In the fields there appears, usually at the time of harvest, the Poludnica, sometimes Polednica, Poludnitsa (“Midday Spirit”) or the goddess(es) of the fields (from polder’ or poluden’, meaning “mid-day”), she was frequently attended by the polevoi.
Although she was a patron deity of agriculture, the poludnitsa was also a mischievous spirit who would punish those who worked in the fields at midday, an hour sacred to her, for she had decreed it a time of rest.
In eastern Europe, the goddess of midday was a white lady who floated about the fields on gusts of wind, killing people with a touch of her hand. Each region offered slight variations in her legend.
Local variations of Poludnica and her powers
According to Bohemian tradition she has the appearance of an airy, white lady, or of an old woman who wanders about the fields at noon and haunts the dwellings of men. She also floats, amid violent gusts of wind, high up in the air; and whomsoever she touches will die a sudden death.
Sometimes she is slight and slim like a girl twelve years old and has a whip in her hand with which she strikes any one who crosses her path, such a man being doomed to meet an early death.
She is peculiarly fond of ambushing women who have recently borne children and who go out into the street at midday. If a mother leaves her child alone in the fields at harvest-time, it may be stolen by a Poludnica, whence crying children are hushed by the threat that this spirit will come and carry them away.
In Moravia the Poludnica is represented as an old woman clad in a white gown and said to have horses’ hoofs, an ugly face, slanting eyes, and dishevelled hair.
In Ukraine, poludnitsy were considered moon maidens who directed the rays of the sun to ensure the fertility of the fields.
In Polish belief the Poludnica (Poludniowka, Przypoludnica) manifests herself in the shape of a tall woman, dressed in a white robe reaching to her feet, and carrying a sharp sickle in her hand. She would ask riddles of those abroad at midday, then reap those who could not answer.
The Russians believe that the Poludnica has the shape of a tall and beautiful girl dressed in a white gown. She not only lures small children into the corn, but walking about the fields at harvest-time, she seizes the heads of those whom she finds working there at midday, and twisting their necks, causes them violent pain.
The Siberian Russians picture her as an old woman with thick, curly hair and scanty clothing; she lives among the reeds, or in the dense thickets of nettles, and kidnaps naughty children. In other parts of Russia she appears as guardian of fields.
She seems to be akin to the daemon Meridianus, ” the sickness that destroyeth in the noonday”.
It is worthy of remark that the Russian peasants make use of a verb, ‘Poludnovat’ , to express the action of drawing one’s last breath — ” His soul in his body scarcely poludnoet” they say.
During the summer she stays either in the fields or in the woods, giving chase to the people who work there. Frequently she propounds hard questions to them, and if they are unable to answer, she sends grievous maladies upon them.
Sometimes she appears, during a storm, in cottages; and various natural phenomena, such as the fata morgana, are ascribed to her by the peasants. When she leaves the fields or the forests, she is accompanied by seven great black dogs; and women and children are her favorite victims.
Among the Lusatian Serbs the Pripotdnica (Prezpoidnica) is the subject of many stories, being represented either as a tall old woman dressed in a white gown and carrying a sickle in her hand, or else as a young female.
She guarded crops, staying in the fields while everyone else went to lunch; if one went out to find out what she was doing, she talked relentlessly and, if the visitor turned away, killed him instantly.
In slightly different variations of the Serbian Poludnica, she would come out of the woods at midday, appears to those who may be working there; and any person whom she meets in the fields at that time of the day must talk with her for fully an hour about one and the same thing. Those who fail to do this either forfeiting their heads or having some illness sent upon them.
Frequently she herself puts questions to them, e. g. concerning the growing of flax and hemp, and punishes those who are unable to answer.
Her most usual victims, however, are young women who either have children at home or are still in childbed.
At noon she guards the corn from thieves and punishes children who tread upon the ears.
She descends from an ancient protective spirit of vegetation.
Polevik or Polevoi – attendants of Poludnitsa
Besides the Poludnica the Russians have a field-spirit named Polevik or Polevoy (cf. Russian pole , “field”), a Slavic masculine spirit of the fields whose appearance varied according to geographical location.
About the height of a corn-stalk until harvest-time, when he shrivels to the size of stubble. Sometimes he was dressed all in white, sometimes he had grass for hair, and sometimes he was a dwarf with skin the color of the earth.
Drunkards or travelers who slept in his fields were likely to be attacked or even murdered, for the polevoi jealously guarded the sanctity of his home.
He runs away before the swing of the scythe and hides among the stalks that are still standing; when the last ears are cut, he gets into the hands of the reaper and is brought to the barn with the final sheaf.
The Polevik appears at noon or before sunset; and at that time it is unsafe to take a nap in the field, for the Polevik, roaming about on horseback, will ride over those who are sleeping there, or will send disease upon them.
The White Russians, again, tell stories about the Belun, an old man with a long white beard and gown, who helps the reapers and bestows rich presents upon them. He shows him- self only during the day and guides aright those who have lost their way.
Dixon-Kennedy, Mike – Encyclopedia of Russian and Slavic Myth and Legend
Machal, Jan – The Mythology of all races, Volume III, Slavic Section
Monaghan, Patricia – Encyclopedia of Goddesses and Heroines
Ralston, William Ralston Shedden – The songs of the Russian people, as illustrative of Slavonic mythology and Russian social life, page 147