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Bat-winged Devils

The very fact that the bat lives in secluded, dark places and is a nocturnal animal aroused suspicion as to its ties with demonic forces. In addition, attributes such as its webbed wings, black fur, and upside-down sleeping tendencies rose to the perception that this creature is linked to the night, death, and chaos. Furthermore, its contradicting qualities fuelled these presumptions: even though it is not a bird – it flies; even though it flies like a bird – it is not born from eggs, but gives birth as a mammal; even though it has wings – it has no feathers. As such, it was a mixed creature, written into the boundaries of normality. In folk beliefs the bat was the incarnation of evil power, and it was also thought that the Devil could be conjured up through the winged creature. These ‘close’ links between the bat and the Devil led to a fear of them.

In folk tradition and legend, winged Devils belonged to a particular dangerous category. In contrast to the tempters who roamed the earth and lead people to sin, these beings generally resided in hellish caves.

JędrzejWowro (1864-1937), a sculptor and woodblock printer from GorzeńDolny near Wadowice, southern Poland, created effigies of the Devil a number of times. According to the artist, this was no twist of fate, and was led to do it thanks to the following occurrence: when one night he was returning home, he met Lucifer himself. Wanting to rescue himself, he swore that he would make a chapel with Saint Michael taking down the Devil into the abyss: I’m carving so that I could just get home alive, I’m carving – God help me – Saint Michael, so that he may strike you, Lucifer, with his fiery sword! The Devil which appears in Wowro’s sculptures or prints usually has wings suggesting those of a bat’s. The woodblock print entitled “Descent into Hell” (cf. 46415/MEK) depicts Saint Michael the Archangel fighting Lucifer, who – as the folk artist believed – was… his brother. When Lucifer rebelled against Christ, God is to have ordered Michael to banish him from Heaven. Michael brandished his sword and chased his brother for forty days and nights until they both fell to the ground. Just afterwards the earth cracked in two – Michael’s brother fell to the depths and is bonded with heavy chains to the gates of Hell.

Beata Skoczeń-Marchewka

Translator’s note: passages in italics are quotations from JędrzejWowro who spoke in Beskid highland dialect – this is not reflected in the English text for clarity.