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Czech bogeymen and fairies

photo: Vodník (praha.eu)

Is there anyone who does not like the world of fantasy and magic, filled with all kinds of bogeymen and fairies? Every nation has a few typical characters for their fairy tales and the country.

The Czech Republic is no exception to this. Perhaps the most famous character in Czech fairy tales is the legendary water sprite called “vodník” or “hastrman”. You can meet him anywhere close to water or at a dam or pond, even in the remotest village. He embodies the spirit of water and is usually depicted as an unsightly green man riding a catfish. He has got green hair, bulging eyes and water is dripping from his coattails. He is usually described as an evil sprite that does harm to people, blocks mill-wheels and catches inexperienced swimmers in order to gain their soul. He lays ribbons and small mirrors to lure girls into the water. However, he is sometimes much more resourceful than that and transfigures himself into all kinds of animals. If somebody tries to ride him while he is a horse grazing by the shore of a pond, he jumps into the water with the person on his back and drowns them. He stores his gathered souls in a typical plump covered jar in his water kingdom. If someone manages to free the drowned souls, they escape from the water sprite’s dwelling in the form of an air bubble. However, there are also kind water sprites that help millers and harmlessly sit around on branches of willows smoking a pipe and playing the violin at twilight in fairy tales and legends as well.

There are many different kinds of devils in Czech fairy tales. A typical devil has horns, a tail and a hooves instead of feet, and is usually hairy and smells of fire. His home, hell, is ruled by a strict hierarchy. Moulted devils are in the lowest position while hell’s prince Lucifer reigns over his kingdom through magic and curses. A devil leaves his home to capture the souls of sinners. In the human world, he usually appears in the form of a young gamekeeper, who offers a person some kind of service on a given date, for which he requires the person’s soul in return. That is where the saying “sell one’s soul to the devil” comes from. On the arranged date, the devil kidnaps the person and his soul will stay in hell forever. Hell is full of evil and sinful people. Their souls are transported onto scales in hell, and if they drop, the soul is tortured until the end of time. The daily programme of devils thus consists of adding wood under kettles, in which sinful souls are boiled.

The White Lady is a scary and supernatural creature, who lives at many Czech castles and chateaux. It is a ghost of a dead woman, who wanders through the castle’s chambers and usually heralds approaching danger. Typically, the White Lady is depicted in a long white dress and a high cone-shaped hat. The most famous White Lady is Perchta from Rožmberk, who appears at castles that belong to this family line.

The will-o'-the-wisps, various lights that lure travellers into morass, also often appear in fairy tales. These are the souls of dead witches or small children. If the traveller is nice to them, they lead him safely out of the forest. There is yet another bogeyman in the woods, the so-called “Hejkal” (braying man). This hairy forest ghost scares people with his horrible screaming and braying. People and especially children fear the midday witch, who kidnaps naughty kids at noon. The twilight witch behaves similarly but takes children wandering outside after the evening angelus bell was rung.
Author: Petra Hubálková
Added: 10.07.2012

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