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Polish Folk Traditions: All Souls' Day (Zaduszki and Dziady)

The 2nd of November called the Day of All Souls ("Zaduszki" in Polish) is the special occasions to pray for our family members and for these that died but are still in purgatory waiting their time to be able to enter heaven. The masses are held in the churches just like the day before. Additionally, the names of the descendants are read by priests during the services and all pray together for these souls. This day is usually gloomier and more hazy and rainy than the November 1st. Who can explain this phenomenon?

The All Souls Day is celebrated by a Catholic Church on November 2nd since the X century.

There is an old tradition with pagan roots - celebrated in the area of Eastern Poland, Belarus and Lithuania about four times a year. One of these times happened to be at the end of October - near All Saints Day, All Souls Day and Halloween. It is called "Dziady". "Dziady" in Polish means "grandfathers", "forefathers" or just "old men". This ceremony was described in detail by Adam Mickiewicz, a great Polish poet, in a poetic Romantic drama called simply "Dziady". According to Mickiewicz, common people were gathering in abandoned houses or chapels near the cemeteries, with food and drink for the souls. The souls were then summoned back and their life and deeds were discussed and judged according to the folk wisdom rather than Christian biblical tradition. People were judged not only according to what they did in their lives but also for what they failed to do or what they lacked.

The ceremony of "Dziady" described by Mickiewicz is a very poetic vision in which villagers are talking directly to the souls. Such ceremony could not take place in a real life. But many parts of the ceremony base on real tradition. For instance in the past the villagers were gathering together, they were sharing food with the descendent members of the community, they were remembering them and praying for them. It is also true that they believed that some magic words and spells could help the souls.

Lets analyze ceremony of "Dziady" envisioned by Mickiewicz. Villagers were able to see only these souls who were still unable to enter the heaven because they committed sins which whave not been forgiven yet, so they were still hanging somewhere between a kingdom of alive and dead.

As we mentioned already, the concept of good and evil is a bit different from the Christian tradition. Not only evil is a sin but also a lack of good will, inactivity, passivity and negligence. The degrees of souls' sins were different.

First villagers see the souls of two small children. The children are guilty only because they died so young that they were not able to experience bitterness and a real suffering in life like adults do. After receiving a grain of mustard seed (which has bitter taste) children leave to heaven since their "crime" was not that serious.Then a ghost of a man appear. This man committed mortal sins, among them - cruelty, greed and pride. He was a bad master who did injustice towards his servants. Nobody can help him: "who was never a human - no human can help him". This soul cannot be salvaged.

Finally villagers see a young girl. Her sin is also not a mortal one. She broke a heart of a young man as she played with his feelings. She never experienced a real love, empathy, she lived unreal life without "touching the earth" according to the common wisdom. Her punishment would terminate in two years, then she would be able to enter the heaven.

The appearance of every soul is preceded by burning of distaff, boiler with vodka and wreath. This ceremony is also called "Goat's Feast".

Recommended reading(s):

Singing Back the SunVery popular among our readers is a book about Polish pagan traditions written by babcia Okana Singing Back The Sun: A Dictionary of Old Polish Customs and Beliefs

Polish CustomsSee also Polish customs' book written by Sophie Hodorowicz Knab, Mary Anne Knab (Illustrator). It is entitled Polish Customs, Traditions and Folklore

Polish FablesCheck Polish Tales - bilingual edition - written by famous Polish writer - Ignacy Krasicki: Polish Fables: Bilingual

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