Post Eagle Newspaper


May 18, 2024

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False Gods

At a time when the Slavic peoples inhabiting the areas that form Poland today were heathens, their lore and beliefs caused them to hold ceremonies that were meant to avert misfortune and make nature treat them with benevolence. Among their many rites and customs were periodic holidays observed to mark the most vital developments of the year. For example, they used to celebrate winter, the onset of spring, and the onset of summer, these being ceremonies associated with the vegetation cycle and the progress of animal husbandry.

The old lore and rites were gradually eliminated with the advancing enlightenment of the people, and the perseverance of certain practices today does not mean that they have anything to do with the original ideas. Nonetheless, these ceremonies are an important source of knowledge about the origins of Polish folk culture.

For example, a series of solemn ceremonies was associated with the period of winter solstice, which extends between Christmas and Twelfth Night. The ceremonies of this period seem to have either of two sources. One if farming — as documented by the presence of bundles of straw in the corners of the main room, or the hay put under the tablecloth, or the flinging of corn seed against the ceiling, or the stringing of fruit trees with the straw or hay from the Christmas table. The other source is the honoring of the dead as shown during the festive supper on Christmas Eve (one place at the table being left available to the dead).

The period up to Twelfth Night was likewise filled with mysterious magic on the subject of prospective wedlock, or the yields at harvest time, or success in either personal matters or husbandry. This trend is underlined by the custom of bidding best wishes, and the carolling with (or without) a model of Christ’s crib and the entire nativity scene from door to door, or simply with big stars and various monsters, or in masks. The children and youngsters engaged in this wandering from cottage to cottage were offered various gifts at every door.

The fancy dresses and colorful decorations associated with these ceremonies were a welcome diversion from the monotonous winter scenery of the countryside. After all, this was a period when farmers had relatively more time to spare than in any other of the four seasons.

Some times this heathen culture has proved to be even more intriguing.

The island of Wolin in the mouth of Odra River, on the Baltic, happens to be the site of intensive excavation work conducted there for many years by the Szczecin Archeology Laboratory of the Polish Academy of Sciences Institute. In 1974, the excavation site yielded a sensational find…..a four-faced effigy of the Slavs’ deity facing all four quarters of the globe. The figure, measuring only 9 centimeters (less than four inches) in height, dates back to the late 9th century A.D. Scientists were unanimous in acclaiming the little statue as the greatest archeological find of the post-war period.

It was back in 1848 that the first such figure was found in the river Zbrucz, on what was then the boundary between Russia and Austria. Lacking all documentation, it has continued to perplex scientists to this day. Still, there are some written records from the 12th century that mention a four-faced deity (called Swaitowid in Polish) worshiped in a small town on the Baltic coast island now known as Ruggen. But since this and similar finds were located back in the 12th century, some researchers thought it likely that all these deities were side-effects of Christian influences. The pre-Christian Slavs were accordingly denied to possess any spiritual culture of their own.

The discovery of the four-faced effigy of Wolin which has been shown to date from the second half of the 9th century, next to the latest results of investigations at Arcona which demonstrate the presence of a full-fledged culture in the 8th century already, make it clear that at that time the western Slavs had worshiped the four-faced god.

It is also interesting to note that evidence has been found of the Danish King Swen delivering his sacrifice to this same four-faced deity which means there was broad distribution of this cult in the Baltic basin.

The latest discoveries made in Germany have yielded firm evidence that the Slavs had many deities of their own represented by various types of carved statues.

It is against this background, therefore, that the latest find of Wolin must be seen as the crowning piece of evidence illustrating the Slavs’ spiritual culture in past ages. Its importance is enchanted by the fact that the figurine was discovered in a house located within a village compound, which testified to the domestic nature of the deity and the universality of the cult in those early ages.

The island of Wolin and the excavation site there is an invaluable source of evidence of our Slavic ancestors. Archaeologists there have been able to locate the site of the pagan temple of Wolin, and they hope to find some intact fragments of the temple.

The Wolin site is a true pearl of Polish archeology and deserves to be searched with great care. This work can yield important discoveries and may easily modify existing views on the culture, customs, lore, and magic of the old Slavs.

Wolin has yielded many valuable finds already, among them the gilded figure of a horse with saddle dating from the 11th century and the skulls and foundation wreaths put under newly built houses (from the 10th and 11th centuries) – both of a magic character.