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Mountain Storytellers - the trail of Carpathian imagination

Carpathian tales
When the sun goes down and darkness comes, the Carpathian village turn into a place where "feelings and faith" say more than "science and the eyes". The locals indulge in tales of magical creatures and mysterious phenomena on the Polish-Slovak border; there are demons, ghosts, witches and warlocks – the beings coming to life through folk imagination…
On the trail of "Mountain Storytellers" we will discover stories that are still alive – not in literary studies, but in the deepest corners of the memories of people living in the Carpathians!

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The magic of Carpathian stories

In bygone days, every evening villagers sat together around the bonfire during the warm months, or next to the stove during the cooler months – to recall the old tales. They told stories about "ghosts" and witchcraft, ancient myths and legends with supernatural creatures and unusual phenomena… To cheer themselves up they told bawdy stories and tales about the events of everyday life.

            In the Carpathian stories the magical view of the world has survived having its source in pagan times. The need to know and understand the world gave birth to an attempt to explain inexplicable phenomena. Everything that could not be explained logically was interpreted in a magical way. Before the development of civilisation, along with, science began to answer those questions, and those beliefs gave force to those supernatural beings.

            All of these stories have survived – passed down from generation to generation – thanks to a strong tradition of oral transmission. Today, the magic of storytelling is being replaced by cutting edge technology but based on the hypnotic power of tales in films, games, comic books, etc. However, the stories presented on a computer screen grab more and more attention by young people, to the detriment of the stories told by grandparents and great-grandparents. Therefore, it is particularly important to visit those corners of the world where the power of folk imagination coexists today with what is perceived as scientific and rational.

The last storytellers

"Mountain Storytellers – the trail of Carpathian imagination" is a trail of Carpathian fantasy that is not intended to encourage you to visit particular points on the route, but to explore the spiritual tradition of the Carpathians hidden in the old stories.

On the trail we find storytellers who usually are the last to remember the old tales full of marvels and magical creations of imagination.

            Legends, stories and fairy tales are filled with magic and witchcraft rituals based on folk visions of the world. Those stories are made of scraps of different traditions – pagan, Catholic, regional, and local. Old-Slavic mythology abounds in magical creatures, mysterious forests, rivers and mountains, caverns, dark ravines, marshes and the ruins of old buildings. It invoked protective and malicious spirits and attributed magical qualities to rituals and ceremonies.

            The Catholic faith – so strong in the Polish countryside – did not eradicate them completely, but firmly established the belief in coexistence and the clashing forces of good and evil.
And so, the two traditions co-create a unique folk optic, where the visible reality intermingles with the mystery, where what is material clashes with what is magical and good spirits fight with evil demons.

            Old stories – now covered with dust – still inhabit the recesses of folk imagination. The entire spectrum of demonic imagery is common to the entire Carpathian region. Dense mountain forests were a dark and sinister world inhabited by ghosts, demons and the damned.

            Since the nature and the supernatural had a great impact on daily life, people sought refuge and advice from those who had access to secret knowledge. The local witches and warlocks became intermediaries between what was magical and visible. There were plenty of them in the Carpathians. Practitioners of magic were often seen during the secret rites or in forest thickets, where they gathered herbs for their recipes. They were easy to meet on the day of St. Adalbert, the day of the year when the spells are most powerful.

            On the Polish-Slovak border there are still a lot of stories about witches and sorcerers who could cast spells and break bad charms. We can listen to those stories on the trail of "Mountain Storytellers."


On the trail…

Today, the world has changed. Evening stories are replaced by the session in front of the TV, and the magical view of the world by scientific discourse. However, the stories under Carpathian thatched roofs are fine. We will know those with the thrill of tales of ghosts and warlocks, those terrible with a moral warning and those cheerful. Carpathian tales are extremely fragile and precious, made of scraps of old beliefs and magical imagination.

            On the trail we will discover the stories that are still alive – not in literary studies but in the deepest corners of the memories of people living in the Carpathians!

            One should at least mention the story of the Tylicz witch that is known by almost everybody… Oryna Pawliszanka – the proverbial witch – was accused of witchcraft and idolatry. The blame of this beautiful girl was proven by the fact that she collected dew from the grass for magical recipes and enchanted animals which stopped giving milk at one glance. Despite tortures Oryna did not plead guilty. But still she was found guilty and burned at the stake. Some speculate that Oryna was not a witch but she was punished so cruelly because of her beauty that captivated local men and upset their jealous wives. The power of folk legend was proven to the inhabitants of Tylicz, when, in 2011, in the archive in Krakow the "Book of the town Tylicz" was found and it contained the documentation of the trial of Pawliszanka… Although previously she was perceived as having a fairy-tale character, the witch of Tylicz really lived!

            The borderland was rich not only in witches, but also in mages and sorcerers. Sometimes, it was even visited – as the locals still recall – by the devil… From the Beskid Sądecki to the Tatra Mountains it was said that there is a book of spells by Slovak mages. Once, it was to end up in a Polish cabin and unfortunately when used it summoned the devil himself. It was like this –during a cheerful feast one of the guests read the spell of a leather book and suddenly lightning lit up the sky. A chariot came in front of the cabin along with black mounts calked with gold and the devil's entourage… – How did it end? You will learn while travelling the trail of "Carpathian storytellers […]".

            The tales about mages and spells are present to this day in the villages of the Gorce and Pieniny Mountains – because, as we all know, the deeper the forest the more densely it is populated by all demons and mysterious creatures. We will stay at Ochotnica Dolana to hear about the origin of the mountains and their secrets. Supposedly, in the mountains you can find treasures hidden by robbers, but if you are careless you may get deceived by forest demons…

In the Carpathian hamlets, the locals still recall that in order to get all types of spells one should go on the alps to the head shepherds, as they were masters of the occult… We will get to know the shepherd’s tales and stories in Łomnica (the Beskid Sądecki).

            In Szymbark (the Lower Beskids) we will find out when a secret vault opens in the basement of the castle of the Gładysz family and the storyteller of Biecz (the Pogórze Ciężkowickie) will tell us about the water spirits in the Ropa river and the goddesses who inhabited the forests. This was at the time when the forest was ruled by a witch whose spiders built a castle with silver threads. Once, the local peasants, when passing through the forest, kidnapped the witch’s magic sleigh which she used to travel along the Carpathians. They ended up terribly as the sleigh did not want to stop it ran and ran continuously until the unfortunate peasants died…

            And finally, to improve the mood we shall listen to something funnier, Lach stories…


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