Mysterious Whisperers: Folk Healers from Southeastern Poland

Old Babcia who have magical powers to heal?

Vladvictoria (CC0), Pixabay

Folk healers were a part of Slavic culture way before Christianity took over, but most of them disappeared once the traditional medicine started to evolve. However, in Eastern Poland, a number of women with special gifts still live and help people up to this day. They are called szeptunka, which translates to whisperers, and they are thought to receive their healing powers straight from the hand of God.

Who are the Polish Whisperers?

In remote villages in southeastern Poland, near the border with Ukraine, a dozen women welcome great numbers of those who seek help every day. These old women are strong devotees to God and the Orthodox church. Once a patient arrives they will do a ceremonial ritual based on the patient’s condition, while they whisper a traditional Orthodox prayer, hence the name whisperers. Many compare them to witches and shamans because the rituals they perform look like some sort of magic. Others do believe that their knowledge and ability to heal was given to them by God himself. However, in any case, due to their near-pagan rituals, the Orthodox church doesn’t approve of their practice, nor does the traditional medicine.

Even if their practices are very similar to those done by witches, their magic is thought to be white, not black. This means they only use their powers to do good, to heal and aid people who seek their help.

Should you book a meeting with a Whisperer?

Whisperers believe that, although their power of healing has been a gift, they still need to have an everlasting faith in God if they want to keep them. And that’s not all, they can only treat patients who are Christian devotees themselves, or have at least one dedicated follower of God in their family. But they are fairly ecumenic, as they don’t only accept those from the Orthodox Church, any type of Christianity will do.

Regardless of their patients’ and their own faith, the whisperers aren’t almighty. They can only treat a limited number of diseases, and most of them are folk illnesses, not recognized by the traditional medicine. Thus, if you have a broken bone or a serious condition they won’t be able to help you and will encourage to go visit a ‘real doctor’ instead.

The most common physical illnesses whisperers are known to treat are  ‘the chills’ – shivers caused by cold weather, and ‘rose’- a type of a red rash. However, what they’re really best at are the illnesses that cannot be so easily seen. They will help you when you’re influenced by a bad charm or a curse, and when a certain event made you so agitated you can’t handle the fright yourself. Furthermore, you might have one of the diseases identified by folk psychology, and not even know it. One of such diseases is ‘nerve plait’, a complex condition, usually identified by a number of symptoms, some of which are insomnia and chronic abdominal pain.

Although it might be just placebo, many patients did see improvements, mostly in their mental health, after they saw a whisperer. Thus, if you struggle with anxiety, depression or stress, taking a visit to a whisperer might be a good idea. They will give you a personalized treatment, treat you as a human and will at least give you some encouragement to help you with the healing process.

A good thing about getting a treatment from a whisperer is that it is convincingly cheaper than conventional therapy. As a matter of fact, they will be offended if you offer them money, as they don’t want to be seen as greedy. However, it is common to leave a little something on their kitchen table when you are ready to go, preferably when they can’t see you. And they really aren’t here to get rich, as they contribute most of what they receive to the Orthodox Church.

So, what are those rituals all about?

As we stated above, whisperers fuse traditional Orthodox prayer with a number of ceremonial rituals that in a way embody their practice. For example, they will pour some hot wax into a bowl of cold water, and instruct you that when you get rid of the mixture, your illness will disappear as well. Furthermore, they might also put a white cloth over your head and burn a small amount of flax fiber on top of it.

Although these rituals are quite spectacular to look at, they are completely risk-free. They only serve as embodiments of your issue. The idea is that when a tangible symbol of your illness gets destroyed, you might feel your condition was destroyed as well.

Whisperers today

There are only a dozen women still practicing the art of whispering today. As they are mostly elderly, this practice could, unfortunately, disappear quite soon. So, if you want to get a treatment from a whisperer, now is the time to do it. Whether you do it out of pure curiosity, or you truly believe in their healing powers, it will be a unique and memorable experience without any doubt.

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