Zdzisław Kupisiński: Remembrance of the Deceased in Annual Rituals in Poland. Tradition and Modernity


The article presents beliefs and rituals related to All Souls’ Day typical for folk Catholicism in Poland. It is based on the results of the ethnographic fieldwork conducted by the author in Radom and Opoczno regions (central Poland), in the years 1980-1983, 1990-1993 and 1998-2005 (a total of 414 days, 650 interviews with 998 informants), as well as on the literature concerning this and other regions of Poland. The popular remembrance of the dead and care for their graves is noticeable throughout the year. Cemeteries in Poland are often visited by people whose relatives passed over to “the other world,” who place flowers and candles on the graves, tidy them up, and pray. Commemoration of the dead takes on a special dimension such days as Christmas, Easter, All Saints’ and All Souls’ Day. Many old All Souls’ rituals disappeared already in the Middle Ages as a result of Christianization and eradication of pre-Christian beliefs. Still, until the 1970s one could observe or reconstruct (relying on the memory of informants) many pre-Christian beliefs and customs that used to be regulated by the ancient ritual calendar based on the solar cycle and the worship of ancestors. The presence of those ancient elements in folk beliefs and rituals indicates a strong faith of the people in life after death, exhibited also by the inhabitants of the area under study both in past centuries and today, although today those customs are given a Christian theological interpretation.

[Poland, popular Catholicism, ritual, souls of the dead, commemoration of the dead, ethnographic fieldwork]