of course, no one knows the name of this Goddess but… there is a hint in Germania.

In Chapter 43 we have the following:

…It will be enough to mention the most powerful, which are the Harii, the Helvecones, the Manimi, the Helisii and the Nahanarvali. Among these last is shown a grove of immemorial sanctity. A priest in female attire has the charge of it. But the deities are described in Roman language as Castor and Pollux. Such, indeed, are the attributes of the divinity, the name being Alcis. They have no images, or, indeed, any vestige of foreign superstition, but it is as brothers and as youths that the deities are worshipped…”   

or in Latin:

“…valentissimas nominassesufficiet, Harios, Helveconas, Manimos, Helisios, Naharvalos. apud Naharvalos  antiquae religionis lucus ostenditurpraesidet sacerdos muliebri ornatuseddeos interpretatione Romana Castorem Pollucemque memorantea vis numininomen Alcisnullasimulacranullum peregrinae superstitionis vestigium; ut fratres tamen, ut iuvenes venerantur…” 

We know that one of the main Polish Gods was Lada.  Lada was also worshipped in Lithuania as we know from Stryjkowski:
And also they did not cut grain [with a sickle] by the boundary [between different fields]
Leaving that [grain] for the Earth gods to eat.
Lelus and Polelus and Ladon they had as gods
And too they had those to saw fear when defending themselves at war.
And ‘Lelu, Lelu, my Lado, Lelu, Lado!
Sang a maidens’ flock [stado] while clapping their hands,
This dance we see even today they preserve,
From May all the way to July they dance with this ‘Lado’,
Lado, Lado‘ singing, on holy evenings
It has been suggested that she was the mother of the Polish Gods Lel and Polel who were also referred to as lalki meaning puppets/dolls, perhaps referring to the fact that dolls resembled little idols.  Here is the interesting thing.  Castor’s and Pollux’s (Κάστωρ καὶ Πολυδεύκης,that is, Kastor and Polydeuces) mother was Leda.
So that’s the question:
  • Leda > Castor & Pollux


  • Lada > Lel & Polel (Lalki, that is, Alcis)

(as for Alcis > Lalki compare Ardagast > Radagast)

Thus, the “mother of the Gods” would not be the mother of all Gods but “only” of Castor and Pollux, the Dioscuri or Gemini.  Now, Pollux was Zeus’ son whereas Castor was not.  But Pollux shared his immortality with his brother.  Thus, you could stretch to view them as divine.  The other part that is interesting is that in Polish mythology Lada is mentioned as gardzyna (guardian) of Jesse or Yassa (Alado gardzyna yesse).  As we discussed, Jasion had many characteristics of Zeus (see here).  In Greek myths Iasion slept with Demeter (mother of the Gods?  Dea meter? He “fertilized” her) and was struck down (in some versions of the story for it by Zeus).  Now Zeus slept with Leda who out of that relationship bore Pollux.  The only thing remaining is to make a connection between Pollux (Pollucemque above) and Poles (or Polachs).

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August 5, 2017


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Once more on the topic of Ostara.  This time from Grimm:

In this list of related concepts, Grimm could have added next to Vesta and Estia also the Slavic Vesna/Wiosna (spring).

For more see here.

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July 28, 2017

Ausserordentlich Viele Koinkidinks

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Speaking of Grimm, it is unfortunate that his Deutsche Mythologie has not been translated into a Slavic language (as far as we know).  There are lots of interesting tidbits throughout that book…

For example:

Most adults are aware that light travels faster than sound.  The difference is actually quite significant.  The speed of light is about 186,000 miles per second whereas sound will travel only 1,125 feet in that same second.  It is for this reason that when you see lightning, you then expect to hear thunder.  In fact, you can calculate how far lightning struck from you merely by counting the number of seconds that pass when you hear the thunder sound that follows it.

What does that have to do with Grimm and Slavs?

Well, there is an interesting passage in Procopius that says something like:

“For they believe that one God, the maker of lightning, is alone lord of all things, and they sacrifice to him cattle and all other victims…”

For years, it was assumed that this was a reference to the Russian Perun.*  And yet, as we know the Polish Piorun, the East Slav Perun or Lithuanian Perkunas refer to thunder not lightning.  Is the same God the maker of lightning?

* note: the cattle reference suggested Veles to some but, to the extent that there even was any Veles, it seems odd to sacrifice “cattle” to the alleged “cattle god”. Veles can, on the other hand, be another name for Piorun.

We might say yes if we look at expressions such as “Jasny piorun”, “jasny grom” and others…  And yet these expressions seem like conflations of two independent atmospheric phenomena.

The distinction of these two phenomena is hinted at in the 8th century work of Cosmography of Aethicus Ister where we learn that:

“Naxos and Melos and these islands are islands of the Cyclades, and the very round Isle of Melon as well, which is ver fertile; Jason, Pluto or Paron, and Pharius were born there.”

Naxon et Melos et ipsae insolae Cicladum insolaque Melon rotundissima adeo et fertilis, ubi Iason et Plutonem uel Paronem et Pharium editos.  

Here Paron is equated with Pluto but “Iason” remains separate.

So what does this have to do with Grimm, again?

Well, we’ve previously noted the strange fact that Odin simply means “one” in Russian/Ukrainian (Polish jeden – eden?).

Did Grimm know that?  He was a competent anthropologist, well-learned in Teutonic, Gallic and Slavic beliefs.

And so right at the beginning of the very first edition of his book, he mentions some Slavic Gods.

Among those, looking for similarities and differences between Slavic and Germanic Gods, he notices a God from the Slavic region of Krain (Italian Carniola) in today’s Slovenia (mentioned in a local dictionary).  That God’s name is Torik or Tork.  Grimm looks at the name and expresses his belief that this (war!) God has nothing to do with either the Germanic Tyr nor Thor.

So far so good…

But Grimm then provides an explanation of the Slavic God’s name, the implication of which he does not appear to grasp.

“There is an extraordinary great overlap in Germanic and Slavic superstitions”

He says that the Slavic God’s name simply comes from vtorik, that is the “other” or “second”.  He says this is because the Slavic Torik was a war God and the name was a simple translation of the  name Mars.  Mars or Martis was and is Tuesday (incidentally, Tyr’s day) which was the second day of the Slavic week.  So the Slavs started to call their Mars by using their translated name of the “second” day of the week which day was dedicated to the god Mars.

This may or may not be true, of course.

A much more interesting question, however, is why is Thor called Thor or Tyr called Tyr?

And here is the real brain twister.  How is it that two Germanic Gods’ names Odin and his “son” Thor correspond to Slavic numerals of one and two.  Note also that vtori can mean the returning, repeated.

And why is Odin called Odin, again?  What is the Germanic etymology here?

Moreover, is not the God of Lightning, the “first” God?  You see lightening first before you hear the corresponding thunder.  Lighting is, well, bright.  Brightness corresponds to the name of the God Jasion (the Polish Jaś), the God of the “year” or Jahr or spring (Slavic v-esna or v-iosna) also the God of agriculture rebirth (notice the adventure with Demeter – Dea – meter – the Mother Goddess but also the Earth Goddess).

First, comes Jasion (“lightning”) and then comes Peron (“thunder”).

“Father” and “Son”.

Odin and Vtor

Odin and Thor.

Was then Zeus Thor who struck his father Jasion in an act of not simply “divine punishment” but usurpation?

Incidentally, Jasion is also mentioned in Sacra Moraviae Historia  where He is referred to as “Chasson/sive Jassen”.

It is also noteworthy that “Chasson” was the name of one of the Slavic leaders in Book 2 of the Miracles of Saint Demetrius.

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July 22, 2017