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A beautiful wandering wilas. Source: angel_nt / Adobe Stock

Beware the Wandering Wilas of Slavic Mythology

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In Slavic mythology, there is a type of nymph, which can only be described as somewhere between a ghost and a fairy. Said to float between the living world and the afterlife, the wandering wilas have taken on attributes of both fairies and elves, due to their ethereal beauty and their mischievously fatal temperament.

Who Are the Wandering Wilas?

Similar to the sirens of Greek mythology , the wandering wilas have gone by many names. Known as a wiła in Polish, vila in Slavic, wili or even veela, according to Ronel the Mythmaker they have been “seriously misunderstood.” The mythological wilas are young and mysterious fair-haired beings, revered for their beauty. Envied by human women and admired by mortal men, some legends claim that they are the “spirits of women who lived frivolous lives,” at least that is the description used by Lucy Cooper in her The Element Encyclopedia of Fairies .

These are spirit-creatures which abide in the in-between, lost women who were unbaptized or engaged at death. The wandering wilas have inspired modern-day versions, such as the ballet Giselle, which tells the story of a young woman who died of a broken heart having been betrayed by her lover and was ordered by the queen of the wilas (or wilis), the spirits of women who died after being double-crossed by their lovers, to take revenge by dancing him to death.

The wandering wilas as depicted by Giuliano Bartolomeo.(Fondazione Cariplo / CC BY-SA 3.0)

The wandering wilas as depicted by Giuliano Bartolomeo.(Fondazione Cariplo / CC BY-SA 3.0 )

Shapeshifting Wilas and the Power of the Wind

The knowledge of wilas mostly stems from close readings of Polish and Slavic literature more than direct factual anecdotes. Wilas are mentioned in various poems and short stories, mostly as warnings to oblivious or unsuspecting men. Found in the forests, rivers, caves, hill tops, or even in the center of a ring of trees, the wandering wilas have most often been depicted as lonely, ghost-like beings, dressed in cloaks that billow with the air, covered in leaves, or sometimes naked in order to entice the opposite sex.

These solitary creatures have often been described as shapeshifters, appearing sometimes as beautiful female nymphs, while at others they appearing as swans or even horses. The mythical wilas are unlike European fairies since they were not born as spirits of nature, but became them with death, obtaining power over the winds in lieu of the lives they would have led. Able to blend into the wind as incorporeal, translucent and intangible shapes, or they can become solid, able to touch and be touched by the natural world around them.

Illustration of the ethereal wandering wilas from Slavic mythology. (Fair Use)

Illustration of the ethereal wandering wilas from Slavic mythology. (Fair Use)

Don’t Cross a Wandering Wila

What most differentiates wilas from fairies is their ferocity. Fairies are known to be playful tricksters, taking easy pleasure from "borrowing" items and returning them in odd places. Wilas, on the other hand, are said to occasionally become fierce beings known equally for forcing companionship and seeking vengeance. They are known to dance human men to death for their amusement and enjoyment. They are also known to participate in battles not unlike those of the Valkyries from Norse mythology .

While stories describe them as shy creatures who avoid humans, their voices are described as a force to be reckoned with, so powerful that a few notes can keep the men dancing against their wills. They can even summon the most dangerous winds and storms to wipe out their enemies, causing the earth to shake from the very force of their magic. Only sometimes do they choose to help or heal humans, in war or in moments of compassion, but if the wilas are angered, it is not uncommon for them to kill the humans without a second thought. In fact, in the past, people roaming the mountains were warned to take care in the realm of the wandering wilas known for their unpredictable tempers.

Mounted heroes from a Serbian epic poem, and vila Ravijojla from Serbian mythology, in a painting by Paja Jovanović inspied by the epic poem "Marko Kraljević and the Vila.” (Public domain)

Mounted heroes from a Serbian epic poem, and vila Ravijojla from Serbian mythology, in a painting by Paja Jovanović inspied by the epic poem "Marko Kraljević and the Vila.” ( Public domain )

Ways to Appease a Wandering Wila

Undoubtedly because of the range of magic the wilas possess, stories travelled very quickly throughout the Slavic region, describing ways in which to stop or gain control over a wila. One such tale claimed that if a man were to pluck a hair from a wila’s head, she would either die at once or be forced to transform from her incorporeal shape to a solid state, allowing the man to capture and contain her. 

Stealing a piece of her skin was another way to dominate a wila and be able to give her commands which she would have no choice but to follow. Men would go armed into the woods at night with knowledge such as this, their only form of protection against the will and wiles of the wilas. A good thing too, for when a wila is angered, she is three times as dangerous as when she is merely being playful.

