The Devils’ village

Polish Galicja is a beautiful mountainous area. Historically, Galicja was the poorest region in Poland ­ the poorest, the most undeveloped and at the same time the most traditional. In the course of the twentieth century, as a result of the development of tourism, as well as help received from the families of inhabitants who emigrated to the US, this region has become quite rich. Travelling through Galicja, I saw new brick houses instead of the traditional wooden huts and sheds, restaurants serving regional and international cuisine, renovated historical castles, churches and other buildings. Inside the new houses, I found computers and French perfumes. Nineteenth century ethnographers were right, I was thinking: ‘The world changes. Traditional culture passes away.’ When I started to talk to people though, after a few minutes of conversation, I started to suspect that these changes were only external.

During my ethnographic travels through Galicja, I met a man who completely changed my view on this region, who showed me the mysterious world of the local people. His name was Franciszek. Mr Franciszek is now 73 years old, but he is full of energy and still works in his field. He is tall and slim, and he has something mischievous in his eyes. He will be our guide on an expedition through a village in Galicja where he lives: Devils’ Village.

This village is called Besnik (“Devils’ Village”) and was established by a Devil family.

There is a ravine in the village. The ravine is called “Hell”. Once upon a time a family of Devils lived there: the father Devil, his wife and four sons.

The four Devil sons were the reason for all the evil in the area. When something bad or unusual happened, people believed that this was because of the sons’ activity.

Their names were as follows: Tempter (Kusiciel), Strangler (Dusiciel) and Seducer (Wodziciel), and there was a fourth one, whose name I don’t remember. They hung around and possessed people. And many people did bad things and had bad thoughts.

Mr Franciszek, his family and neighbours have all been victims of the Devils’ pranks. Many people in the village became crazy and foolish. Biesnik is a very small village. It only has about twenty households. It is very hard to find an ordinary family ­ each household has its own strange story. In Mr Franciszek’s family, Devils were the cause of a lot of confusion:

My grandfather went to visit his friend. On his way, he stopped suddenly, and said: ‘Where am I?’ He was lost. He did not recognise places he knew. He said that it was Tempter who had made him lost.
Mr Franciszek experienced the Devil’s power himself as well:
I was also harassed by the four Devil sons. Once, when I was a bachelor, I came back from a party. I didn’t pray before I went to bed. I slept in a barn. Suddenly I was woken up by my mother calling me for help. I wanted to stand up, but I couldn’t!!! I felt that something was lying on top of me. I could not move my hand, my legs. I could not even move my fingers. After a short struggle, I managed to stand up. It was Strangler. I saw his hairy face. Then he disappeared.

In another household there used to live six sisters who were old maids. The sisters were often victims of very brutal Devil pranks. Once, Mr Franciszek was tempted by one of the sons and went to the old maids’ house.

I took a piece of glass wool in my hand and I put my hand into one sister’s feather bed. I started to touch her leg very gently: ‘You have such silky skin.’ And then her legs became totally red because of the glass wool.

There is an old maid who is lame, and whom people believe to be extremely malicious, because she is able to put powerful curses on people. Several years ago the whole family from the neighbouring house died of an unknown illness. People believe that this happened because of her curse. So, other neighbours are very nice to her now. One of her neighbours also experienced her curse:

I bought a cow from her. I paid her. After some time she said that I hadn’t paid the whole price. And she said that she would cast a spell on me. Afterwards, I felt very ill. Finally, I repaired her well. And she said ‘now we are quits!’ And I got better then.

Travelling through Galicja you have to be very careful not to become a victim of the Devils’ pranks. Biesnik is not the only Devils’ village in the area. Finishing his story, Mr Franciszek says:

One day, the Devil’s wife decided to get a divorce and she left the Devil family. And she went over that way …. And up there, behind the mountain, there is a village called Biesna or “She-Devil”.

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