A strzyga is a typically female demon, similar to a vampire, from Slavic mythology.
BACKGROUND, HISTORY AND LORE
A strzyga (sometimes called striga in English, which is also a type of plant commonly known as Witchweed) is a typically female demonic undead creature from Slavic, particularly Polish folklore. The masculine form of this demon is believed to be less common and is referred to as a strzyg or strzygoń and the plural is referred to as strzygi.
People who are born with ‘two hearts and two souls’ and ‘two sets of teeth’, and are believed to be strzyga. ‘Somnambulics’, or people without armpit hair, and newborns with ‘already developed teeth’, are also sometimes believed to be strzyga. Strzygi are said to feed on human blood similar to vampires and are often ‘considered a type of vampire, and are placed among the most dangerous beings in the Polish tales’.
In folklore they are often ‘driven out of villages for being evil spirits at a young age’ and it’s believed that when they die one of their two souls would pass on to the next life while the other remained in the body as ‘fully demonic’. The ‘demonic’ soul that remained was thought to be the cause of the deceased strzyga coming back to life and ‘prey[ing] upon other living beings’. Strzyga are thought to live ‘between the spheres of life and death’ until the second soul also leaves their body.
During epidemics, people were often accidentally buried alive and those who managed to escape their graves, who were often ‘weak, ill and with mutilated hands’, were reportedly also often believed to be strzyga
Strzyga are said to resemble a mostly ‘normal person’ who has ‘gray or blueish skin’ or skin that appears to be turning blue. It is also said that the longer someone lives as a strzyga, the more they change. They are also often depicted and described as having ‘bird-like features’ such as claws and ’feathers growing off the back’.
“At first, even the fully strzyga person may appear normal with perhaps slightly more blue-ish skin. Soon, though, they begin to develop owl-like features such as feathered wings, long and pointed ears, and vicious claws. In addition to their two jagged sets of teeth, these characteristics make them vicious predators—predators that hunt humans.”https://brendan-noble.com/the-strzyga-striga-in-polish-mythology/ (Brendan Noble, 2020)
According to lore, strzyga sleep in their graves during the day and come out at night to ‘hunt’. It was also believed that since the strzyga is at this point ‘fully a demon’ they must ‘rely on the life force of others to survive’. According to folklore, they would suck out their victims’ blood and feast on their entrails. They can reportedly also survive on animal blood for a short period of time but would ‘soon develop the need to ravage humans’ who are their preferred targets.
Strzyga are also said to fly around at night disguised as a barn owl and attack ‘night-time travellers’ and ‘people who had wandered off into the woods at night’. This is thought to be ‘one of the major reasons that owls aren’t revered in Poland as much as other areas’. Strzyga are said to retake their ‘true form’ before attacking their victims however and do not attack in their owl form.
In some tales, strzyga attacks are ‘often a revenge for the harm or injustice they met during their first lifetime’. Other sources however reportedly claim that strzygi were believed ‘not to harm people but to herald someone’s imminent death’ similar to Banshees.
WEAKNESSES AND PROTECTIONS AGAINST A STRZYGA
To avoid strzygi at night it is advised to ‘avoid thick bushes and dark nooks, and to walk directly along the middle of the roads, not stopping or looking around, especially in the areas close to the cemeteries’.
Some tales claim that the ‘humanity’ or ‘first soul’ of a strzyga could be brought back if someone ‘managed to sleep inside their grave or tomb for the whole night’ while the strzyga was ‘out for a hunt’. According to lore, for this to work the person would need to remain in the grave until they hear ‘the third crow of a rooster at dawn’.
Other protections against a strzyga are said to include the ‘pealing of church bells’ which turns them into tar, slapping a strzyga across the face with your left hand, placing small objects in their grave to ‘make it count them’ and ‘scattering poppy seeds in the shape of a cross in every corner’ of a house to protect it from strzyga.
Burning, ‘pinning them down’ with a large rock, hammering nails or stakes into the body of a stryzga, or burying the body ‘face down with a sickle around it’s head’ or burying the corpse face down and ‘cutting the tendons in their legs’, is also thought to prevent someone who is a strzyga from ‘rising again’ after they die. Decapitating the corpse of a strzyga and ‘burying the head separate from the rest of the body’ was also thought to prevent them from rising again.
Alternative methods of preventing a strzyga from rising include, putting a ‘flint’ into their mouth ‘after exhumation’, re-burying them ‘outside of the village’ and re-burying the body ‘in the presence of a priest’ after performing ‘additional rituals’ such as putting a piece of paper with the word ‘Jesus’ written on it under the strzyga’s tongue.
According to Aleksander Brückner, the word strzyga is derived from Strix from the Latin for owl and is ‘probably the origin of the term Strigoi, a troubled soul of the dead rising from the grave in Romanian mythology’. It is however reportedly ‘unclear’ how the word strzyga was adapted by the Polish people but it is thought it might have been through the ‘Balkan peoples’.
The term strzyga could also sometimes be used to mean a ‘vampire or upiór’. However, after the 18th century, there was reportedly a distinction made between strzyga and upiór with the first being more connected to witchcraft and the second more to a ‘flying, vampiric creature’.
Strzyga also hold many similarities to other Slavic creatures from lore such as the Shtriga of Albanian folklore and the Strigoi from Romanian mythology.
Others theories about their origins connect the strzygi to ‘the duality of souls’.
“Their origins are connected to the belief of [the] duality of the souls. A common explanation known from the tales and ethnographic resources was that a human born with two souls could become a strzyga after death. Such people were easy to recognize, born also with two rows of teeth, two hearts, or [an]other similar anomaly.”https://lamusdworski.wordpress.com/2016/01/31/strzyga/ (Lamus Dworski, 2016)
ALSO KNOWN AS
- Strzyg (male)
- Strzygoń (male)
- Strzygi (plural)