Baba Yaga, Russian witch
Baba Yaga, Russian witch

Witches in Slavic Mythology

Fear of the witches and written documents about witches were deeply established in the Slavic mythology, especially amongst Serbs. Witches essentially represent the female equivalent to vampires, which were also one of the reasons Slavs feared the cemeteries and took great care of funerals and burial rituals. Witches are usually women, but real form of male witches would be warlocks, rather than vampires or were-wolfs, depending on the culture these creatures of night were mentioned in.

The Witch Hunt

If someone had a doubt that a certain woman was a witch, they would tie her and throw her in the well, and if that woman sank to the bottom of the well, all doubts would be rejected. They believed that witches can’t sink, so in case that the woman would float, they would kill her. They would later burn her body to make sure she wouldn’t return. This probably felt awful for women who knew how to swim.

Another way of destroying the witch was placing her head where her feet are while she is asleep. They believed that witches’ souls leave their bodies in form of a night butterfly, cat, frog, bird or sometimes rarely even in form of a wolf. If you placed her differently from how she fell asleep, the soul wouldn’t be able to return to her body, but would rather stand beneath her feet, so the witch would never wake up.

Becoming a Witch

The Slavs thought that virgins and unmarried girls could not become witches, except if the girl was born with the bloody cloth-like membrane. Also, the dead old women could return to life as witches if burial ritual wasn’t conducted properly, or if some animal crossed over her dead body, such as cat, frog or a bird, usually a raven.

It was also believed that witches lived on the walnut trees, hiding in the branches and transforming into animals, usually cats, ravens or wolfs, eating human hearts and little children. Later, fearing that witches will eat their baby boys, Serbs used to give their children the name Vuk meaning Wolf, which was supposed to keep the witch away from the baby.

Witches were entering people’s houses, carrying some kind of sticks, maybe a wand, which they used to open their victims chest without the victim waking up. Once the witch ate the victim’s heart, she would state the way and the time the victim will die, so he would continue living not knowing he hasn’t got heart up until the witch said he would.

Defense against the Witches

It was considered that witches are the most dangerous during spring, especially while the White Feast lasts, a holiday that is still celebrated in Slavic countries. The best protection against witches, in which the villagers put their faith, is garlic, used as a repellent against demons, witches, vampires and other creatures of night. Slavs used to hang the garlic above their front doors, believing that the witch wouldn’t be able to pass by it.

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Meet the Slavs

Posts by Meet the Slavs team.

    • asushunamir

      There’s an old Slavic folktale that says the first witch was a woman who was gathering mushrooms in the woods when it began to rain heavily. Since no one was around, she took off her clothes and hid them in the hollow of a tree so that they wouldn’t get wet, and put them on again when the rain stopped. Just then she saw God walking in the forest. He asked her how she had been able to keep her clothes from getting wet with rain. She told him to guess, and they agreed that if he couldn’t guess her secret, he would tell her his secrets. God couldn’t figure it out so the woman made him tell her all his secret knowledge, which has been passed down among witches ever since.