The Bacas and the Priests: How Old Adversaries Came Together to Revive and Reinterpret Tradition

Pawel Sendyka 1
  • 1 Institute of Ethnology and Cultural Anthropology, Jagiellonian University, Kraków, Poland


In the Polish pastoralist tradition there have always been two seminal community events which bracketed the winter season. There was the autumn event of “Redyk Jesienny” when the sheep brought back from the summer alpine pastures were given back to their owners and there was also a spring “Redyk” also called “Mieszanie Owiec” which literally means the Mixing of Sheep. Historically, it was an important event in which the head shepherd, or the baca had to use his magical knowledge to ensure that the big herd made up of sheep from the individual owners would keep together as one and produce enough milk to make this summer venture profitable. To do that he used magic spells and performed rituals learned from his predecessors. The bacas' magical knowledge was frequently in opposition to the powers of the priests who viewed them with suspicion. Today, this spring event of “Mieszanie Owiec” is much changed. It is no longer a private affair of the baca and the sheep owners. Frequently, it is a public event, a tourist attraction, with the priests often taking centre stage. There is even a new, “invented” tradition of region wide “Mieszanie” at the sanctuary of Ludźmierz. There, a small herd of around 200 sheep is symbolically used to bless all the herds going up the mountain pastures for the season. The paper examines how these traditions changed from old ethnographic descriptions and how they are evolving in a modern economic and social reality.

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