A Polish Nightmare: 8 Horrific Creatures from Poland

We’ve all heard of vampires and werewolves. BORING! Few people realize that Polish and Slavic mythology has its own collection of horrific creatures straight out of your worst nightmares. If you dare, keep reading to discover why you should probably avoid walking deep in the Polish woods alone.



You’re taking a peaceful autumn stroll in the woods. As you approach a calm little creek, you observe a beautiful woman playing with her hair. Turn around. NOW! It could be a Rusałka, the ghost of an unmarried girl who drowned. Rusałki have long light-brown, red, or green hair and often wear white dresses with flowers on them. Although extremely pale, they are very beautiful and completely irresistable to men. If a man happens across one, she will seduce and try to drown him. Learn more about the Rusałka


When it comes to Polish monsters, you’re not even safe during the day. Meet the Południca, also known as the Noon Witch. She appears amidst whirling dust clouds during the hottest part of the day, carrying a scythe. Oftentimes, she will ask people very difficult questions or quiz them. It’s a high stakes game because if they answer incorrectly, the Południca gives them a haircut down to the neck. In centuries past, peasants used to blame the Południca for heatstroke.


Although not the meanest monster on this list, you would still be well advised not to cross paths with a Leshy. It’s a giant woodland spirit who can shapeshift into anything. Oftentimes, Leshy leave people alone, although they are known to lead travelers astray and sometimes abduct children. Some people believe they are evil, while others just think they are moody. I wouldn’t take the chance to find out.


If you are ever stuck wandering the woods at night, be wary of this vampire-like creature that can transform into an owl to appear unnoticed. When one does meet a Strzyga in its true form, it may be too late, as the undead being sucks the blood of humans and sometimes even devours their insides. Strzyga are born human, but die prematurely and return to haunt the living. Polish peasants once believed that if a child was born with teeth, it would become a Strzyga.

baba-yagaBaba Yaga

Common throughout Poland and other Slavic countries is the tale of Baba Yaga, an old witch who lives in the forest, waiting for someone to get lost and stumble upon her hut, which sits on chicken legs and is surrounded by a fence composed of human bones. The keyhole on her door is filled with sharp teeth. When she catches you, she will kill and eat you, adding your bones to her fence. Her favorite meal? Small children.


Wila are nymphs who inhabit the winds. They are the spirits of women who acted loosely or frivolously during their lifetimes. Now they are forced to haunt the night, leading young men astray with their seductive charm. If the wind is heavy, it means the Wila are dancing; if it’s loud, they are singing. So watch out, because those thin wispy clouds under the full moon on a chilly autumn night may actually be the vague outlines of the Wila.


Beware of the Nocnica, or night hag, who is probably the most frightening monster on this list. Composed of shadow, the Nocnica is an evil spirit who visits people during sleep to draw their life force. Those who sleep on their back are especially vulnerable, as she will sit on their chest while slowly sucking their life out over the course of many nights. Her favorite victims are defenseless infants. In fact, she is to blame for babies having trouble sleeping at night. Their cries are due to the night hag tormenting them….


Czernobog is the king of all Polish and Slavic monsters. His name literally translates to “black god,” and in Slavic mythology, he was the accursed brother of Bielobog, the “white god.” The source of all evil in the world, Czernobog regularly enjoys stealing and devouring souls. He is also responsible for the most creepy Disney cartoon ever made called “Night on Bald Mountain.” Don’t be too afraid, though, as he hides like a wimp from the sunlight.


The Story Behind the Polish Eagle

It appears on everything associated with Poland—from T-shirts, hoodies and caps, to posters, flags and shot glasses. As Poland’s official symbol, it’s among the first things that come to mind when someone thinks about that country. I am, of course, talking about the famous white eagle of Poland, or Orzeł Biały.

lech, orzeł biały
Poland’s mythical founder, Lech, discovers the nest of the white eagle.

Legend has it that centuries upon centuries ago, Poland’s mythical founder, Lech,  was journeying across the region that is today known as Greater Poland. One evening, as he traversed that primordial landscape, he stumbled upon a large nest containing a majestic white eagle with two eaglets. As Lech approached, the great bird expanded its massive wings across the red light of the setting sun. Inspired by this sight, Lech established the first Polish city of Gniezno, meaning nest, and assumed the white eagle over the red background as his symbol.

In another version of the story, Lech desires to steal one of the eaglets and raise it for himself. The mother eagle defends her nest valiantly, however, and begins to bleed during the fight. As Lech observes the blood begin to stain the eagle’s white feathers, he is moved by its courage and dedication to its young. He immediately stops the attack and makes the white eagle his symbol, although this time the red represents blood and sacrifice.

