Nov 2, 2014

Beware the Wandering Wilas


In Slavic mythology, there is a form of nymph which lies somewhere between a ghost and a fairy. The Wilas (pronounced viwa and also called Vili or Vilas) are fair-haired female creatures who have died but remain trapped between this world and the next. Mysterious beings similar in appearance to the European tales of fairies, they are the lost women who died unbaptized or the betrothed ones whose lives ended before marriage. Thus, unlike the European fairies, the mythological Wilas are not born as spirits of nature but rather become them with death, gaining power over the winds in lieu of the lives they would have led.

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. What is best known of the Wilas, however, is their guises, their enjoyments, and most importantly, their temper. To begin, these lonely creatures—as previously mentioned—primarily have control over the winds. Because of this, they often tend to appear ghostlike or dressed in cloaks that billow in tune with the air. They can either blend into the wind as incorporeal shapes—translucent and intangible—or they can become solid, touching, and being touched, by the natural world around them. In each text, they are recorded as beautiful creatures, envied by human women and admired by mortal men, and they are commonly dressed beneath their cloaks in leaves or robes, or sometimes naked to entice the opposite sex.
Mounted heroes from a Serbian epic poem, and the vila Ravijojla. (Wikipedia)
If such an easily enticed man were to go searching for a Wila, he would most likely find her in places similar to those which the fairies and nymphs prefer—on hill tops or mounds, or in the center of a ring of trees. As Wilas enjoy such special places that also appeal to fairies, they similarly can be appeased if distressed, or summoned by the curious with treats. They best prefer light fares such as fresh fruit and round cakes, and they 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.  
However, what mostly differentiates Wilas from fairies is their ferocity. Fairies are known to be playful tricksters—they take 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. Their voices are a force to be reckoned with—so powerful that a few notes can either keep the men dancing against their wills, or 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 Slavic folklore, vilas and rusalkas are dangerous female spirits, souls of young women who had died. (Wikipedia)

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. For example, if a man were to pluck a Wila's hair from her head, either she would die at once or be forced to transform from her incorporeal shape to a solid state, allowing the man to capture and contain her. If a man managed to steal a piece of skin from the Wila then he would become dominant over her 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 playful.

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. As spirits of nature, they are long believed to have wandered the forests lonely and seeking companionship, but it is best to be wary of the friendship they offer for mortal wanderers are likely to be trapped under their spells, and caught in their storms.

Featured image: Illustration of the ethereal Wilas from Slavic mythology. (Source)

By Ryan Stone
Bibliography

"Deer and Vila." Sacred Texts. Accessed October 16, 2014. http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/celt/tfm/tfm183.htm.

Grimm, Jacob. Teutonic Mythology Volume 1, trans. by James Steven Stallybrass (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012.)

Knab, Sophie Hodorowicz. Polish Customs, Traditions, & Folklore (Hippocrene Books: New York, 1993.)

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

Porteous, Alexander. The Forest in Folklore and Mythology (Dover Publications: New York, 2001.)

Szyjewski, Andrzej. Slavic Religion (WAM: Kraków, 2003)

Unknown. Singing Back The Sun: A Dictionary of Old Polish Customs and Beliefs (Okana's Web, 1999).

Willis, Roy G. World Mythology (BCA Publishing: United Kingdom, 1993.)
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