Towards the end of the 19th century, village houses in the Lubelszczyzna region, which were usually adorned with painted or carved furniture and religious paintings, started to be decorated with colourful bedspreads, paper window curtains, paper cut ornaments (shaped like a circle, star, rosette, square) hung on ceilings and walls, colourful ornaments suspended from the ceiling called pająki (spiders – made of straw, grains, beans, peas, feathers, wool, flaxen or hemp thread, colourful paper, cloth, horsehair, bulrush, wood shavings, blown eggs), artificial flower bouquets on home altars, painted pottery displayed on shelves and in dressers, tapestries with floral motifs or fairytale landscapes. Homes were additionally decorated on special occasions such as religious holidays or family celebrations. Interiors were then decorated with works of ritual art that had magical or religious significance. These were Christmas wheat sheaves, Christmas wafer ornaments, podłaźniczki (Christmas ornaments made of decorated tree tops suspended from the ceiling), Christmas trees, Easter eggs, Easter palms, Green week calamus bundles, Corpus Christi garlands, wheat and herb bouquets blessed during the Assumption Day.
Christmas trees ware believed to have magical powers – they were a symbol of nature’s revival. The tradition of decorating Christmas trees became popular in the Lubelszczyzna region at the beginning of the 20th century, however, the custom was introduced to Poland from Germany at the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries and has been popular in Germany since the 15th century. Before, it was customary to hang a podłaźniczka from the ceiling. It was a small tree or a tree top (usually spruce or pine) decorated with apples (that symbolized the fruit from the garden of Eden, love, vitality, health), nuts, golden painted flaxseed, colourful Christmas waffles and ribbons. It was always crowned with a świat (the world) – an ornament made of Christmas waffle. Later, Christmas trees were decorated in a similar manner, but more decorations were added. These were gingerbread cookies, candy, paper, crepe and straw ornaments, blown eggs, feather, etc. (e.g. the figures of ballerinas, angels, stars, jugs, spiders, also chains and pendants).
The Easter palm – which symbolized revival and had, according to popular belief, healing powers – was made of various plants. The types of herbs and twigs that were used were determined by tradition and the region where the palm was made. In the Lublin region, Easter palms were typically made of willow twigs, green periwinkle, dried flowers, sometimes rushes. Easter eggs were even more colourful. Egg decorations were created with the batik dyeing technique, with acid etching and with scratching. In the Lublin region, eggs decorated with the batik technique were divided into two groups: the northern group, with decorations made with single colour and straight lines, and the southern group, decorated with multiple colours and volutes and swirls. In the middle of the Lubelszczyzna region the two styles merged and eggs were often decorated with multiple colours and straight lines. Patterns on Easter eggs were typically arranged in halves (the egg was divided, either horizontally or vertically, in two halves), quarters or eights and medallions. Motifs were often placed on or around the spots where border lines crossed. Various geometric and floral motifs and astrological symbols that were used to decorate eggs had important, magical significance in the past. Motifs such as wheels (triskelions, swastikas), crow’s feet, rakes, suns, stars, twigs, trees and stylized flowers were most common. Easter eggs symbolized life, fertility, love and strength.
Herbs that could be found around households, on fields, meadows and in the forests, were used for divination and healing. Knowledge on herbs and their properties was gathered through observation or passed down from one generation to the next. People believed in magical powers that the herbs possessed, just like they believed in supernatural beings that could threaten humans and interfere with their health, life, activities and possessions. That is why various protective tools and behaviours emerged. These typically involved the use of herbs such as St John’s wort, poppy, lovage, nettle, garlic, thyme, stonecrop and chamomile. Coniferous trees such as fir, pine and spruce, as well as hazel and elderberry were also believed to repel demons. All of them were supposed to have powerful healing capabilities during the night of the Feast of St. John and on Assumption Day. Palms, bouquets and garlands that were blessed during holidays were kept at home for the entire year and used on various occasions. It was believed that they can protect against ill fate, disease, lightning, witchcraft and evil and could grant the household with luck, health, good fortune and plentiful harvest. Garlands were sometimes hung on doors, bouquets were placed behind religious paintings, palms were used to incense the sick or to urge cattle during the first pasturage in a year, they was also put in freshly ploughed earth.
Folk culture was closely connected to religion. It was alive and spontaneously created, but also based on tradition, customs, language and art. It was often merged with numerous elements of folklore. The folk version of the Bible functioned as many dispersed narratives and images and was circulated in a primarily oral form. People believed in the story of God’s creation and in the links between the natural and supernatural world. The beliefs offered a sense of belonging and unity with the world and gave people the tools to face the elements of death and destruction. Nature allowed the existence of life (the sun gave warmth, the land and plants – food, rivers – water), farm and forest animals, birds and insects (bees in particular) gave food and materials, guarded households, informed of future events and phenomena (heralded good and ill luck, foretold the weather or death), attracted good fortune and banished evil. Humans and the world functioned according to the do ut des (I give so that you will give) rule, the rule of reciprocity – animals, plants and the land were grateful for good treatment, care, hard work and repaid with faithful service, ample growth and plentiful harvest. Traditional culture was full of themes that could be interpreted as cults of natural phenomena or objects – such as the moon, the sun and fire. These were directly linked to the idea of animate nature. Thus, the naturalistic vision of the world was magical in character, and magic and religion were closely connected – spells often took the form of prayers.
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