Institute for Balkan Studies



Abstract: Beliefs and legends that certain mythological creatures – fairies, witches, the devil, (vile, veštice, đavo, boginka, mamuna, baenik, domovoj, leshi) etc. can take away the child from the mother and exchange it for its own in the image of the abducted child, are widespread with the West and East Slavs, while with the South Slavs they are found only in the northern parts, in Pannonia. Such demonic child is most often called: podmeče (with the Serbs), podvršće (with the Croats), podmenek (with the Slovenians), odmienjec (with the Poles), одминок (with the Ukrainians), обмен (with the Russians), etc. According to the folk beliefs, a changeling differs from the other children by its sluggish growth, voraciousness, and persistent desire to harm or spite other members of the household. Slav legends mention the ways of stealing the human and planting the demonic child (a), recognizing the demonic child (b), and disposing of it and restoring the rightful child (c). In order to prevent the demon from exchanging her child, the mother must observe certain rules of conduct during pregnancy and in the 40 days following the childbirth. Certain measures of magical protection are also undertaken, as: placing sharp iron objects near the nursing woman, then brooms, leaving the candle to burn all night, burning frankincense in her presence, sprinkling her with holy water, etc. The legends on changelings were most probably adopted by the Slavs from the neighboring western peoples (Germans), and included in the already present beliefs that the birth of a child is a gift from the other world, and that the mother must take great care of the gift and be grateful for it. Otherwise, the one bestowing the gift may take it away as well.