Like with most legends, it’s impossible to say how much of this actually happened, although typically mythology is rooted in some sort of fact. For example, the famous legend of Krakow’s Wawel dragon probably resulted from the ancient Poles discovering dinosaur or mammoth bones and misidentifying them.

polish eagle coins
Tracings of 10th century Polish coins that contain the symbol of the white eagle.

Known for sure is that the eagle, as a symbol, goes back millennia before the dawn of Poland in the 8th and 9th centuries. Cultures around the world have respected birds of prey for their bravery, dignity and magnificence. For the ancient Egyptians, a falcon symbolized the god Horus, while the Romans used the eagle on their battle standards during war. The eagle symbol was later adopted by the Byzantine, Russian and Prussian Empires and, of course, by the United States.

Poland’s white eagle is fairly unique, although the Poles likely chose it for similar reasons—its courage and nobility. They would have become aware of the eagle’s cultural heritage from foreign coins that made their way up to Poland from the Roman world during trade.

The Polish eagle made its historical debut on Polish coins during the reign of King Bolesław I (992-1025). Its use expanded in the 12th and 13th centuries, appearing on emblems, shields and flags. It would have represented the Poles charging into battle at Grunwald against the German Teutonic Knights in 1410 and at Vienna against the Turks in 1683.

orzeł biały bez korony
During the communist era, the Polish eagle lost its crown, symbolizing Poland’s subservience to the Soviet regime.

When Poland was partitioned, or torn apart, in the 18th century, the eagle became a symbol to motivate Poles to fight and make sacrifices to regain independence. Ironically, the empires that conquered Poland—Russia, Prussia and Austria—all had black eagles as their symbols. The Polish white eagle stood in sharp contrast to this and, to many Poles, represented hope that their nation’s light would not be extinguished by the darkness of the invaders.

Regaining independence in 1918, Poland again adopted the white eagle as its official coat-of-arms. Unfortunately, the German invasion and World War II came not long after, and the eagle once more came to represent courage and sacrifice both to the Polish resistance and the government-in-exile.

When the communists took over under Soviet influence after World War II, the white eagle suffered one of its worst humiliations—it lost the golden crown that it had worn for centuries. The bare-headed white eagle represented a Poland subservient to the ruling Soviet regime.

After communism fell, the Polish eagle regained its crown in 1990 and was adopted as Poland’s official symbol, remaining so to this day. The bird appears on a red background that represents both the blood spilled to safeguard the Polish nation and the sunlit plains of the fatherland.  Its head faces right, as if gazing in the direction of truth, while its wings are fully spread out to protect all Poles and people of Polish descent, wherever they may live.

Dzien Niepodległości
The Polish white eagle in all its glory.

Dark Secrets of Kraków’s Dragon’s Den

Some of you may have visited the Smocza Jama (Dragon’s Den) underneath Wawel Castle in Kraków. It’s a natural limestone cave made famous by the legend of the Wawel Dragon (Smok Wawelski), who supposedly lived there centuries ago.

smocza jama

Today, children and entire families visit this Polish attraction. I remember going there as a kid myself and imagining the dragon climbing up the cave’s wall. What I didn’t know then, and what many people don’t know now, is that the Smocza Jama has a much darker side to it.

In the 15th and 16th centuries, the cave began functioning as a sort of pub, but it quickly deteriorated into what Obi Wan Kenobi would surely have called “a wretched hive of scum and villainy.” The Dragon’s Den became a sort of underworld, inhabited by vagabonds, thieves and prostitutes. It became the type of place one avoided for fear of getting mugged, violated, or worse.

Experts believe that what is today one cave, was once a series of caves, and the largest had become a giant brothel. A visiting Hungarian traveler wrote, “I don’t  believe you could have found as much debauchery in Sodom and Gomorrah as you can here.” It’s even believed that Polish kings like Henry Valois frequented this brothel in disguise, and it became a well-known place of “ill repute” around Poland and even Europe.

By the 18th century, the public had grown tired of the shrieks and drunken banter emanating from inside those carnal caves, so the king decided to fill most of them up, chasing the lecherous inhabitants out for good. As a result, today only one cave remains—the one that is believed to have been the den of iniquity.

Years, decades and centuries passed. In 1974, the cave was opened as the tourist attraction it is today. Most visitors today believe that the darkest thing to have inhabited that cave was a fire-breathing dragon. If only that were true.


