In our ancestors’ consciousness, shaped by legends and myths, marshes and other wetlands were considered to be elusive and unpredictable places of evil and dark forces.
People believed that the depths of marshes – enveloped in mist and brightened only by moonlight – were places inhabited by evil spirits waiting for hunters and travelers to lure them into a marsh, causing cause troubles and even death.
One of such spirit is master of marshes, Bolotnik, usually depicted as a man or as an elder man who is covered with dirt, algae and fish scales. In some legends he is said to have long arms and a tail.
He would appear to people as a bellied, naked man with frog’s arms, bug eyed, large mouth and long beard. Sometimes he pretends to be an old man; he can also alter his appearance to be a stepping stone in a marsh or shallow water that helps to cross the dangerous area. If you steps on such stone (Bolotnik), he slips away under your feet and you fall into the thick waters of the marshes up to his neck. You are doomed.
Bolotnik likes to attract people to their death and he makes it easy because marshes are very deceptive; in one moment, they appear as safe and suddenly they become deadly traps. It is Bolotnik – master of marshes – that creates these traps for all living creatures.
The marshes are most deadly in the evening and at night, and it is said that spirits of the marshes are most active in this time of day. Bolotnik does not like any loud sounds, so it is wise to be very quiet when passing through marshes.
Bolotnik’s companion is his wife, Bolotnitsa, who changes her appearance depending on circumstance. As a beautiful water maiden, she has the ability to attract people passing by, to go into the marshes. Pretending to be lost, she uses her beauty and her trickery; by crying she asks to be let out of the forest, she lures a person into the marsh. She is considered to be the most beautiful maiden of all Slavic mythology, and it is almost impossible to distinguish Bolotnitsa from a real beautiful maiden.
The only perceptible difference is that Bolotnitsa always sits with legs and feet hidden beneath her, trying to hide her frog like feet.
Among other evil spirits that rule the realm of marshes, is Dziwozona (or Mamuna) is a female swamp demon in Slavic mythology. This creature – believed to be malevolent and dangerous – used to take the form of an ugly, old woman with a hairy body; on her head she wore a red hat with a fern twig attached to it.
Dziwozona was said to kidnap human babies just after they were born and replace them with her own children – changelings – with disproportionate body with certain disabilities (large or very small heads, a huge abdomen, a hairy body and long claws). Ancient Slavs believed that in order to protect a child against being kidnapped by the demonic Dziwozona, a mother had to tie a red ribbon around its hand (this custom is still preserved in some regions of Poland, for example) or put a red hat on its head and shield its face from the light of the moon.
In case, Dziwozona managed to kidnap a baby away, the mother who lost her child, had to take the changeling to a midden, whip it with a birch twig and pour over it water from an eggshell, shouting “Take yours, give mine back!”, at which point Dziwozona normally felt sorry for her offspring and took it away, returning the one she stole.
Written By A. Sutherland – AncientPages.com Staff Writer
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