The Nawie according to the Beksiński’s paintings
The Nawie or Nawki in Polish, the Mavka (Navka, Nyavka) in Ukrainian, or simply Nav’ in other Slavic languages are ghosts or the souls of persons that had met a tragic or premature death, particularly unchristened babies. In Polish slavic mythology, Nawie exist in the underworld called Nawia.
In Ukrainian mythology, Mavka is a type of mermaids, however with long flaxen hair. The name Mavka derives from Nav’ (Navka), which means “the embodiment of death.” Mavky (plural) do not have a full body, have no reflection in water, do not cast shadows, and have no back, thus, their insides could be seen.
The traditional view is that Mavky live in the woods of Galicia (Ukraine) and the Carpathians. Mavky symbolize the souls of children who were born dead or died unbaptized. They often appear in the form of beautiful young girls dancing and singing to lure young men into the woods where they would tickle them to death and chop their heads off.
To save a baby’s soul, one had to throw up a kerchief during Trinity holidays, say a name and add “I baptize you”. A rescued soul would then go to heaven. If a soul lived up to seven years and did not go to heaven, a baby would turn into a mermaid or a Mavka and would haunt people.
The term descends from PIE *navus (“corpse”), being cognate to Gothic naus (“dead”), Old Prussian nowis (“corpse”), and Tocharian naut (“to perish”).