She Brings Bad News: The Scary Slavic Household Spirit Called Kikimora
Some spirits are thought to be dangerous even by people who don't necessarily believe in them. One of the scariest creatures in world mythologies is the spirit from the Slavic culture known as Kikimora.
In literature, she is also known as sziszimora or szyszymora. The meaning of her name may come from the Finnish language, where “kikke mörkö” means scarecrow. No matter what the roots of the word are, it is used for a being without a body, a nightmare, or a scary spirit which disturbs people at night. Kikimora is a creature which settles in a house and doesn't want to leave - making the lives of people who live there unbearable.
Kikimora is usually blamed for sleep paralysis, nightmares, and anything bad which happens to food at night. She was well-known in the territory of Ruś, but is also known in several Slavic countries. Her story also spread to many other countries. Her appearance is usually associated with bad news.
‘The Nightmare’ (1781) by Henry Fuseli. (Public Domain)
In most legends she is a messenger of bad tidings, but there are some stories which shed a positive light on the spirit. Her name is also related to the sound of the spindle she was said to use - a scary sound, which was a prophecy for a bad or tragic situation.
Beware the Bad Spirit!
She was usually said to grow from a dead fetus or stillborn baby. Sometimes the spirit could come from the body of woman who died during childbirth. In this case, it could have the face of dead woman or her mother, grandmother, etc.
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Illustration of a scary Kikimora. (Musical Musings)
Kikimora is still known as “mora” in the Polish countryside. The same word is used in Croatian, and it means the same thing – a nightmare. In Serbia, Kikimora is called “mora” or “noćnink” (which sounds very similar to the Polish word ''nocnik'' meaning ''chamber pot'' – which isn't related to the meaning of the Serbian word). In the region of Poland called Kashuby (and in the Slovak language) Kikimora is known as mora too.
In most of these languages a form of “mara” also exists - which is related to a more attractive form of Kikimora. Sometimes she appeared as a young woman who was incredibly beautiful. She was believed to visit men in their dreams to torture them with desires and destroy their relationships with real women. She would enter the dreams of women too – in their dreams she showed them images to make them jealous and suspicious that their men preferred other women. Even today, when people in Slavic countries wake up due to a nightmare they say bad words to the mora or mara who apparently caused their unpleasant dreams.
Drawing of Kikimora (1934) By Ivan Yakovlevich Bilibin. (Public Domain)
It is believed that Kikimora travels at night between rooms using a keyhole, so some people try to close doors carefully and put keys or pieces of paper in the holes. Nobody should look Kikimora in the eyes, so children were always taught to look at their pillows or windows if they thought she was in their rooms. If they heard Kikimora, they were told to never look at doors, chests, wardrobes, etc. because those are places where she was said to like to hide.
A Good Role for Kikimora
Polish folklore also knows Domowicha - who is a protective spirit. However, sometimes Kikimora seems to connect bad and good sides. Domowicha could also have a face of a deceased member of the family, but in this case she appears as a spirit who helps those who are alive. It seems that Domowicha is the bright side of Kikimora.
In is important to understand that the role spirits play in folklore was created with human imagination. It is possible that the legend of Kikimora and Domowicha grew from spiritual experiences people had, but the interpretation of those events was still created by the human mind.
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A representation of Kikimora covered in yarn. (rusosmundo)
A Russian understanding of two Kikimoras is a little bit different. One Kikimora is known as a forest spirit and her husband is Domovoi. The second Kikimora is from the swamp and is Leshy’s wife. The second one leaves wet footprints on the floor of any house she visits. According to the Russian beliefs, if a person who ordered the building of a house was nasty to the builders, they could invite Kikimora to the new house. With such an invitation, it would be very difficult to get rid of her later.
An illustration of Domovoi, a spirit of the house. (1934) By Ivan Yakovlevich Bilibin. (Public Domain)
The story of Kikimora survived in many texts and she became an inspiration for novels and poems. For example, Anatoly Lyadov created a poem for the orchestra called Kikimora. He described Kikimora as having grown up with magical powers in the heart of the mountains. Lyadov wrote that she came from ancient times and lived in a crystal cave. In this text she appears less scary, but more as a fascinating supernatural creature which may be good or bad…but certainly interesting.
An artist’s representation of Kikimora. (Privet Russia!)
People Like Being Afraid
Humans like to be scared sometimes. This is why horror books and movies are so popular. In ancient times, people also used mythology to scare themselves and others The folk tale of Kikimora became an inspiration for many different things. The legends of Kikimora inspired researcher Kirill Eskov to name a spider discovered by him in her name. It is a spider of the Linyphidae family called Kikimora palustris.
Nowadays, while scary female spirits seem to be more popular as characters in movies such as “The Ring”, Kikimora remains a popular spirit in Eastern Europe… Be careful when you go to sleep.
Kikimora creating havoc in a home. (Live Internet)
Top Image: “Kikimora in swamp.” Source: Public Domain
Jerzy Strzelczyk, Mity, podania i wierzenia dawnych Słowian, 2007.
Aleksander Gieysztor, Mitologia Słowian, 1986.
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