How did Slavic Mythology Influence Andrzej Sapkowski?

9 mins read

Mythology has always been prudent in certain cultures around the world, as a way of showing how their nations have come into being the legends that people believed about the local areas in order to distract them from the actual tending to be more grim reality that existed.  

The creatures from the book series (and related media) are all based of creatures from Slavic Mythology, where the author originated, and the games are created today. With the author being Polish born, it is clear that these legends and the mythos of the area he grew up in greatly reared its head when he was being influenced of the creatures of his books. 

Mythology is a popular form of backstory for different books and TV shows, but they tend to take from the mythos that are commonly known across the western world (Greek, Roman, Egyptian and Norse). It is quite rare to see another form of mythos being presented in this format which makes The Witcher something quite interesting. It is not your same old read about gods and monsters that you have read about thousands of times, with a ‘different’ spin on the story. For most people, these are creatures with stories that people have never encountered, or even if it the creature is similar to another from mythology their story is different. It is a refreshing read, from what you are used to. A gateway to a different form of mythos that you probably would have otherwise never looked at. 

There is no simple way to characterise different creatures/beings within mythology, all of them come upon a mythological category as is common in folklore, so for the sake of not writing pages and pages, I will merely be writing about the most common creatures that come up in the books and the games.  

The Rusalka (or sometimes referred to as Vilas) is a creature mentioned early on in The Last Wish (The first book in the series) when Geralt almost mistakes another creature for one. They are also mentioned in the questline “Murky Waters” in The Witcher. These creatures are river-dwelling also nymph like beings who similarly to sirens lure men to their death through their songs, either drowning them or making them dance to their deaths. A Rusalka was said to be created by an unclean spirit, these were commonly viewed as women who had committed suicide due to be jilted by a lover, those who did not have last rites performed on their body, or those of unbaptised children.  

The Kikimora is another creature that is mentioned early on in The Last Wish, it is the first creature that Geralt is seen fighting in the Netflix show, and is present in multiple locations across all of the games. There is a difference to how this creature is portrayed in the Witcher than in mythology. In the mythos this creature tends to be the nightmare soul of a person that has left their body, sometimes appearing as a swarm of moths or another version is that of a swamp kikimora which is seen as an awfully dishevelled old woman who dresses using moss scarring people and kidnapping children. In contrast to this in the Witcher, a Kikimora is a large insectoid creature, having a “spidery shape with its dry black skin, that glassy eye with its vertical pupil, the needle-like-fangs in the bloody jaws” (Andrzej Sapkowski, The Last Wish, pg 75-76). 

The Strzyga (or Striga) are again a main part of the The Last Wish as way to introduce the reader to the world of the Witcher, they are also present in the opening sequence of the game The Witcher as it shows how Geralt lifted Adda’s curse (this is also used as the storyline for episode 3 “Betrayer Monn” of the Netflix show). The Striga was meant to be similar to the western understanding of a vampire, though it was seen as a person that would be born with two souls, two sets of teeth, two hearts. They would usually die young but only one of their souls would pass on and the other was left to wreak havoc where they had been laid to rest. Similarly, to a vampire, they only had power at night when they would be to fly from their crypt feeding on farm animals and townsfolk. In the Witcher, a young princess was cursed from conception to become a Striga due to the underlying circumstances of her parents. Within the lore of the Witcher, a Striga is able to be cured making sure the creature cannot return to her crypt before morning. They must however wear a sapphire pendent for the rest of their life due to the chance of relapse.  

Lady Midday (or Noonwraith or Poludnitsa) is seen throughout all the games, there are many chances to encounter these creatures especially in the Witcher: Wild Hunt were you will find them in “The White Lady” and “Jenny of the Woods”. In mythology, she is said to be the personification of sun stroke, appearing during the day when the sun is at its highest. She will appear as a young woman, or an old lady, trying to speak with people, when folk are unable to answer her questions they are brought down with illness. In the Witcher, she is always shown as a woman who has been jilted by a lover and is haunting the local towns in which she lived or died. 

In order to keep this short and maybe not so sweet, I have chosen to give you a quite insight on the first few ‘main’ monsters you will face when beginning your journey in the world of the Witcher. There are creatures that you will encounter, that are common in all forms of mythology but in order to stay true to the heritage of the writers (and coders) culture they all do have a Slavic mythos spin to them.  

As Poland is now the fourth biggest exported of video games, with the Witcher: Wild Hunt even being used as a gift to President Obama from the Polish government, it is clear that exploring the history of their nation was highly important. 

Feature Image: Pinterest

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1 Comment

  1. Great books (and video games)! I always found it interesting how authors draw from myths of the past to flesh out their stories, like J.R.R. Tolkien with Norse, Anglo-Saxon and Celtic mythology.

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