Mythology

Bieda: A Demon of Slavic Mythology

Bieda Polish myth
Credits: Matchack /DeviantArt.com

In Slavic mythology, Bieda is an immortal demon that brings bad luck and many misfortunes to people. Bieda was disguised as a skinny and extremely tall woman.

As a mythological creature, Bieda is classified and belongs to the Polish demonology since it originates from the folklore tales of Poland.

The Polish mythology is rich with demonic characters and there are a few more whose looks resemble those of Bieda. 

This female demon remains special because it was considered a destructive force of evil that would suck the souls out of living people. 

Key Takeaways

  • Bieda is a demon from Slavic mythology that originated in Poland.
  • Bieda is connected to extreme poverty, tragedy, and misfortune.
  • Polish folklore tradition is full of proverbs that include Bieda as one of the characters.

Bieda Etymology

The word “bieda” can be translated as “poverty” which makes this demon more interesting considering the way it was interpreted in mythology.

In general, “poverty” is associated with deprivation or lack of material resources that would meet the basic needs of humans, like food, home, and clothes.

In the past, the concept of “bieda” or “poverty” rounded wider notions of misfortune embodied through the character and actions of Bieda (in short, Bieda was responsible for people being poor).

Appearance

Bieda was disguised herself in a female form. It looked like an old lady who was wearing rags instead of clothes that were hanging from her skeleton-like skinny body.

Her hair was long, thin, and flat while her eyes were presented as two black round voids sticking out of her bony head, appearing horrifying and creepy.

Bieda and Her Evil Quest

In the folk tales, Bieda is represented as a demon that wanders around the world, looking for a family that owns a farm. 

When she would find the right family and the right house, she turned into a mouse, a sparrow, or a log. Despite the fact that she transformed into objects and creatures of small size, someone would always spot her presence.

The reason for this was the fact that Bieda always brought tragedies, misfortunes, and troubles to the families in whose house she hid. 

The presence of Bieda caused fires, deaths of cattle and groups of animals, or disappearances of crops and other products that farmer’s made.

The Final Mission of Bieda

People believed that once Bieda enters your home she will never go away. It seemed like Bieda could always go further when it came to causing misfortune and she never felt like it was time to end her visit.

She would stay with the family till “the very end” and this meant until the end of their lives since, according to the legend, her main goal was to drive the family members completely mad and then either kill them or make them kill themselves.

It was not easy to chase Bieda away, although people believed that you could make a spell to persuade her to “move” to your enemies’ home.

People tried to burn the demon or drown it by discarding the items considered possessed by the evil demonic spirit, but it was all in vain.

Polish Proverbs with Bieda Demon

Try chasing Bieda/ poverty through the door and it will enter through your window.

(Goń bieda drzwiami, to wlezie oknem).

This proverb meant that although people tried to chase Bieda (poverty) away, their attempts were futile and deplorable as she would always shapeshift, leave a certain object and enter into another one.

This proverb resulted in another one which was related to the “screeching” sounds that people heard from the objects possessed by Bieda. 

Poverty(Bieda) squeaks.

(Bieda piszczy)

Bieda after Bieda, the first has not left, a second has arrived.

(Bieda po biedzie: jedna nie odeszła, a druga jedzie).

This proverb signified the endless circle of evil and misfortunes caused by Bieda when one doom seems to lead to another one.

No weapon will protect you if Bieda catches you.

(I kij nie obroni, jak bieda dogoni).

The meaning of this proverb refers to the indestructible evil of Bieda who was believed to be immortal and thus, undefeatable.

As mentioned before, people believed that Bieda was an intruder and the only way to get rid of her was to hand it to another person. But Bieda had to be tricked to enter the home of a new host.

The Chase Away Trick for Bieda

Ancient Slavs believed that Bieda had to be tricked into leaving a “poor family’s” home. 

The person who would plot the trick would spread a rumor that there is a buried treasure hidden at a specific location, known only to the plotter. 

The rumor was spread until it reached the ears of a person who was intended to “inherit” the curse that comes with having Bieda in your home (usually a sworn enemy of the family that Bieda affected).

As treasure attracted people immediately, it didn’t take long before someone would start to dig at the indicated place. What they would find was not treasure, but Bieda. 

Bieda would move to the soul of her new host and thus starting yet another cycle of evil, misfortune, and torture. 

Other Ways To Chase Bieda Away

The main belief regarding Bieda was that she is an immortal being that cannot be killed. So, people believed that the only way to get rid of Bieda is to gift the possessed item to their worst enemy. 

According to some versions of the legend about Bieda, she could be tricked to enter a beautiful, precious object that could either be given as a present or thrown at the property of your enemy.

Polish Demonology in Slavic Folklore

According to the old Polish folk beliefs, the demons, witches, and all evil creatures appeared on the night preceding the holiday called St. Lucia Day (the night of 12th December) [1].

St. Lucia is one of the earliest Christian martyrs. She was killed by the Romans, for refusing to renounce her religious beliefs (she believed in Christ, as the only and true God).

According to the tale, on this day, the demonic creatures would band together, i.e. this night was considered the time in the year when the earthly life and the underworld would merge. 

Customs and Beliefs

Ancient Slavs believed that if a snowstorm appeared on this day, this would mean that demons and witches were stuck in a battle for power in which the winner would become the ruler of the following year.

The main belief was that people (and cattle, for some reason) must not leave their homes at night on that day or they would risk getting into serious and lethal danger. 

Children and young maidens were also warned to stay at home (for the fear of being kidnaped).

Slavic ancestors feared that the demons had the power to enter their homes and barns and that they would curse them with black magic.

Some people told stories about their cows who ceased to give milk because demons possessed them.

Also, people protected their firewood in order to protect it from evil spirits (like Bieda who had the power to transform into a wooden log and in that way tricking a person into bringing Bieda into his own home). 

Polish folk tales often presented witches with batches of stolen wood, dancing around the fire or performing magic rituals and casting spells (usually using those stolen logs and fire made from them).

The Bottom Line

As far as Polish mythology is concerned, Bieda was one of the worst demons that you could find yourself in close contact with. 

Her name is literally translated to poverty and is one of the worst curses that can befall a person or a family. Bieda would not dispose of her prey (in this case humans) in an easy and swift manner.

Instead, Bieda would bring about years of misfortune, tragedy, and overall painful existence (which made her all the more terrifying). Imagine having to spend years fighting this demon, knowing that the only way to get rid of it is to pass the curse to someone else.

Did ancient Slavs believe that the only way for one person to succeed in life is for another to suffer? Is this the true meaning behind the story of Bieda? 

Well, we’ll never know for sure. But, one thing that we do know is that the story of this demon is as interesting as it is terrifying. 

I hope you’ve enjoyed the article, and as always, we welcome your comments and personal insights. 

References 

  1. https://www.britannica.com/topic/St-Lucias-Day

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