According to legend, wilas enjoyed spending time in similar locations as the fairies, and they could also be appeased if distressed, or summoned by the curious with treats. Said to prefer light fares such as fresh fruit and round cakes, they are also thought to appreciate decorative items like ribbons and flowers, which they weave into their hair. In this way, the mythology of the wilas and fairies are interchangeable, thus implying that the wilas are either literally or literarily cousins of the fairy folk .

Nevertheless, though the wilas are said to be a beautiful race of female souls, they are not to be ignored or insulted. Their power is much greater and their vengeance much swifter than that of the fairy folk . Long believed to be found wandering the forests forlorn and seeking companionship, it is best to be wary of the fatal friendship wandering wilas offer to mortals, who will likely get trapped under their spells and caught in their storms.

Top image: A beautiful wandering wilas. Source: angel_nt / Adobe Stock

By Riley Winters

References

Bane, T. 2013. Encyclopedia of Fairies in World Folklore and Mythology . McFarland & Company

Cooper, L. 2014. The Element Encyclopedia of Fairies . HarperCollins Publishers

Grimm, J. (Trans. Stallybrass, J. S.) 2012. Teutonic Mythology Volume 1. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Janse van Vuuren, R. 6 April 2020. “Enticing Vilas: Nymphs of the Otherword and Forest” in Ronel the Mythmaker. Available at: https://www.ronelthemythmaker.com/enticing-vilas-nymphs-of-the-otherworld-and-forest-atozchallenge-folklore/

Knab, S. H. 1993.  Polish Customs, Traditions, & Folklore. Hippocrene Books: New York.

Maclaren, A. 2011. The fairy family; a series of ballads & metrical tales illustrating the fairy mythology of Europe. King Press: Missouri.

No name. No date. “Deer and Vila” in Sacred Texts . Available at: http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/celt/tfm/tfm183.htm.

Porteous, A. 2001.  The Forest in Folklore and Mythology. Dover Publications: New York.

Szyjewski, A. 2003. Slavic Religion. WAM: Kraków.

Unknown. 1999. Singing Back the Sun: A Dictionary of Old Polish Customs and Beliefs . Okana's Web.

Willis, R. G. 1993.  World Mythology. BCA Publishing: United Kingdom.

Comments

My last evil ex was one of those

The author compares then to the "European fairies". Slavic people are European. The correct phrasing would be " Celtic fairies ". Greek, Norse, Slavic, etc. are all European mythologies.

We marry Vila men. We don't all have bright blond hair, we do get highly aggravated when people talk on our behalf and the rumours that we became human if we married a mortal was created as a kind of hunting propaganda. Amusingly the men are even angrier than the women and more beautiful. Society always splits 50/50 between worshiping us and wanting to trap us. My father is "mortal" and my family had forgotten their tribe due to extreme seperation caused by enslavement. I realised that my father coveted me a year ago and he turned into a slave driving monster because I said no just once. He withdrew all security and pushed me toward prostitution which I refused. He forced illness on me as a way to make me admit faelty. He is not Veela, he is just a lord of the rings fanboy who likes to own fairies.
I've worked in public for over a decade and I never agree and the covetous nature of society gives me a mini heart attack, but it's still preferable to the slavery system my father set up. I've seen more honour in all the dictators of earth than in the man I share DNA from.
I've been testing my DNA for a year, I orchestrate emotions as people need them. It only works in person. I've been making my own psychology degree out of boredom. If a person tells me they love someone I can tell them their potential feelings and how to woo them and if someone is hating on them I create a little emotional backboard so they can set up deflections so both parties grow up again. No marriage, no blood oath, just good old fashioned logic.
We've grown up right alongside everyone else, it's just those of us with brown to black hair get absolutely mistreated by people. I'm only 5 foot, so I get a lot of dwarf jokes flung at me. I'm not the one who overfed me and verbally bullied me for years ago that I'd be stunted. I'm still cute but if I try to shine I get beat down by every hussy going. I'm tired. I fell in love with someone last year and I let him go because fairytales were interfering with reality. I protect him from afar though so that part is true. If he decides his true love is elsewhere I completely respect that I'm not the Vila for him. I loved, I lost, I tried, part of me died and life moves on. We re-emerge and others come to romance on the field of battle.
I've compared Vila love to boring human love and you all have it considerable better. You shouldn't desire us. Not if you want to live longer.

From stories here in Serbia, Vila could become human if she is in love with a man. Also they were able to curse those who offended them in manner that next day they will either die or become dangerously ill and/or crippled. Before entering forest, travelers would leave a present for vilas (fruit or candy).

angieblackmon's picture

They sound like interesting creatures! I’ll have to find some of the stories about them! I’d love to hear of their adventures!

love, light and blessings

AB

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