With summer just around the corner, the days are getting longer, and many regions in the world are getting hotter. Are you staying cool and hydrated? If not, you may be getting an unpleasant visit…from me.
Lovely to meet you – I’m Poludnitsa. In English, there are a few different translations of my name, including “Lady Midday”, “Noonwraith”, “Noonday Witch”, or simply “Noon Witch”. I’m a Slavic folk character who is most known for causing people to become extremely exhausted during the middle of the day. I’m typically depicted as a young woman dressed in white with long golden hair, with my face usually obscured by my flowing locks. However, I’m also a shapeshifter. Roaming the fields, I might also take the form of a little girl, an old woman, or sometimes as swirls of dust clouds. I have the power to afflict those who meet me with sunstroke or even madness. Often, my name is simply used in warning to keep children from running about in the dangerous midday heat, or from stomping all over crops.
No matter the form I take, I always appear at the hottest time of day. And when I appear, it’s always bad news. Simply put, I’m the personification of heatstroke. One legend says that those who see my face will never laugh again. Many other stories about me are much more sinister. Some legends say that people who encounter me will die soon after or fall ill, while others claim that I can actually possess human bodies and cause them great harm. Still others believe that I will stop people at random who pass through the fields, demanding answers to various questions. If they can’t answer, or act evasive about it, well…if they’re lucky, I’ll cause them to fall ill. If not, I may just take their head using the sickle I’m usually carrying.
I could go on – there are so many similarly chilling stories about me. Then, there’s the poem to which I owe much of my enduring popularity in modern times, written by mid-19th century folklorist and poet Karel Jaromír Erben. During his research on Czech history, Erben traveled throughout small Bohemian towns, gathering folk songs and tales which he published in several collections. In 1853, he published an original collection of folklore-inspired poems entitled Kytice (A Bouquet). I was the subject of the shortest, and arguably the most famous, of them. In the poem, “Polednice” (“The Noon Witch”), a mother warns her son that if he does not behave, she will summon me to take him away. The boy doesn’t shape up, and to the mother’s immense surprise, I actually show up at the stroke of noon. She snatches up her son, and I chase them across the home. In her terror, the mother faints, grasping her son close to her chest. Later, the father arrives home and finds his wife passed out with the dead body of their son in her arms. The mother had accidentally smothered their son while protecting him from me: the Noon Witch. The story ends with the father’s lament over the terrible event.
It’s certainly a grim story – and from me, that’s saying something. However, it captured the attention of famous Czech composer Antonín Dvořák, who used the poem as the subject of a symphonic ballad he composed in 1896. A symphonic ballad does not include lyrics, but when writing the music, Dvořák included lines from the poem in the margins in order to portray the story’s varying tensions and eerie atmosphere.
Not only have I been the subject of stories, poems, and musical works, but I’ve also hit the big screen. In 2016, I was the inspiration of a Czech horror film aptly titled “The Noonday Witch”. In this psychological horror, a widow moves with her young daughter to her deceased husband’s hometown during a sweltering summer. Soon, the stresses of single parenthood and the disturbing neighbors threaten their newfound peace. Then, I start showing up, albeit somewhat symbolically. But didn’t I mention that when I appear, it’s always bad news?
Despite the darker aspects of my legend, though, I’m still seen as a powerful and intriguing figure of Slavic folklore. After all, I’m a representation of the natural forces that can both bless and curse us, depending on our actions.
So, there you have it. That’s me, Poludnitsa, in a nutshell. Be careful out there on those hot summer days – you never know when I might be waiting to cause some mischief.