Twardowski: The Pole Who Sold His Soul

One of Poland’s creepiest tales, and perfect for the Halloween season, is the legend of Pan (Mr.) Twardowski.

Known as the Polish Faust, Pan Twardowski is an old Polish legend about a man who sells his soul to the devil to obtain all the riches and pleasures of the world. Only at the end does he realize that these earthly goods are not worth losing his soul over and barely escapes eternal damnation by praying to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The legend  dates to 16th century Poland where it is believed that a man named Jan Twardowski actually existed and dabbled in the dark arts. One of the most famous stories is that King Sigismund August II hired him to summon the spirit of the dead queen, Barbara Radziwill. Supposedly, Twardowski used an enchanted mirror to bring the spirit into the room for the king. Barabara’s spirit quickly disappeared, however, and the devil’s face appeared in the mirror. Since then, the mirror has been cursed.

Twardowski's mirror in Węgrów. Legend says if you look into it, you will see your future.
Twardowski’s mirror in Węgrów. Legend says if you look into it, you will see your future.

If you look into the mirror, you’re supposed to see the future. In 1812, when Napoleon was leading his army across Poland into Russia, he stopped in a small town called Węgrów where Twardowski’s mirror had turned up. According to legend, Napoleon looked into the mirror and foresaw his defeat in Russia, which did come to pass. For decades, tourists have been visiting Węgrów to look into this magic mirror, which is on display at the church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Peter and Paul. Many claim to see odd images or their futures reflecting back at them.

Another legend is that Twardowski wrote a manuscript inspired by his black magic. Kept at the University of Kraków, the “Twardowski Book” contains a black spot which is said to be the hand print of the devil himself (although experts say it’s an ink spot).

In all the legends, Twardowski tries to trick the devil by including a contractual clause that he will only give up his soul in Rome.  Twardowski, who never plans on visiting Rome, believes he is safe until the devil tricks him back, luring him into a tavern called “Rome.” As Twardowski is dragged into hell, he begs Mary for help. Although Mary saves Twardowski from the devil, he is left suspended in a type of limbo on the moon, where he supposedly remains to this day for his sins.

Polish Faust
Twardowski summoning Barbara’s spirit for the Polish king.

It’s a very interesting story that has taken numerous forms throughout the years. In one version, Twardowski rides in the sky on a rooster and throws gold coins to the poor people below because he wants to help the world. In another story, Twardowski tells the devil that he will go to hell, but only if the devil spends a year with Twardowski’s wife. The devil doesn’t last long.

Whether the legend is true or not, it conveys a great message. Ultimately, it’s a story about avoiding greed and empty material desires lest you figuratively “lose” your soul and a piece of your humanity. Any kind of extreme is bound to be a liability to our ultimate health and happiness.

Watch the 1936 version of the film on Youtube.  In addition to telling a great story, it’s a movie rich with Polish culture and history.

Polish Villagers Claim Nazi Zombies Running Wild

Nazi zombieWhat’s worse than regular zombies? Freaking Nazi zombies! And that’s exactly what some inhabitants claim are haunting their village of Glinka in western Poland.

First the undisputed facts. In September, archaeologists dug up 27 German Nazi corpses buried near what used to be an old house that was torn down years ago. The Nazi soldiers died in that house in 1945 when the Russians took over the village. They were shot in the head.  After the war, the villagers buried the bodies right outside the house.

For decades, the villagers claimed that the house was haunted and avoided it at all costs. Eventually, people moved in but quickly left due to strange occurrences. Afterward, the house was burned, likely as an effort by the villagers to destroy the curse they believed possessed it.

According to some villagers, however, burning the house didn’t work, as the undead Nazis have been strolling around not just the house, but the entire village, since 1945! Supposedly  the sound of marching footsteps can be heard outside at night. What’s more, even in death, these Nazi zombies have retained their allegiance to Der Fuhrer, as shouts of “Sieg Heil” can be heard echoing across Glinka in the darkness, according to one 45-year-old resident.

One 67-year-old resident says he “had the feeling” that Nazi zombies were chasing him one day. They were allegedly in uniform and had decaying faces.  I don’t know how you have a “feeling” about something like that. Hmm, someone’s walking behind me in the dark. Must be those darn Nazi zombies! No other explanation.

In any event, some claim that the Nazi zombies have become even more active since the archaeologists dug up the 27 remains. To be fair, archaeologists believe that more corpses are buried in the area. That means these could be different zombies, and we are unfairly labeling them as Nazis, which is wrong.